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Music Production: Circuits of Steel Tour 2003
07/21/2003 Circuits of Steel Tour 2003: Live in St. Louis: Circuits of Asstacularity

Chicago is the home of electric blues, so I think I can fairly begin by pointing out that I woke up this morning with a headache from sleeping on the floor in a weird position. I snagged a couple of Tylenol, which for some reason really gave me some energy. I got a shower, prepared the Detroit tour journal, and uploaded it once Kerry's sister was awake. Girl Talk had returned sometime around 4 or 5 in the morning, so the Dude, Where's My Girl Talk episode ended well. Shortly, though, it was time to leave. We loaded in the van, got out into traffic, and...went to some record stores Manny wanted to hit, first off Reckless in Wicker Park. I fielded a work-related phone call while we were on the road, which added a bit to my to-do list, but that's the freelance life. Kerry and I were hungry, so we headed up to Earwax, this place he knew with a lot of veggie options, snapping some photos of vintage signage along the way, a particular obsession of mine. I might be in a bit of a rut, but I had their tofu equivalent of scrambled eggs and found it very tasty. I also connected with a single-shot latte with some hazelnut syrup, and that was damn tasty as well.

Manny finally joined us, and we got on the road...to another record store he wanted to hit. At this point, I figured that I should work on the actual work I had to do, so (as Chicago-familiar Kerry was handling the driving) I worked on the laptop in the middle row seat. I stayed in the van while Manny checked out the other store (the name of which I've forgotten), tried to solve this Flash problem I'm dealing with, and listened to Chris Bell and Big Star in iTunes. After all that IDM yesterday, I was jonesing for some power pop. As I continued to work and the battery slowly drained, it occurred to me that Manny was taking quite a while in the record store. He was pre-listening to LPs he wanted to buy, while time just kept on ticking. We'd have to get on the road to St. Louis at some point, and it seemed that this point kept getting closer. Still, we had to get back to Lakeshore to hit the other Reckless Records, as that was where decisions on selling stuff would be made.

This time I went in and found a number of noteworthy sale items, ultimately buying Kraftwerk's Computer World, two Esquivel comps, and tried to get William Shatner's The Transformed Man, but despite its presence in the bin wasn't in the back. Someone's walking around with the CD but no cover, it would seem.

So this time we really did get on the road. I'd been in comfortable seats for a while, so now I had to rotate to the back, and got what we've taken to calling The Ass Seat, in the center of the back row straddling the two seat units. It really is a seat, with a seatbelt and everything, with the added element of hard plastic things sticking out right into your ass. I tried to get work done, although I was feeling a bit dehydrated by this point (not much we could do about it at the moment) and was acutely conscious of the battery draining, and took breaks to put the machine to sleep while I was trying to think of my next work move. Ryan had his laptop in the van as well, and showed me the patches he'd been working on in Pure Data--very complicated, interesting, and inspiring.

Finally we began to move out of the Chicago area and on 44 West (South? I forget), our route to St. Louis. At one point I rotated off the Ass Seat and into the corner, and Ryan drew the short straw. He kept the laptop out (good battery life on his Toshiba), and showed Greg and me some amusing animations he'd downloaded (Sealab 2021, a parodic remix of the old-school 2020 I recall from childhood), which helped lighten the mood. The drive was a bit tedious and had that element of racing the clock, as we'd started out so late. Kerry really booked us toward our goal. The other guys slept in the van, but I wasn't able to do this with any consistency.

At around 7:45, we pulled in front of the Lemp Arts Center, a bit south of the city center in...another decaying neighborhood. It, like the Detroit Contemporary, was an urban cultural outpost. Unlike the DC, there was staff on hand when we arrived. There was also apparently a death metal band rehearsing in the basement. So activity! Good thing.

Our contact wasn't in the house yet, and as we started setting up a number of questions began to emerge. These were questions like, "what about the PA?" (the guy running the space expected us to bring one and didn't think he'd had one, but...the death metal band had to be playing with something) and "where's the audience?" (unknown; the owner said to me, "This show was really well publicized. I have no idea why no one's shown up yet.") This led to other questions, like "should we play at all?" While this was being debated, we set up anyway. Manny went down to the rehearsal space in the basement to retrieve the PA head and a cabinet from the metal band, and was promptly bitten by what appeared to be fleas. Great.

