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Music Production: The Unindicted Co-Conspirators
01/26/2004 The Unindicted Co-Conspirators: Live performance at Club Cafe

Originally, Sugapablo was scheduled to play the second set, but thought the better of coming out in the ice storm we had, so Steve and I went right into the UCoCo set. We'd soundchecked early on, so we were good to go...although I could have used a bit more of a break to clear my head. We started with "Frequinox," our version of Coltrane's "Equinox," on which Steve played brilliantly. I wasn't quite as happy with my own playing--I was a little too elastic with the beat I was coming in on. Still, I had some sections working, with a Girl-delayed and modulated solo that had some decent glitchy moments. Overall...it wasn't quite working from my end, although I took up more reliable residence in the pocket after the solo, and the resonant drone at the end sounded good.

Next up, we did a version of "Lady of Pain," at which point the communication was really happening. It was a bit denser and more chaotic than the one we've released, but at the same time more assertive and confident, with the addition of guitar percussion and faster playing from Steve. (And a very happy section in which the strings above the nut proved to be in tune with the piece.)

In rehearsal, we'd been experimenting with Ableton Live in addition to Girl for processing. In fact, I'd experimentally hooked the two together with the free Jack program, but during the preceding weekend had a lot of trouble getting that to work, and Girl crashed a lot. It was behaving great this evening, however, up until the middle of the next piece, the one in which I customarily process Steve's throat singing. Just as I leaned over to my bag to get the Ebow, Girl crashed, and when I went to bring it back up, crashed again. When I'd turn on an audio input or adjust a ring modulator, the software just emitted horrible loud clicks. I ended up adjusting the audio input and output--apparently corrupted from the changes I made while using Jack--and limping through a few more minutes, actually quite a few more minutes than I remembered. Eventually Girl just popped or crashed again when I set the delay feedback percentage or the ring modulator frequencies. Well, damn. I'd just have to figure this out later.

So for our next number Steve pulled out the melodica and I pulled out the uke with the thought of doing a dub number. I had massive feedback problems, however, and it took me a while before I figured out that I'd had the amp simulator turned up too high. So it was rough, or it seemed so to me at the time. Listening to it now, it took me quite a while to get the dub delay going on the uke. Steve's playing, of course, was brilliant and evocative throughout.

Ultimately, with some echo, the feedback was kind of interesting, although frustrating--I kept having to set the uke down to go forward and adjust the software. And the rhythm pattern (modulated white noise...except for a couple instances of accidental straight white noise) was kind of interesting...although I departed from it quite a bit. Sadly, a bit too loose, and we lost a few audience members during this stretch. Much more compelling in rehearsal, but that just shows the importance of preparation. Ultimately when I brought in some additional samples from rehearsal (bass melodica, rhythm uke that was the same as what I'd been playing) and started soloing, it became a bit more compelling...still a bit too sparse, though. I think by this point I was kind of fried from all the playing and technical problems...and it needs some harmonic development. Time for a serious revision of this piece.

Xanopticon was up next, and started ambient, but soon brought out the noise I'd been hoping for. It was quite surreal seeing this go down in Club Cafe of all places. ("So wrong, and yet so right," said Rob.) One couple who'd hung in there through most of his set were an interesting mystery--we didn't know them, and I wondered if they were Ryan's parents, but no--they did leave about two-thirds of the way through his set. Ah, well.

I'd asked Ryan where the desktop machine was, and it turns out he doesn't need it anymore, since he got an Echo Audio DJ card with additional outputs. He can run two programs at once, run them to different outputs, and crossfade between them externally. Interesting. We did have a bit of time left, so we did a collective improv--with Xanopticon!--which went interestingly. While it took a while for Peter the soundguy to bring Ryan up in the system, Ryan did respond to the rhythm of what we were doing. At this remove, I can't really remember what we were doing, so I'll have to listen to it. Steve was playing straight accordion, and I did some Frisell-influenced echoy guitar through Ableton, but I don't recall much more than that.

