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Improv 04




Sept. 23-25,  2005 ........



Where is a community  that prides itself on guerilla improvisation in the streets? 

..the group sport of free improvisation? .. is the circuit bending capital of the USA? ...promotes workshops, feasts,

& new collaborations which emphasize selfless camaraderie in musical abstraction and mutual invention?

Baltimore, Maryland's HIGH ZERO !  It's a community effort, from the organizing collective, to participation of 

selected  international and local improvisors, playing together for the first time, to devoted attendees returning for more, 

more, more. A refreshing change from the usual jaded audiences that dot the U.S. landscape for this music.

        Imagine a test-tube, magnified by silence, stirred by sound of water dripping, subtle space transitions to distanced

kalimba, sound source, suddenly pours, oscillates, and becomes a looming flood, sudden rush of power, the mighty water, 

gushing relentlessly, in a full range of ever changing presence.  Inner music inside the the violence of constancy, filtered color

changes in controlled distortion. The inventor, Melissa Moore, creator of a laboratory of controlled noise 

& sound, brings together the image of wind & rain, electricity in miniscule evolutionary process becoming  universes of

elemental energy.   I felt as if I were kayaking over relentless class 5 rapids and enjoying the ride. Wind tunnels of faint

 voices, power  of nature, natural disaster, and in this case, the Creator was a black woman...  

Then came the rains... I was lulled into deep relaxation by it all, the sound assault became sedative. 

Could've slept like a baby for the rest of the night, but there was more  to come. . .

        Set One, Thursday, Sept 22, 2005:  
        Joseph Hammer (LA) -electric tape loop,  Audrey Chen (B) voice/cello  Carly Ptak (B) mind

Tentatively opening with looped tape, distant conversations grooved by hand, punctuated sharply with the sound of falling metal, and outright screams.  Chen worked to build a musical continuity from the seeming disparate elements, adding pulse, rubbing and deep oceanic tones from her cello as, for me, the high point most definitely her adept use of voice, soundings, and gutteral tonal explosions, full range of utterance before Ptak's interjects loudly, "What can we do that isn't fascinating right now?"
In the second piece, Ptak picks up a violin and commences a tease before engaging in an uncomfortably shrill scrape of hair to steel string. Chen's cello tone by contrast, altered, but full bodied and articulate.  Hammer eeks some magnetic head to complement. Very interesting movement goes by as Chen provides the grace, technique elegance and flair expected from a stringed instrument against the more alleatoric rhythm attacks of her partners.  Ptak edging on the side of subtle threat and danger, Hammer engrosses himself in the abstraction of manipulated backdrops as Chen commences assaultive bow striking , hair-shredding her way center stage, creating a climactic beauty in the percussive shape of the movement.  She silences herself, allowing  the texture to emerge before adding the vocal icing on the mix, the expression that comes through heart and soul and human voice, gently riding the wave of bizarre accompaniments introduced by Hammer & Ptak, concluding with Ptak on the edge of an entrance that didn't arrive. 

    Set Three, Thursday, Sept 22, 2005:
    Peter Jacquemyn (Belgium) double bass, Claire Elizabeth Barratt (NYC) dance, 
Rose Hammer ( Baltimore) baritone sax, Birgit Ulher (Germany) trumpet

This group takes no time at all to get to the heart of the music as Claire Barratt engages the audience visually 
with the elegance of gestures, postures and poses. Peter Jacquemyn's large powerful sound is balanced by the clarity of the baritone saxophone emerging from low responsive tones to a standing dialog.  Ulhuer adds textures, split sound, spit and potential for 100 mutable voices which also double as percussive accents.  Jacquemyn driving the shape of the piece, settling into low chanting and throat singing. The voice of the bass overwhelmingly clear and beautiful.  Rose complements and balances on the large baritone saxophone, matching pitch for pitch in the fervent cries of the wildness, and the metals bowed beer cans and pie tins, muted plastic bags on the double bass, created new settings for the music, reminiscent of Jazz, or the Zoo with the understated growls of Ulher. This grouping displayed  an awesome balance throughout, in virtuosity from the one legged maneuverings of Clair Barratt to the shape of the music itself.