Apparently back at the Fireside, Manny found this plastic WWF wrestling belt, with a large insignia sticker, and thought it would be perfect for Girl Talk, so Greg had it in his transparent clothing bag. I saw Greg having a conversation with the punk girl who was with the band in the basement; she wanted him to give her the belt. He said that since it was a gift to him, he couldn't, but that she could fight for it with the person who gave it to him--Manny, unbeknownst to him. "You don't think I'm serious," she said, "but I'll do it. I'll take him down." Luckily, for whatever reason, she didn't.

Contact was made with Jon, an ex-'burgher whom we knew and who helped set up the show; he promised to bring another cabinet. Some soundchecking was done, and then the other guys went off to find some food. I wasn't hungry, but I was getting a bit tired and trepidatious at the continuing lack of things happening. Still no audience, for example. The Lemp had an old Kimball piano in the corner off the room, so I spent the next half hour or so playing it, just kind of poking around. Not all the keys worked all the time, and it was out of tune, but there's something immensely satisfying about playing a real piano, hitting large, weird chords, letting strings ring out and listening to the sonorities. With any luck they'll have someone in to repair and maintain it; it deserves that.

The others came back, and Manny entered quoting "Piano Man," so I stopped playing after a bit, becoming too self-conscious about it. Jon, our contact, arrived and we chatted for a few minutes about the scene and his life there in St. Louis. I asked where he was living, and he described it. I said, "So I guess we'll be following you back there after the show," and was met with a puzzled look. I then learned that he had hoped there would be a large enough turnout to the show that he could count on someone else putting us up. Hmm...definitely a problem.

After wandering in and out of the arts center for a while, I figured I might as well play, so I did. The audience consisted of us, Jon, the guy running the space, and--hey!--a couple of other people. I started with the poem, which most of these guys hadn't heard before, and I got some laughs out of it. The rest of my set was short, about 18 minutes, and I did the brief overview of what all I've been doing, dropping some old movie samples over the ambient thing (doing a lot of upward glisses under the rubber samples). I got some good results with the guitar-produced percussion patterns, having decided to base my delays on 40 bpm, so I may do some more of that. I also threw in the Michael Jordan voiceover outtakes, and ended on a nice ambient combination of tones. As an overview it was decent, but the show was certainly a bust. After I played, Syne Lapse, Girl Talk, and Holocaust played together...for three minutes, still managing to chase about half the audience out.

So the show was over. We thought that getting something to eat might be good, so we loaded up. We also had a possible place to stay with Manny's aunt, so we thought we'd visit her first. Manny got in Jon's car, so for the second time on the tour, someone bailed from the van, and things felt a lot more spacious. We followed them to a pleasant little street by the university, which reminded me a lot of our neighborhood at home, except that the bugs were making some very compelling almost IDM-like sounds. I wish now I'd recorded it.

Manny's aunt was gracious (particularly for having a vanload of freaks show up at her door at 11:00 at night) and very interesting, but was suffering from a headache and was unable to have us stay. Still, a nice visit with a fine person. I was also able to brush my teeth for the first time in several hours, and that made me happy. We next went in search of food, but...had to stop at a record store first.

Our fatigued discussion turned giddy, and we determined that Manny in the WWF belt is the Iron Wombat, who would fight all comers for the possession of the belt, sort of like the Golden Bough. We continued on to a neighborhood near Jon's where they had a 24-hour coffee shop...with WIFI! I wasn't quite hungry enough for a sandwich, and just opted for a mocha. I checked email on the PowerBook, relieved to be in touch with people, and passed it around to others; similar happiness resulted.

Jon and Manny went off to Jon's place to see about getting us into an empty apartment in the building to sleep, and then returned an hour or so later. We discussed the possibility that we'd sleep on Jon's floor for a few hours and then get going to Denton early, but there was a sizeable contingent who thought we should just get on the road. Jon had to get to work early and it was already getting late, and was reluctant to put us up. I was too tired to drive, and didn't want to be the passenger of anyone who was. In the event, with all the weird unresolved conflicts and a long, long drive ahead of us, we decided to go under the radar and have Jason take a turn at the wheel and get us as far as he could. He'd slept in the van most of the day and said he was fresh, so on we went. I got in the seat behind Jason, Girl Talk rode shotgun, we put gas in the tank, and off we went, West across Missouri, on an all-night drive.

I tried to sleep, but sleeping in a moving vehicle isn't something I'm usually capable of doing. I'm also very concerned about driver fatigue, so anytime I sensed the vehicle drifting, I snapped awake. Unfortunately, the suspension on this van is extremely soft, so pretty much any stimulus makes it seem like it's drifting. I kept checking in on Jason, asking if he was ok (he said he was), asking him to slow down (hey, night, occasional rain, and the fact that we didn't have a deadline meant that we didn't have to speed), and generally making an annoyance of myself. In between all that, the pattern of brief episodes of sleep and jerky wakefulness continued across Missouri (interrupted by two stops at rest areas--Missouri has these interesting automated soap dispensers/sinks/blow dryer combos) until we found ourselves somewhere in Oklahoma at dawn.

