Travis Laplante brings Battle Trance quartet to The Rotunda tomorrow

Travis Laplante
Travis Laplante | photo by Adi Nachman

There’s something about the saxophone that seems to push its practitioners, more than any other single group of instrumentalists, to test sonic limits. Travis Laplante is undoubtedly part of that tradition. His solo work utilizes an arsenal of extended techniques to make his one horn sound like a battery of instruments, while he and altoist Darius Jones explore extremes of volume and breath in the quartet Little Women.

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Ars Nova and Archer Spade join up for experimental jazz at The Rotunda on Wednesday


You couldn’t exactly call Miles Archer and Sam Spade one of fiction’s great teams; after all, Archer’s death helps to set the events of The Maltese Falcon in motion. Dan Blacksberg and Nick Millevoi’s partnership as Archer Spade has fortunately been more productive. Under that name alone, they’re a new music trombone/guitar duo; a commissioning entity that has generated works by the likes of Gene Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, and Dave Soldier; and a concert series now entering into a new partnership with Ars Nova Workshop. Continue reading →


Philly Summer Sonic Rock Showcase brings a sweet end to the season with Mock Suns and more

Kandy Kane Productions Presents: Philly Summer Sonic Rock Showcase
Kandy Kane Productions Presents: Philly Summer Sonic Rock Showcase

As the end of the season approaches (insert appropriate cries as you reach for socks to keep wearing your Birkenstocks through the fall), quite a few Philly music groups are putting together their own ode to summertime vibes. One we’re particularly excited about is Kandy Kane Productions Philly Summer Sonic Rock Showcase, which will take place next Friday, August 29th, at The Rotunda on Walnut Street. The line-up includes a pretty boss round-up of local mainstays: Old Scratch, Dead Tenors, Senium, Mock Suns, Kind of Creatures, Village and Snoozer. Doors for the showcase open at 6:30 and festivities will rave on til 1 AM. $5 tickets for the event are available at the door. Below, you can check out some tunes from a few of the artists featured on the bill. Continue reading →


New Philly indie rockers Spelling Reform release their debut single “Together Apart”

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Although new indie rock/pop quartet Spelling Reform only formed less than a month ago, the members of the group are no rookies to the Philly music scene.  It was not until this June that lead singer and songwriter, Dan Wisniewski (formerly of The Quelle Source) decided to gather the group together and immediately start making music. The indie rock group is comprised of members from The Quelle Source, The Chairman Dances, Bird Watcher and Monday Appreciation Society.

This week the band released its debut single, “Together Apart.”  Reminiscent of The Mountain Goats quirky sound, “Together Apart” is a naturally happy tune and shows the quartet’s versatility as a unit.  Stay tuned for an upcoming music video to accompany the single.

“Together Apart” is only a preview for their upcoming debut show tomorrow night, June 27th, at The Rotunda where they will open for Chairman Dances and Vita and Woolf.  Find tickets and info for the show here.

Listen to “Together Apart” below.


This Friday: “All Sound is Queer” at the Rotunda

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Curated by filmmaker and sound artist Catherine Pancake, the All Sound is Queer event takes its name from a 2011 article penned by Matmos’ Drew Daniel in The Wire. In that piece, Daniel rebuffed the idea that LGBTQ identity should be tethered to explicitly “queer” music, whether that means Lady Gaga, house music, or pride-sneering punk. Instead, the creation of any sound art, he argues, represents a “queer” sense of creative exploration away from the norm. Make music, he suggests, and you’re automatically disrupting the status quo.

Daniel will be one of the artists on the bill at this free Bowerbird-presented show at the Rotunda in West Philadelphia on Friday June 20th, which was designed as “both a response and continuation” of that essay. The evening will also feature music, readings, and sound works by a host of artists who place experimental music in service of identity politics, including musician and artist Keir Neuringer, Alex Smith, Ex. By. V. (featuring Leah B.), writer and poet Megan McShea, John Eaton, and artist and composer Jules Gimbrone (pictured above).

Go here for more information about the event.

Below, watch a short film by Catherine Pancake, “Effortless Battle.”


