Monday, April 06, 2015

8th Annual Switchboard Music Festival

The marathon 8-hour Switchboard Music Festival took place on Saturday at the Brava Theater on 24th Street, and offered the usual interesting mix of musical performances that ranged from brass bands to rock and roll ensembles to contemporary string quartets. I went to the 2009 edition of the festival at Dance Theatre Mission and again in 2013, and the series only seems to be getting better, though my brain always starts exploding after about three hours of new music.

I volunteered as an usher for the first two hours on Saturday because I like the people in charge, founders Jeff Anderle (above left) and Ryan Brown (above right), joined this year by Annie Phillips as co-curator (above center).

The festival started off with a blast of pure energy in Brass Magic, a group of guys who bonded in Brooklyn and moved to Oakland while creating a new musical synthesis for brass party music.

They were followed by an ambitious music with multimedia presentation by Berkeley/New Zealand resident Bill Baird. Bill played an electric guitar and sang with his back mostly to the audience, surrounded by an electric and acoustic bass, cellos and marimbas while the musicians were deconstructed in real time on a large screen behind and a quartet of flat-screens in front. The imagery was abstract, psychedelic and a bit too much in that I started worrying about epileptic seizures caused by Pokemon style strobe flashing. The short songs reminded me, oddly, of the 1980s Australian band Midnight Oil and were musically rich.

The hot, young Bay Area string ensemble of the moment, the Friction Quartet, played three recent pieces: Universe Explosion by Adam Cuthbert, Stephen Feigenbaum’s Parachute Dance, and Ian Dicke's Unmanned about drones that ends with a variation on Haydn's Surprise Symphony, except the machine music continues after the live musicians leave the stage.

Kevin Rogers and Otis Herrial on violins switched first and second, which was charming, and Kevin seemed to be spending a lot of time trying to get the electronics to work with all the pieces.

The tech crew at these festivals are magicians, especially considering the complexity of the setups and breakdowns involving electronics interacting with acoustics. The rock group Random House, fronted by festival founders Ryan Brown and Jeff Anderle, had the worst breakdown when a Mac attached to a synthesizer kept needing to be rebooted. Anderle announced, "We pride ourselves on how sharp this festival runs, and acts don't go overtime, and well, here we are..."

Ryan Brown, while waiting for the reboot, told us that he used to be a rock guitarist before he was a notated composer, and that he wanted to put together a band for the festival to play some music he composed. They were lively and fun and would probably profit from a vocalist weaving in and out.

I left after that set, wishing I could return for the Terry Riley In C Re-Do, where a host of composers offered their own versions of a few simple measures, played by a large jam session of musicians. I hope somebody who was there writes about the performance.

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