Seekers of experimental music and multimedia frontiers have traditionally trekked to Valencia for the annual Center for Experiments in Art, Information and Technology festival, organized by CalArts.
Last weekend's seventh affair, though, landed momentously in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, in the new REDCAT venue at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. A sense of arrival -- and upgraded profile -- was in the air.
Venue and context influence content, and Friday's opening night program benefited from the music's unfolding in a centralized urban vortex. Even lesser pieces came alive, partly due to the clarity of the sound system and the finely controllable ambience of this black-box theater.
Pushing envelopes is an implicit objective in the experimental world, especially where digital media and improvisational tactics rule. But it's still a slow and evolutionary process, and much of Friday's fare fell into definable subcategories.
There were those hunched over laptops, summoning sounds -- from the whooshing, liquid tones in Greg Headley's "Drain" to Joseph Lake's spatially mapped designs for rougher, industrial noise. Others pursued the idealistic blending of digital systems and "real-time" physical instruments, seeking peaceful, even poetic, coexistence.
Clarinetist Xavier Charles dialogued with and mimicked the improvised, electronic tweakings of Marc Pichelin; trombonist Monique Buzzarte generated altered, pleasantly ambient sound-washes in a work co-created with Deep Listening pioneer Pauline Oliveros; and trumpeter Glen Whitehead found his horn timbres distorted, extended and rendered surreal via Michael Theodore's laptop scheming.
From a separate aesthetic corner, Tom Recchion worked the realm of looping, layering manipulated materials from several CD players to create a surprisingly sensuous and seamless result.
The evening's standout work, from Paul DeMarinis, dodged easy description and invented its own sense of order. The Bay Area-based artist has worked the cracks among installation, music, language and multimedia cross-stitching for years. The putty -- and silly putty -- of language tends to slip into the mix, as it did with his fittingly titled 1991 project "Music as a Second Language," and Friday's beautifully cryptic presentation at REDCAT.
DeMarinis stood center stage, part performer, part stagehand, part prop. He held up two circular white screens onto which images of flickering flames were projected, visual spaces slowly filling up with fuzzy "snow."
A faint, crackly vintage recording of a speechifying Mussolini was projected onto the same screens from tiny speakers, the "snowy" sound bouncing back toward the audience. It was as if "Il Duce" were reduced to an entrapped, decorative historical tidbit in a sonic snowy dome.
Additional sonic materials -- throbbing low tones, and delicate chirping -- peppered and helped define the REDCAT space, from behind and overhead. The sum effect was hypnotic, vivid and ineffable, coated with dream logic and detached historical intrigue.
DeMarinis deals with multimedia and multi-sensory connections in his work, while also injecting a dry wit and minimalist savvy. Here's one experimentalist with a clear, yet effectively mysterious voice, in a field given to flux and trend-chasing.