07/20/2003 Circuits of Steel Tour 2003: Live in Chicago: Circuits of damn, I love this town.

I woke up early on Jason's couch, finally having gotten comfortable. Showered, shaved, and went down to the basement to see if I could bum Jason's DSL connection. They've put a lot of work into the place to start making it livable, but they still have a lot of work ahead of them. Jason's room, for example, is a windowless cubicle in the basement which he's turning into a studio. With the lights on, it has atmosphere, but getting to it makes it obvious you're in the basement.

The rest woke up and got showers, while I called Patricia and talked to one of our Detroit peeps who couldn't make it out to the show. We found the van unmolested, loaded up, and waited for Jason to make a run to his bank. To entertain us, Greg was reading from his vast stash of novels for teen girls (the series is named Girl Talk, hence his performance name, I suppose), including one about a junior high school girl who was the drummer in a band called Iron Wombat. This will become important later.

Jason back with us, we scoped out coffee on Pontiac's main drag (not to be found--the cafe that claimed to be open Sunday wasn't, and we decided that this dead town only served coffee to the dead), put some gas in the tank, and headed...down to Detroit to hit some record stores Manny wanted to hit. On the way we played Kraftwerk's Computer World, which Jason had brought from his collection, and it reminded me how good this album was. Sure, the lyrics are lame, but the beat on "Numbers," for example, is a monster.

So we hit the first store, Culture Shock, which actually bought a few discs from me. The plan was then to hit another store which we simply could not find (actually, we couldn't find the intersection of 9 Mile and Little Mack; Detroit just would not let us get our little mack on), and then head out to Stormy Records in Dearborn before getting the other guys signed up as drivers. With the traffic and construction, we didn't arrive at Stormy until much later than ideal, and we realized we'd have to forfeit doing the WNUR radio show. I did, however, manage to score a used copy of Hrvatski's Swarm and Dither. I pressed on to the airport to deal with the rental, where we learned that adding all of the other guys as drivers would cost so much that it wasn't worth doing. We opted just to put Kerry on, and he pressed on toward Chicago. I moved to one of the rear seats.

I had work to do, so I hauled out the laptop and messed with Actionscript. We were definitely at a time disadvantage, so Kerry was driving fast. For some reason--probably reflecting on the Detroit experience, fatigue, and not being able to do the radio show--my mood crashed, and I contemplated how feasible it would be at this point to bail, essentially an amplified resurgence of the "what am I doing here?" feeling from last night. I could have been home this weekend checking out the Vintage Grand Prix with Patricia and one of our friends who had an invitation to an on-course party. I could have had large blocks of time to devote to work. Instead, I was in a van speeding toward Chicago, hungry, dehydrated, tired, listening to pretty much nothing but IDM, and having to get work done.

At one point we passed through Kalamazoo, the ancestral home of my guitar, but I was too busy working to notice. Gradually, as we got out of Michigan, my mood began to lift, partly from getting some water, partly from Herbie Hancock's Headhunters on the van's disc player. This kind of thing may be the biggest challenge of touring: weathering the psychological changes, and realizing that how things look at any given moment isn't necessarily how they all are, nor how they will be. And I like being in Chicago, so I was looking forward to that.

Traffic slowed us down, but the threatening weather only threatened. I got a few shots with the digital camera, including some interestingly blurred shots of decaying industrial Gary, Indiana that would make good CD covers. While we headed to the Fireside, I called my cousin to see if we could connect at the show. The venue itself is a bowling alley, all classic '40s design, in Wicker Park, which apparently is a neighborhood of the half-funky/half-gentrified variety. My cousin had said that it was marginal/questionable, but these things are relative--after our neighborhoods in Detroit and Pontiac, I was totally good with it.

We loaded in, set up, stopped in the third and fourth skanky bathroom of the tour (that bad), and did soundchecks. We didn't have enough table space, so an additional table was improvised with a particleboard sheet and two sawhorses. I leaned the guitar against the table at one point, and then the table was moved, sending the guitar flat to the stage. Fortunately the only result was some out of tune strings. If I'd been using the Univox Mosrite copy, it would have been catastrophic, I think. It was a bit alarming at the time, though. Then we waited for the audience. I changed my shirt to this vintage bowling shirt I'd bought on Friday, in honor of the occasion. The embroidered names, Shandrew and Leonardo, were in the house. It felt good.

