Thursday, April 04, 2013

Switchboard Music Festival Notes



The Switchboard Music Festival held its sixth annual daylong marathon of young, experimental composers and performers at the Brava Theatre on 24th Street a couple of weekends ago. The theatre is a perfect venue for this event, comfy and cozy and with lovely acoustics. I arrived at about 2:30 in the afternoon for the Areon Flutes trio (Jill Heinke, Sasha Launer, and Kassey Piaha above) who were playing the world premiere of Chthonic Suite by the local composer Cornelius Boots



They were quickly followed by the Addleds, an improvisatory "Grind" noise quartet with Kyle Bruckman on oboe and English horn, Tony Dryer on bass, Kanoko Nishi on koto, and Jacob Felix Huele on percussion. Bruckman announced that "there needs to be a little pain before beautiful sounds emerge," which sounded forbidding, but the music was more interesting than painful.



Most of the sets by the various groups were about thirty minutes long, and one of the best stage/tech crews imaginable created lightning fast setups for each performing ensemble. This was even more remarkable because there were often complex requirements for computers, projection screens, sound systems, and a wide range of instruments. They were so skillful that if the crew's names were in the program, I'd be listing them here. Instead, I'll mention that every other ensemble seemed to be featuring a hunky percussionist, and the Addleds' above was Mr. Heule.



The next group, Ava Mendoza's Unnatural Ways, with Ava on guitar and vocals, Dominique Leone on synthesizers and Nick Tamburro on drums, was way too loud for my old ears, so I went outside and watched the crazy street scene on 24th Street for a half hour. The writer/vocalist/artistic administrator Sid Chen, who braved the audio assault, assured me that yes, it was too loud, but nevertheless "it was a great set."



They were followed by the jazzy New York duo futureCities, consisting of Anne Rainwater on piano and Jude Traxler on percussion. They played a pair of pieces by Wally Gunn and Kevin Volans that were sweet and absorbing.



Another New Yorker, Michael Lowenstern above, was probably my favorite performer of the afternoon. The variations he could wring out of a bass clarinet and looping electronics was astonishing, and there was a lovely mixture of humor and soulfness in his performance.



The festival seems to be have grown by leaps and bounds in quality since I last attended back in 2009 when it was at the Mission Dance Theatre down the street. It's still a delightfully homespun affair, though, with one of the head ushers above turning out to be the mother of festival President Ryan Brown.

The music was too rich and intense to think about spending any longer than three hours there, but my friend Charlie Lichtman arrived as I was leaving, and sent me the following report:
"Also featured was the Oakland Active Orchestra, an 11 piece chamber orchestra, who presented ‘The Days are the Same’, by Aram Shelton (clarinets, alto sax). Avant-garde and jazzy, the 25 minute piece was technical as well as entertaining. The orchestra was founded in 2009, and features works composed by members of the ensemble.

The next musicians were Jeff Anderle and Jonathan Russell (collectively known as Sqwonk). Also co-directors of the festival, the two bass clarinet musicians performed the world premiere of ‘As It Goes Along’, by Staten Island born composer Moe! Staiano. Pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi (ZOFO), then joined Sqwonk to perform Jonathan Russell’s piece ‘Sqwonkzoforus Rex’.

Billygoat (David Klein and Nick Woolley) was up next. Originally from Los Angeles, but currently from Portland (Oregon), the duo has been producing animated art films and live original scores since 2006. The films have been described as ‘stop-motion shorts of staggering complexity’, and the Brava Theater, once a movie house, was as perfect a venue as possible to show their art. They performed two pieces, ‘Lyric’, and ‘Sophia’, and their talent was astounding."

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