20 March 2011


Shoeb Ahmad and his digital processing was the common feature at a challenging concert I attended yesterday. Spartak played the first set with two numbers. Austin Buckett presented a work originally written for a string quartet as the second.

This was a larger, 5-piece Spartak. I’ve written here of Spartak as a duo. The essence of drums/percussion and processed instrumental sounds was still there, but this was bigger and more exploratory. The first tune was indicative of the approach and structure. Evan started by setting percussion rhythms. Tim introduced a simple melodic line on trumpet, repeating with some small variations. Andrew played mostly harmony notes. He once inserted a snippet of modern jazz (lovely) but returned to simpler harmony notes, which are a better base for Schoeb’s digital manipulations. These digital sounds formed an intense and all-encompassing background for snippets of notes and varied percussion until Tim restated his simple melody and the tune ended. Guitarist Morgan was also there with few notes but extended effects. I couldn’t identify his part, although Shoeb was obviously clear on his space. It’s music that has its own logic and art and it demands intense contemplation. I find it rewarding although the passers-by at the Street seemed a bit non-plussed. I found the clarity and strength of the trumpet was perfect to cut through the environmental noiseworks and also as a base for these manipulations. I also noticed the tunes grew and fell away (obvious enough) and interestingly it was the human sounds that made growth and the digital sounds that accompanied the decay. Not sure I can read any more into this than that the digital followed the instruments, but maybe it’s a comment on our human progress? Growth as a search for harmony, tonality, melody, structure; digital as mechanical, intervened, under human control but not human. The second piece first had me amused with shades of scifi: R2D2 and, more profoundly, Forbidden Planet. Again, the trumpet set intervals and the alto found harmonies, and the electronics bent and repeated these sounds and fed them back amongst a clatter of rhythm. These are not easy sounds, but they are satisfying.

The second set was Austin Buckett leading a performance of his piece, Stuttershine. It was originally written for a string quartet but performed here by piano, cello, viola and violin with digital manipulations. It started sparse, with rubato notes passed between piano and strings and built to end with a constant arpeggio-like single-note passage on piano that seemed to restate the sparse melodic movements of the first part. Over this was again the digital processing of strings by Shoeb. I really enjoyed the un-manufactured sounds of acoustic stringed instruments as well as the ringing acoustic piano tones. The digital reformulations seemed a bit intrusive to me although the concept of a reworked environment was good. Perhaps this was just a little too loud or edgy for the gentle stings. I found it satisfying work of composition and of performance, somewhat related to Spartak, perhaps as the distant more-upright cousin?

How great is it that we have such music here? Congratulations and thanks from CJ. BTW, my title, Kaoss, makes reference Shoeb’s principal interface for these digital manipulations, Korg’s Kaoss Pad dynamic effect processor. Shoeb was using the mini-KP with laptop and numerous other digital dongles. Spartak was Evan Dorrian (drums), Shoeb Ahmad (digital manipulations), Tim Bowyer (trumpet), Andrew Fedorovich (alto sax), Morgan McKellar (guitar, delay). Austin Buckett (piano, composer) led a quintet comprising James Larsen (cello), Xina Hawkins (viola), Elyane de Fontenay (violin) and Shoeb Ahmad (digital manipulations) playing his piece, Stuttershine.

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