The first in new OPTICAL SOUND series at C4NM. In this monthly series, guest curator Benjamin Tinker will assemble a new ensemble every month to perform to a film, most likely an early silent, but not necessarily.
Bruce Ackley was born in Rochester, New York in 1948. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began singing in choral groups at age 10. (His father performed in a vocal sextet as a young man in the 1930s.) Bruce sang throughout his school years and finally took up the saxophone in 1970. He formed his first improvising trio that year with friends from his art school days at Wayne State in Detroit, where he studied painting and drawing. In 1971 he relocated to the Bay Area. Largely self-taught, Bruce studied saxophone briefly with Lee Hester and Noel Jewkes, and clarinet with Beth Custer and Ben Goldberg. Throughout the 1970s he was involved with the emerging free improvisation scene in San Francisco, and formed Sound Clinic with Lewis Jordan and George Sams in 1975. He began playing with Larry Ochs in 1973 and Jon Raskin in 1975, which led to the formation of Rova in the fall of 1977. Since that time Ackley has mainly devoted his musical life to his work with Rova, with some notable side projects. In 1977 he performed and recorded with the quartet Twins, featuring John Zorn on reeds, and Eugene Chadbourne and Henry Kaiser on guitars. During the 1980s he played regularly with trombone-electronics wizard, J.A. Deane and drummer Joseph Sabella. They formed Planet X in 1992, which performed extensively in the Bay Area and made a recording at that time. Bruce has also performed with the Italian bass virtuoso, Stefano Scodanibbio. In 1996 they performed together with koto-electronics player Miya Masaoko, and the brilliant cellist, Rohan de Seram, formerly of the Arditti String Quartet. That year Ackley formed a trio to perform his more jazz-oriented original compositions, Actual Size, with George Cremaschi on bass and Garth Powell on drums. This led to the recording The Hearing by the Bruce Ackley Trio, featuring Joey Baron on Drums and Greg Cohen on bass, and released on the John Zorn-curated Japanese label Avant. During the late 1990s Bruce formed Frankenstein, a jazz repertory band that played the music of many of the forward-looking artists of the early ‘60s, particularly Grachan Moncur III, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, and Jackie McLean—providing him an opportunity to dig into material that significantly impacted Ackley during formative years. Although he occasionally steps out to work with Bay Area improvisers, Ackley is currently working almost exclusively with Rova, and he is focusing more on writing material for the quartet and thinking about next steps with other musicians.
Tania Chen is a pianist, experimental musician, free improviser and sound artist, working with pianos, keyboards, found objects, toys and vintage and lo-fi electronics. She studied piano with John Tilbury during her Masters degree in Performance studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She has performed the music of John Cage, Earle Brown, Schoenberg, Webern, Satie, Scriabin, Andrew Poppy, Michael Parsons and Chris Newman in the UK, Europe, USA and Japan. She is equally known for her passion for free improvisation, performing alongside and collaborating with musicians that include Steve Beresford, John Edwards, Lol Coxhill, Alan Tomlinson, Roger Turner, John Butcher, Rhodri Davies and Terry Day. Earlier this year, Tania has been touring John Cage’s Indeterminacy with Steve Beresford and the comedian, writer and performer Stewart Lee. Most recently, she has been nominated for the Royal Philharmonic Society RPS Award.
Nava Dunkelman is a Bay Area based percussionist and improviser. Born in Tokyo, Japan and raised in a multi-cultural environment by an American father and Indonesian mother, Nava’s musical interests span the globe from Japanese taiko to Indonesian gamelan to American marching band, and from classical to contemporary to the avant-garde. Nava studied percussion under Eugene Novotney at Humboldt State University before attending Mills College, where she studied with William Winant, Fred Frith, Maggi Payne, Zeena Parkins, and David Bernstein. Since graduating with a degree in music performance in 2013, Nava has performed and collaborated with John Zorn, Fred Frith, Chris Brown, Dominique Leone and many others. Nava has performed classical and contemporary pieces with the William Winant Percussion Group, inkBoat, among others, as well as formed the improvisational trio Dapplegray with Jeanie-Aprille Tang and Tara Sreekrishnan, which debuted in 2012 at The Stone in New York City. Through improvisation, Nava enjoys discovering her own musical language by exploring experimental approaches to communication, progression, and space.
Andy Strain received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance at the University of Nebraska in 2001. He then spent 5 years in southwest Germany earning a German Masters degree in trombone literature and performance. During that period, he performed in various orchestras and ensembles around Germany, Mexico, and Switzerland. Andy moved to the Bay Area in 2006 to study free improvisation at Mills College. After earning his MA there, he spent two years on the road performing with harpist Joanna Newsom. He has been a featured soloist with various orchestras, including Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra, for which he wrote and performed a program for families and young people. Currently, Andy teaches brass class to 4th and 5th graders, directs after-school middle school Shout Bands, and performs regularly in public parks, libraries, and schools for family audiences. His mash-up band, the East Bay Brass Band, can be heard regularly across the Bay Area. In 2015, Andy will tour his one man show, “The Trombonist,” across the midwest.
The Film: Ménilmontant is a 1926 film written and directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff which takes its name from the Paris neighborhood of the same name. The film is a silent, but does not contain any intertitles. It begins with a flurry of quick close-up shots depicting the axe murder of the parents of the protagonists, two girls. As young women, they are portrayed by Nadia Sibirskaïa, Kirsanoff’s first wife, and Yolande Beaulieu; their mutual love interest is played by Guy Belmont. The film uses many other techniques that were relatively new at the time, including double exposure. Prominent film critic Pauline Kael said that Menilmontant was her favorite film of all time.