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Music Production: The Stem Cell Liberation Front
10/20/2005 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: WRCT: a live show

Now expanded to a quartet, the SCLF rides again! We've added Steves Sciulli and Pellegrino (on flute, lap steel guitar, electronics, accordion, melodica, and overtone singing, respectively) to the core group of Ryan Sigesmund (drums, percussion, keyboard) and myself (guitar, untuned guitar, ukulele, electronics). We'll be doing the live WRCT show on Thursday October 20, 9-10PM EDT (GMT-4).

We'll be doing a structured improvisation in which we play in all the different combinations of players--that's 15 different performing units, packed into one hour, the changes and station breaks being cued by a Javascript I've written. Don't like what you're hearing? Wait three and a half minutes, and it'll change. Like what you're hearing? It'll change anyway. Join us for this improv experiment.

WRCT, 88.3 FM Pittsburgh, or over the 'net at http://www.wrct.org/ 9-10PM EDT (GMT-4).

An unlikely victory. The experience of playing this show was a bad one at the time for us--technical problems that distracted us and put us in generally bad moods, and we didn't lock the way we're capable of, but given our lack of rehearsal (complex lives) and the bad experiences, we actually rose to the challenge rather well, and we really came together in places.

Load-in was 7:30, and we all converged pretty much simultaneously. Steve Pellegrino said, "What kind of band is this? Everyone's on time!" Things were generally relaxed with a slight edge, which is usually the ideal state of mind for me to be in, pre-performance.

In setup, I got to the point of tuning the guitar, so I powered everything up and plugged in headphones, only to hear--wow--quite the ugly buzz from my gear. This had to be a bad cable, so I started unplugging audio cables to find the fault, when wham--I got quite a shock from the Electro-Harmonix LPB2ube preamp. Maybe I had a ground loop going somehow, but at this point all my powered gear is new, so everything's either wall warts, polarized plugs, or three-prongs. Was I plugged into a bad outlet? We tried another, and--I got shocked again. The chassis was live with current. One of the selling points of this box is that supposedly there's 300V of current on the heaters of the tubes, so (if the marketing verbiage is correct) this wasn't something to take lightly.

OK, it was 40 minutes to airtime, and I had to do something. What I did was call home and ask Patricia to grab the solid state M-Audio DMP3 preamp and its adaptor, and I'd be by in a few minutes. In ten, I was home, got the pre, and was back at the studio in another ten. Things wouldn't sound as good (on guitar, anyway--for mics, it's a darn nice little preamp), but at least I wouldn't die.

At this point we were close to airtime, but we didn't have much of a soundcheck, though, as the crew didn't finish mic'ing Ryan's drums until a bit after 9, so our monitoring was compromised, and we were plagued by feedback throughout. Since we started late, I kept our intro short, and decided to skip the mid-program station ids. After the intro, we all were off and rolling...somewhat more quietly than I'd expected, but then we had no soundcheck during which we'd get the throat clearing out of the way, and gain a sense of how to start.

The piece was conducted by a Javascript I'd written, which led us through all the different combinations of players, including solo sets, duos, and trios, with the beginning and end covered by the full band. The script was randomized, though, so the order would be different from one performance to the next. The script printed the current player's (or players') name(s) in large letters, with a smaller block listing what the next set of players would be, and another block showing available time left in the current section. For the record, the score this time was this:

1: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sciulli, Sigesmund
2: Pellegrino
3: Sciulli
4: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sciulli
5: Pellegrino, Sigesmund
6: Rickard, Sciulli
7: Sigesmund
8: Rickard
9: Sciulli, Sigesmund
10: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sigesmund
11: Pellegrino, Sciulli
12: Pellegrino, Sciulli, Sigesmund
13: Rickard, Sigesmund
14: Pellegrino, Rickard
15: Rickard, Sciulli, Sigesmund
16: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sciulli, Sigesmund

During that first section, we were fighting feedback, and during Steve Pellegrino's solo (what struck me as a kind of Mongolian funeral rite for his late father-in-law), the engineer came out to adjust mics. The theory was that the 421 on Steve Sciulli was the problem, so the engineer went to adjust it, and popped it out of the clip, from where it dove down onto Steve's PowerBook, scratching the screen and putting a dent in the case. Ouch. His solo set was up next, and he laid down some beautiful processed shakuhachi. (I didn't realize until later how bad the damage was.)

We moved on through the sections, with some moments being particularly rewarding: Steve Pellegrino's use of the Whammy pedal on accordion, at times sounding like a pedal steel; Steve Sciulli's lap steel and flute and sense of texture, Ryan's grooves (sadly his softer playing didn't really come through on the recording, and my moments on untuned guitar, using the uke as a mic to pick up Ryan during his solo for later looping, and the act of just having us all got through this thing. Some not-so-good things: my being out of tune (particularly on the uke) with Steve's lap steel, and the constant struggle against feedback, as well as an occasional sense that I was just dragging down the process. But we got through it.

Afterwards, Steve Pellegrino was upbeat, having turned in a really good performance, and being excited about the composition in general; the rest of us were not so enthusiastic about our own playing, and about the personal misfortunes that had befallen us. We loaded out, waited around for the CD copy of the show, and decided to head to Gooski's for a beer (though Steve Pellegrino had to get going). Out in the garage, the first evidence of disjuncture: Ami called Steve to say that she really enjoyed it. On the way to Gooski's, I listened to the CD, and...it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. A phone message from Mr. Funky was congratulatory. Hmm. How about that.

We'll do this one again, I'm sure, and tighten it up. Good result, not so good experience, but the next one should be better.

03/06/2004 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the Schoolhouse Yoga

The SCLF rides again! While we took 2003 off, we weren't idle--I did a lot of performing; Ryan did a lot of video work, we've done a lot of rehearsing, and we're adding avant-gardist-about-town Steve Pellegrino on keyboards! So we're tanned, rested, and ready to rock, so to speak.

Not only that, we're kicking off a new performance series, Live@ (http://www.pghevents.com/), this one at The Schoolhouse Yoga (http://www.schoolhouseyoga.com/) in Lawrenceville, the beginning of a number of performances in nontraditional spaces. (A map can be found at http://tinyurl.com/2wduf)

We'll be the only act, but there will be a full array of entertainment--recent rehearsals have seen us getting into Godspeed/Mogwai mode, so once we're there we can keep going until we've drained the last drop of norepinephrine from your entertainted brain. We're pretty excited about doing the first one, so there will be a few surprises--including a Certain Cover Tune in honor of a Certain Current Event in the music world.

That's Saturday, March 6. 7PM. All ages. And the promoter wants...$10. Yikes! But wait--for you, we've attached a coupon good for $5 off admission! Just print it out and bring it to the gig, so they'll know you're a fellow Stem Cell Liberator. (If you don't see the attachment, get it from http://mauricerickard.com/sclf_coupon.pdf)

See you there!

141 Foster Way (41st and Foster, next to the 40th St. Bridge!), Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA 15201. (412) 401-4444.

Well, this had some great aspects, and some that were a bit sucktacular. Some of this is traceable back to the cold (lack of energy for promo, insufficient rehearsal), but there are some other factors at work--lack of overall promo, no foot traffic, bad weather, no regular audience infrastructure, a one-act show concept, and a high ticket price.

