Doogatron is one of three acts performing at the Ann Arbor Synth Expo (AASE) on Saturday, November 9 at AADL's downtown location. Below is an interview we did with the group earlier this year, prefaced by a band update written by synth player Stevie:
We've mostly been recording and trying different workflows this year. These new processes have yielded a few singles we're excited about releasing next year. Ann Arbor Synth Expo will probably be the only chance to hear some bits and pieces of those before we put them out. We also did some remixes this year that we're debating on releasing or just keeping in our back pocket to play at shows. The last of four EPs we're releasing this year is out on Friday, 11/15/19. The other three are currently available on our Bandcamp and all streaming platforms. Mike moved to Brooklyn in May so he won't be appearing with us at the AASE but he recorded with us quite a bit earlier this year and he might continue recording with us remotely.
Synth music is often a solitary exercise. It's easy enough for one person to program all the music and not have to deal with band dynamics.
Electronic music duos are more common and count influential acts such as Orbital, Mouse on Mars, Autechre, Boards of Canada, Coil, and many more in those ranks.
Less common is a synthesizer trio, quartet, or quintet, but there is a rich history of synth groups, too, from Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Harmonia, Throbbing Gristle, Add N to (X), and Hot Chip. The combination of personalities mixed with live playing over sequenced sections gives the music a more human quality, and Washtenaw County trio Doogatron is part of this lineage.
Stevie, Kyle, and Mike -- family names are for families -- make loose-limbed techno that mixes programmed parts on computer and live playing on vintage synths. The group's sound is elastic and trippy even as it's framed by linear rhythms.
Doogatron's self-titled debut LP came out Nov. 2, 2018, and the group has followed that with a New Year's Day 2019 mix of original tunes, reworked album cuts, and earlier tunes initially heard on Soundcloud. In February, Doogatron will release the first of at least four EPs/singles scheduled for this year. "Each release comes from one continuous recording session," Stevie said, "so each track will serve as a part one, part two, part three experience," starting with "Before Subsidized Time" b/w "After Subsidized Time."
Stevie gave us the lowdown on Doogatron's history, name, and work process.
In a Silent Way: Don Hicks, owner of Ann Arbor's Blue Llama Jazz Club, won an auction for one of Miles Davis' trumpets
A piece of jazz history has found a permanent home in Ann Arbor.
Christie's auction house in New York City put a pre-sale estimate on the instrument’s value between $70,000 and $100,000, but as you can see in the video below, a flurry of bids pushed the cost to $220,000 -- and with the addition of Christie's commission, the final price for the trumpet was $275,000.
I went to the pond not to fish, not to swim, but to listen to experimental music.
And all I heard was silence.
It's not because the University of Michigan's Digital Music Ensemble (DME) was performing John Cage's 4'33". The group, under the guidance of Professor Stephen Rush, had worked up a piece inspired by Brian Eno's Music for Airports, the landmark 1978 ambient record that was built by having pre-recorded tape loops of varying lengths go in and out of phase with each another.
The DME's Pond Music XVII: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports -- or more colloquially on the promo posters, Pond Music for Airports -- was created by students who wrote and performed the short music segments that were then committed to tape. The DME artists then spliced the tapes and loaded them onto old reel-to-reel machines, which were set up in front of the retention pond behind the Earl V. Moore Building, which is the home of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, located on North Campus.
Last Dance: The Bang! Must Die! is one last boogie down production for this long-running party at The Blind Pig
It's the last dance -- last dance for love.
Yes, it's the last chance for romance Saturday night.
Founded by artists Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner, the first Bang! party was held in 2001 at the now-shuttered Half-Ass Inn (Halfway Inn) in U-M's East Quad. The following year it moved to The Blind Pig -- with occasional visits to Ypsilanti and elsewhere -- and it eventually became a monthly event for a long while, getting more and more elaborate over the years as The Bang! crew went wild building elaborate props that supported the dances' playful themes.
Filtered through Wheeler's distinctive, retro-cool aesthetic -- which you can see in the posters above -- The Bang! encouraged people to dress up in outrageous clothes, shake off their everyday grime, and get dirty on the dancefloor. Perusing a photo archive on Flickr from older Bang! throwdowns, you can all but smell the PBR pouring out of the pores of the revelers. As the sweaty, open-mouthed ravers cut through the humid club air, The Bling Pig took on the look of a thrift shop on acid, where all the VCR tapes and '80s aerobic leotards suddenly rediscovered their worth on Earth.
Silly sexual japes abounded at The Bang! and the photo gallery is rich with crotch shots. One hirsute gentleman even figured out how to don a thong at most every Bang!, no matter the theme.
We rooted through thousands of pics and chose some of our favorites, which you can see below, along with a short documentary on The Bang! and some other video footage. But first, read these two oral histories of The Bang! -- then wish it well in the afterlife by donning a crazy costume and dancing your face off on October 26:
➥ "The Bang! Must Die: the History of the Sweatiest Dance Party in Town" [Damn Arbor, October 22, 2019]
➥ "After 18 years of dance-party madness, here's why The Bang! must die" [Concentrate, October 16, 2019]
Saxophonist Allison Au said her 2016 album, Forest Grove, was inspired by the Toronto neighborhood where she grew up. But it's not city life she's referring to; it's a place where trees and nature provided the vista, not concrete.
