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Music Production: CLUTTER
03/16/2002 CLUTTER: live

I'll be performing as a member of CLUTTER at the Rea Coffehouse on the Chatham College campus. It's an evening of improv groups, so we'll be playing with North Star Drive, The Student Painters, and The Wynkataug Monks. Since we're not proud, we're likely to go first. All anecdotal evidence suggests that this is a fun place to play, so come on out, have some coffee, soak up some Chatham vibes, and ride the CLUTTERed sonic surf. We promise that Rich won't play kazoo this time, and Nick will play more guitar.

7:30 or 8 PM, Saturday, March 16 at the Rea Coffeehouse, the gleaming outpost of musical avant-garde exploration on the Chatham campus. While I've never been to the Rea Coffeehouse, it appears to be in the basement of the Julia and James Rea residence hall. There's a map here.

Ah, the Clutter gig. In a way, it requires reviewing a significant part of the day.

I opted to spend a chunk of the afternoon on the 16th down at the vinyl shop, easy walking distance away, which was good as I wasn't wearing quite as many layers as would be optimal for the rapidly cooling air. After poking around in the dusty bins for a while, I came up with a sound effects disc and Arthur Lyman's Taboo. (He just passed away recently; at one time he was the vibe player in Martin Denny's band, before he defected. The LP's cool indeed, but owes a lot to Denny.) I was feeling a bit guilty for losing track of time in the shop, but on the way out, ran into promoter Manny who sez he's been meaning to ask me about contributing a track to a compilation of Pittsburgh electronica. Cool. The downside is that he needed a minute-and-a-half-long track by the following evening. (I did succeed at this.)

Shortly thereafter, it was off to Chatham College for the Clutter gig. Clutter...has changed somewhat. With the addition of the keyboardist, and the guitarist switching to bass, there are a lot of notes being played, and not very much space for me to contribute. It's not that I think the band should make space for me, but that the contributions I can make are best made where there is space for me to make them. If there isn't any, then my presence isn't required. In a conversation this morning, Nick (the guitarist/bassist) referenced Coltrane as the source of his more notes = more emotion equation. As a Coltrane fan, I get something rather different out of Coltrane's playing, but I'm not the Music Listening Police. I had decided I'd want to keep giving Clutter a try, suggesting more space, fewer notes, less "fill up every bit of the sonic canvas" approach. But if it's all about emotion, and emotion for you is somehow carried by increasing numbers of notes, then y'all go knock yourselves out, 's what I think.

Chatham is a women's liberal arts college, set on land about two miles away from where we live--property that used to belong to the Mellon family. It's really gorgeous, and several former mansions are now administrative buildings and dorms. There's still some residential space on the campus--there's a fascinating Gropius house, a beautiful Meier house with the world's ugliest Venturi right behind it (a real handball court of a house). I've spent some time on the campus as my wife teaches there.

The Rea Coffeehouse is in the basement of a mansion-turned-residence hall, and it's recieved the punk rock treatment of slogans and manifestos painted all over every surface. Low-budget and fun is the sort of atmosphere. No coffee in the coffeehouse, however, so I was glad I'd brought water. After set-up, the band hung out waiting for an audience. At one point, I got a loop going just for the hell of it, so there would be something playing in the space. Other bands showed up, but it wasn't until 8 PM that actual audients appeared. The different Clutter members' responses to the loop were interesting: Nick asked if I was sure I wanted to let the loop go on, since it would be some time before we started playing. Rich said that if I did let it go on, people would inevitably start hanging themselves. When I did turn it down, Ty the drummer said he'd been about to start playing along with it. A nice compliment, but I did turn the loop off.

Eventually we had a small audience, so I turned up my loop again, and the keyboardist started playing. I announced the band from the back of the hall, and spent some time playing in unconventional ways (leaving the guitar on the chair and walking around it, for instance). Ty and Nick started in on drums and bass and we were off. In fairly short order, it became another blizzard of notes between the bass, keyboards, and drums. It's kind of hard for me to justify making any sounds in that context, but eventually things slowed down and I found places to drop noises. Then, of course, the other guys would get excited and play a lot of notes again.

For some reason, my guitar didn't sound as loud as it should, but I think that's from being drowned out in general and from having the necessary hearing protection in. And unfortunately the new synth patches weren't as interesting in this context as they were in isolation. But that could be the monitoring problem again. On reflection, this was also an effect of interacting with the keyboardist, who tended to play the same frequencies I was playing. This was probably out of a desire to blend the sounds, but had the effect of covering over what I was doing, and making a difficult monitoring situation even more difficult.

We did one piece for about twenty or twenty-five minutes (to no or little applause...but that might be the lack of a clear song structure in the improv) and were part way through another when one of the women who put the gig together told me we'd used up our time. I notified the band, which slowly came to a halt, and we were done. According to the promoters, they did like the set, or at least they made a good show of it.

