I’m very excited to once again bring Electric Shadow Theater to PianoFight, “SF’s Next Landmark Entertainment Venue”, 144 Taylor St., SF (map), with new ensemble Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会), 7pm, Sun 17 Apr and some of the freshest, most exciting films ever made.
☞ Advance tickets available at a discount: here
Formed by Rob Ready, Dan Williams and Kevin Fink (called “the bad boys of San Francisco theatre” by Theatre Bay Area), PianoFight has successfully managed venues (Off-Market Theater Complex); recklessly invited audiences to Throw Rotten Veggies at the Actors; formed two critically acclaimed sketch comedy groups (Mission CTRL and ForePlays); and built a three-man producing team into a 46-member company of artists.
Their latest adventure is PianoFight — a new theater complex at the former site of the San Francisco landmark restaurant Original Joe’s, 144 Taylor Street, with two theaters in the back of house, and a 60-seat restaurant and bar with a full liquor license and a cabaret stage at the front of the house.
This great new performing arts complex, in the heart of SF’s Central Market Arts District, takes forward the development of a music axis on Taylor Street, stretching from the Luggage Store, the Warfield, and Center For New Music to its northernmost and newest boîte.
Meanwhile, its two black-box theaters have expanded the “San Francisco off-off-Broadway” that includes CounterPulse, EXIT Theater, and Cutting Ball Theatre.
My totem animal, Morgana, has enjoyed joining forces with PianoFight’s totem animal, the Californicorn during my solo residencies and previous film+music shows there, and we both keenly look forward to performing there again…
Since the founding of Clubfoot Orchestra in 1983, San Francisco has been a leader in pairing film classics with composed or improvised scores. Not only is Clubfoot Orchestra still scaling new heights, but a rich new crop of ensembles for film + sound have created a second wave of Bay Area shadow play for the 21st century.
Fushigi Kenkyūkai are a collective of film and sound artists, mixing veterans of Bay Area “wayang sinema” ensembles like Clubfoot Orchestra & Reel Change with pioneers of electronic, computer-based, and invented instruments.
The name Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) means “Paranormal Research Society”. The truth is out there.
The program uses a French surrealist film classic and an experimental American short full of masks and shadows to find it.
Steve Adams (electronics)
Bryan Day (invented instruments)
Thomas Dimuzio (electronics)
Tom Djll (surrealist prepared trumpet | electronics)
Joe Lasqo (keyboards | laptop | objects)
John McCowen (dada prepared clarinet + drum resonator)
Part 1: Short (13 min, with short break for reel change following)
Robert Florey / Slavko Vorkapić: The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra
Part 2: Main Feature (95 min)
Jean Cocteau: Orphée
◉ Orphée, by Jean Cocteau (95 min)
Continuing from our sonification of Blood Of A Poet (Le sang d’un poète), the first film in Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy, we move to the second, Orphée, a high peak of post-WW2 cinema.
As Cocteau said of Orphée: “Le sang d’un poète was based on the poet’s need to go through a series of deaths and to be reborn in a shape closer to his real being. There, the theme was played with one finger… in Orphée, I have orchestrated the theme”.
The repeated multi-perspective “cubist” deaths and rebirths of Blood Of A Poet are now interwoven into the grand dialog of death with song encoded in the Orpheus archetype.
As Roger Ebert summarizes, “Orpheus is a Greek myth about a musician who descends into the underworld to reclaim his dead wife, and so enchants the gods with the music of his lyre that they permit her to return to the land of the living–on the condition that he never look at her. Jean Cocteau set his 1949 film of the story in modern-day Paris, and added twists that would have startled the Greeks, especially a romantic triangle with Death as the third partner…
The story in Cocteau’s hands becomes unexpectedly complex; we see that it is not simply about love, death and jealousy, but also about how art can seduce the artist away from ordinary human concerns, so that after Orpheus astonishingly returns from the land of death, he is more concerned with the nonsensical radio transmissions [from Death’s car radio] than with his wife who loves him.”.
The resonant symbolism of mirrors established by Cocteau in Blood Of A Poet is further extended in this second installment of the trilogy, a symbolism deeply intertwined with mortality (Cocteau: “Mirrors are the doors through which death comes and goes. Look at yourself in a mirror all your life and you’ll see death do its work.”)
