April 6 - Boom Bachs

The hard-working Phillip George checked in with below, then went to press with the May 2007 issue of 21st-Century Music, online soon at 21st-centurymusic.com...

Tech Lab Riot

KDVC Radio Riot (Volume1). Randit - Kicking and Screaming; pHence - Bells and Whistles; Pee Dot Scott - Computer Love Robotic; Patricia Bahia - Long Distance Lullaby; Chanell J. Wilson - Mountains Away; Christine Urban - Unwind; Fall City Phantom - Asphyxia; The Delirium Ride - Daylight's Flight; Stoneman - Supersize Me; Bones / Flow - Money Motivated; L. Nealli - Blue Sea; James Piscitelli / Kristina Kilborne / Deandre Reynolds - No Guarantees; Queen Blankety Blank - Do You Know; Audiodidactis - In Due Time; TYE - Out of the Cave; Erin Brooks - Shake It; Kid Moe - Goodbye California; The Seth Chaplas - Outta My League. Duck Pond Records.

Electronic music was born in the recording and radio studios of the 1940's and 50's, particularly in the musique concrete movement exemplified by Pierres Schaeffer and Henry, and Edgar Varèse. The invention of synthesizers from such luminaries as Robert Moog and Don Buchla in the 60's brought new sounds to a wider public, and the personal computer revolution has further enlarged the arena.

Nevertheless it is still remarkable that Diablo Valley College -- in Pleasant Hill, CA -- has one of the most ethnically diverse and impressive academic music studios that this writer has had the pleasure to experience.

Far from the era of white-smocked technicians and ivory-tower exoticism, this is a lab peopled by folks on the artistic growth edge, many of whom, in the tradition of Peter Maxwell Davies, are seeking to raise their economic as well as aesthetic fortunes.

Besides offering a "Music Industries" certificate, the DVC Music Technology Center has begun an internet radio station -- KDVC.org -- and produced their first album, on the newly-established Duck Pond Records (referencing the music building's location), entitled Radio Riot.

This is a compilation that rivals anything heard in the commercial music market, with many of the typical provisos: insistent ostinati, direct chord cycles, steady harmonic rhythm, vernacular vocal styles, rhymed poetry, sexual overtones, and received forms.

The riot and the revolution, however, are in the open-sourcing, the anybody-can-do-it-but-we're-doing-it-pretty-damn-good aspect. Ten years ago, it was not usual for composers and performers to pay big bucks to local studios with on site experts in such recording programs as ProTools, at that time almost prohibitively expensive to the average up-and-coming musician. Now, recording programs are as available and affordable as a basic laptop (still an economic leap for some, admittedly). In DVC's case, this is acknowledged even in a course title: Do-It-Yourself Production.

The lab in question has more than 20 desktops (skewed significantly but quixotically in the direction of PC's vs. Macs), two sound booths, and a mix room. Can great music be made therein? Definitely.

Randit (Randy Yee) begins in an alternative rock mode with Kicking and Screaming, which would do Nirvana proud in its anguished nasal vocals and moody acoustic-electric string and organ world. In Bells and Whistles, pHence has the requisite sound effects in a folkish Pink Floyd homage, whereas Pee Dot (Percy) Scott takes off from the future into a comic rap mode.

Hip hop is the informing style for many of the practitioners -- including Stonewall (Stoneman) Towery (Supersize Me refers very positively to BBW's rather than Big Macs), Bones / Flow's Money Motivated, L-Nealli's Blue Sea, James Piscitelli's No Guarantees, and Queen Blankety Blank's Do You Know -- where an apparent autobiographic street experience is often to the fore. This no doubt resonates particularly well in certain times and places; for someone not sharing the experience or the commonality of English (e.g. Spanish or Lithuanian-only speakers), the rhythmically-sprung nuanced song-speech can perhaps only generally be heard in the context of recitation traditions stretching back to Polynesian, Roman, and Zuni chant, through Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg's expressionism

Patricia Bahia has the vocal heft of a pop diva in Long Distance Lullaby, as does Chanell J. Wilson in her impressive Mountains Away. Sweet harmonies and elaborate vocal ornamentation and counterpoint are hallmarks of many of these endeavors.

Often engaging sonic atmospheres are set up before the return of the inevitable pulse, as in Christine Urban's paradoxically tight Unwind, Audiodidactis's In Due Time, and TYE's Banshee-mysterious overtonic Out of the Cave, with its Steely-Dan-like timbral harmonies. From here, Fall City Phantom's Asphyxia is wound to breaking in its urgent heavy metal urgings harkening back to the days of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page's seminal screechings. Daylight's Flight is its antidote in Sarah Rubin's (a.k.a. The Delirium Ride's) distinctively haunting, tremulous vocals, with magic touches from engineer Scott Zhang.

Three varied, solid, guitar-based pieces conclude in Erin Brooks's Shake It, Kid Moe's Goodbye California, and The Seth Chaplas's Outta My League. Emotions, wit, and atmosphere are well established, even in the latter's instrumental neo-Grateful Dead / Robert Fripp adventures.

What, no contemporary classical music? Oh, well, maybe next time...