Friday, June 5, 2015

Interview with Aaron Zarzutzki

photo by Graham Stephenson via faceplace 
Aaron Zarzutzki describes himself as "an improviser of various sorts." From his home base in Chicago, he investigates "misuse and perversion of objects and systems...virtuosity, volatility, futility, and capability are thought of." He'll be visiting Pittsburgh to perform at Crucible Sound #16 on Thursday, June 11th at Modernformations. 

The long-running Myopic Improvised/Experimental Music Series in Chicago is one of the inspirations for Crucible Sound here in Pittsburgh. Can you talk a little about the series and your involvement? 

En route to Chicago from Florida 10 years ago, I played a gig in Atlanta and bassist Pat Lawrence mentioned the series to me. My first day living in Chicago was a Monday so I checked it out. Shortly after that, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Brian Labycz roped me in as a host. The series was founded over 20 years ago by Weasel Walter. The shows are aimed to be like a workshop for the musicians as they are encouraged to play in first time groupings often with others they might not normally play with. Percussionist Julian Kirshner is currently the other organizer. The series has hosted players ranging from Jim O'Rouke to some dirty dude off the street.

Can you talk about some of your recent collaborations? 

I've got a new project with guitarist Jacob Kart that has been fun. Guitar and synthesizer duos with attention towards harmony. It feels great to actually play notes now and then.

Ben Bennett and I were booked to play in a quartet with Wilson Shook and Ryan Jewell back in 2009, but my trip to Seattle got bumped to a different month. Ben and I finally played in 2012 as a totally acoustic duo. Last year we played in a trio with Fred Lonberg-Holm which was one of my favorite sets I've ever played. Ben just stopped through Chicago and Fred wasn't around so we did a couple days of recording as a duo. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the material that resulted from the recording. Lots of overlapping timbres, but the main aspect of the music might be stochastic and gesture-free processes versus more gestural events. A lot of moments might sound like a field recording, but mutate into something that is definitely two people hacking away in a room while keeping the same timbral elements. Very excited to see where the duo is headed.

I don't really know how to discuss playing with Graham (Stephenson). I met him when I was a long-haired teenager at a Lescalleet show. It took us a long time to finally play together and now we do it often. Playing with Graham always feels very low-key and casual.

The Green Pasture Happiness was one of the greatest improv trios of all time and criminally under-documented. Danfan (Daniel Fandiño) lives in Jersey now and Brian (Labycz)'s efforts have shifted towards house and techno musics, so tGPH lies in a state of dormancy. We do have unreleased material with Guillermo Gregorio, Jim Baker, and Frank Rosaly which will hopefully surface someday before the reunion concerts.

Nick Hoffman is one of my favorite people on and off the court. When he was last living in Illinois, he was out in Schaumburg so we didn't get together regularly, but we still managed to do some weird weekend tours. Sometimes as a duo, but we did trios with Mattin and Takahiro Kawaguchi in Normal, Illinois of all places. The most recent things Nick and I have done together are rock music. His Pilgrim Talk imprint released my "best of the hightone years" tape and I played in drums in a disastrous tour for his black-metal-sans-distortion-and-screaming-meets-garage band Back Magic. Their last album "Chorus Line to Hell" is really something special.

How about your solo pursuits: what have you been focusing on lately? 

A few years ago I had a computer failure that lost two solo projects. An acoustic and field recording based "softcore" for Ghost and Son and an all synthesizer based "relentless love" for Copy For Your Records. The last track off the latter was saved and now I'm about to make the rest of the record inspired by the lost one.

Can you talk about how you choose your weapons? I know historically you've invested a fair bit of time and energy into creating or modifying your own instruments and processes, like: no-output turntable, homemade electronics, and the setup you described to me recently that involved tattoo coils and mechanical feedback. For Crucible Sound, you're going to be playing synthesizer. Conceptually, what has pulled you down these different paths? Do you see them as separate modes, or as related threads? 

I've been working with electronic instead of acoustic setups lately because people seemed too interested with the objects I was using instead of the sounds they were making. I don't really see my different instruments as being different paths. It all stems from the same curiosity. When I got my first guitar I had to mess with the tuning pegs and see what was under the pickguard. If I'm walking down the street and something catches my eye, I have to pick it up, flick it, shake it, see what sounds could come out of it. I don't really consciously develop these ways of playing, I just mess around all day and see what sticks.

Aaron's most recent release is "No Dice" with Graham Stephenson on Hideous Replica

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Crucible Sound #16: June 11th, 2015

Crucible Sound #16
Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Aaron Zarzutzki - synthesizer
"Aaron Zarzutzki is a improviser of various sorts. He works primarily with misuse and perversion of objects and systems. Virtuosity, volatility, futility, and capability are thought of. Zarzutzki currently lives, works, and plays in Chicago." Aaron has collaborated with many artists including: Nick Hoffman, Brent Gutzeit, Joshua Manchester, Kevin Drumm, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Takahiro Kawaguchi, among many others. He is a member of Green Pasture Happiness alongside Brian Labycz and Daniel Fandiño. His most recent release is "No Dice" with Graham Stephenson on Hideous Replica.

Margaret Cox - electronics, objects

Anthony Levin-Decanini - card readers, tabletop guitar, tapes
(Lead Pall, Consultant, Binges)

RJ Myato - electronics, guitar, etc.
(Wiretappers, Consultant)

As usual, the musicians will improvise in ad-hoc groups.

Doors at 8:00
Music starts at 8:30, ends by 11:00 (3 sets)
$7 suggested donation

on Facebook

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Crucible Sound #15: May 14th, 2015

Crucible Sound #15
Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Matt Aelmore - French horn, bass

Anna Azizzy - performance, sound sculpture, electronics

Rey Freme - synthesizers

Jeremy Yamma - percussion, guitar
(Hunted Creatures)

As usual, the musicians will improvise in ad-hoc groups.

Doors at 8:00
Music starts at 8:30, ends by 11:00 (3 sets)
$7 suggested donation

on Facebook

Monday, March 30, 2015

Crucible Sound #14: April 9th, 2015

Crucible Sound #14
Thursday April 9th, 2015

Derek Bendel - tenor saxophone, guitar
(Nevhar Anhar)

Brandon Lucia - chango

John Paul Zigterman - drums, electronics
(Static Death, Luminaire)

As usual, the musicians will improvise in ad-hoc groups.

Doors at 8:00
Music starts at 8:30, ends by 11:00 (3 sets)
$7 suggested donation

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Crucible Sound #13: February 12, 2015

Crucible Sound #13
Thursday February 12th, 2015

Keith DeVries
(KMFD, Gangwish)

Ian Edwards
(Pet Clinic)

Kurt Schmidt
(Natural Bottom)

Joshua Tenenbaum
(Dwayne Rifle, Lead Pall, Cousin-Brother)

As usual, the musicians will improvise in ad-hoc groups.

Doors at 8:00
Music starts at 8:30, ends by 11:00 (3? sets)
$7 suggested donation

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Interview with Adam MacGregor

Adam MacGregor is a guitarist, vocalist and sound artist known to Pittsburghers as a member of local bands Brown Angel, Microwaves, Conelrad, Fate of Icarus, and Creation is Crucifixion. He also performs solo under the names Lothal and torus, and is one half of the free-improvised rock duo Orlop (founded in Beijing, China, 2013) with drummer Stephen Roach. He's also performed with Anla Courtis, Li Jianhong, Li Qing, Yan Jun, Vavabond, and Klaus Bru. He'll be performing in a special two-night event: Crucible Sound #12 this Wednesday and Thursday (December 17th & 18th) at Modernformations. 

I know that you've been in Beijing for the last couple of years. What can you tell us about the improvised music community there?

I moved to Beijing in November of 2012 for my fiance's job.  I'd done a lot of travel through Europe and India in the past, but China was a totally new frontier for me - I knew absolutely nothing about the people, language, or culture at the outset.  To stave off the shock of relocation, I figured the most obvious thing to do would be to get back to basics and seek out the things I knew best: creative music that was weird and abrasive enough to keep my interest.