As Adam Scovell says, “Mirrors become liquid gateways to the underworld where the dead work for bureaucrats and live in a disheveled and battered place, while angels of death take the form of two mysterious bikers.”.
Shortly after the film opens a Dark Princess makes a dramatic entrance at the Café des Poètes, with her kept poet, Cègeste, in train. “Do you know who I am?” the Princess asks Cègeste. “I am your death.” Drunk, Cègeste soon becomes disorderly; when the cops arrive he tries to flee, but is then run down by two bikers.
The Princess bundles Orphée into her Rolls-Royce to help her “take Cègeste to the hospital”, but it soon becomes clear their destination lies elsewhere as they traverse a negative landscape, accompanied by the two bikers as dada poetry comes over the car radio.
This first shamanic visit to the Underworld gives Orphée two unusual gifts — an addiction to the poison nectar of the car radio dada poetry for his inspiration and a practical knowledge of the Underworld which is useful in his quest to redeem his wife Eurydice’s soul when she dies shortly after his return.
Though Orphée is able to bring back Eurydice from the Underworld on the condition that he never gaze on her, his increasing attraction to the Dark Princess and his growing addiction to the dada poetry coming from the car radio in her Rolls (which she keeps conveniently parked in his garage…) weave the threads of Eurydice’s ultimate undoing. Reduced to visiting Orphée in the back seat of the Rolls in the garage where he is continuously listening to the meaningless words, her eyes catch Orphée’s in the rear-view mirror,and all is lost… or is it?
A tumultuous series of final plot twists then leaves everyone oblivious or exhausted. As the Princess, turning to her chauffeur, sums up, “If this were our former world, I’d say, ‘Let’s have a drink.'”
◉ The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra, by Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkapić (13 min, followed by reel change…)
A film miracle that was made in in 1928 for $96 (almost $1,350 in today’s dollars), the nothing budget forced the film-makers into radical effects experiments based on shadow-puppetry and popsicle sticks. “The sets were made of toys and cardboard buildings that were projected like shadows. Paper cut outs and spare film stock litter the background to create a thriving metropolis” (Nathanael Hood)
An aspiring actor with stars in his eyes comes to Hollywood for a meeting with the Producer, Mr. Almighty, who brushes aside his letter of introduction to scrawl the number 9413 on his forehead.
9413 learns what it really take to be a star from observing the meteoric rise of #15, who attains fame and fortune by donning a series of plastic masks and blabbering gibberish instead of lines.
Nonetheless — after being beaten, bruised, and indeed killed by Hollywood, 9413’s spirit gets a vindication of sorts.
Carrying on the traditions of and sharing members with “wayang sinema” ensembles like Clubfoot Orchestra & Reel Change, Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) is comprised of:
◉ Steve Adams (electronics)
ROVA-ite Steve Adams needs little introduction to lovers of jazz and new music, having been a long-standing key player in various East & West Coast scenes. His work on various saxes, flutes, electronics and as a composer combines probing originality, playful improv structures and swing with a very specific angular momentum.
Steve is best known as a member of ROVA Saxophone Quartet, whom he’s been with for more than 20 years. Steve is also a member of the Bill Horvitz Band, various Matt Small ensembles, and the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, as well as leading his own projects.
Steve lived in Boston in the ’70s and ’80s, where he was a member of Your Neighborhood Sax Quartet, Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic, and Composers In Red Sneakers among others. A remarkable collaboration with avant jazz bassist Ken Filiano, which we in the Bay Area have the pleasure of hearing on Ken’s swings to the West Coast, was formed in this period.
◉ Bryan Day (invented instruments)
Bryan Day is an improviser, instrument inventor, illustrator & installation artist based in San Francisco. His work involves combining elements of the natural and man-made world using field recordings, custom audio generation software and homemade instruments. Bryan’s work explores the parallels between the patterns and systems in nature to those in contemporary society.
Bryan has toured throughout the US, Europe, Japan, Korea, Argentina, the Philippines, & Mexico, performing both solo as Sistrum and Eloine, and in the Shelf Life and Seeded Plain ensembles, as well as with innumerable collaborators, and has over 40 solo and ensemble releases.
Since 1997 he has been running the new music label Public Eyesore and its sister label Eh?. Through Public Eyesore and Eh?, Bryan has produced and released over 200 albums of improvised and experimental music by artists from all over the globe, in addition to curating the music series at Meridian Gallery in San Francisco.
