Review: From Computers To Cassette Decks, ‘Machine Music Delivered Five Unique Audio Adventures

Review: From Computers To Cassette Decks, ‘Machine Music Delivered Five Unique Audio Adventures

Bold experimental music hosts Project [BLANK] kicked off their fifth season on Saturday at Bread and Salt with a Machine Music set that promised – and delivered – a "night of electronic sound."

Genres of electronic music ranged from computer software to modular synthesizers with wires and buttons.

The concert was opened by Michelle Liu, a composer from the University of California at San Diego, sitting at her laptop. Pulses of bright white noise accompanied the video image with jittery white bits dancing around a rectangular area, with occasional bursts of noise. The throbbing noise turned into chirps and grunts, and then into deep rumblings and modulated sounds. The music was continuous for most of the performance, but as the expected white bars faded, the music became sparse and eventually fell silent.

If anyone deserves the moniker "Music Machine" for his performance, it's Joe Cantrell and his low-quality assortment of forgotten cassettes, turntables, effects and other electronic equipment.

Have you ever seen the Audiotronics Tutorette 800DM? And I do not. This is a 40 year old educational device in a hard plastic case. It appears to have been used to teach vocabulary with the included set of flashcards. Swipe a card with the letter "Z" and a zebra across it, and the device will write "Zebra".

Cantrell slowly entered driver's licenses and other magnetic cards into the Tutorette, playing with them like an engineer returning a tape through a magnetic head to produce spongy electronic sound. After doing this a few times, Tutorette sampled and looped the sound.

His set opened with sounds reminiscent of a jukebox at low volume. Within 25 minutes, these quiet, introspective sounds evolved into asymmetrical grooves, with sparkling electronic basses, tinkling jungle loops and enigmatic speech from cassettes and recordings.

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Heide Jiménez played small bells and a chain of goat hooves on his laptop, along with other vocal elements. The resulting electronic texture is uneven, sometimes with distorted pre-recorded vocals.

What do random votes mean? Is the message trying to be heard but failing? Text without understanding? Is this a cheap way to create a puzzle about something that doesn't make sense? Without a verbal introduction or program notes, this could only be guessed at.

Jimenez's band was unique in its discontinuity and courage to abandon old ideas and venture into new sonic territory.

Michael Trejillo's Vatican IV Companion has been described as remixes of two of his string quartets. Play a custom built modular mixing and matching machine. Long notes with cut melodic features slowly became rhythmic, merging into a groove. Many electronic circuits have input and output timing. The most calm and concentrated work was in the evening.

The Xareni Lizarraga notebook set focused on field recordings with a sage olfactory component and live samples of what appeared to be the same clog chain that Jimenez had used previously. Interspersed with frogs and birds, fast-sounding, seemingly random Spanish electronic bells.

The five composers/performers took my ear to new places of interest, and there was enough musical variety between them to avoid monotony. Future concerts at Project [BLANK's Salty Series] promise even more exciting adventures, and admission is $10 USD.

Duke is a freelance writer.

This story originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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