Christopher Willits is the latest semielectronic addition to the esteemed Ghostly International's roster of "sensual-machine-music" makers. Previously, Willits worked with such labels as Mille Plateaux, Sub Rosa, and Ache (as one-third of avant laptop noise supergroup Flossin). As a solo artist, the San Francisco–based musician works with guitar, laptop, and live effects to create subtly shifting melodies and sprawling, soft-focus soundscapes. Willits calls his method "folded guitar," a term he coined with his 2002 release on 12k, Folding, and the Tea. He performs this aural origami using custom-made effects and his own signal-processing software, improvisationally transforming his virtuosic guitar work into delicate shapes, manipulating multiple layers of rhythm and melody.
His latest release is the aptly titled Surf Boundaries, a collection of Pacific themes and variations in which gentle waves of sound wash over each other—melodic ripples and percussive patterns emerge, and hazy voices occasionally surface, only to recede again into formless sound. The song titles reference natural elements and color schemes ("Clouds Form," "Medium Blue," "Love Wind," "Yellow Spring," etc.), anchoring Willits's ethereal compositions in an almost tangible landscape that evokes the fog and beaches of San Francisco and the rolling hillsides and redwood forests nearby. Willits's music has the half-formed feeling of dawn or dusk, the intangible quality of a constantly drifting line, which lends the record its name. Instrumental interludes give way to dreamy, incoherent pop songs, often within single tracks. The result is a strangely cohesive mix of blippy, minute electronics and lush vocal/instrumental harmonies, with highlights including the sun-kissed psychedelia of "Yellow Spring" and the slow-motion road-trip daze of "Colors Shifting" and "Green and Gold."
Live, Willits performs behind a tabletop array of laptops and outboard gear, using MIDI-controlling foot pedals to trigger his various effects and programs, which leaves his nimble hands free to play guitar. It's not exactly a rock show, but there's more to watch than with most armchair electronic artists. The improvisational element of Willits's performances makes them unique affairs, full of unexpected tangents and carefully contained chaos.
Willits's booking represents something of a tangent of Oscillate, the Baltic Room's weekly Tuesday electronic night. Run by Sensory Effect's Patrick Haenelt (AKA Electrosect) as well as residents Kinoko (fourthcity) and Greg Skidmore, the night generally focuses more on dance-floor friendly, if still experimental, techno, so this foray into more ambient territory is an interesting move. If their eclecticism continues to draw artists as promising as Willits, then it should be a successful move as well.
Christopher Willits plays the Baltic Room Tues Dec 12 with Roger O'Donnell, Kinoko, Electrosect, and Greg Skidmore, 10 pm, $15, 21+.
THURSDAY DECEMBER 7
THIRD ANNUAL LAPTOP BATTLE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
This year's culminating Laptop Battle pits winning combatants from eight cities (including such far-flung locales as New York, Austin, and Miami) against each other in a contest that's somewhat shy of a gladiatorial spectacle. Laptop performance isn't the most exciting thing to watch, even when the music is top-notch, but the event's organizers have this covered with live visuals from Killing Frenzy and Tracer as well as performances from the always entertaining DJs Collage and Scratchmaster Joe. With Doormouse, Squid Leader, Protman, Matthewmatics, Cygnus, Velapene Screen, Threy, and Vytear. Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St, 324-8000, 9 pm, $8, 21+.
SATURDAY DECEMBER 9
KRAKT SECOND ANNIVERSARY PARTY
Seattle's hardest (and most grammatically challenged) techno night enters its terrible twos tonight. Residents Kristina Childs and Paul Edwards will be on hand along with Jerry Abstract to dish out the punishing beats and painful decibels. KRAKT TURN TWO, KILL BIRTHDAY. Re-bar, 1114 Howell St, 233-9873, 9 pm, $5, 21+.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 12
Roger O'Donnell's love of analog synthesizers—specifically those made by Sequential Circuits—is apparent in his work with '80s heavyweights such as the Cure, the Thompson Twins, Berlin, and the Psychedelic Furs. At one point, he set a record for having the most Sequential models on stage at one time. His solo set tonight may not include such an impressive array of analogs, but if his new release, The Truth in Me, is any indication, there will be plenty of punchy beats, thoughtfully arranged synths, and pitch-perfect vocals courtesy of collaborator Erin Lang. Baltic Room, 1207 E Pine St, 625-4444, 10 pm, $15, 21+.
Drum 'n' bass veteran Dieselboy hits the War Room in support of his label sampler, The Human Resource. Expect ominous tones, skull rattling bass, punishing beats, and expert mixing from this scene stalwart. The War Room, 722 E Pike St, 328-7666, 9 pm, $10, 21+.