◉ Thomas Dimuzio (electronics)
Thomas Dimuzio is a composer, multi-instrumentalist & electronic musician, mastering engineer, sound designer, and label proprietor based in San Francisco.
Long regarded as a musical pioneer for his innovative use of live sampling and looping techniques to create compelling works, Thomas is a true sonic alchemist who can seemingly create music events out of almost anything. Listed sound sources on his various CDs include everything from ‘modified 10 speed bicycle’ and ‘resonating water pipe’ to short-wave radios, loops, feedback, samplers, and even normal instruments such as clarinet and trumpet, while his current work is facilitated by the deep expanses of modular synthesis.
His use of signal processing, custom crossfade looping, and algorithmic mixing fuels a synergy of man and machine in his live performances, while intercepted signal feeds from collaborators, wild sources of MIDI-controlled feedback, modular synthesizers, circuit-bent toys, or ambient microphones on the streets, become integrated as sound sources within his system of live interactive electronics, effortlessly moving from electroacoustic and noise to glitch, dark ambient, improv and drone.
In his work as a sound designer, Thomas has worked with synthesizer and processor manufacturers such as Kurzweil, Lexicon, and OSC to create custom presets and sample libraries, and he has collaborated with Fred Frith, Tom Cora, and ROVA Saxophone Quartet to create sound libraries for Rarefaction and Big Fish Audio. Thomas also continues to play a key role in the development of Avid’s industry standard Pro Tools HD recording and mixing system, as he has for the past 20 years.
As a collaborator, Thomas works with numerous artists and ensembles such as Dimmer (with Joseph Hammer), Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Dan Burke/Illusion of Safety, Nick Didkovsky, ISIS, Negativland, Arcane Device (David Lee Myers), Matmos, Wobbly (Jon Leidecker), Poptastic, 5uu’s, Tom Cora, Mickey Hart, Paul Haslinger, Arte Saxophone Quartett, Due Process, and Voice Of Eye.
As a mastering engineer, Thomas has worked with independent artists and labels through his own Gench Studios since the early 1990’s. Among his clients are Matmos,Negativland, ISIS, AMM, Captain Ahab, Doctor Nerve, Psychic TV3, Xiu Xiu, Devin Hoff, GG Allin, KK Null (Kazuyuki Kishino / 岸野 一之), Joey P, Fred Frith, Scott Amendola, and many others.
Thomas Dimuzio’s recordings have been released internationally by ReR Megacorp, Asphodel, RRRecords, No Fun, Sonoris, Drone, Record Label Records, Odd Size, and other independent labels.
◉ Tom Djll (surrealist prepared trumpet | electronics)
Tom Djll has spent over twenty years developing the trumpet’s wide sonic array of extended techniques. His musical language incorporates complex noises and gritty, unheard textures from electronica into melodic gestures and building asymmetrical formal structures. Tom has made a lifelong study of the art of improvised music, and has been actively performing since 1980.
Tom Djll’s approach to playing the trumpet has been characterized from its inception by an anti-professionalism that locates itself within a political rather than musical continuum. Although he had studied composition with AACM masters Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, and others, inspired by punk and DIY approaches to performance and soundmaking (Trans Museq, PiL, The Contortions, Alterations, Eugene Chadbourne), Tom eschewed formal training in lieu of nearly fifteen years of blazing an idiosyncratic pathway through the instrument based on his studies and performances of analog electronic music. Working with a Serge Modular Synthesizer until the turn of the century, Tom described his trumpet sounds as products of an “analog lip synthesizer,” among other colorful epithets.
In 1989 Tom’s trumpet+electronics breakthrough was realized with the recording of TOMBO, using the Serge system’s endlessly disruptive causation chains to process, feedback-process, and process-feedback all sorts of trumpet and mouth sounds, culminating in Mutootator, the apex of his trumpet/Serge development. This set of improvised duets used a hybrid analog/digital live sampling and processing system (the “Mutootator”) of Tom’s own design, and featured William Winant, Tom Nunn, Jack Wright, Myles Boisen, and many others.
Subsequently, Tom studied in the graduate program at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, a period which saw his trumpet noises featured in Chris Brown’s ferociously difficult LAVA (for brass, percussion, and electronics, recorded on Tzadik). Tom continued working with Chris Brown in live performances of LAVA and other works (Brown, DUETS, Artifact) as well as with other Mills faculty (William Winant, Alvin Curran, John Bischoff) and eminent visitors to the school such as James Tenney, Bun-Ching Lam (林品晶), “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Tim Perkis, and Pauline Oliveros (with whom he had previous studied her Deep Listening techniques). Others of Tom’s gurus include Karl Berger, Lester Bowie, and George Lewis.