Ryan and I had been digging having a keyboardist in the house, and my co-conspirator Steve Pellegrino was willing to do it, which was good. We'd done some rehearsals together and worked on some pieces, including a Mogwai-like piece I'd written which we'd rejected for having a weird missing eighth note or something. Ryan and I thought we'd do some extra rehearsal before the show, which usually isn't a good idea for me, but this one felt right. Having a bit of time, we caught some dinner at Whole Foods first, when Steve called me on cell--the Mapquest directions to the venue were deeply wrong, and we ourselves were running late. We headed back down, and got it together. Steve had to run an errand, and was a little later coming into the space, while Ryan ran back and forth from his apartment to take the drum kit over in easily-assembled stages, rather than breaking the whole thing down for longer assembly.

The space itself, the entire third floor gymnasium of a former elementary school, is stunning--visually beautiful, with a long, long reverb tail. I can sit next to the drums in a room like this and have little to no ear fatigue. We set up, and as we got closer to 8, began to wonder if, in fact, we'd be doing anything more than rehearsing. There was no audience--no one had yet showed up for this. The venue's well off a main drag, for one thing. This is a new performance series, for another. We haven't played out in a year. And the promoter was charging $10 for one act. ($5 with the coupon.) Not a promising combination at all, I'd say. And this proved to be the case.

Getting closer to 8, we saw Ryan's friend Amadeo and a friend of his, but they left again to get something to eat, and we figured we'd see them again soon. I hit the restroom, and when I emerged, Steve and Ryan were jamming, so I turned on the MD recorder (with binaurals) and joined in. By this time, someone unknown to us had shown up--it turned out to be a fellow member of the Microsound list, Spider Baby. (Thanks, guy!) So we began, pretty much at 8.

Steve had been working on variations on Howlin' Wolf's "Sittin' on Top of the World," which is what I'd come in on. We hadn't rehearsed it, but I threw on some of my VST tape-delay with simulated flutter as a kind of Frisell-like atmosphere, and the interaction seemed to work well. We went atmospheric with the next piece, as Steve used the pipe organ setting on Ryan's keyboard, doing a long introduction to a tense, loping reflective piece with some fine brush work from Ryan. (The snare really sounded fantastic in this room!) Steve's playing laid out emotionally resonant chords, and I kept up a shimmering atmosphere. It worked pretty well.

Our next tune was one Steve had blocked out in 7, which was an interesting challenge for me--where's one? Ryan picked it up right away, and I stuck to long drones, occasionally messing up my playing with ring modulation and buffer override. It actually had a lot going for it. Our next piece began (again) atmospherically, as we played with the long room decay, and drifted into a dark, Asian-flavored piece. We were in a film soundtracky mood with this one. The next was an electric-piano piece in Steve's complex-harmony mode, which was difficult to get a handle on, but gradually unfolded for us. I think Steve's keyboard expertise leads him to work in dense chords that are difficult for me to unravel and find space in for contribution, but this did grow in an interesting way for me.

Our last piece was a cover I'd wanted to do, as an homage to Brian Wilson's recent performances of Smile. "Fire" is a pretty groovy tune, and we worked on it a bit separately, and thought what the hell, we'd give it a shot. My playing didn't quite hold together, and it would have been much better with some stronger rehearsal, but it was still fun to do.

So in an hour, we were done. Our audient bought a couple CDRs from me, which meant that, with the door, I could pay each of us $5. Not bad for having just one person! We talked a bit, broke down the gear, and headed out. Later we learned that Amadeo, his friend, and some other people came later--they'd thought it was like a club show, and would run late. Another hurdle for this series. Still, the room was gorgeous, and (except for an evil bass hump around 150 Hz and some mic pre overload), the recording has some compelling stretches. Not a bad night, even with the sparse attendance.

01/22/2003 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live performance at Club Cafe

Continuing the Club Cafe After Dark adjunct to the upcoming 100 Bands in 31 Nights festival in January, I also have data on January 22nd's show:

Once again, this will be a late-night thing, starting at 11:00 PM. There's also no cover and there's a half-price menu after 11. Sheesh, what more could you want? How about sets by the following:

Powder French
The Stem Cell Liberation Front
and a collective improvisation between the evening's performers

Once again, a hip excursion of Pittsburgh's electronic-based music, and an environment of modern swankerie.

56-58 South 12th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. 412-431-4950.

An even better evening than the last one, although we did have some moments that gave us pause. I came down on my own, and had pretty good parking karma this time, being able to park in the square around the corner from the club. I saw a few people I knew, but no other performers. Given my previous experience, though, I wasn't worried. Powder French showed up, then Russ, Manherringbone, and Ryan. We were missing only 8cylinder, whom I didn't know previously, but when he showed up I knew it was him. Our only problem was...that the band headlining the 7-10:30 slot went long. Very long, actually, and we didn't actually get started until quarter to midnight with 8cylinder's set. As before, we decided that it would be best for the next act to set up during the previous act's set, although with Ryan's expanded drum kit, we also thought it would be best if Ryan set up from the beginning, giving him ample time to get the kit in place.

8cylinder's amped-up (and occasionally hot and twitchy) Gameboy and PC pieces are very interesting and engaging (to my ear, anyway), but in this context, coming on the heels of a loungy rock band that ran late, much of the audience chose to file out rather than stick around for the other acts. Had the previous band ended on time, we would have started at about 10:45-11:00, early enough that some people wouldn't be ready to go home. But 45 minutes or so later, I suspect that a lot of these people felt the evening was over. It was also a very cold night, which may have contributed to people's nesting instincts. 8cylinder did his thing for about 20 minutes, and we lost a fairly significant chunk of audience, sadly. There were some die-hards in the house, however, and during this set we witnessed something that you'd only see with electronic music--an audience member getting up onstage to look over 8cylinder's shoulder and to ask him questions about what he was doing.

Powder French was up next, doing his waves of deep, calming-yet-unsettled ambient noise. The audience largely held steady, although we may have lost a few there. At what felt like it would have been halfway through the set, I was out of the room, and heard the music stop. Over already? Hurrying back in, I learned that the sound guy had moved a monitor to give Ryan more room, and had...unplugged Powder French. His set was involuntarily over. (The sound guy did buy Powder French a drink, which was certainly the right thing to do, but it was unfortunate that his set was cut short.)

Sugapablo took the stage next, and while he had confessed some disenchantment with the emptying room, while he played, people actually came in--and stayed! It was a bit of a gamble having him in the middle rather than be the crowd-friendly face at the beginning, but at least we gained back some people by this point, and the set went well. I took a few shots of him with the digital camera he'd brought (and he'd taken shots of everyone else), and the vibe took a decided upturn.

I helped Manherringbone load onto the stage--in a stroke of inspired planning, he'd assembled all his stuff offstage on a table, and all we had to do was lift it on. His waves of noise were quite engaging, and the audience hung in there. I'd forgotten his incorporation of the microphone and feedback to generate more layers, and I thought these worked very well. Another good set.

Ryan and I were up next. At this remove, I realize that being semi-in-charge of the evening was using some of the energy that I'd been depending upon for musical focus, but at the same time I'd been sticking to drinking water all evening, which balanced it out somewhat. Ryan had had a cocktail, however, and later felt that it blunted his edge a bit. We'd had some brief discussions about the set list in advance--probably the first time we'd ever discussed it before going on--and (surprise!) we couldn't come to any conclusions, and decided just to do some improvs. It was a bit difficult to make decisions about a short set like this one, though. So we launched into the first improv, and while we played well, I didn't feel as though we really took off, probably from a combination of losing that small, marginal percentage of attention that makes a difference. Nonetheless, people seemed to dig what we were doing, and we did two more. Listening back to the recordings, they were all largely dissonant pieces--no really "guitary" pieces like "Blast" or "Tragic Rock Epic," although I certainly played a lot of guitar (mostly through the ring modulator). When we're really on (like at the Quiet Storm show), these can take on a rhythmic complexity and level of engagement that makes them work for people even with the dissonant content. These pieces worked, too, but they didn't quite blossom in the way others have. The fact that we were also playing last, and so late, may also have contributed. There are moments throughout the set that I do like, however, and Russ has said that he particularly liked the last one.