    Set Four, Thursday, Sept 22, 2005:
    Mike Muniak (Baltimore) electronics/laptop, Paul Niedhardt (Baltimore) drums,
    Bonnie Jones (Baltimore) digital delay pedal, Caleb Johnson (Baltimore) electronics,
    Tatsuya Nakatani (NY) drums

The blend of three electronicians with two drummers equated large sound structures nearly impossible to pick out
the individual electronic elements, but Jones whirling feedback set a new event in motion. From active, busy 
cymbal-bending and drones of vibrators of Nakatani contrasted by Niedhardt's accented punctuations and tactile
attacks  to observing Bonnie Jones in the image of a dentist with tools, in deep concentration, computer driven 
sonic events, a metamorphosis of layered energies, rising to crescendo. 

FRIDAY NIGHT , September 23rd:
    8:30 p.m.  Scott Moore (Brooklyn, NY) Solo

Large man with slapsticks and jingles moves around in concert with a strange found apparatus, droning blower
with airbag. A shamanistic circling, ritual, inference, medicine man.  As the rhythm rises to an ear-splitting
fever pitch, the air bag gradually rises, and is full. 

    Set One:  John Berndt (Baltimore) soprano saxophone
Jay Kishor (Baltimore) surbahar sitar,  Tatsuya Nakani (NY) percussion

Opening with a long tone on the saxophone with percussive rhythmic splash, the drone is introduced only
briefly by the subarhar sitar before bent tones pause, isolated, slowly build to rising melodic substance.
Bowed gong and scraping snare contrasts the jazz tones produced by the sitar, very unlike any previous
exposure to raga.  Definite melding of styles and traditions, as Nakatani strikes his modified trap in almost
Taiko fashion, Berndt circular breathes into his instrument, controlling tone with a pedal. The music is truly
transcendent, a blend of free jazz and trance, rising and resolving the boundaries. Nakatani driving madly
virtuostic drumming front and center at times raising with Berndt to intense free jazz proportions, the surbahar
melting at times into hints of contemporary jazz guitar incarnations, a blending of East and West. Raga? NOT.

    Set Two: 9:45  p.m.  Audrey Chen (Baltimore) cello/voice, 
    Bonnie Jones (Baltimore) digital delay pedal, 
    Mazen Kerbaj (Lebanon) trumpet & mutes & tubes
    C. Spencer Yeh (Cincinatti) violin/voice

Opening ever so quietly, Mazen Kerbaj, master of extended trumpet techniques, utters contrabass tones
via his surrealistic long tubing.  Spacious elapse of quietude revealing extraordinary and understated utterings
from the lips of C. Spencer Yeh with eery open mouthed suggestions of Chen. Kerbaj slowly works his preparations, 
turning his trumpet into a factory of subtle vibrations & beautiful tiny belltones. A soft blending of percussion and 
breath. The sound of raw scratch electricity is heard as Bonnie Jones blends this dimension into the ensemble, 
completing the palette of sound. Often white noise was common, not from the circuit bending, but from the teeth
and breath, lips & bow of Chen, or Yeh, adeptly imitated by the reed mouthpiece of Kerbaj's trumpet. contraption,
blending and blurring the lines.  Abstraction and events of miniscule proportion give rise to an active sound exploration
of stunning originality and delicacy.  Butterfly flutterings align with the movement of silence and unorthodox renderings,
a watchful ear is in order here. Sublime.

   Solo: Phil Minton, voice, facial, diaphragm & hands, 10:30 p.m. 

    The full bodied wine of tone deconstructed into every conceivable molecular partial imaginable in
multiple extremities of range and human emotion, expression from the inside out.

    Set Three: 10:55 p.m.  Samuel Burt- (Baltimore) clarinet, voice, laptop
    Andy Hayleck (Baltimore) bowed metal electronics
    Liz Tonne (Boston) voice
    Birgit Ulher (Hamburg, Germany) trumpet

Lots of space for the sound event, waiting for the next, an utterly unique & ubiquitous vocal ubiety, the abstract 
quality of being in position, first noticeable element in this ensemble,vocalese expressive sweetness, crystaline isolated 
sound tones, high sonics supersized and subtle. From the stearin sonics of Burt's clarinet and Hayleck's saw to ultra-
sonic growlings of Ulher's trumpet below the low range of her horn, Tonne exposes gems of rare sound jewelry in her 
truly sonoroic stratospheric frequencies, as precious as moments in life's articulating, refrain the durations.