Syne Lapse played first, doing an interesting computer-free IDM set, and then it was my turn to go on. I hadn't seen any of my invited people coming in, but I was in a good frame of mind nonetheless. I started very ambient with the guitar clouds, and got more into hitting the pick against the pickguard for setting up a rhythm. I messed with this, and then thought I'd do a "Tone Beating" and sample thing. The "rubber" speech sample was mildly amusing, but seemed out of place for this set. Afterwards, I took photos of the audience. It turned out that two of them were ex-Coctail Barry Phipps (with whom I've been email corresponding), and Pramod Tummala, who's recording with him. (They'd come straight from Barry's studio, in fact.)

We got a chance to talk for a while before they headed back in to record, but it looks like some cool things might result. For one, I'll have a fair amount of his recent projects to review, and there's a chance we'll be working on a collaborative project that he has going on. Xanopticon played while we were talking, so I missed the visuals of his set, but I got to hear him.

After Barry and Pramod left, I checked out Girl Talk's most dynamic set to date, in which he managed to launch himself off the subwoofer and into one of the light fixtures on the ceiling, connecting with a loud snap, and then came crashing to the floor. Fortunately, he wasn't injured, but it was a scary, thrilling rock 'n' roll moment. Greg sold a T-shirt to a friend of Kerry's, and protocol dictated that I photograph them together. Greg has quite the knack for posing with the ladies. Kerry was up next, and once again he raised the level of intensity. If he does it much more, it'll be scary.

It turns out we had about 25 people, which was better than Detroit, although the audience looked pretty sparse in the large space. We hung around for a while before loading out, hoping to avoid the downpour that had started while the show was still in progress. I noticed a distinct high end to the sound of water, and realized that some rain was coming in through the ceiling above the bowling alley, collected in plastic garbage cans. The rain did taper off, though, and we loaded fairly quickly. Greg went off with some friends to spend the remainder of the evening, and the rest of us arranged to hook up with some of Kerry's other friends for dinner at a place with good vegetarian options.

First, however, we had to head to the Empty Bottle to drop in on a woman Manny knows, but who was not in attendance that evening. We did, however, manage to drive the van into a foot-deep hole (see photo), but fortunately we were able to back it out. If it had been any deeper, though, we'd have been in trouble.

By this point, I've forgotten the name of the vegetarian place in Lakeshore, but it was quite good. (It turns out that it's called Pick Me Up.) Well after midnight, then, I had my second meal of the day, a vegetarian breakfast scramble (with tofu instead of eggs). Based on yesterday's experience, I've decided to stay vegetarian for the rest of the tour, and this was a satisfying way to kick it off. For the most part I hung out listening to Kerry and his friends, too tired to say much, but interested in what was going on. Oddly, we saw Girl Talk and his posse walk by outside, on their way to the lake.

Eventually it was time to check out and hook up with Kerry's sister and her apartment where we'd stay, so we headed down to the Loop along Lakeshore. It was something of a sentimental journey from when Patricia and I were walking around there two years ago, and seeing some of the same sights. I couldn't see the Congress Hotel's sign, though, so I'm not sure if it's still in business.

After some confusion, we did find Kerry's sister, and we were shown the swank studio apartment where we'd be staying. We were able to stash the van in the parking garage, so most of the gear stayed in (I brought mine up, though). Quite a good view out the floor-to-ceiling windows, too, and I snagged some shots. After the raw space of yesterday, this was really something--and she had DSL, so mail checking was easy. After some hanging out and unwinding (and watching the security camera channel in the building), we stretched out on the floor and went to sleep.

07/19/2003 Circuits of Steel Tour 2003: Live in Detroit: Circuits of "it's cool; just don't talk to anybody"

We started late. Patricia and I picked up Manny at 10 and drove to the airport to rent the van. Manny regaled us with tales of the well-formed conspiracy book he'd just read, but forgot to bring along. Apparently it all fits together, going back 350,000 years. Who knew? We got the van from a girl who'd been drinking heavily the night before, said our goodbyes, and then it was...back into the city to pick up Ryan (Xanopticon) and Kerry (Holocaust) high above the South Side.

Our van is a Chrysler Town & Country, quite new, all kinds of motorized stuff (seats, mirrors, etc.). It's not a MINI, but it'll do. We had to remove one of the seats of the van to fit all the gear in, but it does fit. (And Xanopticon's roommates have a new chair for the week.)

