Report: San Diego Experimental Gtr Show 2011

Duct-tape, jingle
bells, lit sparklers and H-bomb metronomes: just another night on the town in San Diego, at the Soda
Bar, on Jan. 22.


Text and photos by Mary Leary

Stools are dragged toward the stage. People sit on the floor
or stand, waiting for the finale. Intermittent guffaws and grins greet the
contraption M.J. Stevens balances on one knee: in a former life it was an
ordinary acoustic guitar. Now a waterfall of strings cascades and spikes down
and out. A cymbal covers the hole. Jingle bells are attached beneath the bridge.
Stevens applies a metal brush, a screwdriver, the bells, and even his fingers.
Gradually League of Assholes guitarists Esteban Flores, Marcelo Radulovich and
Peter Graves add echoes, peels, and drones.  When Stevens likes the scratches, squeaks, or
unidentifiable effects he’s producing, he repeats the technique unto a
cathartic and/or absurdist state as some of us crack up or yell approval.
(League of Assholes pictured below.)





It’s the second year Sam Lopez, aka Zsa Zsa Gabor, has put
this monster together. Profuse publicity and promotion have garnered more
bodies than I’ve ever seen in San Diego for any sort of “experimental” show. So
many people are clustered near the stage, documenting (three filmmakers and a
ton of photographers, along with lots of folks manipulating smart phones), and
there’s such a crush as performers shift between presentations that The Marx
Brothers’ famous stateroom scene (A Night
at the Opera
) springs to mind several times.


With instrument, device, and set-up shifts beyond those
normally attending a multi-performer night, it could have been a mess. With a
few awkwardly long gaps, things run about as smoothly as can be expected in
such a small venue (Soda Bar’s official capacity, including the side devoted to
drinking and pool playing, is 230), with sufficient retention of audience
interest – even a few drunks wander curiously over from the bar side to the
performance area.




What could have presented as a testosterone-charged
experimental smackdown turns out to be a thoughtful, well-ordered bouquet of
talent. Back from a Tennessee
sojourn, Abel Ashes (above) has grown beyond efforts inspired by Frank Zappa or
Captain Beefheart and occasional, purely original genius. Tonight he emits
spontaneous, rather Asian motifs and slides a broken wine glass along his frets
before emitting brilliant poetry: his best pieces parse music with words. His
finale is “H-Bomb Metronome”:


“Vibrating paper funnels project past molecular spasms into
the stagnant air as one thousand decibel imperial gongs announce each second
like an H-bomb metronome in retarded lament…”





Per the plan on his blog, Randy Chiurazzi (above, and at top)
“create(s) multi-timbral sound clusters by moving an amplified guitar over
various string-exciting objects adhered to” a white coverall. Chiurazzi
provides the evening’s most accessible conceptual sequence with “Corporate
Malfeasance,” Guitarbage Can,” and “Everyone is a gooey dessert for something
in the universe.”



Also known as Riververb, Frank Melendez (above) launches his
segment by tossing several lit sparklers in a can, then uses one of his
self-fabricated (often from oil drums, sheet metal, titanium gaskets, and/or
tension springs) guitars to throw a wall of impermeable sound behind the sparks
and sulfur. The Locust’s Bobby Bray (below) waxes euphoric over his merging of
free-share programs, then throws down an impressive set culminating with him
stepping on and off several guitar pedals.




Best known for his role in Black Heart Procession, Pall
Jenkins (below) performs solo. It’s the evening’s most cathartic interlude,
reminding me of both Rhys Chatham and Pink Floyd circa “Set Your Controls for
the Heart of the Sun” with a simultaneously soothing and exciting repetition. Revealing
the nuances in the depths of minimalism; it’s a sort of “Louie Louie” for
anti-capitalist intelligentsia.



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