By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
Heinz, Davel, and Neuburg all know each other from Oakland's Mills College, where they studied in the school's Center for Contemporary Music. Later, they went on to form the multimedia theater ensemble MAP, as Neuburg also worked with the AXIS Dance Company and Robert Ashley's modern opera ensemble. The three also assist in running IS Productions, an Oakland-based studio and musicians' cooperative.
The musicians inspire one another, something evident on Heinz's first solo CD, Failure, released earlier this year. Neuburg and Davel contributed to half the tracks, though the songs are couched in more straightforward guitar-rock themes than anything on Utechma, which is mostly a synth-driven affair. The songs range from "Not What I Wanted"'s satirical look at egotism to the genuine pop hooks of the title track. "Part of my interest is to surprise or even confound people a little," Heinz says. "And you can do that more effectively when you seduce them into wanting to listen instead of assaulting them."
The album's title lays out the music's focus on, well, failure: not getting what you want, being lied to, trying to explain yourself and not getting the words right. "On Failure I have set out to fail," as he puts it in the liner notes, though Heinz claims the record as a modest success; "It's failing about as well as I expected," he says. He confides that he wants to call his next album Another Album, making "another ironic comment about how people don't need my music," he jokes.
Critics' chief complaint about electronic instrumentation is that it often takes the human being out of the compositional process; push a button, and a sound results that the musician can lay claim to, even if he or she added little to its creation. But in this case, there's always Neuburg's voice -- with a three-and-a-half octave range, she gets to try on a number of musical hats, be it a straight pop ballad like "Into that Hole," the echoing, multi-tracked vocals on "Humility," or the new "Big Barbecue," a track on which the avant-garde meets the musical overture. "The voice is an instrument," she says, by way of reminder. "There are voices there, which really adds this element of sharing and sincerity."
Composing with electronic instruments becomes its own call-and-response process. "They influence us by what they can do," says Davel. "There's a creative element to working with [them]. You get halfway through something ... and you find something you didn't expect, and it may take you in a different direction. Especially when [Neuburg] comes in with a song that's got the melody, got the elements, but it doesn't have the sounds. Usually, we work out the sounds, and the sounds may rearrange the song. For me, it's instrument-building. [With] each new song, I build a new instrument to some extent."
"We all think of ourselves as composers," says Neuburg. "It's enabled me to write and create my own music. Otherwise, I just would've been a singer doing Mozart."
Amy X Neuburg & Men play every Wednesday in January at Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom). Tickets are $6-$10; call 415-289-2000.