We had some issues getting out of the city (well, I had some issues, having skipped what could have been a good route for a longer one. But we got out of the city, onto 79 and the Turnpike, and into Ohio, taking the opportunity to find out a bit more about the tourmates. Xanopticon doesn't talk much, but makes some really intense music. Kerry's doing some research toward opening a vegan restaurant with a much-needed angle: staying open late, with late kitchen hours. (Usually Pittsburgh restaurants are closed by 10 or 11, which doesn't help much to foster a scene.)

We hit one of the Ohio's bright new postmodern utopian rest stops, a weird combination of Frank Lloyd Wright and Morris Lapidus (a large circular center court with wings coming out, a long covered walkway held up by a dramatic spire. I picked up a coffee and a turkey wrap, the protein of which kept me awake on the long straightaways. I had half. (I did confess to Kerry that I went carnivorous for this one; he said, "We'll just have it out in the parking lot.")

We drove on to Cleveland, with its weird traffic patterns and inevitable wrong turns to pick up Greg at his place in the top floor of a former mansion, where I found the second nasty bathroom of the tour. Greg's room is quite large and could really be something; one has to marvel at the vast array of stuff strewn about. Out in the hallway, there's still the bell/indicator box to tell the servants what room they'd been summoned to, and I wondered what the original occupants would make of the chaos up there now.

Greg came down with an amazing number of t-shirts on a rack, and a partial mannequin modelling one of his dresses, all merch, but there was no way it would all fit, so he had to purge some baggage. I had the remaining half of my wrap before the van got too hot, trying to find some shade away from the building so I didn't have to smell the fermenting garbage.

On we went, making our way back to 90 West, while my body debated the wisdom of having that slightly warmed-up wrap. (Eventually it was accepted.) The drive to Detroit was quick and uneventful, but we were concerned about this show. There was a report of issues with the gallery, and another report that there was another electronic show at another venue across town--the space we'd originally wanted, but couldn't get. Was the show still on? Would anyone be there?

Turns out not. At least not right away. This, in fact, includes the people who ran the space. We were a half hour early, but all that greeted us was a sculpture around back. The neighborhood of the Detroit Contemporary consisted of some abandoned warehouses, empty lots, only a few people on foot in the distance, and little car traffic. Gradually we realized that we probably weren't going to be 'jacked here--nobody was around to do it. So we waited.

There was a little activity in the side yard of the gallery, though--chickens. After a while some other gallery people showed up and told us that there was a sheep, too, although he's apparently spending the summer out of the city. They couldn't, however, let us in, so we all waited together and talked about the chickens.

Eventually the right peopled showed up and let us in. The interior space of the first floor...is raw, but would suffice. We all got set up on the stage, cheked out the decent sound system, and waited some more. A few people asked about my setup, and it was nice to make the connection. Most everyone else went out for food; I placed an order for a steamed dumpling appetizer, vegetarian if possible (it wasn't), and (struck with a quick wave of homesickness) made a few calls. You know, the "what am I doing here? I could be home spending Saturday night with my wife" feeling. But it passed. Manny arrived with the food; I did a quick check, ate, and started my set.

I was a bit unfocused from the drive and the wait, and ended up just giving a two-piece overview of what I've been doing lately. I started with drones, added some dissonant slides, threw in some W and other speech samples. During a long fade I tried to set up the next piece (new delay times, different ring modulator settings, some new samples), and then Girl crashed. Well, I was pushing it by having seven modules open, and the software is beta. In a minute and a half I was back up, although I didn't carefully set the delays or ring modulate anything. I just went with some pure tones, which suggested that I go into a variant of "Tone Beating," although I dropped in some speech samples in addition to the usual pure tones and guitar. Overall the set turned out to be a half-hour sampler of what I've been up to over the last year or so. While after each half I got some applause (and some kind words from other performers, Niles, and another audience member), I wasn't really happy with my performance--no direction, no attention, no focus. My hope is that I can keep these failings in mind for a better set in Chicago tomorrow evening.

During the following sets I got a chance to talk to people (including some good recommendations for things to check out), and sell a few CDs (thanks!).

Jason (ex-Pittsburgher, joining us on the tour) was up next, doing dense IDM that worked really well for me. Kerry followed with a particularly intense set (featuring video projection), and then Girl Talk rocked the house in his particular outsized way. Xanopticon came on next, and pummeled the audience with his intense, noisy, twitchy IDM. We're planning on having a discussion about Pure Data later on in the tour; he's apparently using an amusing patch of his own devising he'd like me to see.

