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Music + Noise + Body

Kaffe Matthews Plays UCSB’s Primavera Fest on Thursday, April 7


PLUGGING IN, SPREADING OUT: When last we heard from the provocative/evocative British electronic musician Kaffe Matthews, the timing turned out to be circumstantially tension-fraught. On the locally infamous date of November 13, 2008, while she was cooking up her laptop and mixer-centric sonic magic up at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, the Tea Fire was raging across town and leaving a trail of tragic destruction in its wake. Matthews returns to a much calmer Santa Barbara, as a keynote performer in this year’s Primavera Festival of Contemporary Arts and Digital Media at UCSB, on Thursday, April 7, in connection with the CREATE program.

London-based Matthews belongs to an elite corps of international artists, who bring a passionate, cool, and creative approach to noise/music with laptops, mixers, and other elements in the service of a distinctive sound-centric aesthetic. As she writes in her mission statement, she seeks to make “architectural music to feel through your body as well as your ears.” She pops up in experimental festivals (I caught her at the Victoriaville Festival a few years ago and was duly dazzled), in art galleries, academic outposts, and other left-of-traditional situations.

But she brings to her task a colorful palette and sound-sculptural sensibility that accentuates the organic, improvisational wonder of laptop music at its least dry and cerebral. Trained as a violinist as a youngster, she delved deeper into the imaginary and malleable sound world as she grew older. But she keeps her finger on the pulse of the physical, spatial, and object-based realms, as well: Her resume in recent years includes a bicycle-powered installation piece, “In clean air we fly,” and “This is for you,” which features a red leather chaise longue surrounded by suspended tree branches. She’s got her own label in England, Annette Works, and an audio research lab called AudRey.

This year’s edition of the annual Primavera Festival—which emphasizes UCSB-based music, dance, and other arts, with a leaning toward the New—also includes a UCSB composer’s concert on Friday, a “Pianomatic Springs” performance on Monday, and a concert by the Ensemble for Contemporary Music on Wednesday. Check out ccs.ucsb.edu/primavera for details.

SYMPHONIC HIGHS AND ADVENTURES: Speaking of the Newish in local music offerings, last month’s stellar Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra clearly won the award for most adventurous classical programming in town this season, between Schoenberg’s “Three Pieces for Orchestra,” Stravinsky’s Octet, and a blissful take on Milhaud’s great jazz-cum-concert-hall gem, La création du monde. Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara Symphony unveiled its 2011-12 season recently, and eased the troubled minds of those of us disappointed in the current season’s safety-first timidity. Next season, we can look forward to at least concert-opening works by John Adams, Michael Daugherty, and Osvaldo Golijov, and a Dave and Chris Brubeck piece, Ansel Adams: America on an American program with Charles Ives’s Second Symphony! We’ll have some of what they’ve been drinking.

DOWN L.A. WAY: Fans of the much-imitated but ultimately inimitable guitarist Bill Frisell—and the local numbers in his fan club have no doubt expanded after his wowing Lobero show earlier this year—should take note of a special event at UCLA on Saturday. In effect, it’s “Bill Frisell Day/Night” at Royce Hall, as Frisell appears in his cinematic mode, performing his original scores for Buster Keaton films, as well as for films of Seattle animator Jim Woodring and experimentalist Bill Morrison’s The Mesmerist. As fellow laconic American wit, Frisell channels Keaton with a natural, empathetic flair, as we’ve heard in the past, but there is something extra special about seeing/hearing the live/canned Frisell/Keaton synchronicity in live action.

Saturday’s 2 p.m. “family friendly” show is all about Keaton (pack up the kids and head on down), whereas the 8 p.m. show goes wider, and weirder. Joining Frisell are longtime allies, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wolleson, and the spectral presence of his filmic “collaborators” on the screen. You may never see Keaton in the same way again.

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