Thanks to the Sprout Fund, we all got paid, although not quite as much as I'd hoped, due to the band-centric allocation (we did re-divide for greater equity, although I ended up giving a bit more to Ryan for being the headliner). Overall, a noble perseverence against adversity. Followed by another gig the next night! Stay tuned for a report.

10/18/2003 The Unindicted Co-Conspirators: Drywall XX: Equinox/Stone

Performance artist/accordionist extraordinaire Steve Pellegrino and I are at it again, this time as part of one of his performance pieces under the umbrella of the Loose Organization of Surreal Ethereal Realists (LOSER). This one's a parable of life, work, the cosmos, and our place in it all, and Steve and I will be working with a drummer for the live soundtrack (an expanded improvisation based on John Coltrane's "Equinox"). Rehearsals have been a lot of fun, so come on out.
PFMI Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Avenue, North Oakland, Pittsburgh. See directions here.

A fun, if cold, evening. Steve and his crew were built the set and props over the last few days, and had some finishing work to do Saturday morning. I had a lot of CD burning to do in anticipation of the next day's New York gig, so I had plenty with which to occupy myself. I also figured I should pick up some hearing protection, extra cables, and extra adapters for that show, and I took a detour to Pianos 'n' 'at, a stop for coffee, and was down at the performance site at 2:00.

Beyond an arc barrier of leaves was an expanse of white sand. Beyond that, a tall wood and metal structure holding some lighting and the winch for the concrete blocks. Beyond that, about 20 feet back, was where we were setting up. Steve was already there, of course, as was Mike the drummer. Frank, who was Steve's partner in working out the staging, was there spreading the sand, and was eager to talk to me--we're apparently living in the same aesthetic neighborhood. Sounds like some good potential collaboration.

I set up by Mike, with the PowerBook up on a stand of his (this had worked well at our rehearsal), next to the submixer. Since I'd be required to switch back and forth between my PowerBook channel and the clean channel (or the Line6 channel, as I'm sending each channel to a different send), I brought the Morely A/B switch. Very useful little device. One problem, however, is that I've been noticing some noise from the mic pres in our little Yamaha submixer from whichever channel I'm not plugged into, so I'd thought to use my M-Audio DMP3 for the pres...but there wasn't enough room on the stand, and I'd have to go noisy.

One disadvantage of the rehearsal was that the sun was a bit too bright to see any of the LEDs properly on my gear, but I'd manage. We ran through the tune a couple times, and it felt pretty good, although I kept feeling like I wasn't following the structure appropriately. At no point did I really build the tonal cloud to the complexity that I do solo, so I was feeling as though I wasn't following the structure closely enough. In reality, this was probably best so that I didn't overpower anyone else.

It took us a while to get the balance right, as there was no PA for us, and we were at least sixty feet from the audience. I heard myself way louder than I heard Steve, but it worked better out at the audience point if he turned down and I turned up. The overtones I was building were getting to me and were certainly affecting Steve, so I pulled out the hearing protectors. (Apparently I'd given him quite the headache after the last rehearsal. It's the extreme high tones that get you.)

We did another couple of run-throughs, and then worked with the actress and actor. She was our timekeeper, making a statement and then dragging a chair through the sand, orbiting the winch structure while the actor dragged concrete blocks painted with planetary symbols back to the winch. The actress would then sit, read another portion of the libretto (during which time we'd get quiet), and then resume dragging the chair. After the fifth speech, I was to do a glitch delay thing, and the actor would drop a screen in front of the winch structure as backlighting came on.

For the initial couple of speeches, I'd just be playing the chords of the tune (Coltrane's "Equinox"), once per measure, on a backbeat. When the actress was speaking, I'd back off on the volume and do pinky swells for that measure. Gradually, though, I'd build the overtone cloud, a process I'd have to take carefully, because with the slow delay, our tones would stick with us for quite some time. It was looking to be about a 20-minute piece, and then we'd play Steve's "Drop Four," which is a piece of constant, diabolical chord changes that all work well with C, so I could just hang out on the white keys, as it were, and could build drones around them. Cool.