After quick sets by locals Kero and D-bit...things began to get weird. Jason was to lead us back to his loft in Pontiac, where we'd stay for the night. Except that he had to borrow some gear, so we were to go to this other guy's place first, and that place was in the 'hood. In a way, this wasn't worse than where we'd been, but still we'd had enough. It was late, we were exhausted, and we were waiting in a van in a Detroit warehouse district at 3:00 in the morning. With an eighth of a tank of gas and a van full of gear. I was not pleased.

Finally we were set to follow Jason, so I had Greg remind him about the gas situation. Through Greg, Jason told us that there was a station right around the corner. "It's cool; just don't talk to anybody." Huh? I don't know what's up with that, but sorry, no, it's not cool. We got on the highway instead, following Jason, but once on the road, he promptly accelerated and disappeared. I kept one eye on the van's range meter (56 miles before running out of gas) and we called them on the cell. We extracted information about where they were, whether or not we were still behind them, and what the directions were. Frustrating as this process was, I was impressed with the act of two people in cars an unknown distance apart talking to each other.

But we still had to get there. The range meter dipped down into the thirties at times, the needle hovering just below one-eighth as we drove through that Michigan corporate sprawl landscape curiously devoid of gas stations. Eventually we caught up and followed him to his place, a raw former retail space converted into a loft at the end of Pontiac's main drag. As we got out of the van in the parking area, Jason said, "It's cool to park here, but you'll want to take everything out of the van. And if there's any spare change or anything in the change caddy, they'll smash your window to get it." Apparently things are quite desperate in Pontiac. (I knew it was supposed to spell "excitement"--and it does, but just not quite in the way I'd expected.)

The loft itself was large, a bit dirty, disorganized, and a place to stay. I snagged a spot on the couch and tried to get comfortable enough to sleep.

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!

07/02/2003 Death Pig: Live performance at Club Cafe

The Wired Monday shows are back, but it's summer and it's hot and we're all disoriented, so they're on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. I'm not playing on the 1st, though. (I'll be there, probably participating in the improv--on the 1st we'll have Automatic Matt's turntable noise and samples, Cocky Child's smart, clicky ambience, and newcomer Temison Adoki's stunning, exquisitely crafted glitchcore.) But on the 2nd, I'll be playing with these fine musicians:

* Lord Grunge: Mighty raps and house-shaking laptop beats from this member of Grand Buffet
* Powder French: Pittsburgh's own dark ambient soundscape pioneer
* Death Pig (yep, me again): the current plan is to bring all the effects boxes for a bout of no-input ambient patterns and reasonably friendly noise. We'll see how this one goes.

As ever, 21+, $3, 7:30 to 10:30. These nights are calling your name. You are compelled. You will be there.

Well, they weren't there. But two people showed up, and we gave them a performance. And they liked it! I did in fact go through with the no-input plan. It was kind of weird not having the laptop at a show; it's been the one constant up to this point, apart from the Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar show. When I showed up, Powder French was there, mostly set up.

I got the basic direct boxes and mic going, and set up my own array of stuff--the ring modulator, Graphic Fuzz, Ibanez modulation delay, Digitech 2-second sampler, Line6 delay modeler, and the FMR Audio Really Nice Compressor to keep from sending massive spikes through the sound system. (Admittedly it's a compressor and not a limiter, but my ART compressor/limiter is much more opaque and is more of a pain to haul around.) It took a while to make sense of this arrangement, so I was glad I spent some rehearsal time a few days before.

Greg (PF) and I had a chance to talk, and it turned out that years ago he played at the Arcane Device show at the Turmoil Room (R.I.P.), which is the occasion on which I first realized the possibilities of no-input. David Myers--Arcane Device himself--put out several albums of this, of which I have the brilliant and evocative Engines of Myth (RRR) and the double (triple?) 7-inch single set. I remember reading that he retired from music due to hearing damage. Can anyone confirm this? In any event, it was interesting to find out that Greg had been at that show. I remember going into the space and seeing the outlines of Minozin-V behind a translucent plastic screen. Sounds came out from behind it, we could see motion, but it was impossible to tell exactly what was going on. Later, Arcane Device came out, sat in one of the old chairs, and proceeded to blow our minds with his self-assembled feedback boxes.

Lord Grunge arrived shortly after this, and we got him set up quickly as he had just a laptop and would be using the mic. After some quick soundchecks, we took a break before doing the show. I figured I'd go on right at 8, which is what I did--only two people in the audience, but a) I didn't know them, so this was new to them, and b) they paid to get in and deserved a real show. So I started.