Kuupuu straddles the sonic and visual worlds at The Rotunda on Wednesday

Kuupuu | Photo via Facebook
Kuupuu | Photo via Facebook

Finnish musician Jonna Karanka, who performs solo as Kuupuu, is also a visual artist with a fondness for crafting environments from dumpster-dive recoveries and found treasures. In that sense, her sonic world is not that different from her visual one. On the countless recordings she’s released as Kuupuu, there’s a sense less of song forms than of handmade environments, as if each piece was a field recording captured in a fantasy land of cardboard, yarn, and discarded baby dolls.

Karanka is an active member of Finland’s neo-folk scene, having worked with a number of groups including Hertta Lussu Ässä, Avarus, The Anaksimandros, Kukkiva Poliisi, Hockey Night, Olimpia Splendid, Way Of The Cross, and Trio Jäätelö. Traces of that activity carry over into Kuupuu in the meld of electric and acoustic sounds and the occasional incursion into hazy psychedelia, but Karanka’s solo work is more mysterious and evocative, an accumulation of taped and improvised elements that conjure the squall of a half-intercepted radio transmission here, a warped ‘60s exotica album there. She’ll perform at The Rotunda on Wednesday night on a Fire Museum-presented bill alongside fellow Finnish experimentalist Tsembla (aka Marja Johansson) and the debut of a new duo featuring Fursaxa’s Tara Burke and composer/multi-instrumentalist Rosie Langabeer.

Kuupuu performs at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street, Wednesday June 18th at 8 p.m. Tickets to the all-ages show are $6 to $10 (sliding scale), more information can be found here.


Hey you! Check out this new music video from The Chairman Dances

The Chairman Dances | photo courtesy of the artist
The Chairman Dances | photo courtesy of the artist

The Chairman Dances just released a music video for what will be their first single off their new album, The Death of Samuel Miller.  The track is titled “Dance to the Neighbor’s Stereo,” and it’s going to be the catchiest song you hear today.  You can’t not like it.  If you say you don’t like it, then you’re just lying to yourself.

The video is set in the year 1990, with the band members displaying typical 90s fashion trends such as flannel shirts, ugly sweaters, and Michael Jordan Bulls jerseys.  The band acts as a stereo, blasting their music loudly so the neighbors can hear and dance along.  But keep a look out for the single’s release this Tuesday, and the album’s release on June 27th via Grizzly Records (they’ll be playing the Rotunda on Walnut Street this same night).

Dance to the Neighbor’s Stereo from Steady State Productions on Vimeo.


Local electronic music pioneer Andrew Rudin revisits his groundbreaking early work tonight at The Rotunda

Andrew Rudin | Photo courtesy of the artist
Andrew Rudin | Photo courtesy of the artist
In 1967, Nonesuch Records released Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon, which was immediately recognized as a landmark work of the nascent electronic music movement. Unexpectedly, it also became a hit.

The album was created using a synthesizer built by pioneering instrument maker Donald Buchla, so Nonesuch turned to his leading peer, Robert Moog, in search of a follow-up. Moog referred the label to a young Philadelphia composer named Andrew Rudin, who had been instrumental in bringing Moog to the University of Pennsylvania. Rudin used the commission to create Tragoedia, a four-movement piece inspired by the four fundamental emotional processes of Greek tragedy.

The 1969 album met with critical acclaim (High Fidelity Magazine’s Alfred Frankenstein proclaimed, “In Andrew Rudin’s hands the electronic idiom finally comes of age”) but soon was lost in relative obscurity as the art form rapidly and bountifully evolved. Tonight at the Rotunda, Bowerbird will present “Meeting Moog,” a concert portrait of Rudin’s early electronic music featuring Tragoedia with a live video accompaniment by Rudin’s former student Peter Price. The program will also include two earlier works, Il Giuoco (1966) and Paideia (1967), both of which are accompanied by films created by the composer.

When Rudin arrived at the University of Pennsylvania to study with composer George Rochberg, he had no intention of working with synthesizers. “I didn’t even know that they existed,” recalls Rudin, now 74. “In those days, when one heard the word synthesizer it meant only one thing: the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer, which was a giant contraption that ran on hundreds or thousands of vacuum tubes and within an hour’s work you’d have to find what tube had burnt out and replace it. It also operated on punch paper tape like a player piano, which would get snarled and the three hours that you spent making four seconds’ worth of music would be trashed.”

A few years earlier, however, a childhood friend of Rudin’s had become a member of the ground-breaking Alwin Nikolais Dance Company, which purchased one of Moog’s earliest synths. After Nikolais demonstrated the instrument to Rudin, the composer persuaded Moog to build one of his first large-scale studios in the basement of the Annenberg School of Communications.

