Yesterday I wrapped up my one-week residency at the Montalvo Arts Center in Northern California. Although I am constitutionally a big city person for the most part, there is, of course, much to be said in favor of a week in nature, composing amid the bobcats, coyotes, deer, and black widow spiders. Less can be said in favor of the poison oak that permeates the hillsides and which made walking outside the Center’s pathways ill advised, but I managed to emerge unscathed, unscratched, and un-itching.

As I mentioned last week, I was working on a collaboration with experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill, which culminated in a live performance—film and digital sound—last Sunday night at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Also on the bill was a playlist of films by Janie Geisler with music by composer Tom Recchion, a stalwart of the Los Angeles music world and a co-founder of the Los Angeles Free Music Society back in the 1970s. Although I was worried that both inclement weather and the Academy Award ceremonies would reduce the size of the audience substantially, I’m happy to say the show sold out and some people even had to be turned away at the box office. San Francisco is a city that respects its experimental filmmakers—and composers, too, I guess.

A few nights earlier I attended an old-style tape concert at SF Cameraworks in the downtown area of San Francisco, a most enjoyable experience not only because some of my music had made it on to the program but especially because it was so nice to see a room full of people listening deeply to all sorts of electronic music, some quite challenging, in the dark, with most respectful silence until the end. This event was part of a series first called LISTEN, now LISTEN/VISION, which is all tape pieces—an antiquated term, but used here to denote recorded music presented without any live performance elements, with the possible exception of spatialization. LISTEN was begun by Christopher Willits, himself a composer, and his organization Overlap, now partnering with another San Francisco-based organization, VOLUME. The idea for LISTEN is to present unreleased work created specifically for the series and played through a quality sound system for a reasonable ticket price. Any work created for the series is then able to be syndicated for other LISTEN or LISTEN/VISION events, which have taken place all over the globe. An interesting twist is that the series’ producers “will never play the same work twice in the same city, as that denies the exclusivity and unreleased quality of the program.” The evening I attended, music by Richard Chartier, Nate Boyce, Frank Bretschneider, was presented in addition to my piece Shin Chon.

After some years of being quite out of vogue, “tape” concerts seem to be coming back. sfSound Series, curated by Matt Ingalls, has done a terrific job of presenting both new work and masterpieces from the past as a component of their activities in the Bay Area. In fact, I was happy to see that they recently scored an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming. Down in the greater Los Angeles area, local dynamo Jennifer Logan puts on LA Sonic Odyssey several times a year, a series that features multiple generations of composers using a surround system with twelve state-of-the-art loudspeakers in “a unique and captivating experience of contemporary concert music.” (Full disclosure: I’m proud to have been presented as part of the series in 2007, with another presentation scheduled for later this year as well.)

My roots, of course, are in tape music, but in the mid-’80s I stopped producing pieces meant to be presented as recordings and moved to live performance, which I’ve continued until the present. Listening to these concerts has caused me to rethink my ideas and given me some inspiration to return more often to the medium. Great how that can happen sometimes.

For your further information and enjoyment:

See you next time!

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2 thoughts on “Memorex

  1. curioman

    The Atlanta Composers Group is interested in doing a ‘composers exchange’ or ‘city exchange’ with another group where we split the program with composers from another city. This would be mutually beneficial to both our communities. If anyone’s interested, please contact me.

    Also, thank you, Carl, for posting this topic. I’m glad to see more attention brought to these types of concerts. They’re fun. When we first started last year, we were kind of ridiculed for it (a local music critic laughed when he first heard we’d be listening in a dark room without performers.) But the show was a big hit, and we’re looking forward to doing more.


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