It took a little bit of sleuthing and the help of some very knowledgeable American expat friends: Josh Feola, who performs as Charm and promotes shows under the Sinotronics and Pangbianr banners, and Nevin Domer, Fanzui Xiangfa guitarist, proprietor of Genjing records and COO of the influential Maybe Mars label.  As my bilingual guides (and themselves witness to the recent and very rapid development of the scene over the past decade), these two helped me to ease into what I found to be a vibrant improvised music community.

Josh used to organize a weekly improv night at a venue called School Bar under his Pangbianr (the Beijing-accented transliteration of the word for "next to") venture. He kindly booked me for a performance there as torus in March, 2013.  It was also around this time that he introduced me to Yan Jun. Yan Jun is a sound artist, writer, poet, and founder of the Subjam label who is regarded as the godfather of experimental music in China. His own music is heavily based upon controlled feedback, micro-sound, environmental recordings, and silence.  As I observed to be the case with many other artists on the scene, Yan Jun's delivery seemed to me to be more focused and measured than brash and chaotic.  I don't know if I would characterize this as a sweeping characteristic inherent to Beijing artists necessarily, but some other performers such as the modular synth/effects duo Soviet Pop (Li Qing and Li Weisi of the popular Beijing postpunk band Snapline), Liu Xinyu (guitarist of dark psych band Chui Wan, who performed solo on no-input mixer) and laptop glitch exponent Vavabond (aka Wei Wei) exhibited these affectations often.

On the other hand, there are the out-and-out cathartic blasts of free-noise saxophonist Li Zenghui and guitarist Li Jianhong, whom I had the pleasure to see many times.  Nevin once described his playing as "elemental", which is spot-on.  At his most intense, I'd compare his playing to the feedback-soaked atavism of Masayuki Takayanagi, but he manages to avoid any kind of idiomatic framework during his solos for the most part.  He frequently uses a small stone to attack the strings rather than a pick, enabling him to grind some harrowing sounds out of the strings.  Li Jianhong collaborates frequently with his wife Vavabond in two units (Mind Fiber and Vagus Nerve, the latter of which has released material on Utech); here they explore psychedelic masses of sound and so-called "environmental improvisations" where the two play together in an outdoor setting, responding to the ambient sounds from their surroundings; however, they use headphones to isolate themselves from one another.  The resulting hybrid of field-recording and free improvisation yields some interesting chance-based "interaction."

There are many other active improvisers in addition to the ones I've mentioned, many of whom take part in the Miji Concerts and improvisational workshops that Yan Jun holds frequently at a few venues around town, namely Zajia Lab and XP (a real hub of experimental music, indie rock, punk, and lots of other great local talent).  Minimalist violinist Yan Yulong (also in Chui Wan), He Fan and Zhouwang of Carsick Cars, avant-guitarist and Plunderphonics artist Feng Hao (who plays in the excellent, terrifying Walnut Room with Li Zenghui), A-Ming Liang (who performs on a type of electroacoustic contraption made out of a pedal-driven sewing machine), erstwhile P.K. 14 guitar strangler Deng Chenglong, Zhu Wenbo and Zhao Cong (multi-instrumentalists who perform solo and as no-wave duo Xiao Hong and Xiao Xiao Hong), are just a few of the folks who you're likely to see on experimental bills in Beijing.  And those are just the native Chinese musicians - Beijing is a world-class city, and as such there are many foreigners who take part.  Drummer and saxophonist Stephen Roach - who is featured in this edition of Crucible Sound - continues to be a great friend and cohort of mine in the free-rock/thrash/noise duo Orlop that we started in Beijing, late 2013.

There's another stable of artists in the Nojiji (literally, "no pee-pee") camp, who used to be based out of a venue/house (and fish hatchery!) called Raying Temple located in far-out neighborhood of Tongzhou.  This place was closed by the time I arrived, but the guys who were the core of the collective maintained a few projects and at one point set out as a nomadic troupe, traveling across China in a van and playing impromptu concerts.  These artists ranged from the harsh noise of Li Yang Yang (also the mind behind the noise-rock wrecking crew Mafeisan), to the more stark and meditative "ethno-ambient" ensemble ONG, to the dark, manipulated field recordings of Dead Sea.