“Bob Moog was a typical science nerd type,” Rudin says with a laugh. “He came down to Penn with a synthesizer in a cardboard box underneath a Greyhound Bus. But the wonderful thing about working with him was that he was kind of a frustrated musician himself, so you didn’t have to be some sort of engineering genius. He wanted to make things easily available to the musician. I feel really lucky that I was in the right place at the right time and happened to meet him at the beginning of it all.”

Born in Newgulf, Texas, a small town south of Houston, Rudin (pronounced “roo-DEEN”) began composing small classical pieces and music for theater productions while in high school. He then studied at the University of Texas at Austin before heading east in the summer of 1960. At Penn he studied under a number of renowned teachers, including, briefly, Karlheinz Stockhausen and George Crumb. The pieces he created on Moog’s newly-installed synthesizer became his first mature works. “I was fascinated with it because it was the latest, most avant-garde thing to do at the time,” he says. “I was absolutely convinced that once they had the equipment, I would work with it and make something. When you’re 26 you think you can do anything.”

That includes writing music for an almost wholly unprecedented new instrument that makes bizarre electronic noises. “The first thing is that writing doesn’t apply,” Rudin says. “What was fascinating to me was that I could work directly in the sound. It was much more like sculpting than it was like writing. I would simply find a sound by fiddling around with the instrument and coming across a sound that appealed to me. It was like someone gave you a trumpet and you thought, ‘I’ll try to play something legato, and I’ll try to play something high, and I’ll try to play something fast and jittery with it.’ Then I would edit the tapes, like working in film where you shoot a lot of footage and see what you can cut together out of it.”

The Philadelphia Composers Forum premiered Rudin’s first major synthesized composition, Il Giuoco, on a program with pieces by Crumb and Vincent Persichetti. “That first concert absolutely marks the dividing line between my student days and my life as a professional,” Rudin says. “It was a piece that totally represented what I would do and not something obviously influenced by anybody else.” Continue reading →


Ideal Bread breathes new life into Steve Lacy’s music tonight at The Rotunda

Photo by Bryan Murray
Photo by Bryan Murray

A disciple of Thelonious Monk, the late soprano saxophone great Steve Lacy was the master interpreter of the legendary pianist’s deceptively tricky compositions. He translated them into his own distinct voice while navigating the spiky eccentricities by which so many musicians get snared.

Josh Sinton, leader of the quartet Ideal Bread, takes the same loving liberties with Lacy’s music, breathing new life into it while irreverently transposing them onto the baritone saxophone, the soprano’s polar opposite. A onetime student of Lacy’s, Sinton has used Ideal Bread as a way to continue his studies, using his mentor’s idiosyncratic compositions as a substitute for the man himself, who passed away in 2004. The quartet – which features Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Adam Hopkins (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) – will perform at The Rotunda tonight, playing music from their recently-recorded, Kickstarter-funded third album, which features “recompositions” of music from the 1970s collected on the box set Scratching the Seventies/Dreams.

Deviating from the strict adherence to Lacy’s written material of their first two releases, the new music is based on Lacy recordings that Sinton refers to as “embryonic,” freeing him to more radically reinterpret it. His arrangements take Lacy’s music in directions inspired by the diverse likes of Anthony Braxton, Wynton Marsalis, John Cage, Iggy Pop and Mos Def, among others. Also on the bill will be Philly percussionist/bandleader Kevin Diehl’s Afro-Futurist ensemble Sonic Liberation Front and Dan Peck’s tuba-driven doom metal trio The Gate.


Get schooled on “mugham” with local Azerbaijani expert Jeffrey Werbock (playing The Rotunda on 9/6)


Presented by Fire Museum, Philadelphia-born musician Jeffrey Werbock will perform traditional Azerbaijani mugham compositions at The Rotunda in West Philly on September 6th.  The enigmatic and transcendent music of the Caucasus Mountains circles around three main instruments – the oud, the tar and the kamancha – and is one of the first styles of music to include open improvisations, forming a base for modern day free jazz and blues.  Having studied and presented the music for over 35 years, Jeffrey Werbock is one of the U.S.’s foremost experts in the ancient Eastern art of mugham; tickets and information for his lecture and performance at The Rotunda can be found here.  Watch a short informational video with Werbock below.