Afterwards, we did have time for a collaborative improv, and this time we had everyone involved, plus Oscillator, who'd come with his PowerBook specifically to join us in the jam. The soundcheck took a little while (or it felt so at the time), but we put in a 12-minute block of ambience, with Ryan contributing most of the rhythmic content. I wasn't sure how that would work, but it did, and it was quite a lot of fun to play. I noticed that Powder French was also using BackToBasics for triggering samples, and it was kind of an interesting challenge to figure out who was making what sound. I wasn't quite sure, given the density, how best to contribute, but finally settled on some shortwave noise, a few speech samples, and some loops of heavily tremolo'd volume swells. As we faded out, I also triggered my "Thank you" speech sample, which the audience--and there was indeed an audience still there--seemed to appreciate.

We broke down our gear, said our goodbyes, and I hung out with Ryan as he took apart the kit. I saw somewhat late that Fredrik of Vampire Nation had come out to see us with a date, and I heard the date talking into a cell phone about having seen me there--she apparently knew me from somewhere, but I unfortunately couldn't place her. But it was very nice of them to show up, and to stay for the whole evening. Later, as Ryan and I began to load out, the bartender called out to me, and let me know that the Pittsburgh Electronic Musicians were being paid...for both nights! Regrettably, someone at some point in the evening had broken a candle and an ashtray, but it didn't result in any tariffs. We split everything equally according to the number of people who played each night, and it was a nice bonus for everyone, particularly as none of us had expected to be paid at all. (At this remove, I still have to pay Powder French and Jeremy Boyle, but they'll be getting their shares soon.) So...a success! Even if Powder French's set came to an abrupt, unintentional end, our experiment in having electronics at Club Cafe seems to have reached an encouraging conclusion. And there may be more! Stay tuned.

11/02/2002 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the Quiet Storm Coffeehouse

The freshly rejuvenated Stem Cell Liberation Front will be performing at the Dunket Records SADBEAR split 7-inch record release party for brainstorm Sheen and Eric Fox at the Quiet Storm Coffeehouse. Ryan and I are saving up to unleash some improv action, and our set's shaping up to be a surprise to everyone, including ourselves.

Based on what we know of our fellow performers, the whole evening's going to be good. We were on the bill with Eric back in May when we opened for Yume Bitsu, and I have to say that Eric's well worth seeing. Very fine baritone guitar stylings into the mighty Boomerang pedal. The brainstorm Sheen .mp3s on the Dunket Records site suggest that brainstorm Sheen will be serving up some tasty electronic beats and infectious sampling action--and I can vouch for Greg's good taste in music.

Be there at 9PM, on Saturday, November 2, and be ready to buy some vinyl.


Some weeks later, I'm finally getting around to writing this. Why the delay? You might think it's because I wanted to put the show out of my mind...but you'd be wrong. A very good set, punctuated by a few weird moments. And...a connection to some stuff in the future.

Chastened by my bad intonation and tuning at the Roboto show, I'd made sure to spend a good hour and a half on the intonation of the Kalamazoo this time. Ultimately...we're not quite there, but I'm closer. I'm also never taking the pickguard off again, once I get the intonation right. (No doubt, I'll live to regret or contradict those words, but for now it's how I feel.) But it worked well enough for the show.

I'd started the day by biking down to the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library, as Mr. Funky had hipped me to the (semi-?) annual book and music sale there. I ended up paying $12 for 13 pounds of books and a CD, including some very potentially useful books on harmony, and one wonderful book from Princeton published in 1960, Problems of Modern Music. It contains lectures from various important figures from 1960--including Ussachevsky and Babbitt. As Ryan had resolved to be in the venue about two hours before show time for adequate setup, I decided to take this one along to the show for pre-show reading.

When I got in, I learned that I was pretty much the first one there, although there was plenty of time to spare. In fact, I wasn't quite done with my sample set (again). For several months, I've had the goal of consolidating all the best SCLF samples into one setup, for use throughout the set. I'd done it for the last show at Roboto, and some things worked quite well while others didn't--in particular, the speech samples didn't work there. So I revised the master setup, in this case to include some sound sources from NASA--they converted some data sets into audio, and the results are just gorgeous, from my point of view, anyway. I still hadn't imported these sounds, and set to work on the process once I was loaded in.

Ryan came by a bit later, and we got him loaded in as well. I spent some further time on the samples, but still had a chance to chat a bit with Eric and Greg (brainstorm Sheen) when they arrived. After getting the samples set up to some degree, I went for the rest of my gear. At this point, it's fairly easy to get everything connected, although I did notice that the LED indicator on my Electro-Harmonix Graphic Fuzz has now fallen into the body of the thing, and the AC adapter and strain relief seem a bit loose. I'll have to open this thing up soon and figure out what the deal is. (This is disheartening, because my Memory Man is out of commission when a similar repair didn't go so well.)

While we were setting up, we discussed with Eric and Greg the possibility of an all-star jam at the end of the evening (much like the show I did with Hrvatski and Joseph Suchy), so I made sure all my gear could be moved out of Eric's way, but still give me some room later.

After we were ready to go, Eric and Greg suggested that we start later than announced--hey, the exact opposite of the Roboto gig! So I spent some more time on the samples, greeted Mr. Funky and Manny, who'd graciously shown up. There was getting to be quite the crowd in the place. Ryan was ready to start immediately and play a longer set, but I was in kind of an odd state. As I wasn't quite done with the samples, and with the memory of the non-optimal Roboto gig in mind, I wanted a bit more time to get into the right mode. I think at the time I felt a little detached for some reason, not fully present. Ironically, this may have been the result of not having the time pressure on me that we had the last time. I may have been waiting for that adrenaline rush that didn't come.

But at about 9:30, we decided to go on, even though Eric and Greg were suggesting we start at maybe 10. I dunno, I like playing early, and Ryan was totally ready to play at that point. I announced the evening by holding up the Problems of Modern Music book, saying that this was our theme. At Ryan's request, I explained the circumstances under which I purchased it, and its mind-boggling price of $0.50. (Eric and Greg had said that they wished I'd told them about this before the posters were made, but since I'd only bought the book that morning, there was no way.)

After the introduction, I realized I hadn't turned on the MiniDisc recorder, so I jumped off the stage and started it up, happy that I'd thought to use my long guitar cable. And we were off and running, with a dissonant improv heavy on the ring modulator. From the stage it's sometimes hard to see what's going on in the audience, but this evening it was easier. One interesting thing was that I noticed people pulling up chairs in front of the stage. One woman pulled a rocking chair up pretty much in front of me, and while it was nice to have the audience right there, it also reminded me that I wanted to give them a good set. I also found myself faintly wondering why I'd warrant close attention, and then I realized--duh--I'm on stage. These people paid to see a show. Glad I cleared that one up for myself, there.

