this sonic plot is soothingly surreal

by josef woodard Los Angeles Times, 2009

steve roden puts assorted musical tools to work at schindler house, climax golden twins also beguile.

For 10 summers now, the unique series known as “sound.”has been filling a void in the area by hosting experimental, improvisational and otherwise off-the-grid music, often in the sylvan, historic backyard setting of West Hollywood’s proto-Modernist Schindler House/MAK Center.

As this will be the series’ final summer in this ideal garden party setting, Saturday night’s sonic soiree — with Los Angeles-based Steve Roden and Seattle’s Climax Golden Twins–mixed atmospheric appeal and a certain bittersweet air. After the final concert here, a tribute to the late Rod Poole on Sept. 12, this particular dream will be over, and the series, presented by SASSAS (Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound), will move to a new locale.

Given the instinctual nature of Saturday’s artists, all interested in live, organic and nondigital sonic texturing, a suitable “outdoorsy” quality informed the evening, as contemporary experimentalism goes. They gleefully avoid the latest toys and software codes.

Roden, a multidisciplinary artist known for creating evocative real-time sound painting, partly built his performance structure based on Rudolf Schindler’s architectural drawings for this house, circa 1922. Roden sat at a table loaded with assorted humble gear and musical tools, including a lap steel guitar, a tiny keyboard and selected “field recordings.” These elements were manipulated with cheap looping gadgetry and folded into a soothingly surreal sonic plot. Even such technical flaws as a popping cable connection and feedback squeals were fed into the literal loop of sound. Moving the performance into a spatial, interactive mode, Roden ended his set with the gentle mega-tinkle of toy glockenspiels, planted around the seating area and willingly played by volunteers in on the secret.

A subtle, minimalist sensibility was at work here, as sounds flowed, echoed and gradually morphed into a post-ambient music entity. In this case, though, the ambience created live interacted symbiotically with the ambience of the host house, even when the residual sound source of a passing plane or siren invited itself into the sound field.

Currently obsessed with antique recordings and machinery, Climax Golden Twins opened its set with the humble, lovable scratchy sound of a vintage 78 record played on the Mikiphone, an antique portable Victrola. The Twins, Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor, proceeded to blend and coax sounds from electric guitars, from rudimentary pentatonic riffs — both generic jamband-y licks and a vaguely Chinese melody — to more intriguing abstract sound materials.

Deeper and more hypnotic levels of abstraction occurred in a brief collaborative piece in which the artists conjured up an empathetic and even ethereal improvised soundscape. The delicate finale also illustrated the rarely tapped expressive potential of electric guitars played beyond standard practices, especially in a blissfully evocative old school Modernist backyard.