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Music Production: LOSER Chamber Ensemble
06/11/2007 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Three Rivers Arts Festival

The LOSER (the Loose Organization of Surreal Ethereal Realists) Chamber Ensemble returns to the Three Rivers Arts Festival, this time rocking the PPG Plaza, notable as a location for Inspector Gadget, during the late lunch hour. We're going to be doing extended versions of Steve Pellegrino's recent works: the "Work" song, "Pound them Nails," and others--much like what we did on First Night, except this time it's during the day and not raining. I'll be playing psychedelic uke, and possibly wearing a top hat. Steve will be on vocals and concertmeistering, and we'll have an assortment of fellow LOSERs on percussion and other instruments. C'mon over and remind yourself about why you're skipping out on work for a bit.

PPG Plaza, between Third and Fourth Avenues, and Stanwix and Wood Streets. 12:30 PM, for those of you who can have lunch away from your desk.

06/11/2007 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Three Rivers Arts Festival

A cluster of performances! It's the "Work While You Still Can" tour, doing Music For Workers: it's Pittsburgh's avant-gardiste-about-town Stephen Pellegrino and the rest of the LOSER Chamber Ensemble doing a number of the Work Pieces, as well as some new compositions. I'll be playing psychedelic uke and--for this evening show only--rocking the baglama-tuned guitar. So check it out: you have nothing to lose but your parking fee.

7:30 PM, Stanwix Street Triangle, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

12/31/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: First Night, Pittsburgh

Quite wet, this one. Sometimes the rain slacked off and we were able to play in the street in a bit of a mist; other times we had to find an overhang somewhere out of the downpour. Then there were the times we were walking from place to place with the rain pouring down on us. Kind of non-optimal. Fortunately, there were several enthusiastic audients even with the weather this unpleasant. It seemed that my uke + delay combination blew a few minds, as well.

During rehearsals, Frank had suggested that I get some kind of ceremonial hat, and I found a $5 black felt top hat at a party supply store--kind of formal, yet festive. I certainly felt more comfortable in it than I felt in the yellow face paint of the 2004/2005 performance. And I was able to keep both uke and hat relatively dry by putting both uke and hat in the messenger bag when we left shelter. Unfortunately, playing in some of the sheltered areas (under the Heinz Hall marquee, under building overhangs) concentrated the sound from the percussionists, and my ears suffered, but that eventually cleared up.

Still, a fun evening, and I was home by 11:30--just in time for a toast.

10/14/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Spaces Gallery, Cleveland, OH

It's been three years since I played Cleveland, and it's been too long. This time, I wouldn't be doing a solo set, but playing on sound artist/sculptor Frank Ferraro's amplified metal cart again, like I did on New Year's Eve 2004/2005. Frank, Steve and I rehearsed on Thursday night, and it was really good--we put the sanding disc through the Ibanez DML-10, and we got some serious Neubauten textures out of that. Cabling would be a problem, though, so I made plans with Steve for him to bring his Line6 Echo Park, while I'd bring my Line6 DL-4 in addition to the venerable DML-10.

Start time was at noon, so I woke up at the unmusicianly hour of 7. Patricia and the Young Man dropped me off at Steve's place, where I hitched a ride with Steve and his family. I could feel a cold threatening to come on, so I brought the thermos of licorice root and Throat Coat tea--I figured that with enough of that, I'd be fine, and it did indeed help me get through. We were in Clevo by 11:30, and much to my surprise, the final stretches of the drive were very quick. Due to construction changing some exits, I had to pay attention as navigator, and soon we were on deck in...roughly the right neighborhood. A few minutes later, we'd figured it out, and we were pulled up beside the gallery.

Staff were friendly, and load-in was OK, with our collaborators already there, though I discovered quickly enough that I'd brought the wrong AC adapter for the Ibanez, and I'd have to rely on the failing battery. Damn. I'd make it work, though.

