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Seth Cluett, Michael Pisaro and Friends at the wulf

Hoboken, NJ-based Seth Cluett and guests Isaac Aronson, Ben Levinson, Luke Martin, Michael Pisaro and Andrew Young performed an evening of experimental electronic music on Sunday April 10, 2016 at the wulf. A full house was on hand to hear separately scored duos played simultaneously along with a second set that had six musicians improvising on electronic devices.

First up was The Lost Quartet, by Michael Pisaro, performed by the composer on electric guitar with Ben Levinson on acoustic bass while Seth Cluett and Andrew Young played a second electronic duo simultaneously. This began very quietly with low, soft tones followed by a rapid burst of pianissimo notes from the electric guitar that sounded a bit like an old Geiger counter, only with musical notes instead of clicks. A pencil striking the guitar strings occasionally produced a somewhat louder sound while sine tones and scratching noises were heard from the second duo. Ben Levinson added a very slight trilling sound on one string of the bass that was barely audible . All of this was consistently quiet and understated – very subdued music.

The two duos were completely independent – driven by certain sequences of pitches or by events marked on a time line. They overlapped elegantly, however, as each piece was deliberately paced and operating at the same minimal dynamic levels throughout. A quieter venue, in fact, might have been preferred – street and freeway noises from the open windows occasionally drifted into the performance space. As it was, the very soft playing invited an intense concentration in the listening, making any intrusion that much more noticeable.

At the midpoint, the phrases coming from the electric guitar increased slightly in strength and it seemed as if the other sounds followed. The sequence of quiet scratching noises, sine tones and soft bass sounds continued as before. The overall effect of this piece was to remove the viewpoint of the listener to a far distance – as if observing something just at the limits of aural awareness. The pieces concluded with the sounds gradually becoming less frequent and a solitary electronic tone fading slowly away. The Lost Quartet, as combined with the Seth Cluett duo, is an interesting experiment in the similarities and compatibility of independent pieces played simultaneously, with each managing to compliment the other in the final realization.

After a short intermission Seth Cluett presented a thoughtful tribute to the late Tony Conrad in the form of a short recording of sustained mixed voices and electronic tones. These were woven together in cycles so that at times there was a noticeable distortion while at other points in the cycle the sounds were more coherently consonant. The contrast and spiritual feel of this made for a fitting memorial.

An extended improvisation followed, involving a total of six musicians all performing with electronic devices. The floor of the wulf was covered with patch cables, power cords, amplifiers, speakers, sequencers, and even a turntable with a vinyl record. The opening was a rhythmic, percussive sound that increased in tempo and included an occasional banging noise – like hearing some construction equipment working nearby. This was joined by aggressive electronic sounds and static so that the piece began to faintly resemble a rap performance. The record spinning on the turntable was tapped by the performer to slow or stop the rotation, giving a halting character to its output and this contributed a distinctly urban street flavor to the overall sound.. The electronic pitches climbed higher, became more animated and gained in volume so that at one point it felt as if the listener was inside an old shortwave radio. The electronics sounds continued to increase in their intensity, almost to the threshold of pain. The spinning turntable provided a visual focus, inviting the listener to process the sounds as music, and this added to the sense of ensemble despite the wide variety of pitches and exotic electronic timbres filling the room. At length the powerful sounds moderated, the lower tones dropping out and the persistent, higher pitches gradually fading away. This improvisation was a vivid example of what can be created on the spot with unconventional sounds and the common vision of independent artists.

Upcoming performances at the wulf will feature the music of Michael Winter on April 15 and Scott Cazan on April 30.

Update on the wulf: The building that has housed the wulf for some 8 years has been sold and the wulf expects to relocate in July or August. No new location has been announced and the search continues.

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