Notable Trends of 2016

Let’s step away for a moment from all of the bad that was 2016 – the violence, deaths, and disturbing socio-political movements. In the creative music space, we’ve seen some trends as well. But these tendencies are neither good nor bad per se instead, they may be considered to be imperfect observations on the state of the avant-garde.

None of these trends are necessarily new to 2016 – many have been in various states of incubation for quite some time. Nonetheless, 2016 may have been the year when they have taken hold. Or at least become obvious to this casual observer.

English: Darcy James Argue, moers festival 2009

Big Bands are Back

If you follow the styles of music that we feature on this site, chances are pretty good that you’ve at least heard of, if not heard, a few of the new “big bands.” Sixty-plus years ago, Duke Ellington established that the big band can be a conduit of unclassifiable, genre-busting music. This year, large groups led by Darcy James Argue, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Nathan Hubbard, Dan Weiss, Ben Stapp, as well as the late Fred Ho‘s Eco-Music Big Band produced and/or performed remarkable music.

Merzbow, prominent Japanoise musician, in 2007

It’s a Game of Drones

Drones are nothing new, but what is new is their ubiquity in 2016.  From ambient to metal to classical and jazz, the drone is a style being widely explored. Sure, drones have been around for a while, introduced to various musical communities by Klaus Schulze, John Cale, Sunn O))), and numerous electroacoustic composers and performers (arguably, the use of drones goes back hundreds of years to Southern Asia and Australia). This year’s purveyors include Aram Bajakian, Mats Gustafsson, Merzbow, and a number of dark ambient releases on labels such as Cold Spring Records and Cyclic Law.  And this list just scratches the surface. Also, 2016 saw National Drone Day in Saskatoon, and several other drone-based events.

Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton’s Students are Everywhere and Doing Everything

A music professor for almost 30 years, Braxton has had his share of students, both formal and informal. The list of names is stunning: Mary Halvorson, Matt Bauder, James Fei, Taylor Ho Bynum, André Vida, Tyshawn Sorey, Steve Lehman, and many others. These individuals are now composers, performers, and bandleaders in their own right. This year, Halvorson, Bynum, Sorey, and Lehman have released critically-acclaimed albums. Still young, the Braxton student cadre have many years to practice their skills and are already influencing a third generation of creative musicians.

downloadSouthern California Roars

Sure, Los Angeles, San Diego and surrounding areas have had their share of interesting musicians – John Cage, Nels and Alex Cline, Vinny Golia, amongst many others. The UC San Diego music department is particularly strong, currently the home of Mark Dresser, Anthony Davis, Roger Reynolds, Steven Schick, and Rand Steiger. UC Irvine faculty includes Michael Dessen, Nicole Mitchell, and Lukas Ligeti. But one label is putting out a consistently strong series of experimental and creative releases: Orenda Records. Run by Daniel Rosenboom, recent releases of note include those from Sound Etiquette, Alexander Noice, Nathan Hubbard, Burning Ghosts, as well as Rosenboom himself.

Kamasi Washington Interviewed and Profiled

Source. The New York Times.

Kamasi Washington began this year literally hobbled: After breaking an ankle on tour in Europe, he followed doctor’s orders and canceled a series of shows. Still, that pause hardly slowed the onrushing momentum that Mr. Washington, a commandingly charismatic tenor saxophonist and bandleader, has gathered since the release of his momentous debut, “The Epic.”

That aptly titled triple album — a horizon-scanning jazz opus girded with funk and soul — was one of the biggest stories in music in 2015. Mr. Washington spent much of this year carrying its message forward, both in legacy settings, like the Newport Jazz Festival, and places where a jazz musician can rarely be found, like Coachella.

AMN Picks of the Week: Reflections in Cosmo / Josh Green & The Cyborg Orchestra / Anthony Braxton / 156 / Timothy Dunne

Anthony Braxton playing a contrabass saxophone

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Reflections in Cosmo – Reflections in Cosmo (2017)
Josh Green & The Cyborg Orchestra – Telepathy & Bop (2016)
Anthony Braxton – Trio (Knoxville) 2016 (2016)
156 – Memento Mori (2016)
Timothy Dunne – Metaphrase (2016)

San Francisco Scene: January 3-6, 2017

From the Bay Improviser Calendar.