I didn't take my Digitech 2-second sampling delay this time, relying on the Line6 for looping; I recall accidentally hitting the loop start/end button twice very quickly, giving me an extremely short, fast loop--an effect I hadn't intended, but which I did like. While we were doing this first improv (as ever, not discussing the structure beforehand), it took a few minutes for us to find a groove, but it did work. I think we were also trying to feel out what kind of show this audience wanted--trance, rock, glitch, weird, funky, what? I know for me it was a struggle between not wanting to be too ambient or too mainstream, probably from Mr. Funky and Manny being there (representing those who like our more avant-garde side) and the audience members we didn't know (who probably didn't want that, but who knows?). Ryan's playing was really energetic, and when I hit on a weird delay-modulated groove sample, we got very nearly funky. We brought the piece to a quieter close, and then decided to play "Blast" from our EP.

At the time, I thought that it might be a touch slower than what I would have preferred, but listening to it now, it sounds fine. It's weird when the first time you play something (in this case, the time we improvised it in rehearsal) is the time you nail it completely (without even discussing what we were going to do). What do you do after that? Try to duplicate it? Play roughly the same stuff and hope the magic strikes? "Blast" isn't a bad one for dealing with these issues, as it does have an actual chord progression (suspended chords--I'm not liking thirds much in our stuff, it seems). My solo was better in rehearsal, but not too bad. One feature I liked was turning the rhythm track backwards in the middle of it, and then coming out playing rhythm forwards against it. Ryan's playing was really good, even with the curveballs I threw him, of two conflicting rhythm parts at the same time.

The audience seemed to dig it, even with the conventionally tonal guitar moves. I'd wondered what Mr. Funky and Manny might have thought, although Mr. Funky later told me he liked the looping on it. We definitely had lots of sound going up there.

Next up we did "Martian on Date," this time a bit rushed in some ways and a bit dragging in others. The first time we played it, the beginning was sparser and slower, with a much more gradual build and more tension, before we got funky with it. This time, we played it with a condensed sparse part--probably out of a desire to play, but without as much preceding tension, the funky part was slower. Still the audience seemed to appreciate it.

We didn't have a set list, so once we got the named pieces out of the way, we could just play and figure out what we ended up with. In a nod to my friend Richard Mockler, I announced the next one as "Is Anyone Here Missing a Chicken?"--it's a title he's had in mind for a while, which he told me in response to my thought that "Atheist Boy Scout" would make a great band name. So I started it with some chicken noises and Ryan followed suit. It was a much sparser piece in the beginning, with downward glissandos, some silences, and nothing to hint at where it was going. In a way, much more like the way the "Martian" piece should go. And with a slower, sparser buildup, the piece exploded into a much more powerful onslaught, and we stopped on the same beat. Very nice to have that communication going, and have such a strong result.

I'd hoped to make a gesture of kindness toward the audience at this point with a much more tonal piece, essentially the same thing we ended our May 26 set with (the Yume Bitsu show we did with Eric). Early into it, I had the disturbing realization that I have three current tunes ("Blast," this one, and my piece from Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar) that all use the same suspended chords in different ways. I dunno, maybe I'm in a rut. One nice feature of my playing this one was that I did some cascading volume swells into the Line6 that worked quite nicely. Ryan definitely lifted the tune up as well, and I chose some good ambient samples for it, too.

Our last tune was another pure improv, heavy on the ring modulator, and beginning with a lot of those very short loops, which lent a kind of dubby effect to the piece. Ryan picked right up on a very powerful drum theme, and we were playing very aggressively. Once the piece peaked, we played more slowly and sparsely, with less energy, and I tried playing conventionally over a ring modulated background. Then, suddenly, we picked up on another theme, and I ended up hammering on a distorted minor E--very powerful, and I eventually put the guitar on top of the amp for feedback (none was forthcoming, for some reason), but also letting the chord play on through the Line6. I then cut out the sample, giving Ryan's fine drumming some room, punched it back in, cut it out, put it back, and someone in the room laughed--it must have been amusing to see all this loud guitar come out of the amp with someone just pushing a button and not even playing it. Finally, I faded it to a close and we stopped. The audience seemed to dig it.

One odd thing was that the audience member who'd been seated right in front of me got up and left midway through the set. I wish I remembered exactly when that happened, because it'd be nice to correlate it to what we were doing. I do wonder what kind of reaction she had--sitting up front for much of the set, but then suddenly being alienated by something. It's not something I take personally; I actually am interested in people's responses when they have them, so I'm curious as to what provoked this response.

brainstorm Sheen was up next, doing a set of very ambient clicks and cuts laptop investigations. Very nice use of speech samples, which made me want to use mine better.

Eric's set was another gorgeous investigation of the baritone guitar, although he's also picked up a Jazzmaster of late. Apart from one tune, he was using the Danelectro and the Fender Bass VI throughout (along with Moog). He's got a great feel for interesting arpeggios, and he's solid on the Boomerang pedal. Very good set, and Greg joined Eric on Ryan's drums for the second half of the set. I dug it, and one friendly but perhaps inebriated gentleman from the neighborhood was quite getting into it as well. (Afterwards, he seemed to think I was Eric from some of his questions to me.)

After that set, Ryan, Eric and I did do a bit of a jam, but in retrospect, I was a bit out of tune, and I was standing with my head outside the projection cone of my amp. I must have been blasting Eric. Parts of the jam do work (apart from my out of tuneness and sloppy slide playing) particularly the harmonic movement toward the end, when we came out on an E or something.

By that point, no one was left in the place, apart from us, staff, friends, and the inebriated neighborhood man. We split the reasonably-sized door (and our food and drinks were comped! I might add!), and although we only sold an EP and a poem CD to the guy who was collecting money at the door (a pity sale, really), there was a strong feelgood vibe in the room. Ian, the owner, told Ryan he dug us, which was nice. Now we'll just have to see about the woman who books the room.

And! Greg's invited us to do a split 7" for Dunket in the Spring, so that's a good deal, as well. And he later sent digital photos that either he or his girlfriend or somebody took of our set. See the link up at the top of this review. A fine night, indeed.

10/19/2002 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at Roboto Project

Shaping up to be a busy fall, here. The Stem Cell Liberation Front is back in the struggle after taking the summer off...and this is no warm-up gig; it's serious business. We've been on a regular rehearsal schedule, we've beefed up the equipment list, and we're ready to rock, or what'll pass for it in the SCLF world.

This time we're part of The Big Show, another exciting production of Mr. Funky. This The Roboto Project show is guaranteed to be big in one way or another. There will, of course, be a performance by Mr. & Mr$ Funky and Marty to set you up with the rock action. Also appearing will be Turn Pale from...somewhere in the Midwest. You will be rocked. Local high school band The Hopeless Romantics will attempt to charm you out of your pants, and there will be dramatic interludes by Monday Talk-Talk impresario Dave Mansueto tying the whole thing together. The keyword, my friends, is rock.

Not only that, but Ryan and I are planning a culmination of our set that is worthy of the magnitude of this event, quite possibly including a special guest. Note that we're going on first, at 7:30, so those of you with jobs in the demimonde may still be able to see us.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll spend $4. So come on out for a big evening.

A less than optimal evening, on more than a few fronts. Reports from other observers were notably positive, but the gaps were quite clear to us. On the other hand, it was a valuable learning experience for the show coming up on November 2.

The issues began at the rehearsal on Thursday the 17th--I noticed that the nut had come off of the output jack on my main performing guitar. This wouldn't be a big deal, except that the threads on the jack had somehow become stripped over the last four years of use. No big deal either, except this particular guitar (a 60s Kalamazoo--Gibson's student model--two-pickup Mustang copy) requires the removal of the bridge/tailpiece before the pickguard can be removed. All right, I'd been intending to put on new strings anyway. For Friday's rehearsal, I played my Univox Hi-Flyer, which itself needed new strings, and I decided to do them both at the same time.

