The five-day San Francisco Electronic Music Festival kicks off tonight at Million Fishes Gallery with performances by Matthew Goodheart, Dan Good, Floor van de Velde & Elaine Buckholtz, and Mary Franck.
Ben Tinker, an electronic musician who is on the committee that chooses musicians for the event, says the festival is as much about exciting sounds as it is about visual art.
Many of this year’s performers come from a visual arts background but work in sound, “so there’s that kind of cross-disciplines there,” says Tinker. Techniques employed in modern art, such as cutting, pasting and layering, also show up in electronic music, in the form of tape splicing and audio collage.
Electronic music has been interdisciplinary from its origins in the work of pioneers such as John Cage, who was best known as a composer but also produced visual art and writings. Thursday’s program at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a tribute to Cage on the centennial of his birth. He died in 1992.
Cage famously said that music is “not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”
His musical ethos seems to resonate with William Basinski, one of the festival’s headliners, whose work documents the passage of time. Basinski mixes old quarter-inch tape loops from his past recordings, which have decayed in quality over time, into ambient streams of sound. His work is a stark reflection on the nature of memory and the degradation of physical artifacts, and while it feels cold and remote, it evokes an earlier time, endless and sprawling. His critically acclaimed album “Disintegration Loops I-IV” received a 9.4 rating on the review site Pitchfork.com, which is typically geared toward indie rock. Basinski will perform on Friday, Sept. 7, at the Brava Theater.
Dieter Moebius, a German electronic artist from the group Cluster, will also headline. Seeing him perform will be “seeing a living legend, live in San Francisco,” says Tinker. Where Basinski’s sounds are sparse and serious, Moebius’ creations are playful and spontaneous. They include chirps, animal noises and wonky sound effects, as in the song “Fou” from the 2011 album “Ding.” Moebius takes the stage on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Brava.
Bay area natives Negativwobblyland will play Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Brava. In the past this group has created works by cutting and pasting audio (think “The Books”), but more recently has come to rely on an instrument called the booper to create its unique sound. According to the music festival’s website, boopers are “100% analog feedback instruments, created entirely from salvaged radio and amplifier parts, which recycle their outputs back upon themselves to generate an endlessly changing stream of living electronic sound.”
The festival will run through Sunday evening. Tonight’s events are free. For a full list of performances, see the festival website.