Tuesday, January 3
Tue 1/03 8:00 PM Center for New Music [55 Taylor St SF]
Ned McGowan and Keiko Shichijo in concert
Ned McGowan and Keiko Shichijo play works by McGowan, Sciarrino, Lachenmann, Kondo and Ustvolskaya.

Tue 1/03 8:00 PM Yoshi’s Oakland [510 Embarcadero West Oakland]
An exhilarating musical exploration by Resonance Jazz Ensemble launches a New Year with New Sound at Yoshi’s

Thursday, January 5

Thu 1/05 7:30 PM Center for New Music [55 Taylor St SF]

Friday, January 6

Fri 1/06 8:00 PM Center for New Music [55 Taylor St San Francisco, CA 94102]
One of New York’s preeminent new music pianists/composers, Eleonor Sandresky brings us the West Coast Premiere of her evening-length work, The Wonder Suit Show: A Space Odyssey. Using live piano, NASA space recordings, and her invention, The Wonder Suit – a wearable, remote sensor interface integrating live electronics with the pianist’s movements – her performance transports the audience to outer space. Will be followed by a Center for New Music PRISM Series Q&A with the artist.

Avant Music News 20 Most Popular Reviews of 2016

English: Bobby Previte Live at Saalfelden 2009...

This year, we published 133 reviews. Most are of new albums, but some cover reissues, books, or live performances. Needless to say, I’m grateful for our small cadre of dedicated reviewers, much less the many fantastic musicians who make all of this possible.

This list is in descending order of popularity, as measured by clicks on individual links to reviews. Unfortunately, the list does not reflect other measures of popularity, such as sharing on social media, but it is a reasonable representation of the reviews that garnered the most interest.

Also, entries on the list might be biased toward reviews that appear earlier in the year, as those have had more time to accumulate traffic. Still, most traffic to reviews arrives in the first week that the reviews are available, so this bias may be small.

  1. Dave Ball & Jon Savage – Photosynthesis (2016; Cold Spring Records)
  2. Bobby Previte – Mass (2016; RareNoiseRecords)
  3. John Butcher / Thomas Lehn / Matthew Shipp – Tangle (2016; Fataka)
  4. Anthony Braxton – 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011 (2016; Firehouse 12 Records)
  5. Helen Mirra & Ernst Karel – Maps and Parallels 41°N and 49°N at a Scale of Ten Seconds to One Degree (Shhpuma)
  6. Naima – Bye (2016; Cuneiform Records)
  7. Jennie Gottschalk – Experimental Music Since 1970 [Bloomsbury: 2016]
  8. Dan Weiss – Sixteen: Drummers Suite (2016; Pi Recordings)
  9. Merzbow / Keiji Haino / Balazs Pandi – An Untroublesome Defencelessness (2016; RareNoiseRecords)
  10. Thumbscrew – Convallaria (2016; Cuneiform Records)
  11. Vaults of Zin – Kadath (2016; Bandcamp)
  12. Christopher Hoffman – Silver Cord Quintet (2016)
  13. React – Music for Flute, Violin & Interactive Computer [Ravello RR7930]
  14. Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury, Wadada Leo Smith – Nessuno – [i angelica di angelica – IDA035]
  15. Bent Knee – Say So (2016; Cuneiform Records)
  16. Splinter Reeds – Got Stung [Splinter Records SR001]
  17. Tom Hamilton – City of Vorticity [Pogus 21085-2]
  18. Anders Berg & Tellef Øgrim – Kölen [Simlas]; Circadia – Advances and Delays [SOFA 551]
  19. Mats Gustafsson – This is From the Mouth (2016; Utech Records)
  20. Mary Halvorson Octet – Away With You (2016; Firehouse 12 Records)

You can browse our complete list of reviews here.

