This event features improvised performances by two groups of experimental musicians followed by an informal group discussion with the musicians. Tying into the concept of international exchange and connection with our current exhibition Red String, this event brings together Biliana Voutchkova (voice + violin) and Michael Thieke (clarinet) from Germany with a trio of local musicians: John McCowen (clarinet), Kanoko Nishi-Smith (koto/electronics), and Gino Robair (electronics/percussion). The local trio will perform first, followed by Voutchkova/Thieke.

Voutchkova/Thieke Duo

Biliana Voutchkova and Michael Thieke have worked together intensively within (and in between) both compositional and improvisational methods since 2011 presenting their work in various festivals/concert series in Europe. They released their first album “Already there” on the Swiss label Flexion records. The music of the duo focuses on the detail in music, micro tonality, imagery and intensely dynamic, but often slowly moving soundscapes – chiseled beauty and expressive communication.  The granulation of sound into exquisite detail was once confined to the electronic musician, but Biliana and Michael utilize this aesthetic and approach, applying the material of a whole new world of music to “traditional” instruments.

Listen to the duo live at Sammlung Hoffmann in Berlin.

John McCowen Trio

John McCowen / Kanoko Nishi-Smith / Gino Robair

John McCowen is a clarinetist/composer/improviser based in Oakland, CA. His main work is focused around compositions based around clarinet & contrabass clarinet. This work embraces electronically-generative musics as a starting point for acoustic composition (a post-electronic process). John began as a vocalist in hardcore punk music, which after years of touring, led him to academia and improvised music.

Kanoko Nishi-Smith is a performer currently based in SF/Bay Area. Though classically trained on piano, receiving a BA in Classical Music Performance from Mills College, her recent interest has primarily been in performing 20th century and contemporary musical compositions for piano as well as for koto (Japanese 13-string zither), and free-improvisation in various different contexts, with musicians, as well as dancers, poets, and visual artists.

Gino Robair has performed and recorded with Tom Waits, Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Nina Hagen, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, John Butcher, Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald, Otomo Yoshihide, and the ROVA Saxophone Quartet. He is one of the “25 innovative percussionists” included in the book Percussion Profiles (SoundWorld, 2001). His opera, I, Norton, based on the life of Norton I, Emperor of the United States, has been performed throughout North America and Europe.

Photo credit: Lora Vasileva

Voutchkova and Thieke’s U.S. tour is made possible by support from The Goethe Institut and the Trust for Mutual Understanding.

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Biliana Voutchkova and Michael Thieke have worked together intensively within (and in between) both compositional and improvisational methods since 2011 presenting their work in various festivals/concert series in Europe (Austria, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Bulgaria). They released their first album “Already there” on the Swiss label Flexion records. The music of the duo focuses on the detail in music, micro tonality, imagery and intensely dynamic, but often slowly moving soundscapes – chiseled beauty and expressive communication.

The granulation of sound into exquisite detail was once the field of the electronic music composer. But, a new type of instrumental virtuosity has been mastered by artists such as Voutchkova and Thieke. Emerging from experimental and improvisational practices, it’s a virtuosity that puts a lens on the particles of sound within sounds. And through deconstruction of (traditionally conceived) instrumental tone, these granulated particles of sound became the material of a whole new world of music being created on the same old instruments. After all, instruments are just tools. Musical shifts occur from how we listen to sounds, what we perceive in them, as well as how our listening affects our relationship with the world.

Much of music’s movement toward micro-elements manifested through compositional processes, into forms of chiseled and austere beauty. But an increased expressivity has entered experimental music through the immediacy, intimacy and interactivity of improvisation. As a result of their close collaboration, Voutchkova and Thieke have developed a strong interest in exploring the granulated particles that increase the sensitivity of perception for themselves and their audiences. They deliver the findings of these explorations with intensity and feeling.

More about Biliana Voutchkova and Michael Thieke.