I didn't have a chance to do the Kalamazoo repair until Saturday afternoon. It went smoothly, but of course by the time I was done, the bridge was not at the exact same height it had been before, which put off the guitar's intonation. I adjusted it, but the new strings hadn't settled in (and the neck hadn't yet stabilized after being detensioned), so the intonation was kind of a moving target. Restringing the Univox resulted in fret buzz for the same reason. Given the now-buzzy Univox or the non-buzzy and sturdier Kalamazoo, I went with the K'zoo for the night's performance. I'd also wanted to burn a few more SCLF mini-CDs to sell at the show, which meant printing the cover again. And I'd wanted to consolidate the best samples I've been using for the SCLF into one BackToBasics setup for easy access. Quite a lengthy punchlist for my afternoon before the show, and I got pressed for time.

I started rolling at 6:45, the exact time I probably should have been at the venue, given an announced 7:30 start time. Arriving at Roboto (via a more-direct back way that bypassed Penn Avenue), I found the place looking distinctly non-lively, and didn't see any familiar vehicles. Looking in the door revealed Roboto member Dave, who had opened the place up and who would run the PA. I was the first performer to show. All righty; I loaded in and started setting up.

Mr. & Mr$ Funky and Marty arrived next, as did members of Turn Pale. We agreed that the Funkies could set up and we'd set up in front of them; I continued to get my rig together, and was testing it at about the time Ryan and Tony arrived. I was only getting intermittent signal from the guitar, and immediately assumed that I'd messed up the jack repair in some way, but I ultimately I found that--surprise--it was a cable. Whew.

I turned my attention to getting my sample setup together. I did after a bit of a hectic session, but it wasn't going to be easy to know the positions of any of the samples by memory. Time rolled on, other people were setting up, Dave Mansueto was setting up his theatrical devices, and an audience had filed in. And Ryan's kit was in only a partial state of assembly--it's grown quite large in recent weeks, which is great for expanding our sonic palette...but takes a lot longer to put up and adjust. There wasn't much we could do at that point other than soldier on as best we could.

I tuned to A440, Mr$ Funky telling me that I should lose the pretense as I wouldn't be playing tonally anyway--little did she know what we'd intended. I set up an atmospheric sample loop and a sparse half-speed guitar loop, which Dave said he liked, so I left it going. The house lights came down, and Mr. Funky told me that Dave would be starting his dramatic piece soon. It would last about two minutes, and then our set would start. To keep the last band from having a too-short set because of the 11:00 performance curfew, he wanted us to be finshed by 8:25--it was then 7:48. I told Ryan I'd just start playing when Dave was done with his theatrical bit, and then he could join in when his kit was together.

Dave's dramatic bit was fascinating--it was a scifi/war drama in reverse, and his first (last) scene was an urgent monologue taking place on another planet. I was pleased that my ambient loop contributed an atmosphere of desolate menace, and I was able to come in on some siren-like sounds, recalling the sirens mentioned in the monologue. What I should have done was kept that going for a while, but I stopped, introduced us, and started with a dense ring modulator improv loosely based on the "Uh..." and "Stem cells" loops. Listening back to it, it does have its moments, including the clanks of the drum kit assembly. Once Ryan was ready (about five minutes into it), we segued into something like the dissonant funky piece we'd worked up in rehearsal the previous week, "Martian on Date." (It's on the mini CD single.)

We didn't quite find a groove, however. Ryan definitely played with power, and we undoubtedly made an impression--and listening back to it, it's better than I thought at the time--but it didn't lock into the funk groove we hit in rehearsal. Ryan later mentioned that the key problem here boiled down to not having enough time to adjust the kit, as well as not having that essential time before the set to step back and get into the playing frame of mind. Understandable and a valuable point to remember for next time. (Much like our last show in May, when I learned that I can't rehearse on a performance day, or I'll get played out by show time.) Still, as I listen to it now, we were the only ones who knew at this point that the audience wasn't getting the show it could have gotten.

What momentum we'd built up got completely dissipated when we tried to do "Blast," the lead-off tune on the single. It's a very rock-oriented tune, and would work best just slamming right into it. But this is where my own lack of planning hurt us: just as I hit the first chord, I could tell I was way out of tune. And I spent about three minutes tuning, about the most boring thing you could ever put an audience through. (I should have joked that I was doing my Television impersonation.) Eventually I just said the hell with it and played the tune. Ryan loosened up considerably and really played it, but it was hard for me to get into it as much as I'd like to with the tuning issue. It wasn't brutally out of tune, but it wasn't exactly in, either; it was more like an extremely wide chorus effect on the edge of slow, seasick vibrato. But we got through it.

Listening to the recording now, I really dislike my interaction with the audience. I was obviously uncomfortable, and talked way too much as a result. Another quick dense dissonant number followed, during which I asked our guest Tony Yu (who'd be joining us on violin) to bow Ryan's cymbals. As Tony was already up, that was a good segue into our set-closer.

Early on, Ryan and I had agreed that covering a pop or rock tune would be a good disorienting thing with which to end a set. He'd suggested U2's "Love Is Blindness," with which I wasn't familiar. At first I wasn't sure what to make of it--it seemed cooler to do something audiences might not know, but on further thought, what could be less predictable or less "indie rock" than covering U2? Its sheer unfashionability makes it that much cooler. Plus it's not one of their anthemic songs; it's more of a torch song, which makes it more interesting to me. So we've been chipping away at it in rehearsal, and it's been getting better. We'd been trying to figure out who should sing it, as the drum parts are somewhat complex and make it difficult for Ryan to do both, but I'd been coming down with a cold. We did some a double lead vocals in rehearsal, but I copped out when I felt that my playing was thrown off. So Ryan pulled vocal duty as well tonight.

Sadly, again I dissolved any of the useful tension built up when I resumed my nervous patter between songs. Tony started off with a solo violin intro, which should have been followed by our bass/click sample. We'd had one prepared for the PA, and another an octave higher for going through my guitar amp at practice. I hit the lower bass track, and...it was delayed (sleeping hard disk) and inaudible due to being too low for the PA. So we stopped and started again with the higher bass track. I should, of course, have tested this before we went on.

Once we were finally underway, things went pretty well. Ryan's vocals sounded somewhat different from the rehearsals, a bit overreaching in places, to my ear now. The high amp volume may have had something to with it, as well as a desire to put the song over more powerfully given all our previous mishaps. Still a couple snags dogged us--I would have preferred that the bass line carry through one more verse, the violin was not as audible as we would have liked, and Ryan came in early on the vocal after the first solo. But these were minor compared to how we all played for the second solo. By this time I was in tune and the Kalamazoo through my Alamo Montclair Reverb (on 9) sounded very nice, with good breakup--I very possibly could have done without my Graphic Fuzz for distortion. But the inspiration had hit. Finally.

The audience seemed to dig it. At our Friday night rehearsal, I broke into a surf version of the song, and we agreed that if there was enough applause after the straighter cover, we should do a two-minute version of "Surf Is Blindness." There was enough applause, and although it was a bit rough, it also seemed to be a crowd pleaser. My tone was really on by this point...and then it was over.

While I pushed the new SCLF single rather hard, the audience response (as consumers, anyway) was pretty much nonexistent. Nonetheless, one of Ryan's friends showed up, and was Customer #1 of the single. At her request, we even autographed it! The evening was saved.