Sound check was quick, but rehearsals...were a bit troubling. There was some scheduling conflict which kept us from having our usual drummers with us, but the gallery promised that they'd have some percussionists for us. They were, however, using a definition of "percussionist" with which I was unfamiliar: what we got was a visual artist and a self-described trumpet player, neither of whom could hold a beat if one were duct-taped to their randomly swinging hands. The beat in question wasn't a difficult one, either--a couple steps more simple than the Bo Diddley beat. (Rather than "chunk, chunk, chunk, a-ka-CHUNK," they were to have done "Chunk, Chunk, rest, rest." How hard could it be? They didn't even have to swing.)

Gradually our audience filtered in, mostly gallery folk or other artists, but we didn't want to push back our start time any more. We were off on Steve's "Work Song," but alas, the percussionists were so random that Frank stepped up and pulled them off the job in mid-performance. While it was a bit of a speed-bump, all the rest of us were experienced enough improvisers that we could keep going, though we'd just have to turn up the intensity. We went through the work song, some extended improvs, and our version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" with psychedelic uke, and it generally seemed to go well. The gallery owner liked the show, and said she wants us back, so that's promising. (I dropped some CDs with the staff, though I've not heard anything back myself.)

After we broke down the gear, there was a roundtable discussion of culture and cities, which was kind of interesting, getting the Cleveland perspective. We did snag some of the appetizers at the gallery, but we cleared out before the noise bands started an hour or so later. Frank suggested that we meet up for a late lunch near the West Side Market, which was itself pretty impressive. We ended up going up the street a half block to a great small Middle-Eastern place, where I scored a good-sized and tasty falafel wrap for $2.95. After lunch, Steve, Mary, Leo and I headed across the street to a Belgian bar, where we old people checked out a very tasty Belgian Grand Cru, then got a dessert at a nearby Cuban place before heading home. I was back in the door by 8. In many ways, a good out of town gig, even with the drumming hassles and the smaller audience.

09/23/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth: Last Show

Very similar to the last few, although this time I gave myself more time for the intro music--I'd started before the cue, and built up quite an abstract, disturbing ring-modulated thing by the end. I'm digging this, and it may come out in some form.

Other notable items:

  • got to hang out with Patricia and see more of the show
  • I cut out looplex during "Last House" and never quite got it back, so my sections ended up sounding weird.
  • There was a huge party at the end of the show, around the corner in Jeff's house. Very nice. And I got a ride home, so that was cool.
Overall, a good run! And lots of press buzz on this, too. Kudos to Steve, Mary, and Jeff for making this happen.

09/22/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth: First Show

Even with a working day, I recovered from the cold pretty well. I'm telling you, two bags of Throat Coat steeping for several hours in a thermos is the way to go. I did the same for this evening, but I also threw in some licorice root. This time I picked up Sam Press, a young man of our acquaintance who had volunteered for a small part in the play. We showed up at 7:15 or so, and had plenty of time to get oriented. I set up and decided to do the walk-on music with ring modulation for extra creepiness. While I was warming up, bassist Steve joined in, and it was a rather nice sound. I was, happily, recording my part of the improv, so I can check it out later. Since there was that issue of hearing the outside cue, we decided to have him cue us after Steve heard the SUV cue, which didn't give us a lot of time to develop things, but still it was an interesting improv. While we were waiting we shared a few quips. Steve asked if he was playing too loud. "You mean right now?" I asked. It was funny at the time.

Once again there was a lot of hanging out in the early part of the play, listening for cues and making sure any conversations we'd got into weren't loud enough to be heard upstairs. I hipped Sam to the appropriate time to sneak up to the party, where I was able to jump in and carry Mike's hi-hat downstairs. (Apologies to anyone I might have jostled on the way to help Mike, though I did politely ask to be let through.)

We got set up for the "Last House" section, and the curtain came down, and Emmet and Steve's son Leo started their sax part immediately--whoops. They should have let the MC give her welcome, but we were off. Still, when we kicked into the tune, it really worked. I did my looped volume swells and brought them in and out, though even with the amp turned up, I was getting some weird lack of level from the guitar. Hard to say what's up with that. I turned up the preamp some to compensate.

As before, I did a minimal, once-a-bar pattern on "This Day Is Lost," and then at the end we did our curtain call music. Once again, there was something weird with the preamp, but we got through, had a good (and large) audience, and got plenty of applause.

09/22/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth: Second Show

After the first show, Sam filled me in on some of the things I'd been unable to see, what with being back in the band space and all. Very helpful. Between shows I wanted to check out the thing with the preamp, and found that I just wasn't getting much out of it. Maybe it's dying again, unfortunately, so I shut it off for a while and unplugged, figuring maybe it was a capacitor or something, or something heat-related, not that it gets all that hot. Plugging it back in, I saw that one of the levels was down--was that all the problem was?

Steve K and I waited for the cue, which was slow in coming. Finally at 10:15 we just started playing, cue be damned. I had some nice, powerful bell tones from the ring modulation, and we had some other fine moments before we had to fade out.

The audience were kind of quiet, especially compared to our early audiences of the previous nights. During the break between my pieces, I decided to turn off and unplug the preamp, just in case it really did have a problem being on for an hour or two, and I went upstairs to see the drywall dance for the first time--really impressive, and incredibly strenuous, with Steve and another member of the crew whirling around the room with ever-larger boards and pieces of drywall. Amazing.

Once again I visited the party scene and helped move Mike's drums. This time, "Last House" was my most solid performance, if there were a few hesitations from others. Overall, though, it was pretty smoking. It's a good tune, and it's been lodged in my head for days, though that shouldn't be surprising with my playing it every night. "This Day Is Lost" was also nice. One of the things I mentioned to Steve earlier in the evening was that tonight was the Equinox (12:03 Saturday), so I suggested we do Coltrane's "Equinox" as our curtain call music. Turns out, though, that we didn't do it--bassist Steve went into our E-flat thing, and the rest of us followed suit. Maybe tomorrow--it'll still be the Equinox.

09/21/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth

I made it on time for this evening's show--early, in fact--but I was dealing with getting a cold, so I made sure to stock up on a thermos of Throat Coat tea to get me through the evening. It'd be cold in the house, too, so that was another compelling reason to have the tea. Mike and Steve worked out an idea that would solve the tempo problems in "Last House," so we were looking pretty good for that.

The walk-on music was interesting, but I didn't think I was audible enough--apparently, I was loud enough to keep Steve from hearing the cue from the SUV outside (I'm not totally sure what this is for, since I've been back in the band space), but not loud enough for the audience outside to hear. Great. Tomorrow we'll make an adjustment.

For most of the evening I hung out in the band space/future kitchen, just trying to stay away from people to avoid passing the cold around. I was also trying to keep my hands warm so I could play--this was at times a bit of a problem. I chatted a bit with violist Erica, who's classically trained, and doesn't do much improvising. Interesting, as I'm kind of the opposite--I can read, but not sight read a performance cold, with no rehearsal. Instead, most of what I do is improv. We compared notes on conductors we've worked with, though in her case that's a much, much more complete sample set.

I did zip up to the party scene briefly to help load Mike's drums down, though one of the stage managers beat me to it, so I really didn't have to go up there. For the "Last House" this time, we were really on it, although since we'd moved my amp a bit, I don't think I was as audible as last night. I think everyone was a bit louder, as well. I'm going to have to goose the volume up a bit tomorrow. This time I did contribute to that mournful string piece, and it worked well, but again I don't think I was quite as audible as I should be.

Once again, the (even larger) audience loved the show, and we got a lot of congratulations from strangers and friends. Our occasional collaborator Frank Ferraro said, "In 20 years you'll be reading about this as a significant cultural event." Yep, there was that kind of energy behind this.

I did pop upstairs and snagged a few slices of pizza at the end of the night, and then dragged my stuffy, achy self home. A good show, and I'm hoping I feel better tomorrow night.

09/20/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth

If the rehearsal was a touch off, this official opening night was (apart from that nasty tempo snag in "Last House") full on. I couldn't do the walk-on music due to my wife's schedule, and I arrived shortly after the official start to the play--I had to wait outside for a while, until the audience went upstairs. Then I could load in. Unlike last night, there was a curtain up in front of the kitchen/band area, so once behind that, I'd be able to stay there if I had to. Having missed the walk-on, there wasn't much to do for a while, so I set up, soundchecked through headphones, and got to take in a bit more of the play than last time. There was a bit of chaos, and at one point Erica observed that she wasn't sure if she'd be able to tune before her next part. (I said, "Just pretend you're a guitar player.") Even with some confusion here and there, I was able to make it upstairs for the party scene and a slice or two, which also meant that I could see that our neighbor (and belly dance collaborator) Steffi was there! Nice to see familiar faces in the audience.

The party scene was quite funny, tender, jarring, and funny again, before turning dark as it must. It's really quite amazing how well these changes are handled, actually. At the end, I helped load the drums down to the band space, and set up for the final set of tunes. This time, I was wondering if we'd be behind the curtain the whole time, but instead, there's a dramatic curtain drop. I'm sure I heard people in the audience gasp with the suddenness of it--brilliant. Once again, we had tempo issues on "Last House," with Steve cuing drummer Mike to play faster, which was kind of awkward after a point. Still, once we got locked in, things worked. I was concerned that I might be sub-audible, but apparently I could be heard, combining again with the viola. This time, I started my contribution to the mournful string duet, and Steve waved me off--he'd forgotten about asking me to do it the night before (hey, that's just the smallest of a million details he's had to keep in his head for this production, so no big deal).

Afterwards, lots of applause, and congratulations from Steffi and her friend Sue. Mike had been lobbying to play a table drum he has with me for one of the dance gigs, so I asked him to bring it over. Man, pretty amazing sound. I'm going to have to figure out a decent miking arrangement for that. Now Steffi and Mike and I are talking about working together, though if a dance gig comes up with other dancers, I'll definitely ask Mike to get in on it. So even with some rough spots, one leaves with a warm feeling from the audience. Nice.

09/19/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth

Most of us thought this was going to be dress rehearsal, but there turned out to be an actual audience, so we had to get it together. I wasn't aware of the overall plan, so I generally waited until someone told me to do something. I didn't want to leave the gear alone, so during the sections where everyone was upstairs, I stuck downstairs, though I did venture up to see parts of the party scene. It's a good play, setting Macbeth in the Pittsburgh renovation milieu, with Pittsburghese dialogue.

Once again I'd be playing with the excellent drummer Mike Yaklich, Steve, his son, and--another bonus!--bassist Steve Kemmerer, whom I'd not played with since the Clutter days. His wife Erica was on viola as well, for a really nice sounding ensemble.

I did a bit of my ambient walk on music, and after that there wasn't a whole lot to do. I hadn't had time to get dinner, but Steve mentioned that there'd be a party scene, during which I could eat. I kept smelling pizza, and finally realized it was back in the band space. Everyone was upstairs doing this long scene for a while, and I figured that must have been the scene Steve was talking about, so I had a few slices. Then one of the actresses came down and brought the pizza upstairs--so that was the party. Oops. It didn't cause a problem, though.

Much of the activity was upstairs for quite a while, so a number of the rest of us were milling around downstairs. Turned out that sound in the band space (ultimately this will be the kitchen) carried right upstairs and was clearly audible, so we had to stay quiet. Fortunately we didn't find this out on the opening opening night.

Finally the audience came back downstairs for the end of the play, and we were cued for the song "Last House on the Left" (which, quite literally, was the house we were in), and tore into it, though there were timing problems among the ensemble which I'm sure we'll get worked out. I faded the ambience in and out, sometimes blending with the viola in an interesting way, or at least interesting to me, since I couldn't tell which of us was playing every so often.

Steve whispered to us that we were going to do a blues in E-flat. So the next piece came up, and Steve cued bassist Steve and violist Erica, who were playing an understated, mournful piece. I'd assumed we were on this E-flat piece, so I started doing a legato line of E-flat to D, and it worked well...though Steve pointed out that this wasn't the piece he had in mind. Oops. But he also said that it worked, so we'd keep it in. Then we laid out until the end of the play, when our E-flat curtain call piece came up, and we were done. People dug it. In all, a successful dress rehearsal/soft opening, with some stuff to work on, but the feeling was good for tomorrow night.


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