What means High Zero? Clarinetist Samuel Burt sits Zen and Waits.
The sound is burning at ppp and constaint. Quietude contained and surrounded by breath.
Speaking so softly, saying so much.

SATURDAY September 24th found a comprehensive collective collaboration, awakening participants 
 at different times of day, from a much too early in the morning workshop at Baltimore's Cultural Alliance, 
where a rude & "care-less" gallery manager subordinated what could have been in the main gallery, a dance & music meditation of public interest, to an inappropriate "breakroom", with hard & dusty concrete floor, T.V. &  flea-market furniture to be moved around to accommodate the dismayed & unwanted performance artists, not to mention dancers! Clearly, his  interest was in not disturbing the half dozen or so gallery guests, who in fact might have found us interesting in the main gallery. This gave rise to resigned frustration, albeit transformed by Claire Barratt's slimly attended but beautiful movement meditation, & the final abortion of the participants to a short presentation in a nearby park.  

    A much more congenial scene, think coffee & bagels, at The Theater Project , where musicians gathered, communicated, & participated in Phil Minton's Herculean Voice Workshop, all before an afternoon of new collaborative experiences 
between participants, who are all gettingto know each other in the moment of their artistic assignments. Later in the day,
a "string" thing was to happen in front of the Railroad Station. Three of us showed up, but  it was an inappropriate 
setting for violinists to mimic "playing" as cars drove around.... 

    But guerilla art is very much a part of the HIGH ZERO FESTIVAL, for better or worse, and indeed some things work 
out better.  We had to abort a late Saturday afternoon excursion into a neighborhood, where participants spread out a mile long, and "performed" activities, musical and otherwise, for garage doors in an alley, when someone called the Police and a bottle was thrown.  We aborted to a nearbypark, much more appropriately creating a quadraphonic sound environment, 
enjoying fresh air and pending rain droplets, cooling the heavy humidity in the air, and delighting dog owners and animals.

Many other guerilla appearances had previously occurred during the week before the festival, as well as late nights after shows, and all throughout the weekend...these were witnessed by  passerby's and collaborators, a signature of 
High Zero impact in the neighboring local, unsuspecting, and random eve's droppers. 

Saturday afternoon shows began in the Theater at 1:00, with Found Photographs, "Memories of the Anonymous,"
a large ensemble accompanying a slide show of found photographs, Improvisation Minus Music, an unstructured
theatrical improvisation  incorporating selected victims from the festival artistic pool, and Phil Minton's Ferril Orchestra,
the dozen or so vocal volunteers, who sang as Minton conducted an event of operatic, sonic, and extraordinary choral soundings.

        Solo:  Tatsuya Nakatani  (Easton, Pennsylvania) percussion  8:30 p.m. 

Opening bowed gong, many frequencies and sub-frequencies with the heart beat of the bass drum gradually strengthening
to a dramatic rumble, "ups the anty" with metallic reverberations transforming to an acoustic feedback, then a release.
Rubbing and bending metal on metal, rearranging the plates and sheets of cymbals on drumhead. Cosmic & celestial
tonalities ring sublimely over the distant rumbling growing ever present. Nakatani is an adept sound manipulator of bells, plates of steel, bowls & ritual bells, transforming toning, scraping, and bursts of explosive energy: each event it's own statement,
or comment. The voices are many, monstrous, and primal. Singing metals over the pulse of living in the now. A truly 
great improvisor & percussionist, Nakatani, whose left foot on bass drum transformed rhythmic hypnotic rumbling to barely audible, a long riveting speeding vibrational decrescendo, finally arriving into silence.