Dave did another backward installment of his drama, and Mr. & Mr$ Funky came on, also to be hit with bad-gig karma. Their set was enjoyable as usual, but there were broken strings and dropped picks that impeded the flow, most notably in (perhaps appropriately) "Sorry." I dug 'em, and I could definitely feel for them at those vulnerable moments.

Another installment of the drama was followed by the gentlemen of Turn Pale, an act from Bloomington, Indiana. They'd presciently asked not to play last, as they said the local audience would stay for the local band(s)--and they were right. Easily the tightest set of the evening, they were definitely worth watching. If I had to choose points of comparison, it'd be the Birthday Party, with some Pere Ubu, Joy Division, and even a U2 moment here and there. Very nice guys. The singer's heading back out after this tour for a solo tour, a kind of Leonard Cohen-meets-electronics thing under the name Drekka.

The last installment of the drama preceded the first ever set by local highschoolers The Hopeless Romantics, who were much more into a pop thing. Their lead guitarist is a student of Mr. Funky's. He was playing electric lead; the main singer/rhythm guitarist played an acoustic with a soundhole pickup, and they had a drummer as well. The tuning wasn't very close, and they could drift in and out of time, but I nonetheless was thoroughly entertained by their set. The songs are promising, and they just need to get a bunch more playing under their belts. Regrettably, they covered Steve Miller for their set closer, but it didn't spoil my evening. In any event, they're worth keeping an eye out for. At their request, I recorded their set on MiniDisc, and passed the disc on to them.

We hung out a bit during load-out, and then the SCLF contingent repaired to Kelly's bar and grill in East Liberty for debriefing, drinks, and a late dinner. Overall, a useful warm-up date--no one on our lists showed up (apart from players), and we know what allowances to make for the 2nd. Another factor in our favor will be that the Quiet Storm will be open early enough that we can give ourselves plenty of setup time. And we're going to keep rehearsing in the meantime. I think we can safely say that the organization is getting steadily smarter, and we'll be storing up more surprises to spring on the audiences.

05/26/2002 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the Public Health Auditorium, University of Pittsburgh

The Stem Cell Liberation Front (composed of me and ace drummer Ryan Sigesmund) continues to heat up the petri dish, and we're opening for Yume Bitsu (space-rock from Portland, OR on Ba Da Bing/K Records). There will also be sets by the Lost Weekend and Eric Fox. The show's NOW at the Public Health Auditorium, at the University of Pittsburgh. (Zoning issues have forced a move from Backward on Forward. Well, it's still a non-smoking room.) Come early, as we're likely to be going on first--things get rolling at 8:30 PM. It's only $5, and the show is all-ages. Winter is over and spring is in full swing--what better way to celebrate than getting your stem cells liberated? We need people to come to this one, so put it on your calendar (not that there's all that much happening in Pittsburgh on Sundays). So join us in this brief flickering of a cultural renaissance during which we believe we can make the difference that makes a difference.

Remember, new venue. See you there!

Ryan and I had a great rehearsal earlier in the day--very good for getting motivated, but I was concerned about getting somewhat played out, as I was kind of tired going in. This turned out to be a justified concern, as--yep--I ended up not having as many ideas as I did in rehearsal.

The Public Health Auditorium is a pretty good room, compared to most other places I've played. Its main problem is...that nobody seems to know about it, and shows there don't seem to attract a lot of people. As it was, when I pulled up, there was nobody--nobody there. Doors were open, however, and there were a bunch of unattended instruments. I had seen a large group of people leaving the building, probably to get dinner, so it was unlikely that anyone got ripped off. After I waited around a little, Manny showed up, and then Eric Fox, who was also on the bill. Ryan and his friend Dana appeared, and we got set up.

Then we waited for an audience. The Lost Weekend guys and Yume Bitsu came back, but a paying audience didn't appear until 8:15 or so--I'm glad I'd thought to mention that we were going on first. So on we went. At the time I felt that we never quite got to that place where things were really clicking--we'd got there several times in rehearsal, but my tiredness and played-out state meant that I couldn't hold up my end of things as well as I would have liked to. I also think I wasn't giving Ryan loops with enough of a structure to follow. It's difficult enough to do it with the 2-second delay, but it's harder when one's concentration is off. There may also have been a monitoring issue for Ryan, as I had the amp pointed straight out at the audience, and while I assumed he'd be able to hear it over the drums, I think now that I should have angled it more toward him to guarantee that he could hear. (At several points, I noticed that he was watching my fingers to get a sense of the beat, and it just didn't dawn on me that turning the amp would have reduced the need for that.) If that weren't enough, I also managed to have BackToBasics (the sample player) take down the Classic mode it runs in while we were onstage. I opted to keep going while it relaunched, and no one was the wiser.

There were some quite nice aspects of the set, however: starting with the new sparse piece we'd tried in rehearsal, having Manny's little PA for the PowerBook, having the amp turned waaaay up and getting to hear how the Kalamazoo sounds through it at that level (very nice slight breakup), and Ryan asking me at the end to play with some of the Television-like tones I don't use much in our stuff. We did, and it was nice. At the time, however, I felt our set was less than optimal on my part, but the audience did applaud. As an added bonus, Eric Fox came up to us afterwards and said that we were great; while Adam from Yume Bitsu said we were "awesome." At the time, I was thinking, well, they're being polite. But it did soften the blow of thinking I'd turned in a bad set.

Eric Fox was up next, and had a one-man looping thing with a synth and two baritone guitars (tasty!) And at the end of Eric's very nice set (quite Papa M-like--I really dug it) he thanked us (the SCLF) from the stage for being awesome (that word again) and soliciting applause for us. Nice guy. We exchanged emails and traded CDs, and he very well might be a good addition to the Elastic Concept. I also traded CDs with Yume Bitsu. We talked about looping tools, and they gave me contradictory advice on what pedal to get as an upgrade.

Eric was followed by the Lost Weekend's last performance ever, which proved them to be five reasonably competent rockers with a Doors/Zombies-like keyboard stylist, plus (for a total of six people on stage) a vocalist with an affected an English accent who posed, mumbled, and slurred his way through each syllable--something like a Morrisey on muscle relaxants fronting an "alternative" bar band. They suffered some equipment failures, which somewhat impeded the flow, and pushed the show later than it ordinarily would have gone. I must admit that I found it amusing when the vocalist did one song by reading from the lyric sheet, in his accustomed style. I caught up with them later, and they were somewhat despondent, but there was entertainment to be found within their set, as Ryan, Dana, and I discovered.

Yume Bitsu might have been a quartet at one time, but here they were down to two people. Very gentle, spacey, echoey stuff alternating with some techno-noise skronk (now I see why they liked us!) Quite enjoyable, with looped "Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh...."s and trumpet from the guitarist/vocalist, and sparse ostinato playing from Franz, the guitarist/synth player. The quiet sections were very quiet, and the loud quite loud--rather than in the same song as one would find in, say, emo or math rock, they seemed to have two distinct poles in their ouvre, which was very interesting. During the noisy part of the set, Adam stood up on his amp, rocking it back and forth, getting really physical with the guitar--impressive. The CD I snagged was quite nice, but I'm eager to pick up the new one which should have more of the techno-like action that they do so well. It was quite a strong set, and we dug 'em.

The show wrapped up around midnight. I took Manny and the PA home, and he gave me more inside scoop on the Backward on Forward struggles, and said he liked the avant-funky parts of our set. When I got home, I listened back to our set, and damn if it didn't sound pretty good. Much better than I'd thought. OK, so not bad at all. It still didn't click the way we've done in the past, but it didn't sound like it was falling apart, either. So, cool. On to the next one.

