Butterfly Garden @ Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA – 2017

Something wonderfully beautiful, simple, and mesmerizing is currently happening at Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory.  The 120 year old facility’s Stove Room has been transformed into their annual Butterfly Forest.  This year (and maybe in years past ?), a incredible ambient soundscape entitled Kaleidoscope was created by CMU students that plays throughout the entire room and greatly enhances the experience.

From the Experimental Sound Synthesis website:

The students in this course designed their sonic compositions to support and uplift the experience of visitors walking amongst the butterflies. They also wrote code that makes their sound pieces into “generative” compositions – the sounds that one hears are created through algorithms that produce continuously changing sound experiences.

I was there on the 4th of July with family and friends and if it wasn’t for the heat (Phipps IS a giant greenhouse!), I honestly could have stayed in this room all day.  I’ve been to Phipps many times and this is one of the best (if not THE best) things I’ve ever seen there. The exhibit runs though September and I will definitely be back for at least one or two more visits. It’s a truly serene and meditative experience.  Here are a few of the compositions from Soundcloud.

The Necks – 3.3.17 – First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, PA

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Mystery, intrigue, the unknown, and discovery are all elements that are highly sought after when it comes to my musical tastes. This is especially true in a live setting. Some of my all-time favorite musical experiences have been ones in which I really didn’t know exactly what to expect from a performer. I was extremely fortunate to have one of these “all-time” type experiences this past Friday in a church basement in Shadyside.

The Necks are an Australian trio whose music can be described as improvised minimalist free ambient jazz. Even though they’ve been around for 30 years, I had never heard of them until I was handed a flyer by the show’s promoter after the Mostly Other People Do The Killing show at Alphabet City last month. After checking out their newest release, Unfold, I knew I couldn’t miss this show.

The two set performance brought upon so many thoughts and emotions that there’s no way that I could clearly or concisely put them into words in any sort of eloquent way whatsoever. The first 30-ish minute set started in a way that, to me, seemed like an intro or prelude. After a few minutes of anticipating a beat to drop or a melody to begin, I realized that that wasn’t at all what was happening here… and it was a beautiful and blissful “ahhhh” type of moment like “Ok. I get it.” The trio (piano, upright bass, and drums) just continued to slowly develop and deepen a groove, which was mostly implied but undeniably deep, like a groove within a groove, all without any sort of traditional drum beat. I found myself closing my eyes quite a bit, even though the room itself (with its industrial duct work and electrical lines contrasted with colorful hanging quilts and a stained glass window of fish), was almost as interesting as the music being created.

The Necks somehow are able to subtly tap into the frequencies and rhythms of the universe. The music is very primal, circular, hypnotic, spiritual and meditative. Within the hour (or so) long performance, they were able to cover a broad spectrum of human emotions from blissful joy and beauty to some pretty dark territory. When played together, their acoustic instruments often had a way of sounding electric. So much so, that I noticed a few people craning their necks or even standing up to decipher what was creating the sounds they were hearing.

The video below is a shot of the aforementioned duct work on the ceiling during the last couple of minutes of the second set. I normally would LOVE to share video footage of a show like this, but video and photography would not have been a good idea at this show. I felt it would have been highly irreverent and disrespectful and would have killed the intimate once-in-a-lifetime kind of vibe. So, I figured that it wouldn’t be too offensive to anyone if I simply recorded some audio while filming the ceiling above me. While this audio clip doesn’t do this show any justice whatsoever, it does give me something to look back on as a reminder of the incredible night. Enjoy.

 

Record/Tape Scores – Erie Edition – 6.14.14

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Steven Halpern
Spectrum Suite
1976

I spent this weekend with family in Erie, PA.  The weather was pretty nice so I decided to go out and hit a couple of sales in the morning.  I came away with a pile of records that included some meditation and Yoga records and this ambient Steven Halpern record.  The entire first side features Halpern playing ambient instrumental solo pieces on a Fender Rhodes electric piano.  On the second side he is joined by a flute and a guitar.  Cool random find.

However, the biggest score of the day in my opinion was the pile of classic hip hop cassettes shown below, or as Robert Walter of the Greyboy Allstars called them on my Instagram post, a “nice stack of awesome”!  I love hip hop cassettes.  This was the format that I grew up with for this kind of music and it has a special place in my heart.  Plus, my car still has a tape deck!  I left a few behind because they were a little pricier than I had hoped, but now I’m regretting that decision.

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