The pastoral spirit of the Forest Grove neighborhood runs deep through Au's alto on all three of her records. She tends to play relaxed, melodic phrases that reinforce an ensemble sound rather than firing up solos that race over the harmonic foundation of her compositions. Keyboardist Todd Pentney, bassist Jon Maharaj, and drummer Fabio Ragnelli have plenty of freedom to explore Au's tunes and they feel essential to her vision, not just a backing band.
Forest Grove won a Juno award -- the Canadian equivalent to a Grammy -- for best jazz album and her latest, 2019's Wander Wonder, was nominated as was her debut, The Sky Was Pale Blue. Au self-released all of the albums, so to garner this type of recognition for independent releases is a testament to her talent.
You can see the Allison Au Quartet at Blue LLama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, October 23. Below are some videos of the band in action and you can listen to her three albums.
The 2019 Edgefest (Oct. 16-19) has been on my calendar for months and I've been meaning to write a preview of this Ann Arbor experimental-music institution for weeks.
This year's theme, "OUT West," focuses on "the rich historical contributions of West Coast artists in the development of avant jazz improvisation and new music." That quote is from the website of Kerrytown Concert House, which is Edgefest's hub, even if all the October 17 concerts are at the sparkling Blue LLama Jazz Club and the large-ensemble finale on October 19 is at Bethlehem United Church of Christ. You can't have Edgefest without the Concert House.
But this and that happened, time got away from me, and I never got around to writing the preview.
Thankfully, longtime music writer and Edgefest musician Piotr Michalowski wrote the festival's program, which is an excellent primer on the dozens of musicians and various ensembles performing at this year's edition. You'll find Michalowski's write-up below, but first, I want to share a story about one specific event at Edgefest -- and why I think it defines the festival as a whole.
Moon Hooch's music has all the manic energy of a city. The Brooklyn group's drums-sax-sax lineup rumbles like the New York City subway system, where the trio spent many hours busking when it formed in 2010. The way the band combines dance beats and avant-garde jazz is akin to a metropolis' relentless forward rhythm that's being intersected by speeding cabs running red lights.
But the nervous energy Moon Hooch exudes in its simultaneously catchy and edgy music is in direct opposition to the way drummer James Muschler and saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen live their lives off the stage.
Or even in their touring van.
Moon Hooch's members are avid meditators and they use this practice to stay mentally and physically fit during arduous tours across the U.S.
"Yeah, it’s not easy," McGowen said of touring. "Meditation, Qigong, and breathing exercises are what keeps me going. I try to transmute stress through present moment awareness. I don’t succeed always, but when I am enough present I can stay calm even if the situation is challenging. We usually get together every morning, sit in a circle, breath together and share how we feel. We aren’t doing that every day, but whenever we do it, it really uplifts the group dynamic."
You can debate who the best guitarist is all day and still not carve out a consensus. Braaap all you want about who's the finest trumpeter and the winner's horn will never sound. Argue about pianists and you'll be talking in circles about tickling the ivories even though a title-holder will never be crowned.
Might as well cue Jadakiss' "The Champ Is Here."
It's Ciani by knockout.
The 73-year-old champ is bringing her Buchla to Ann Arbor for a master class (2 pm) and a performance (8 pm) on Saturday, October 5 as part of the Resonance festival, an annual one-day event that celebrates women and non-binary artists in music technology, sponsored by the Performing Arts Technology department at the University of Michigan. Ciani will work in Hankinson Rehearsal Hall -- limited seating, get there early because both events are free -- and perform her Buchla compositions in quadrophonic sound with accompanying visuals.
If you're unfamiliar with Ciani, here's a crash course in her music and the synthesizer she mastered.
Hydropark's second album, Circuit 2, works like one of those vintage British or Italian library-music albums that feature short songs written to set moods in films and TV shows -- tunes with titles like "Creepy Street," "Misty Canyon," and "Blue Veils and Golden Sands."
Those compositions weren't concerned with key-changing bridges or clean denouements. They parachuted people into the middle of a groove and then extracted them before the mood was exhausted.
"The majority of both our [self-titled] first album and Circuit 2 is loosely structured jams, first takes, experiments, or songs we liked but weren't stylistically consistent with each other," said Hydropark guitarist Fred Thomas, who is joined in the band by drummer Chad Pratt, keyboardist Chuck Sipperley, and bassist Jason Lymangrover. "We looked to J Dilla's beat tapes as inspiration for this record. Collections of fragments and the best parts taken from longer recordings that switch to the next song at the first signs of boredom or disinterest."
When Bob Dylan plays Hill Auditorium on November 6, it'll be the 12th time he's played Ann Arbor (and the 13th time in Washtenaw County when counting his 2007 concert with Elvis Costello at EMU Convocation Center).
But unlike what is sometimes stated, his first solo show was not September 9, 1964, at Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer); it was on April 22, 1962, at the Union Ballroom as part of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. That show is sometimes forgotten about by writers because they have to expand their concert-database searches to find it: Dylan, who had released his self-titled debut LP the month before, was so little known that he was mistakenly advertised as "Bob Dillon," as shown in this ad in The Michigan Daily.
Another Daily ad, reprinted in Neil Cossar’s 2018 book Bob Dylan: The Day I Was There, showed Dylan's name spelled correctly and also quotes Jay Margulies about the 1962 concert and its afterparty: