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Music Production: Guitarn
09/20/2002 Guitarn: Live at the Roboto Project

Thursday September 19th! At Mr. Roboto on Wood Street in Wilkinsburg! It's Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar! Perhaps less of a show and more of a party, it's the brainchild of Mr. Funky/Unfinished Symphonies! The concept is this: bring a guitar, and you'll play. You get a few minutes to teach the rest of us the song/piece/improv you intend to do, and then we'll do it--with YOU as the soloist. Within the confines of a tiny, yet spaciously unpopulated storefront punk club, you will be a star. Then your fifteen minutes are up, and it's on to the next person--just like reality!

I'm going to be in the ensemble, bringing the guitar side of my rig (duh), including the Ring Modulator and my relatively new Line6 Delay Modeler for extra-tasty looping action. I'll also lead the group in a piece that I'm working on, which is shaping up to be half Webern and half Branca, requiring both restraint and excess. Who knows what it'll sound like? Not me.

Also in attendance will be Mr. Funky (on--you guessed it--guitar), Mr$ Funky (on bass...guitar), and CLUTTER's own Ty Moyer (on gui--I mean, on drums). There's no cover, but we'll pass a hat, or a plastic pumpkin, or something.

8PM, all ages. Mr. Roboto, on 722 Wood St. in Wilkinsburg. http://www.therobotoproject.org

The evening didn't necessarily start in the most promising way--when Mr. Funky came by to pick me up, he noted that he'd received half of a phone message from the Roboto people, saying something like "If you want to reschedule or change the time..." before getting cut off. Since we'd invited a number of people, the only thing to do was go there anyway, and if the place was locked, collect a bunch of people for a Plan B session back at the Funky residence.

We loaded up the Funkymobile with everyone's gear (two guitars, drums, bass, lots of amps), and while we were so engaged, Eric from Roboto called and said he'd be down there--so we were on after all. Four adults (Mr. and Mr$ Funky, Ty from Clutter, and me) squeezed into the loaded station wagon for the trip over, and we found the place open, with Nick from Clutter already set up and rarin' to go. Roboto is in what was once a store in a little business district in a now "in transition" neighborhood (no one's quite sure in which direction the neighborhood is "transitioning"). It could be said to be one of the neighborhood's potentially healthy features, as it gets a crowd of people hanging out after business hours. Otherwise, not much is happening down there at night. The room itself isn't bad, although the carpet's a bit nasty, the floor has a bit more flex in places than I'm used to, and the sound can get awful damn live in there at volume. ('course, packed with bodies is a different matter.)

We suspected that there would be little to no audience--ideally, we'd have actual participants show up--so we set up in a circle, taking up a good chunk of the room. After a brief wait, we decided to start in on the first piece. Mr. Funky set up the evening, so we did his first--the concept was "The Three Stooges in 11," essentially two related themes...in 11/4. It wasn't as prog as one might expect, as it was more 123-123-123-12, with bars punctuated by Stooges-like sound effects. We did this twice, and it was long, amusing, and potentially brain-damaging. Between the first and second iterations, local rock luminary and journalist Mike Shanley stopped by with his battered Harmony (the hollowbody with the slider controls), and joined in.

After this one, it was on to my concept, the Anton Webern/Glenn Branca-inspired thing. I didn't actually write out the A (Webern) section, and it's not technically serial, but the feel of Opus 21 was an influence here. But people seemed to get that the A section was to be sparse and dissonant. The B section is a lot of hammering away on suspended chords, which I was able to check in advance on the Line6 DL4 (so I knew they'd be compatible). After a few minutes of instruction during which I assigned the chords (and getting zapped--not seriously, fortunately--when I touched Nick's strings), we were ready to go. And go we did. Ty probably had the most freedom during the A section, which he populated with scraping cymbals and other useful sound effects, although other players proved innovative as well. I assigned the anchor chord to Mr. Funky, the chord of dramatic tension to Mike, and Nick got the upper accent chords, although he seemed to exhibit greater interest in playing other stuff that wasn't on the piece's actual agenda. For the B part, Mr$ Funky had a lot more freedom, and we built up quite a wave of sound in the room. (It distorted the hell out of the MiniDisc mics, unfortunately, but you'll have that.)

Nick definitely got into the concept, and suggested that for our second round with this one, we start from silence and gradually build--very much the kind of thing I had in mind, but hadn't said. Pretty cool when someone gets it to that degree. As we built up...we were suddenly joined by a young man named Zack and his girlfriend, who was mainly there as support. We got Zack plugged in (to the same amp as Mr. Funky and Mike, which made things quite loud out of that corner), tuned up, and I explained the piece to him. We got rolling again, and I remember the B section of this one as much tighter than the first, but...not having paused the MiniDisc, the space ran out during our ramp up to the loud, energetic finish. So we'll never know how it actually sounded. But people seemed to dig it. I'd actually like to do this as an SCLF piece, layering up the guitar with the DL4...but it's quite a lot of fun to do it with live players. Probably louder, too.

Nick's piece was next, a kind of round-robin of playing whatever it is you like to play--a very chaotic and amusing piece, something anyone could enjoy doing. Next up we gave Zack a spot to be the star soloist, and I held down rhythm while Mr. Funky and our new arrival traded licks. Sadly, Mike Shanley's Harmony chose this moment to give up the ghost, and two of the vibrato tailpiece screws stripped the wood top, taking out some of the top layer of the body. The whole assembly pivoted forward, and made the idea of tuning the thing a distant dream. Zack and his girlfriend beat a retreat (perhaps from volume, lack of audience, or the occasional presence of jazz chords).

Mike's bit tended toward the surf/psychedelia/classic rock kind of thing (at different times), for which he played Mr. Funky's axe (with Mr. Funky on drums!), and I was compelled to try to get some useful sounds out of the ruined Harmony...and I could. (Hell, I learned on one of those, which my sister still has, I believe. The neck on those guitars is too much of a baseball bat. And the one I learned on had this awful divot on the headstock side of the ninth fret, so the act of sliding up notes or chords took the occasional chunk out of my finger.) I went for the Arto Lindsay kind of untuned noise thing, but I did find some useful notes that fit in with the "Pictures of Matchstick Men" cover. For my rhythm playing on the more surfy stuff, I went back to the Kalamazoo, and turned up the reverb and tremelo on my amp. Tasty tunes, and a fun night.

So...no functional audience and no money in this one, and no lasting connection to new people, but a good time was had by all. And my new piece seems to be a keeper, which is a Good Thing indeed. Amid discussions of Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar or Drums Drums Drums Drums Computer, or Tuba Tuba Tuba!, we adjourned at around 10:00. Not bad at all.


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