preview | San Francisco Electronic Music Festival

Let me start off topic: On Land Festival, I love you. You’re awesome. Please come back. That said, even though On Land is sorely missed, it is far from the only great event for San Francisco’s experimental music fans. For starters, we have our own Electronic Music Festival, which has been getting the city acquainted with serious avant-garde music practitioners since 2000. This year it runs from Thursday, September 8th to Sunday, September 11th at the SF MOMA and the Brava Theater Center.

The big draw of this edition is perhaps Christian Marclay, the legendary artist who recently got honored with a Venice Biennale Golden Lion and a Whitney Museum exhibition. The work that made a lot of buzz was The Clock, a mind-boggling 24-hour video collage composed entirely of film clips, each of which tells you what time it is. He has created similar videos before: Video Quartet features fragments of movies where characters play music or sing, and The Phone is woven out of episodes where people pick up the phone. Marclay has been a seminal figure for the contemporary aesthetic, which relies heavily on wholesale appropriation of cultural material and sampling. He has employed those methods not only in his video art but also in his work with sound. In fact, when he started at the end of the 1970s, he wanted to be a musician, not an artist. Marclay has been hailed as one of the fathers of turntablism, which is creating sound compositions with the record player as the main instrument. Oh, the many vinyl records he has tortured to death in his long career. Here is a short film where you can see turntablism in all its glory.


Marclay is far from the only artist at the SFEMF whose practice combines sound and visual art. The opening night at the SF MOMA (September 8th) is almost entirely dedicated to presenting media works by such figures as Sarah Howe, Tim Perkis/Tom Djll, Alba G. Corral/Kadet Kuhne, and Les Stuck & Sonsherée Giles. The other treat for that evening will be a performance of the haunting synthesizer and voice composition, Philomel, by the recently deceased electronic music innovator, Milton Babbitt.

As for Marclay, he will be playing at the Brava Theater Center on Sunday, September 9th. Sharing the stage with him will be the avant-garde singer Shelley Hirsch (you can check out a fragment of their 2009 performance here). On that day, you will also see composer Zachary Watkins and noise artist Jessica Rylan. The latter was featured in Tara Rodgers’ Pink Noises, a well-known book about female experimental musicians. (By the way, the SFEMF does its best to rip to shreds the stupid stereotype that avant-garde music is a “dude thing” by inviting a decent amount of ladies, and for this it should be commended.)

The remaining two nights will also be at the Brava. The 10th will feature performances by sound artist and Fluxus member Yoshi Wada (with his son Tashi Wada), the collective 0th, and electronic music composer Erik J. Carlson aka Area C. Plus, the violinist Marielle Jakobsons will pay tribute to another patriarch who recently passed away, computer music pioneer Max Mathews. On the last day of the festival the audience will be smothered by brutal noise courtesy of Kevin Drumm, and will bathe in the sounds created by JD Emmanuel, famous for his trancy minimal pieces, and Gregg Kowalsky, who promises a “heavily meditative drone composition with psycho-acoustic phenomena” featuring electronics and a Jew’s harp.



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SF MOMA Official Website

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