04/11/2002 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the 31st St. Pub

And now it's time for another evening of the Elastic Concept...this one even more elastic than the last. Rather than have the same old configurations, we're doing something different. The band lineup is this:

  • The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Drummer par excellence Ryan Sigesmund and I are back with another set of wildly danceable noise. We rocked the Rex, and now it's time to rock the Strip.
  • Axis of Evil: twisted minimal (that's the goal, anyway) improv performance I'll be doing with Nick and Ty from Clutter and Mike Klobuchar, who laid down some fascinating noise (air-synth and Boomerang pedal) at the last Sonic Roulette.
  • Template, a group of young rockers from the middle of Nowheresville, PA. (Patricia thinks they should amend their name to "Template of Doom" and I think I'm going to mention this to them.) Bring flannel and earplugs and get ready to rock, tough guy.
  • AND! Robert "Unfinished Symphonies" Press will also introduce each act with a custom-composed Elastic Overture.
  • Also some things
  • And the other stuff
Obviously this will be an evening of unparalleled variety. For everyone who missed the Rex show, come on out to watch us slowly work our way through every Pittsburgh bar and club.

9:30, $3. The 31st St. Pub, 3101 Penn Avenue, in the Strip District, Pittsburgh.

Damn, another good night. I mean, there was the usual lack of audience and various club weirdness, but from an artistic point of view, it really was a good night. We hadn't had a rehearsal, not too much of a plan, and I'd thrown together a set of samples at the last minute because I wanted to give us a customized sound check. (Lots of variations on the phrase "stem cell.") I was running late, and didn't make it to the bar until about ten to 9. Ryan (SCLF) and Ty (Clutter, and for this night, part of the Axis of Evil) were setting up, and Ryan and I opted for several reasons to go first (convenience of guests, maintaining the energy level, etc.).

There were some good signs--the tables here were set for barstool height, high enough that I could put the PowerBook on it and comfortably play standing, so I hauled one on stage. There wasn't much room up there between the monitors and the two drum kits (even one drum kit gets pretty tight) but we managed. Ty had brought an abbreviated kit for the Axis set, as he expected mainly to be doing percussion.

The bar is a former biker place that seems to be struggling. I've seen some good shows there, but they've started having exotic dancers during the afternoons and early evenings; apparently dances were still going on as some of the band members arrived, and there's a sign on stage advertising the $15 private dances in the back room. Kind of an, um, interesting atmosphere.

So we were ready by 9:30, but...no sound guy. We waited, and it turned out that the owner didn't want anybody to play until 10:30...so there was another hour of waiting around. At about 10:15 the sound guy showed, and was indeed helpful, asking us questions about what we were doing, and how we wanted things, and commenting on our sound check samples ("Stem cells? I invested in that shit.") After a few final minutes of setup, off we went.

Robert "Unfinished Symphonies" Press had composed a custom overture for us, which he played on his budget organ, to an enthusiastic reception. We did an engaging improv based on the sound check, which went quite well. I remember there being stretches during which I was wondering what to play, but when it locked, it really locked. Ryan had some great grooves happening, and it felt right to be able to play standing up. And I was able to turn around to face Ryan, which helped a lot with the communication. Definitely a lot stronger than the Rex show, with a lot more power. We're headed into rock territory, folks.

The second piece (a version of "Uh...") went on rather longer, but had a lot of good ideas happening...and our set came in at about the 45 minute mark. At the time I wasn't sure how successful it was, but there's a lot of good stuff to work with in this piece. And it was really fun to mix the noise with a strong beat, and play a twisted variation on rock. (The guitar was mostly going through the ring modulator, so lots of dissonance there.)

The duration of the SCLF set, however, proved to be a problem for the Axis of Evil. (The Axis was actually Clutter--the non-Clutter member who was going to be there fell ill, and so the lineup was Nick, Ty, and me.) The problem was that with the late start, we were only going to get about a half hour to play, which would have been ok with me on my own, but seriously impedes the flow for Nick and Ty. Originally, we were going to be doing more spacious, ambient stuff, but the SCLF set fired the Clutter guys up, so they went for broke. It was a good set, however--Nick sticking to guitar opened up a lot of frequencies I could use between the guitar and drums (I'd encouraged him not to play bass for this), and there are some very nice moments on the MiniDisc. It was a really fun set to play, actually, with some good interaction. Ryan and his posse had to split during the set, as the evening was running quite late for them. Interestingly, from the stage there it's impossible to see into the audience at all.

If there's one overall complaint I have, however, it's...the MiniDisc recording overall--I kept the binaurals on stage, and they got absolutely hammered by the volume. You can hear what we were doing in our sets, which is good, but everything's very compressed and clipped. At least it's not the mic pre clipping, which would be even worse than the mic clipping we did get.

After the set, Rob mentioned that we pretty much weren't going to get paid for the evening--we'd made some money, but after paying the sound guy his $60, there was about $3 left. And quite rightfully it was Rob's as he set up the show in the first place.

Template were up next, a rock act from the Tarentum area who mix some covers and originals. They had a heavy grunge/somewhat nu-metal component, and they put in quite a good set--very tight, and an inventive choice of covers. (I particularly dug their treatment of "Sunshine of Your Love"--very unexpected choice.) Nice guys, too. There was one original during which the two guitarists were playing in unison, which I think could use some arranging work--very crunchy as is, but I think the impact could be ratcheted up if the two guitarists played counterpoint. Still, a fun set.

So that's another successful set with the Stem Cell Liberation Front--even with the limited audience--and we're really looking forward to the next one (ideally next time we'll bring in some more people). Still, it's all quite thrilling and inspirational, and you should be a part of this lovely cultural blooming.

03/30/2002 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the Rex

Due to...well, the guy who books the Rex having booked someone else for the night of the 23rd after booking us for the night of the 23rd...we've been promised the night of the 30th for another evening of The Elastic Concept, a sonic buffet of varied delights. (He tells us that he's written this one down, so it may stick. We'll see.)

We have a firm lineup for the show: Mr. and Mr$ Funky will be up first, and then I'll do a brief Stoic Sex Pro set to slip unauthorized electrodes deep into your brain. Immediately following that will be the debut of my new project with ace drummer Ryan Sigesmund, The Stem Cell Liberation Front! Let me tell you, this is going to be hot. Our rehearsal this past weekend could have been a great live set--and that's the first time we've played together. It's a dance party at the bio lab, and you have the appropriate security clearance. Don't miss it.

Following our set will be local rock icons Lonely Planet Boy, improv experimenters CLUTTER (they'll probably be doing this set as a trio of Nick, Ty, and Rich), and bluesologists The City Slickers. And--quite possibly--more.

Saturday, March 30, 9:30. $8--and to make it worth your while, the beer is free. Only at the Rex, baby--the up-and-comin', hippin', happenin' place to be. Sure, you could go see the White Stripes across town, but you'll be packed into Rosebud like sardines, pay way more than 8 bucks, and then there's the overpriced beer. Let me reiterate: Beer at the Rex is free. Saturday night at the Rex, the cheapest date in town.

Now this was a good night.

Ryan and I have had two rehearsals at this point, and it's been going quite well. I've realized that our musical interaction is better when there are more rhythmic cues passing between us. So I opted to work on including more percussive samples. I'd had a bunch ready for editing--car door slams, clanking plates, various other noises from one cold evening in early January--but hadn't actually done the fine trimming job necessary to make them work together and to reduce the file size. This process had me working on samples through most of the late afternoon and early evening, up until I had to leave for the show.

