Electric Monday: MusicAcoustica kicks off and Max Tundra heads out

I’m shocked. There’s a whole week of new electronic music by visiting composers from all over the world at the Central Conservatory of Music (中央音乐学院), and I just found out last night.

Apparently through Oct 30, festival MusicAcoustica will hold lectures, exhibitions and performances every day at the conservatory and other venues – ends with gig at Yugong Yishan on Sunday, and judging from the opening concert last night, you’re going to get something from it, no matter which way you swing (musically).

The coolest thing about this festival – musicians don’t perform on computers – they perform with them.

Take spotlighted violinist/composer Mari Kimura (Japan) – Although known most recently as the lady who figured out how to play below the lowest note on a violin and her designer power glove controller, she’s been in interactive computer music for decades.

Testing out the system before the show. Credit: Ben Granier

Her piece “Voyage Apollonian” opened the concert and featured the glove, which uses tiny gyroscopes linked to a computer to clock her bow speed and movements. This not only enables her to warp projected quicktime movies, but sample her phrases, distort the sound and play it back, all based on how she moves. Basically its like pianist Bill Evans’ jazz classic Conversations with Myself, except performed in real-time and way more psychedelic.

Other cool ideas in motion were composer Mara Helmuth’s (US) Water Birds – With mics and effects processors placed all over the stage, clarinetist Yan Di simply walked around and played extended techniques. The result was like playing in a black hole – where sounds would simply expand into silence.

Premieres included the technically challenging “Double Suns” for Violin and Electronic Sounds by Marc Battier (composed for Kimura, Battier will also be at Yugong Yishan on Sunday) and “Visages peint dans les Opéras de Pékin IV” by Zhang Xiaofu. Commissioned by the Ministry of Education, the piece basically featured Jinghu player Yu Hongmei shredding to chopped up Chinese percussion samples and twisted cymbals.

Check out their schedules for concerts this week.

In related electronic based gigs, electro-pop spaz and Pitchfork darling Max Tundra left China on an ironically subdued note. I know it was a Monday night, but there were like 20 people at Yugong Yishan, which I hear was a stark contrast to his Shanghai showing at Logo (although sharing the bill with local powerhouses Boys Climbing Ropes and Duck Fight Goose might have helped a little).

“Nanjing and Shanghai were great” he said before the show. “Lots of expats and maybe thirty percent Chinese faces. But the response was brilliant, really packed and enthusiastic.”

Max Tundra, however, had Wanderlust open for him – whose latest incarnation was a boy-girl synth duo that did little than shout sing-speak while fiddle with dials for 40 minutes. Think Nitzer Ebb with severe jetlag. I appreciate the effort, but the result was kind of depressing. The only highlight was a dancing raver friend of theirs who jumped on stage for a few moves.

Politely thanking them for the gesture, Max Tundra (Ben Jacobs) was quick to get into his set. How to describe the sounds coming from his pile of patch chords? Imagine dropping a 80s pop vinyl record from a skyscraper, gluing it back together and playing it a lot faster.

Despite the slim crowd, he gave it his all, playing a lot from his record Parallax Error Beheads You like “Which Song,” and “Until We Die” the latter of which apparently took him six months to program into his workstation – an Amiga computer (circa 1985). But just don’t call what he does the e-word.

I hate the word electronica. Especially with the “a” at they end,” he said before the show. “It’s such a melancholy word, it sounds like a guy who can’t make eye contact with you and pasty skin. There’s nothing joyful about it. Sounds like ‘melancholia.’”

His bursts of frenetic dance between solos and knob turning were a crowd favorite. The flailing arms and high-knee stomping bore perfect resemblance to his sound; both have a weird sense of rhythm that just work onstage.

He also gets props for multi-tasking – Jacobs nimbly jumped from xylophone to melodion to other gadgets while turning dials with his mouth when his hands weren’t free. Plus, he’s a talented keyboard player – some nice vamps and solos there.

“I’ll be playing synths and instruments and dancing around onstage, and someone will come up to me and say, ‘so how long have you been DJing?’” he laughed. “I think its the absence of a drumkit. It’s funny because I used to be a DJ, but that’s another story.”

As for the story behind the moniker Max Tundra, just fill in the blank.

“It’s a question I get all the time; maybe it’s a boring answer so nobody bothers printing it,” he laughed. “It just popped into my head one day and I liked the sound of it. If you can think of a back story for it, please feel free. If its a good, I’ll use it, if you don’t mind.”


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1 Response

  1. Beijing Daze says:

    w00t w00t.. welcome aboard JT.
    I’m with you on this one. I had not even heard a whiff of information about musicacoustica until you posted this. Sometimes, I really wonder whether the people organizing these events want audiences to know about them and show up.
    Shame for the Max Tundra show. sounds like it could be interesting but i heard of it way too late.