The difficulty of this kind of performance is that if you have the level knobs down far enough to avoid excruciating howling feedback, you won't know how far to put them up again to get the feedback. This leeds to a lot of nudging the volume up on something, then a little more, then a little more, then--WHAM, the room-clearing howl. But if you balance and filter it just right, you can get a little ringing tone that builds to a useful, listenable frequency. The line between them, however, is a thin one. Consequently, I spent my set gingerly turning up controls, occasionally giving a little jump when it tipped over into howling. Anytime something really interesting would happen, I'd try to grab it with the Line6.

I did about three different "pieces" (it was hard for me to tell when one ended and another began, but I figured if I was pausing, and chose to dump the contents of the Line6, then we'd call it a new piece) over 45 minutes, which seemed like a nice length to the set. Some of the sounds are quite satisfying (like one sound I'm convinced is the Death Pig itself!), some led to interesting little rhythms, and a few melodies. If things got too dense, I'd dump the Line6's memory, and overall it's sparse and dark. I'm reasonably happy with it. Greg loaned me his watch, so at 8:43 I put an end to the set.

Greg's set was next, and it went quite well--very soundscapy, yet more forceful than other times I've heard him. Lord Grunge was up next, and put on a large-sized show for our small audience, previewing some tracks from the upcoming Grand Buffet CD, as well as a karaoke Spice Girls cover. Well done. Toward the end, some friends of the club owner came in, so I ran back to the board to kick up his vocals a bit.

Both PF and LG did short sets, so we had plenty of time at the end. This led to a half hour of three improvs, which I quite liked playing. They were at times confusing--it was difficult to know who was making what sound, and whenever I turned any knobs, I couldn't tell if I was the one changing whatever was changing, or if that was just coincidence. Quite a lot of fun, and our two audience members had a good time.

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.

05/12/2003 Maurice Rickard: Live performance at Club Cafe

The Wired Mondays at Club Cafe series continues Monday May 12 with yet another core sample of Pittsburgh's electronic scene. In reverse chronological order, these are:

* The insane Gameboy innovations of mad-scientist/inventor 8cylinder

* The ear-grabbing clicking, popping ambience of Rowark

* And samples, beats, and textural guitar experiments (including a piece I'm working on from raw material supplied by Madonna's "What the f*ck do you think you're doing?" .mp3, so I might do the Yngwie piece, too.)

As ever, we'll try to do a set of collaborative improvisation if there's time. What else were you doing on Monday night? Do they even have TV shows on Monday? Beats me. So come on down.

Monday, May 12, from 7:30 to a wage-slave-friendly 10:30. 21+, $3 cover. Why, that's almost nothing, especially when compared to the cost of, say, a magazine subscription, CDs, or groceries. Hell, you weren't going to eat them anyway.

In some respects, this was quite a happening evening. In terms of my own personal set...not so happening for a variety of reasons, the biggest one of which is that I've been sick with some persistent cold, and it left me without a voice, in addition to feeling physically miserable. Still, the show must go on, so on I went. I decided in advance that I'd type all my announcements into the PowerBook, and have the speech program read them. Not a bad idea, but it was a bit lost on the sparse audience. When I started, there was barely anybody in the club, although the other performers had come and Mike Klobuchar (from Clutter, and who had also gotten me the gig at Gems of the World last year) had showed up. He also helped me with my monitor levels while I was playing.

First up, I did the Madonna remix using Girl, which went well enough, though it lost focus by the end. I followed that up with a related piece using the same sounds, but using Cosmetic, a beta sequencing program from the creator of Girl. Alas, one can't save sequences yet, so I had to build the piece live. Nonetheless, there were some moments worth listening to, although it didn't quite have the same vibe as the rehearsal I'd done at home. The first couple of pieces I did, there was (as I heard, anyway) absolutely no applause from the sparse audience. Which might have been deserved, but it certainly added a weird alienation to the PowerBook saying "Thank you very much."

Next I did the Yngwie piece, which I now think was kind of a mistake. I didn't really engage the piece at all, and having the guitar non-distorted didn't work well. Interestingly, when I bring in one sample from the piece, Girl consistently overloads everything--ultimately to break it up completely--until I reset the audio. People later told me they thought this was part of the piece, which isn't bad--it does kind of fit. But...there wasn't enough coherence in this piece.

Last I did this guitar drone piece I'm doing by using four different-length delays in Girl that are on near-infinite repeat. Again, not as bad as it could have been, but nowhere near as good as the first time I tried it out. By this time, people were in the house, which was a good sign, but I don't think I made the best impression on them.