The Rex was at one time a movie theater, which fell into disuse and went out of business; consequently, it was never chopped up into a cinemaplex, not that it was that huge to begin with. It was renovated sometime in the 80s, and showed first-run films for a while, until going out of business again in the late 90s. I saw Theremin there, f'rinstance--great film, but great stuff like that couldn't keep the doors open. So now another impresario has reopened it, thankfully keeping much of the decor.

The stage...is a real stage! With lights and everything. Pretty impressive--my first actual performance from an actual up-off-the-ground kind of stage. And the first with a viable, decent-sounding monitor system.

I'd arrived at the same time as Mr. and Mr$ Funky, and we loaded in and set up on stage together, to speed transitions--they at the front of the stage, and I a bit back from Mr. Funky's amp. Ryan joined us shortly thereafter, and he set up on the stage's Persian rug, a bit off to stage right from center. (Not quite directly behind me.) There was a table onstage at first (which would have let me stand up while playing), but...Christian, the proprietor said to me, "We're going to take this out front and sell hot dogs at a profit, so I suggest you work something out." Well, thanks, guy. Big help. So I opted for the usual setup of having the PowerBook on a chair and playing seated. Not much to look at for the audience, but there you go.

It took a while to get everything set up, as Mr. and Mr$ Funky and I were going to be using the same direct boxes, so I tested them out first and passed them off to the Funkies. I was getting a weird ground-loop buzz from my amp which I couldn't trace--I tried reversing plugs and the reverse switch on the amp, but it wasn't happening. It did seem to dissipate when I touched cables, so it may be that my string ground was off. (I'm using a capacitor to keep this from being a live ground situation, but something seems to be off in the wiring now. Got to get to this before the next show.)

Ryan was pumped up and ready to play, as was I. While I was setting up, my friend Joe showed up at the front of the stage, which was another good thing. Mr. & Mr$ Funky ran through a quick version of "Crazy Train," which gave Ryan an opportunity to play a dynamic extemporaneous accompaniment. Really damn good--we're going to have to rock out more. Meanwhile, Christian turned on the fog machine--quite amusing. (So who was going to be doing the Yes covers?)

Clutter had showed up, and I was introduced to some of the Lonely Planet Boys. I hung out a bit with Joe, and sitting right behind Ryan gave us a chance to talk as well. One of the pieces we were doing this evening had a minute-long loop I'd assembled from W's only press conference so far this year. I took out everything but the "um"s and "uh"s and other stammerings, and it's really hypnotic. It's funny, I think, whether one likes him or not--I know when I first played it back, I was laughing at about the 45th second, as it's the worst nightmare of anyone who ever had to speak in front of a group, just a solid minute of false beginnings and phoneme placeholders. The previous night, during our rehearsal at the Funkies, Mr. Funky had suggested that I introduce the piece that way, stammering at the mic. Ryan thought that he should go up to the mic to "help" me and then do no better--just keep interrupting himself and starting over. That would free me up to go trigger the sample. Not a bad way to start, we figured.

Mr. & Mr$ Funky were up first, and turned in a fine set of their catchy musique verité, plus a cover of Talking Heads' "Pulled Up." I keep liking their songs even more each time I see them--the Funkies are a class act all the way. And they sounded great through the fine sound system. At one point I looked back and saw Dan, another friend, had come in. Cool!

I was up next, doing a very brief solo bit to be followed immediately by the debut of the SCLF. I did a shortened version of the piece I did at the Zythos show, which I'm now calling "The Detonator." It gradually builds to something with quite an infectious rhythm. A couple things were disorienting for me: to combat the hum from the guitar, I had to roll off the treble quite a bit; and I'd never heard the PowerBook through such good monitors before. All the bassy stuff was really shaking the stage. Quite different from what I'm used to. Overall it went pretty well, and lasted about 10 minutes.

Ryan then joined me onstage. We did our intro as planned, and the audience seemed to get it on the right level--there were three different waves of laughter as each change kicked in. The playing worked well, especially checking out the recording, although I think next time we should set up so that we can have eye contact going. The interaction was great, but didn't feel as integrated to me at the time, since there were no visual cues. Listening back to it, however, it's sounding pretty good. I hadn't wanted the software synth to overwhelm the samples, so I turned down the level on individual patches, and it seemed superfluous when I dropped it in, but that's ok--overall, things were kickin'. The first piece definitely has some strong parts over its 20 minutes, and the audience seemed to dig it.

We then did a second one that was much quicker, at six and a half minutes. Much more aggressive and groove-heavier; we were quite warmed up by that point, and it was kind of cool that the fog machine came on as well. Ryan's playing was mighty, about all one could ask from drumming for something like this. I went for a dissonant ring-mod solo, and set the guitar on the amp for ring-modded radio-sweep feedback to end it. Very happening, and I can't wait for the next opportunity to play. Various people told us how much they liked it, and I managed to sell a couple solo CDs.

It took Lonely Planet Boy quite a while to set up, so I had a chance to talk with a number of people, and get caught up with the friends who came to the show, as well as introduce them to Ryan, the Funkies, and Clutter people. (Ty told me that with all the smoke, it was hard for him to see what I was doing onstage, and with the percussive sound samples, he often wasn't sure if I was doing anything at all. Interesting--I actually see that as a kind of success.) Lonely Planet Boy played a long Floyd-like set (some chord changes quite echoed various Floyd tunes), an effect intensified by the fog and the bubbly oil visual that was projected on the rear wall all evening. We moved our conversations to the lobby so as to be able to hear and to get a break from the fog and smoke. Rich from Clutter spilled beer on the lobby carpet and, apparently, on one of my friends. Oops.

Finally, though, it was their shot to play, and I much preferred listening to them to trying to play with them in the style they're doing now. Very note-dense, with Nick on bass throughout. There seemed to be kind of a disconnect between them--Nick and Rich seemed to be each into doing their own thing, and the overall effect was of a lot of notes without much for a listener to grab onto. (In a later conversation with Nick, he sees this as a baseline impression--if people walk away from the set with no other memories, it's ok with him if they remember a flurry of notes.) I thought Ty was drumming quite well, although the overall texture didn't give him much to grab onto, either.

Mr. and Mr$ Funky's other band, the City Slickers, played a quick set after that--star lead guitarist Kevin was out of town, so Robert "Mr. Funky" Press handled both vocals (as usual) and lead guitar for this set, performing this role quite nicely.

Then it was time to load out, get paid, and leave. Nick from Clutter attempted to recruit Ryan, for which I had to rib him somewhat ("Dude! You're raiding my band!"), but all was well. Except for the interaction with the owner, of course, who expressed great disappointment with the turnout, and claimed that we'd misrepresented ourselves. Well...the date we originally booked wasn't up against the White Stripes and whoever was playing either Laga or the Lava Lounge that night, and our original date wasn't during Easter break, etc. And it turns out that he was misrepresenting himself, as the drinks weren't free after all (although for whatever reason mine were, but apparently not for the other musicians; this may have been a case of mistaken identity), and the owner's complaints about not reaching his minimum were news to us--he'd never mentioned this minimum before. I dunno, bad scene. But it's a good club, and the sound is great. Maybe we can make something work there in the future.

I ended up getting home quite late (in bed by 4), and being quite exhausted Easter Sunday, but hey--it was totally worth it. A good show indeed. And seriously, the Stem Cell Liberation Front could build some momentum.


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Circuits of Steel Tour 2003: Chicago, St. Louis, Muncie
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