We covered some equipment, packed up more valuable stuff, and I took the PowerBook with me. I made it back to the set at 7:00, and got ready. With the relative darkness, it was of course much easier to see all the LEDs and the PowerBook's screen. Setup was fairly easy at this point, so after tuning, there was little to do but hang out. Ryan from the SCLF came by, as did our friend Mary Ellen. We had a large crowd, actually, so the energy was good. Our only problem was that it was getting cold. Well, that, and the fact that at 8:00, the parking lot lights came on, subtracting some of the drama from our lighting setup. Not ideal, but then it turned out to work reasonably well for video, and we'd have to roll with it.

The performance felt right--we got in the pocket and stayed there--but the pace of the overall structure was a lot quicker than we'd anticipated. I think the actress wasn't doing as many orbits as she had at rehearsal, leaving us less time for developing each section, and in ten minutes, it was over. I'd expected to do some delay glitches, but the only ones I'd had a chance to do were at the end; at no point did I have a chance to use the Line6 or do the multiple feedback loops. While my final glitches were fading, I reset the ring modulators to C, and we launched into "Drop Four." This, too, was over quickly, which was probably just as well because all our fingers were losing facility. I think Steve felt it most, because he had to do a chord change every beat. It went well, though, and we got a positive response from the audience.

The next forty minutes were spent breaking down the gear and the set, and soon Tom (a faithful audient of many of my shows) came forth; it turned out that he'd expected the show to be on typical delayed show time, and so missed the proceedings entirely. But hey--there were at least three video cameras, so I suspect there'll be some video format available sooner or later. There was an offer to hang out afterwards, but Patricia and I had to be up early, so we headed home to trip preparations and lots of CD burning.

Thanks to Steve, Frank Ferrarro, and the rest of the crew for making this happen, and to the PFMI for giving us the space to do it. It was great fun, and it looks like Steve, Mike, and I will be dropping into a studio sometime soon to record a longer version with some development.

07/14/2003 The Unindicted Co-Conspirators: Live performance at Club Cafe

The Wired Monday electronica series at Club Cafe continues to storm the barricades of your eardrums. Drop by and check out fine sets by these fine artists (in reverse chronological order):

* Vorpal: brain-bending IDM from this master of outlying electrons
* Rowark: friendly MIDI-box madness from this master data manipulator
* The Unindicted Co-Conspirators: Guitar + laptop + electric accordion = a sound unlike any you've heard. We'll be debuting a new piece based on Coltrane's "Equinox."

7:30 PM at Club Cafe, 56-58 South 12th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. 412-431-4950. 21+. $3.

A very good night in terms of audience and connections made. And we had some good moments in our pieces. But there were moments that were less than what we wanted, notably on the Coltrane piece, which kind of got away from us.

We had some difficulties during soundcheck, in which the signals from the accordion--usually intense--were barely audible. We investigated a number of options and didn't get a good answer at any point, although the 20db pad in one of the DIs didn't help. Still, we eventually got it together. The audience began to grow, and I managed to have a few conversations with people, including a local Apple employee. Turns out there's an applications programming group in the 'burgh, and I had no idea. Not like I can go visiting or anything, though.

Eventually it got to be 8:00, and the people I'd invited hadn't shown, but we got rolling in our piece we base on A440. It went well, although for some reason the cloud was hard to build. Either it got built way too quickly or not at all; I think I'm still learning the best way to route the signals now that we're using a new submixer. We decided to do the Coltrane piece, and...wham--I was out of tune with the accordion. So we backed up, got in tune, and started the piece again. The cloud got built way too fast, largely from my mistakes, but the monitoring was kind of weird, too. Well, we've added some significant levels of complexity to our setup, what with the submixer and the Line6 delay. Many, many choices to work through. I think next time out, I might keep the PowerBook Aux return higher, and turn down the straight mix of the other stuff. While we were playing, I saw some friends come in, which was kind of nice--they got to hear the throat singing piece we did at the end, in fact. With a greater audience this time, we found a number of people who were interested in what Steve was doing there, although I don't know if he got a chance to talk to any of them.

