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MUSIC : ELECTRONIC : Dynamic Duo : 2 Composers Think They're the Only Ones in Area Making Computer-Generated Tunes But Hope to Win Converts at Concert

May 03, 1990|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This gathering of the Society of Electro-Music in the United States, Ventura County membership, will now come to order. Is Jeff Kaiser present? Yes. Ted Killian? Yes.

Well, then--perfect attendance. These two part-time composers have hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars invested in the making of music with machines that electronically synthesize, sample and reshape sound. But at the moment, they seem to be all there is to the electronic music scene in these parts.

"It's felt by a lot of people that music that involves computers and electronics is pretty cold and bloodless--all cerebral with no sense of humor," Killian said recently. "Well, I think I have a decent sense of humor. And if there's anything you can say about Jeff Kaiser, it's that he has a sense of humor."

For his part, Kaiser confessed that "the first concert I went to, I laughed at all this stuff. I thought it was silly . . . But by the end, I was turned around."

Which leads to their sales pitch: In an effort to win over a few more electronic music fans, Kaiser and Killian will unite for an evening of music this Friday when they present a free concert of "Electronic Music by Human Hands" at the Ventura Arts Council's Momentum Gallery at 34 N. Palm St. in Ventura. The event, which will combine live performance with audiotape and feature flutist Renee Janton, is scheduled from 7 to 8 p.m.

"That's one of our stated goals--just to get this stuff out there, so people can hear it," Kaiser said.

"So," Killian said, "we're hoping to change the way some people view new music and electronic music specifically. It can be serious, but it can be fun as well."

Kaiser's first exposure to the genre--that concert he laughed at--was a performance by avant-garde electronic composer Elliot Schwartz at Westmont College in Santa Barbara in 1983.

Kaiser, who is the assistant pastor at Camarillo Covenant Church, was then on his way to a music composition degree. He earned a master's degree in choral conducting at Azusa Pacific University in 1985. Along the way, he experimented with composition--taping and manipulating naturally occurring sounds, and laying coins and broken glass on piano strings. Later, he wrote pieces for bongos and synthesizers and collaborated with poet Randy Ringen.

In early 1989, after a Times article on Kaiser prompted a meeting between the two, Kaiser and Killian began sharing their ideas.

Kaiser most often uses a Macintosh computer, elaborate software and a few synthesizers; Killian usually runs an electric guitar through special effects accessories. Both make frequent use of sampling machines, which record, reproduce and manipulate virtually any sound. And both belong to the Society of Electro-Music in the United States. Rather than start a two-man chapter in Ventura, they go to meetings in Los Angeles every few months.

"I have an art school background," said Killian, 37. "And a lot of people who study fine art get out in the world and find they can't make a living at it. I do work as a graphic designer . . . But there was still a creative side of me that needed an outlet.

"I've been playing the guitar for, let's see, 27 years now . . . so music had always been there for me. But I had never taken it really seriously until about six or seven years ago . . . Music and technology have sort of taken over my creativity."

On Friday, Killian and Kaiser will offer three compositions each. One of Killian's is "Personal Guitarisms," in which Killian will be accompanied by electronic tapes.

"The electric guitar is the kind of instrument that, as soon as you stand up or sit down with one, it almost precludes anyone taking you seriously," Killian said. "But I have kind of a weird way with it. It doesn't sound, sometimes, like a guitar . . . Depending upon the mood I'm in, I might try anything from imitating Leo Kottke to something punkish." Kottke is known for using intricate picking patterns on the acoustic guitar.

The Kaiser compositions at Friday's performance are titled "Dream Tongues," "Ontogeny 4," and "Theme and Variations on 'Wipeout.' "

The first of those grew out of Kaiser's ministry--the sounds were inspired by the sound of some Camarillo Pentecostal preachers speaking in tongues--and the last has more to do with his sense of humor.

"Theme and Variations on 'Wipeout' " is exactly what the title suggests: Kaiser will begin with the old Surfaris' surf-rock song and a drum machine, then twist and tease the melody with an algorithmic computer program that generates random improvisations.

"That's still in the development stage," Kaiser said. "I like pressure."

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