Radioheaded, Ravel, Pneumatics, and Crossed Circuits

Paul Wellman

RADIOHEAD’S UP: There is something uniquely satisfying about being a passionate local in Santa Barbara, with the presumptuousness to believe this is one of the finest spots on the known planet, and to have your heroes apparently agree. Of course, we’re talking about the Santa Barbara Bowl arrival of Radiohead leader Thom Yorke’s new band Atoms for Peace, on April 17, the biggest Bowl news of the season, most likely. Yorke’s band is swinging through our burg around the time of their Coachella hoedown. Radiohead has played the Bowl twice now (thrice, counting the two-night stand in 2001), amounting to the greatest Bowl events of the decade (sez me and thousands of others). Yorke has reportedly taken a shining to our town, and likes to play here: great news for us.

FRENCH CONNECTIONING: Orchestra aficionados know to catch CAMA concerts whenever possible, and aspiring orchestra-philes would do well to listen up, as well. Community Arts Music Association is the classical music world’s gift to Santa Barbara, and vice versa, with its chamber music Masterseries at the Lobero and touring international orchestra series at the Granada making our town an immensely richer musical place than it would otherwise be. Next week’s case in point, after memorable encounters earlier this season with the LA Philharmonic and the Shanghai Symphony, is the CAMA-hosted arrival of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, on Tuesday, March 9, at the Granada. Conductor Myung-Whun Chung leads an all-Ravel evening, with rightfully acclaimed and lovely mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter appearing on Ravel’s Shéhérazade.

THE ART OF PLUGGING AND DIALING IN: Among the multiple threads making up Santa Barbara’s surprisingly rich cultural tapestry, one of the more fascinating recent trends has been the upward mobility of UCSB’s status as a haven for computer music activity and artistry, research and development. Thanks to the presence and passions of important, tech-inclined faculty members JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, Clarence Barlow, and Curtis Roads, the university has built up an impressive program. And just in the past year, significant figures from the annals of electronic-cum-computer music have been making their way to campus, to talk and perform, including John Chowning, Max Mathews, David Wessell, and The Hub.

Wessell, who dazzled in last spring’s performance with intricate, touch-sensitive instruments from his lab at UC Berkeley, returns for a first-time-ever live performance with the renowned live-minded electronic musician Earl Howard, at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall on Friday, March 5.

FRINGE PRODUCT, ALONE, BUT NOT ALONE: One of the more eagerly awaited jazz concerts in Santa Barbara this year (on a list modest in size, but not caliber) is that welcome repeat visitor, Pat Metheny, at Campbell Hall on April 20. As heard on Orchestrion (Nonesuch), the new album which he is taking on tour this year, the actual music is in keeping with Metheny’s house blend of true-blue lyricism and supple energy and dynamism, of a jazz sensibility colored by folk traditions from America, Brazil, and elsewhere, and a certain emotionality all his own.

But the real distinction of these five ambitious new tracks is not the sound but the motion: In an age of excessive reliance on digital tomfoolery, sequencing, sampling, and other artificial means, Metheny has taken it upon himself to make a self-generated album in which he plays all the instruments, but with the help of cumbersome solenoids and pneumatic systems. He was inspired not by MIDI but by the player piano, that antique, totally analog example of automated artistry, also sent into aesthetic hyperspace by the late, great Conlon Nancarrow.

In other words, Orchestrion finds the musician going robotic, but in the most organic way imaginable, a feat which promises to be all the more remarkable in the mettle-testing light of live performance.

TO-DOINGS: For the left-of-jazz-inclined, check out the wily, lyrical, evocative and bright Portland band Blue Cranes, at Mercury Lounge on Monday. Wayne Horvitz has been known to play along. Check ’em out.


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