Rowark did his usual crowd-pleasing set, and Vorpal did some particularly nice IDM, although his system clock was ten minutes slow, so he ran long. We did do the improv, but as before it was difficult for Steve and me to hear ourselves adequately. Still, we soldiered on. Afterwards, I chatted with my friends and a few other interested people. Not a bad night, despite the deficiencies in our set. On to Circuits of Steel!

06/02/2003 The Unindicted Co-Conspirators: Live performance at Club Cafe

It's yet another Wired Monday at Club Cafe, on Monday June 2! This time, we have (in reverse chronological order):

* The turntable-as-instrument sonic manipulations of DJ Cutups

* The unconventional grooves of MIDI-box master Sugapablo

* The Unindicted Co-Conspirators--in which I put performance artist Steve Pellegrino's electrified accordion through the laptop. And I play guitar, too.

If there's time, we'll do a set of collaborative improv, as well.

Monday, June 2, from 7:30 to 10:30--ideal if you're working for the Man. 21+, $3 cover--more electrons per dollar than any other Monday night electronics series in town, guaranteed!

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

From the bringing-people-in point of view, this was...not the most successful night. In fact. from that perspective, it was rather a failure. But in terms of artistic goals being accomplished, this was the best set I've ever had at Club Cafe. After listening back to the set that Steve and I did, I still think this evening was a success, and the people who missed it missed something really special. (Whether the people who were there got it or not, that's another question.)

The portents were mixed, since Geoff (Cutups) emailed me in the afternoon to say he couldn't make it, as he was home sick. Unfortunate, but I knew we could deal--Steve and I could stretch, as could Russ. We'd be fine for time. This sort of thing was part of a trend, however, which ultimately became clear to me.

I had the feeling I might be on for this one, since on the way down to the club I had that elevated adrenaline awareness, and I've often felt that before good sets. Since rehearsal showed us that we'd need Steve's little four-channel mixer to get the guitar and both of Steve's accordion outputs into the PowerBook, I stopped to get a new 9-volt to power it, and a new one for the Ebow. I ran into a friend there, who...would have liked to come to the show, but his parking brake was stuck, so he wasn't going anywhere until that was fixed.

I headed down to the club, got the DIs, mics, cables, and tables ready by the time Russ showed up 15 minutes later. Among the interesting parts of the setup were two mics--one straight to the board, the other to the PowerBook. Steve's wife called to tell me that Steve was delayed a bit--his accordion with the new pickups had broken a key, and he was bringing another. I wasn't quite sure if this one had pickups or not, but I was glad I'd brought the mic pre, even though we hadn't used it in rehearsals. When Steve arrived, I was ready, but the subsequent soundcheck was rife with problems. There were low levels from the accordion (it turned out to have crystal mics), the usual feedback problem we'd discovered in rehearsal (since these pickups were mics, after all. The little mixer seemed for some reason to be extra wussy compared to the rehearsal, and I wasn't quite sure why. There wasn't much point to worrying about it, so I repatched my setup to have the little mixer go through the mic pre before going into the PowerBook. This helped somewhat, as did my adjusting the input gain on the ASIO control panel.

Billy Death arrived, and contributed some tips to the above process. I was glad to see him--I knew he'd be willing to give us a serious listen. Steve went out to warm up for a while, as I gave Russ his soundcheck. Happily, his MIDI box was easy, and we nailed it (including the monitor mix) without much adjustment. By this point, it was getting close to eight, and only one thing was missing--the rest of the audience. I went out to hang a bit with Steve and talk shop, while Russ went in search of a candy bar. We decided to reconvene at ten after and start the show then, whether or not Billy was joined by anyone else. In the meantime, Steve entertained a passing drunk with an excerpt from "The Pennsylvania Polka"...but when he was doing the soundcheck, I'd heard a bit of "Einstein on the Beach," which is where Steve's really coming from.