In the new millennium, Tom’s resolutely nonprofessional performance practice has centered itself in live instrument re-building, wherein the trumpet’s identity is broken down and reassembled onstage, using bits of plastic tubing, rubber bands, whistles, squeakers, toys and other horn parts. More recent performances have seen the re-entry of actual electronic sounds into the language. The festering soundworlds arising from this gallimaufry of resonator/muters suggest a parade of chancy characters; Tom gives them monikers such as Whirly Honkblatter, Zeppelin Launch Simulation Drone, the Nude Rubberlips Orgasm Chanter, and the Dissociative Tubular Identity Disorder Scalar Ambiguation Horn.
Current and recent projects include:
Grosse Abfahrt (w Gino Robair, Tim Perkis, John Shiurba, Matt Ingalls and international guests), Quartet (w Tim Perkis, Matt Ingalls & Scott Walton), Space Junk (w Jordan Glenn & Scott Brown), Beauty School (w Jacob Felix Heule & Matt Chandler), Mockracy (co-operative orchestra, actors, and maxed media), All Tomorrow’s Zombies (w Tim Perkis & Gino Robair), Dynosoar (w Ron Heglin & “Gongwoman” Karen Stackpole), Kinda Green (w Tim Perkis), John Shiurba’s 5×5, Gino Robair’s I, Norton Opera Company, sfSound Group, led by Matt Ingalls, and Tender Buttons (w Tania Chen & Gino Robair)
◉ Joe Lasqo (keyboards | laptop | objects)
Pianist / laptopist Joe Lasqo studied classical music in India; computer/electronic music at MIT, Columbia, Berkeley/CNMAT; has been a long-time performing modern & avant jazz musician; & has lived, played and listened in several Asian and European countries (now in San Francisco). He’s keen on the application of artificial intelligence techniques to improvisation and the meeting of traditional Asian musics with the 21st century. His recent album, Turquoise Sessions, is available on Edgetone Records; with new releases planned in 2015.
Joe had a weekly residency for 3½ years+ in the afternoon piano series at Viracocha, and has started a new residency at San Francisco’s PianoFight. He’s appeared recently with Bruce Ackley and Steve Adams of ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Aaron Bennett’s Electro-Magnetic Trans-Personal Orchestra, the London Improvisers Orchestra, Phillip Greenlief’s Orchesperry, his own Renga-kai (連歌会), Mukaiji-kai (霧海箎会), and Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) ensembles, synthesist Thomas Dimuzio, clarinetist/vocalist Beth Custer, pianist Thollem McDonas, percussionist Suki O’Kane, sound artists Joe Snape (UK) & Lucie Vítková (Czech Rep.), technodivas / electronic musicians Pamela Z & Viv Corringham (NYC/London), saxophonists Adrian Northover & Sue Lynch (London), and many others.
◉ John McCowen (dada prepared clarinet + drum resonator)
John McCowen’s musical path is rooted in the DIY culture of American hardcore music. John was a vocalist in hardcore music until he heard the music of Albert Ayler. At that point, he began channeling his energy through the saxophone, and was further influenced by the music of Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane.
After a few years as a touring musician and independent study, he entered academia at Southern Illinois U. and studied clarinet with Eric P. Mandat, who opened his eyes to microtonality and extended techniques. John remains a member of the Chicago musical community while now living in Oakland, and plays in Wei Zhongle (衛仲樂／卫仲乐), Vibrating Skull Trio, and John McCowen Clarinet Quartet.
John is currently studying with Roscoe Mitchell and others at Mills College, and has been astonishing a steadily increasing circle of Bay Area listeners by seemingly discovering entire new unexplored continents of extended clarinet technique.
Those who have heard his brilliant solo shows at the Luggage Store Gallery and elsewhere already know the virtuosic, pioneering, and thoroughly original sound universe he’s created — the rest of you will be dumbfounded at the new sonic horizons he opens up.
Experience a shamanic journey to worlds on the other side of the mirror as your consciousness streams to surrealist music — come flicker with us at PianoFight, “SF’s Next Landmark Entertainment Venue”.