In short, I was intrigued, blown away, and terribly comforted to find likeminded musicians so far from home.  And I was honored to play alongside on many occasions.  My only regret is that we didn't talk much about "process", and as a result I left with a sizeable chunk of the story absent.  But, there's always opportunities to backfill while enjoying the music at face value.

Josh Feola has written an excellent article for Tiny Mix Tapes on the history and development of experimental music in China, and covers far more ground in a much more erudite manner than I could: check it out here.

At Crucible Sound, you're going to have groups improvise along to guidelines provided by Yan Jun and Vavabond. Can you give us a preview?

At some of the improvisation workshops that typically precede the Miji Concerts that Yan Jun organizes, he'll have a guest coordinator choose parameters for the players.  I participated in one of these with Alan Courtis (Reynols), who stopped through Beijing on a China tour early this year.  This past September, Vavabond organized a monthlong residency at XP Club's "Zoomin' Night," which is a mainly free-improv program held every Tuesday night.  We collaborated using the "no-thought" guideline that she devised.  Here are some (but not all!) of the guidelines below:

Yan Jun:
One musician sits on stage. The rest sit among the audience (it will be better if they don't use a P.A. - i.e., better to produce the sound from each one's own position). The one on stage plays less (it will be better if he or she plays no sound. But definitely in a tension of playing). He or she is the first one who finishes performance. The rest have to play at least 5 more minutes after he or she leave stage (without bow).
And here are a preview of Vavabond's guidelines for Thursday; again, one group will perform according to these:
No-Brain Improvisation - A Tribute to Dogura Magura  
"Brain is not the place where thinking comes out." In the Japanese novel Dogura Magura, the doctor proclaimed. "Brain is a protein without nerve or sense." "Our spirit or living consciousness rest on each corner of our body." "All our desires, emotions, wills, memories, judgments, faith, etc, equally scattered in each of our 30 million cells."
No-brain Improvisation is an attempt to practice and prove what was told in Dogura Magura.  
Rules: DO NOT use the brain during creation and performance — try to abandon all the concepts, aesthetics, logic, thinking, judgments and decisions about sounds that are “ordered” by the brain. Let body and instinct do the job.

Orlop has just released a split tape with Slime Street on Telepathy Tapes. It will be available at Crucible Sound #12.

You can hear more of Adam’s music on his Soundcloud.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Crucible Sound #12: December 17 & 18, 2014

Crucible Sound #12
2 nights of improvised music with Pittsburgh ex-pat Adam MacGregor and friends

Adam MacGregor is a guitarist, vocalist and sound artist. Currently he works solo under the names Lothal and torus, plays in noise/metal band Brown Angel, and is one half of the free-improvised rock duo Orlop (founded in Beijing, China, 2013) with drummer Stephen Roach. He has performed with Creation is Crucifixion, Fate of Icarus, Conelrad, Microwaves, Anla Courtis, Li Jianhong, Li Qing (Soviet Pop/Snapline), Yan Jun, Vavabond, and Klaus Bru.

Wednesday December 17
Collaborating with:

Stephen Boyle - percussion & electronics

Dave Kuzy - guitar (Microwaves)

Jim Lingo - percussion, objects, electronics (Centipede E'est)

RJ Myato - feedback, electronics (Wiretappers, Ouroborean Piss)

Ben Opie - alto saxophone, contrabass clarinet, theremin (Flexure, Thoth Trio, Water Shed)

Stephen Roach - drums/percussion, tenor saxophone (Orlop, Susto, DInner Sock)

Tyler Tadlock - electronics (Spirituals)

Thursday December 18
Collaborating with:

Johnny Arlett - bass (Microwaves)

David Graham - synth, theremin, baritone guitar (Requiem)

Joshua Rievel - guitar (Casual Male)

Stephen Roach - drums/percussion, tenor saxophone (Orlop, Susto, DInner Sock)

Tyler Tadlock - electronics (Spirituals)

At Modernformations4919 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh
Doors at 8:00
Music starts at 8:30, ends by 11:00 (3? sets)
$7 suggested donation