Turns out, Billy wasn't joined by anyone else. But no matter--as John Zorn once famously said, the audience only gets in the way. Russ kept an eye on the soundboard, and after a few minutes of tweaking, we got rolling. We started with a piece based on A440 (and comparison frequencies justly related to it, for the ring modulation), a loose improv just to get us in the groove. Our rehearsals paid off--we knew to go either with drones to build up the tone cloud in our delays, or to hit brief notes or clusters. And it worked! One nice feature of playing this way was that we could play together, or alternate our activity, or sit back for a moment or two and let the pattern work dissolve into the background. A few times we had brief discussions about what we were doing or what we would do next. Listening back to the recording, it's occasionally hard to tell the guitar from the accordion, which to my ear is a measure of success. At one point I built up overtones from the ring modulators by simply tremolo picking the A string, in a kind of homage to Glenn Branca. It was satisfying. Ultimately, I started changing the delay times in mid-stream, building up interestingly glitchy patterns.

We let that piece die out, around the time two more audience members came in and sat at the bar. I think they were mainly interested in hanging out at the bar, but hey--they were an audience all the same. I announced the next piece, "Lady of Pain" (based, of course, on "Lady of Spain"--a cubist version of it, if you will), and opened up the configuration I'd planned on using, only to find that the program got amnesia about the frequencies for ring modulation, as well as the delay mix and times. Great. There was also a rogue process somewhere, modulating input that shouldn't have been modulated. I quit and relaunched the program, resigning myself to recalculating the frequencies and delay times, then checking our tuning. Five minutes after I announced it, we began. If there'd been a larger audience, I would have been worried about it, but not this time--things were a lot more relaxed.

This piece is where things really started to work. From the title, you'd expect something harsher than what we actually delivered, which ended up being a deconstruction with a gentle touch, with a good blend of Steve's accordion, the guitar, the gradual introduction of the ring modulators, and the glitchy delay stuff. The recording's quite listenable, perhaps to the surprise of some. Following this, we did a piece based on Steve's throat singing, which started at the clean mic, went to the PowerBook mic to build up the cloud, and again I slowly brought in the processing before adding touches of guitar. At times it's hard to tell which parts of his voice are going straight to the board and which are going to the PowerBook. Pretty cool. It sounds to me like the ideal soundtrack for a documentary on 21st century Nepal or something.

So we ended our set pleased, although very sparsely witnessed--the bartender bought me a drink, actually, as "It was the least [he] could do." Billy enjoyed the set, comparing the throat piece to Nurse With Wound. Russ dug that piece as well, which was also cool.

Russ started up his set as we all tried to applaud loudly, and he did quite well even in the potentially demoralizing setting. I actually owe him a more detailed review of his set, so that'll appear elsewhere. Midway through, my friend Joe came by with a date, upping the audience significantly. Shortly after that, Greg (Translator, Blackfish) and his girlfriend came by, which also helped boost morale a bit. So we did have a few more people in the house for the improv, in which Russ supplied the beat, bass, and some structure, while Steve and I went for texture. I set the delays to integrate rhythmically with the BPM on Russ's MIDI box--it's nice to have an actual number to sync to at times. At a couple points, I got into doing fast volume-knob swells on the guitar, and the resulting recording sounds somewhat like electrified harmonica. Steve asked me (enthusiastically) about these poorly-done Roy Buchanan moves--poorly done by Roy Buchanan standards, but serviceable in this piece. And they were reasonably smooth, which was good as in the most recent rehearsal I could feel some grinding in the volume knob.

The first one seemed to go pretty well, so we did another with pretty much the same results, as well as some throat singing, which I was glad our latecomers got to hear. A few more glitchy moves, a cold ending, and we were done. We even got paid a little, and the few people who were there responded warmly, or so it seemed to us. And then the evening was over, sparse but warm.


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