Serving the San Francisco Bay Area New Music Community

Phillip Greenlief

sfSound Group @ ODC
Date of Interview/Article:7/4/2001
There’s No Place Like Home
sfSound Group @ ODC

It was easy to enjoy the recent sfSound concert at ODC in the good old Mission District of San Francisco (especially pleasant that a few gems from a once plentiful crop of arts spaces weren’t ground to powder during the good ole’ blunder). Matt Ingalls has put a lot of energy into this series and anyone with even a lump of gray tissue between their ears will be pleased to learn that the effort has earned them a new home at ODC Theater. Ingalls mumbled plaintively that ODC will likely move in a year (to a larger and nearby nest). One might dream that ODC will remember to bring sfSound along for the ride – the new space has the makings of an even finer performing arts complex. Audience: Snap out of that trendy complacency immediately and let ODC know it’s the right stuff to retain sfSound in their little shop of horrors! Shout at them directly through your telephone device, or try lurking near the ticket counter and pass notes to them at upcoming shows.

I imagined while driving through the pouring rain on a Monday night that the audience would be slight, but there was a near full box of glamorous misfits milling about the place. The evening opened with a performance of John Cage’s Invisible Landscape #1 (1939). This most satisfying effort of suppressed sound was realized on piano (Christopher Jones), percussion (Russell Greenberg) and electronics (Christopher Burns) (electronics originally composed for “record player” – how peanut butter and jelly is that?). The performance was appropriately drier than an above-average Pinot Grigio and equally tasty in all its visionary brilliance (would there be a “new” reductionist movement if Cage had not opened the door?). Landscapes comes from his early pieces for percussion, which helped to define a medium slice of his stylistic aesthetics by removing expressive qualities while retaining formal substance through the proliferation of rhythm. Diametrically opposed to his more emotive works of the same period, there was an urge in these sketches to erase the sonic trail leading back to the 19th century. The trio admirably squeezed great slices of citric sound from the score, which emerged into the evening’s program with a clear and concise opening statement.

It is possible that Christopher Jones’ transcription shoplifted one too many sparklers from the timbral spectrum that illuminates Anton Webern’s miraculous 5 Pieces for Orchestra. (Students: was it Jones’ intent that his arrangement echo the minimalist concerns Cage played with in his Imaginary Landscape?) On the other hand, the quartet’s luminous performance revealed Webern’s motivic brilliance in all its meticulous innocence. The reluctant Second Viennese Schoolmaster’s work is never easy to realize, and it is a worthy testament to Kyle Bruckman (oboe & English horn), Matt Ingalls (clarinet), Christopher Jones (piano) and Russell Greenberg (percussion) that they employed a stable performance of this particularly thorny work on what I’m sure was an impossibly narrow rehearsal path.

My favorite episode was a new work by Anthony Braxton (Composition 341). I could have listened to the whole thing, which would have taken an hour before springing the irresistible open sections on an impossibly patient audience. Composition 341 is a familiar yet terrifying tightrope routine of rhythm and intervallic eruption that has graced Braxton’s late work. The improvising and on the spot arrangement strategies were effective, offering everyone lots of space to invent and infect, and the ensemble’s sound fabric had an ample supply of sumptuously evil textures. It was chaotic at times, but never so dense that you couldn't pull out any of the strands and examine them. A double-Dutch legion of props to David Arend (bass), Bruckman, Ingalls, Greenberg, John Ingle (saxophone), Jones, Toyoji Tomita (trombone), John Shiurba (electric guitar), and Eric Ulman (violin) for a funhouse full of trap doors, geeky buzzers, flashing colors, extended technique whoopee cushions, and scary sound monsters.

The performance of the extended work lumen was most pleasurable on every account. Composer & choreographer David Bithell achieved a great deal of mileage from simple visual/sound motifs, and it all moved admirably forward with a fresh breeze of humor that took the audience captive and nuzzled them into submission. The live music interacted with the taped music about as seamlessly as you could possibly expect. All was beautifully sounded throughout the space. And lo and behold: a flock of clever gadgets floated all about the place and repeatedly stole the show. Oversized gloves and a host of associated icons floated on the air and insulted, teased, and aggravated a trumpet, a composer, his (and others) shadow(s), and many a clever cue card. Information drifted through the experience like junky hummingbirds – gamelan vibrations soothed the receptors and urged the audience to trance their way through a uniquely sparse surrealist landscape. Yumsky, yumsky!