Those We Lost in 2016

2016 will likely go down in history as a not-so-great year, to say the least. But aside from a number of disturbing social and political upheavals, the music world lost an unusually large number of greats. Even our little corner of that world was impacted in a big way, with the passing on many experimental trail-blazers. RIP to all and best wishes for a happier 2017.

Paul Pley
Pierre Boulez
Keith Emerson
Peter Maxwell Davies
Gato Barbieri
Tony Conrad
Richard Lyons
Ursula Mamlok
Isao Tomita
Bernie Worrell
Dominic Duval
Connie Crothers
Bobby Hutcherson
Don Buchla
Pauline Oliveros
Greg Lake

The San Francisco Tape Music Festival Starts in a Week

Source: The San Francisco Tape Music Festival.

America’s only festival devoted to the performance of audio works projected in three-dimensional space, The San Francisco Tape Music Festival features four distinct concerts of classic audio art and new fixed media compositions by 26 local and international composers. Hear members of the SF Tape Music Collective, along with guest composers, shape the sound live over a pristine surround system (24 high-end loudspeakers) with the audience seated in complete darkness. It’s a unique opportunity to experience music forming – literally – around you.

The 2017 Festival features two concerts showcasing the entire range of the “fixed media” artform, including “Then” (2014) by CURTIS ROADS. The Saturday late-night concert features longer and ambient tape pieces, including excerpts from the 1977 Soundtrack to DAVID LYNCH‘S “ERASERHEAD.” The Sunday evening concert is devoted to the tape music of PAULINE OLIVEROS (1932 – 2016).

The festival also performs classic works by San Francisco Tape Music Center technical director WILLIAM MAGINNIS (1938 – 2016), computer music pioneer JEAN-CLAUDE RISSET (1938 – 2016), and Denmark’s “Grandmother of Electronic Music,” ELSE MARIE PADE (1924 – 2016). Compositions created with DON BUCHLA‘S (1937 – 2016) original BUCHLA 100 SERIES SYNTHESIZER by Bay Area Composer WARNER JEPSON (1930 – 2011) and others will also be presented.



Friday January 6, 2017 (9pm)
WARNER JEPSON selections from Tulliam (1969)
THOM BLUM Modulations (2016)
KYLE BRUCKMANN Predictable Epiphanies (2016)
SIVAN ELDAR On Air | Behind Glass (2013)
MATT INGALLS Buchla Piece (2017)

Saturday January 7, 2017 (8pm)
CURTIS ROADS Then (2016)
WILLIAM MAGINNIS Two Improvisations for Electronic Sounds (1965)
ELSE MARIE PADE Rejsen til Bloksbjerg og Valborgsnat (from Faust Suite) (1962)
MAGGI PAYNE Sferics (2016)
BRONA MARTIN A bit closer to home (2014)
PAOLO PASTORINO Dimensione aggiuntiva (2016)
CLIFF CARUTHERS Last Breaths (1996)
CLAIRE HAAS Crossing Under (2002)
KENT JOLLY Mirrors (1995)
THEO MATHIEN Throatsong to the Four-leggeds (2013)

Saturday January 7, 2017 (11pm)
PETE STOLLERY Three Cities (2012)
MATTHEW GOODHEART Berlin Head Metal – I (2016)
LUIGI MARINO Hau: a form of bistability (2013)
NICOLAS MARTY Une des chambres n’aurait presque pas de fenêtre (2015)
KRISTIN MILTNER new work (2017)
DONALD SWEARINGEN In The Kitchen (1992)

Sunday January 8, 2017 (8pm)
PAULINE OLIVEROS Time Perspectives (1961)
PAULINE OLIVEROS Bye Bye Butterfly (1965)
PAULINE OLIVEROS Rock Symphony (excerpted) (1965)
PAULINE OLIVEROS Big Mother Is Watching You (1966)
PAULINE OLIVEROS Lion’s Tale (excerpted) (1989)
PAULINE OLIVEROS Sayonara Sirenade 20/21 (2000)