    Set One:  Claire Barratt (Bronx, NY) dance
                     Liz Tonne (Boston) voice, Bonnie Jones (Baltimore) digital delay pedal
                     Paul Neidhardt (Baltimore) percussion & drums

Rising from a single thread of sound, minute vocal inflections sounding from Liz in her signature faux electro-
microstructures, set in the midst of the crackle of Jones precision with random circuitry manipulation and Neidhardts 
restraint, Claire Barratt balances her static postures in a stunning red gown delivering intentional change in a manner 
stark and mechanical, imaging the microstructures of electrical flow in human movement. The phenomenon of this 
group's influence of the electrical charge that permeates life is so beautifully demonstrated here, magnetizing the 
audience to a noticeable potent silence. Niedhardt's unorthodox and inventive drumming habits break the tension,
yet build its charge aiming towards a higher frequency of events.  His singing bass drum hovers like an airplane
before the change of station recovers the mysterious fanning continuum.  He rubs together two leg bones, 
oscillations of our ancestors, present with the constant static of universal debris, the tower of singing frog abruptly 
leaves the silence of a cave.  Barratt never dances. Her presence is that of a witness without eyes.  She is moved
only by the presence, possessed in her own essential solitude.  Jones doing a subliminal scientist chef hat on top of
her head, reads the instructions from doors that are numbered from one to 7, dutifully performing the actions. An
interlude of comic relief when the ensemble stops completely to reveal the remaining secrets. Returning to the
physical plane, the woman in red bears newfound animation from her shoulder socket. The busy musicians
briefly resume as matchsticks are broken and Jones concludes, "Nuclear Fucking Vision"...

    Set Two:   Audrey Chen (Baltimore) voice
    `                Clare Cooper (Sydney, Australia) guzheng, 
                     Phil Minton (London) voice
                     Scott Rosenberg (Los Angeles) reeds

Popping and clicking, small sounds, guzheng and bowed harmonics, a texture that grows as vocalist, Phil Minton
growls, rising to operatic pitch, soon matched by his female vocal counterpart in this set, Audrey Chen, who emits
the clear lingering high blending with the bowed strings of Cooper's guzheng and high pitched supersonic sustains of 
Rosenberg's mouthpiece.  He dismantles a contrabass clarinet, manipulating the gooseneck as Chen and Minton's horrific utterances take on consonatic spitting, slobbering proportion, mirroring each others jibberish and contrasting highs 
and lows.  Rosenberg's unorthodox playing of the partials of his horn, relentlessly prevailed throughout, finally driving the group to climax.  Cooper flutters nimble fingers inducing a static popping, reminiscent of the circuit bending static of Jones, 
highlighted by a "surprise" solo in the mid interval of the set, a brief exception as mostly she served to support or frame the 
content of the singers. All four performers become possessed and consumed in deep utterances, stored cries from emotions buried so deep, that I wonder if previous lifetime experiences are not being emitted from the passages. From miniscule utterances, to vast otherworldly punctuations of organic murmerings, emersion in the extremes of the human expression, framed by invention.  

       Set Three:   Che Davis, (Baltimore) trombone, didgeridoo & conch
                            Peter Jaquemyn (Belgium) double bass
                            LaDonna Smith (Alabama) violin
                            C. Spencer Yeh (Cincinatti) voice, violin

As I was a particpant in this set, and largely due to the channeling in the moment, don't remember what happened, and
leave it to anyone who witnessed this set to "write in" a report to us.  Most of what I can recall  is marked by the setting
of a drone by Che Davis, from which textural and melodic forays transcend time altogether in a liquid passage of 

      Set Four: Rose Hammer (Baltimore) baritone sax
                       Mazen Kerbaz (Beirut, Lebanon) trumpet, extended techniques
                       Melissa Moore (Baltimore) clarinet, electo-acoustic inventions
                        Scott Moore (Brooklyn, NY) 
Tuba, invented sculptural instrument

Think baritone sax, muted with a toboggan, giant man with long sticks and sousaphone, testubes, circuitry and kalimba, 
plus an inventor's trumpet complete with percussive mutes, hoses,  and balloon maneuvers, experimental instruments of 
the first degree.  Mazen Kerbaj, clearly a master of a plethora of augmentations and diminutions of surreal and outrageous permutations from assorted mutes, tubing, mouthpieces, and other air passage circuitry, always on the edge of the impossible and ridiculous, yet adeptly integral to the vitality and subtlety of the music, all while circular breathing, and holding a sacred space for musical virtuosity, both unimaginable technique & devout absurdist spirituality. Air matters accompanied by 
Moore's signature dripping water. Hammer raises the heat, eeking out astonishing high pitched multiphonics midpoint 
in the accompaniment, while the constant collaborative blurting from the sousaphone becomes a visual and aural reminder 
of Om-PaPa, Patriarch of tubing. 