The next band (the Student Painters from Indiana, PA) was a rock act, not an improv band as we'd thought. They were good, tight, and sounded like a lot of other stuff, but that's just fine. Notable feature: scooped mids on the bass amp's graphic EQ. Why? It didn't help the bass cut through, but I guess it did look...symmetrical.

Alternapunks North Star Drive were next, and played what felt like the longest, loudest set, varying in tightness and engagement. The Wynkataug Monks were next, and were much more of a rock act than the others. Some good, memorable songs here, and nice guys to boot. (Didn't really get a chance to talk to the others, so they might have been nice guys as well. But the Monks definitely were nice guys.) They had quite a fan base, as well--a lot of people seemed to know the songs. Apparently, they're up for a set at Zythos in June, so keep an eye out for them.

Overall, not a bad evening, apart from the difficulties of finding a space in the Clutter. The women who put the show together were very nice to us, and they got a hell of a good turnout--in fact, Clutter was paid $50 ($12.50 for each of us! On a per-note basis, I'm the highest-paid member). I can see, though, the point behind the Elastic Concept in that after an evening of three straight rock bands, you don't want to hear another rock band for a while. Variety is the key. I went home and put on the Arthur Lyman LP, which was indeed swank and enjoyable...and makes a very nice use of space.

12/09/2001 CLUTTER: live

Sunday, December 9 at Our Lady of Public Health (otherwise known as the auditorium in Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health building), I'll be performing as part of local improv explorers CLUTTER, adding textured noise and dissonance to the proceedings. In addition to the sample and guitar textures you know and love, I'm debuting a software analogue synth for that certain extra je ne sais quoi. Robert "Unfinished Symphonies" Press is also contributing his tasteful keyboard stylings, and if this expansion keeps up, maybe it'll be the CLUTTER Big Band before long. You might want to catch us while there are still stages big enough to hold us.

We're opening for NYC's up-and-coming avant-jazz sensations Gutbucket, who have generated quite a buzz. Should be a good show.

Sunday, December 9
8 pm $10 all ages
at the Public Health Auditorium, 5th Ave and DeSoto St., University of Pittsburgh, Oakland. (It's behind the old Oakland Beehive, kind of. Look for the building with the skeletal metal guy stuck to the outside. It's in there.)

Not many people showed, but there was a good synergy in the ensemble, and the Gutbucket guys turn out to be fine folks indeed. I've been listening back to the set, and it's pretty good. There were some problems in addition to the sparse turnout, however: the drummer was in a corner, and heard himself entirely too loud--outside of the corner he was fine, but he couldn't know that at the time; and the keyboardist didn't have enough sonic room to stretch out. While I was able to contribute weird textures, between the other guitarist and the bassist there were too many notes and weird chords happening. And in Robert Press's tune "Good Morning," I had problems hearing both myself (had the pickup volume set too low) and Robert (the keyboard amp was sitting next to me, and I was in a null), so I ended up missing the chord change and the rest afterwards. So instead of giving the tune a unified, dramatic ebb and flow, I smoothed it out and made it more homogenous. Damn. Beyond those things, though, it was a really fun set. I'm digging the software synth as a way of supplying brief stabs of additional strangeness, and the ring modulator is turning out to be essential. There's a kind of Allen Ravenstine-like quality to my contributions, which I like. The guys from Gutbucket also came up to us afterward to chat, which was quite cool of them. A largely successful set, I'd have to say.

Gutbucket proved to be a very tight, energetic ensemble, cutting loose on either rocking out on jazz tunes, or jazzing up rock-based tunes. Kind of hard to tell from the way I've just described it, but in no way could it have been described as "fusion." It's much tighter and more integrated than the F word. All of them are fine musicians with a great touch, and the sax player and guitarist have some significant stage presence going. Perhaps the most emblematic moment of the evening was when the guitarist took up a couple recorders (as in wind instruments) and he and the sax player chased each other around the auditorium. Very Dionysian. I spent a fair chunk of the set paying attention to the bassist's playing and tone, as he plays an Azola Floating Top Bugbass, an instrument I've found interesting and have been wanting to hear. You're not going to mistake it for a full upright, but it was a very good substitute. I'm impressed. The sax player was perhaps the most intense showman of the bunch, dancing around, bobbing and weaving, losing his hat, the whole bit. A very, very enjoyable and impressive live band. Well worth seeing. And nice as hell guys, too. Don't miss 'em.

11/30/2001 CLUTTER

Apparently, I've joined local free improvisers CLUTTER, as the guitarist Nick just called to ask me, and the drummer Ty has emailed with much the same question. Rehearsal's tomorrow. And my first gig with them is...next Sunday, opening for NYC up-and-comers Gutbucket. Should be good.


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Live at Black Forge, January 2, 2016
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Live at the Thunderbird Cafe, November 9, 2011
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Tell Ya One Thing And Then Some
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