Once again the evening of performance concluded about 12:30 around midnight, and everyone was directed to an after
the show stopping party and dance at a loft, and went on to the wee hours of the morning.. 


Sunday September 25th 

    Early to rise on Sunday, many of us once again engaged in more than one extended recording session during the day, 
occupying the most of our time, finally rewarded with a famous Baltimore "crab chow-down" dinner social, contact exchanging, eating and drinking, and as if there weren't enough music to go around, a contingency left to checkout an 
unrelated performance of Peter Brotzman across town as others engaged in more guerilla performance in the park before sundown, all before returning for another full Sunday evening show of yet a Rosie Heartline Solo set, and four full sets of musical collaboration, never before seen or heard.  

    I for one, was on the last leg of my considerable attention span, and when the final evening performance commenced, I 
realized that I had only enough energy left to sit halfway up in my chair. I was so "peopled-out" that I sought out a spot
from the far-most corner up in the very back in the darkest part of the theater, to observe the remaining sets of the festival.
Finding myself in the darkness of last seats in the theater, and blitzed from over-exposure, my beleaguered attempts at writing seemed to be really tired, lame, and going downhill fast. So, I found it appropriate and nessessary to just sit and enjoy the 
last evening of concerts without writing about them.  

What I love about HIGH ZERO is the insistence on creating new contexts for collaborative improvisation. Embracing the 
careful choosing of collaborators, who have never worked together before, and posturing them in new combinations is
a zone of comfort, that participants must be open to explore.  In the exploration, audience and musicians alike witness
for the first time the fruit of creating family, when strangers meet and create a new musical language in the course of
creation.  There is no competition, only the embracing of the sounding moment, being fully present and aware, blending
new streams of reality into another, into each other, for the sheer presence of the moment of sounding.

Sunday evening, Sept 25th 8:30 p.m.

Solo           Rosie Hertlein  (NYC) violin, voice

Set One    John Berndt (Baltimore) reeds, electronics
                  Samuel Burt (Baltimore) clarinet, voice, laptop
                  Che Davis (Baltimore) trombone, conch
                  Tom Goldstein (Baltimore) percussion
                  Scott Rosenberg (Los Angeles) reeds 

Set Two     Clare Cooper (Australia) guzheng
                  Joseph Hammer (Los Angeles) tape loops, electronics
                  Andy Hayleck  (Baltimore) bowed metal, electronics
                  C. Spencer Yeh  (Cincinatti) voice, violin

Set Three    Che Davis (Baltimore) trombone, conch
                    Mazen Kerbaj (Lebanon) trumpet
                    Carly Ptak   (Baltimore) mind
                    Scott Rosenberg (Los Angeles) reeds
                    Birgit Unlher  (Germany) trumpet

Set Four      Samuel Burt (Baltimore) clarinet, laptop electronics
                    Caleb Johnston (Baltimore) electronics
                    Phil Minton (London) voice    
                    Scott Moore (Brooklyn, NY) tuba, invented instruments, voice

      If anyone who attended HIGH ZERO would like to comment on, or review the above Sunday evening 
concert, you are invited to submit your text, and we'll be happy to include your report, or any subjective 
observations or commentary offered. Photos would also be appreciated.

    My thanks and "Hats Off"  to the directors, collective, and sponsors of  HIGH ZERO, and for the enormous 
amount of dedication and commitment they have for this music, and my appreciation for the work that it takes 
to put on a festival of this scope and quality..  My hat was ceremonially burned by organizer John Berndt in the 
"What happens when Improvisers don't make music?"
experimental theater on Saturday afternoon, 
smelling really bad, polluting the air, choking the singers in the Feral Choir, but hey, a mere example of the 
living exploration and the red passion of invention, "Long live the music....! "

                                                                                                       ~LaDonna Smith