Rowark was next, doing a very nice ambient-with-beat set on the MIDI box. Not only was the quality high, but Rowark's friend Chris really got out there and brought people in! There was quite a crowd, largely due to his efforts, and the set went over well. Chris did a piece of his own afterwards, using his own MIDI box, and it was quite nice, too.

8cylinder was up next, and turned in a more varied set than I've heard from him in the past, or so it seemed to me. There were abstract sections, beats, noise, the whole gamut, and it was done well. Afterwards, we had a bit of time for the improv, but I learned too late that 8cylinder had powered down, and it wasn't going to work out for me to run back and mute him, so he didn't participate in the jam. Nonetheless, it went well with Chris and Rowark on the MIDI boxes, although they were quite loud in the sidefills. (I learned later that...I'd had the wrong monitor channels up, and the sidefills weren't necessary.) Still, not bad--another decent evening at Club Cafe, helped significantly by Chris's efforts to bring people in. So even though I was ill and to some degree out of it, there was a definite positive cast to the evening.

04/26/2003 Maurice Rickard: Live at Jozart Studios, California PA

California, here I come! Hot on the heels of the last show comes yet another, on Saturday, April 26, an out-of-town gig in the small-yet-apparently-vibrant college town of California, Pennsylvania, about an hour south of the city of Pittsburgh. I'll be doing couple of short sets during the afternoon, sometime after 12:30, and ending sometime before 4:30, I'd think. (I haven't been able to nail down a more precise time, although as I say I'll apparently be doing more than one set. Apologies for the lack of specificity, but hey, you never know--this show could actually happen!) I'll be experimenting more with Girl, and may just make the leap this time to not going through the amp at all, just putting everything through the laptop. Hey, less to haul up the steps. We'll see.

Also on the bill is Ben Cox, a fellow Pittsburgh Electronic Musician who's slated to play an upcoming Re:PULSE show, doing his layered and intricate ambience.

Directions can be found here by choosing the driving directions option.

Saturday, April 26, Jozart Studios, 333 Second Street, California, PA 15419. Free, all ages.

I wasn't sure quite how this one would work out, as it was new territory for me both physically (never been there before) and in terms of performance (I wasn't taking the effects or amp; just going direct into the PowerBook through the mic pre). That's growth for you, however--one needs a challenge in order to do any of it. I was a bit tired from helping a friend move the night before, and from my unfortunate discovery in the middle of the night that the generic copy of Claritin® doesn't last quite as long in the body as does the actual brand-name stuff. Or maybe I've built up a tolerance in the last few days. In any case, I was quite tired in the morning. This domain's email was working again, though, unlike the day before, and that was a bright spot.

I assembled my gear, discovering to my frustration that I seem to have donated some cables during Monday's Club Cafe show. Damn--so even if I'd wanted to, I wouldn't have been able to bring effects pedals. Well, less to carry. I got a shower, called Manny (to whom I was giving a ride), loaded up the car (feeling like I was forgetting something), made some coffee for myself, and headed on over to pick Manny up, which reminded me that I'd forgot the merch box. Back to my place, which was on the way, at least, and on to the deep Mon Valley.

It's been a while since I'd been as far south on Route 51 as the location of the interchange for the new Mon-Fayette Expressway, and it was something of a changed world. The road was indeed new, virtually untouched. (The idea of the road in the first place is that the teeming masses in that area, desperate to get into the city, will surge forward in wave upon money-spending wave, once there is a direct section to Pittsburgh...which might come through my neighborhood, if it's ever built. What'll happen if it is, of course, is that around 10% of the city's population which would like to move far out of the city, but still within commuting distance, will hightail it out of town to these farther-flung--and cheaper--reaches.) Still, nice road, even though no one's on it.

It was a fairly quick trip down to the town of California--less than an hour--and the town itself turns out to be quite small, rather quaint, and to have a number of people doing their best to get an arts community happening. The venue was at one time the old 5 and 10 store, accounting for the wide steps and high loft-like ceilings in the second-floor space. The room sounded good, too! When I got there (glad that I'd kept the rig minimal), Ben had already set up, and was hanging out with his wife and daughter.

After exchanging greetings, figuring out where I should set up (next to Ben, as it turns out), and scaring up a small table, I started my setup process while Ben got his programs organized and the first act went on--electric piano, electric bass, and drums. The first tune sounded very Ben Folds-like, an observation backed up by their second tune, a bowdlerized version of "Song For the Dumped." (Well, there were kids in the audience.) Various other covers followed (Led Zepplin, Billy Joel of all things) in the style of Ben Folds, and overall it was quite well done. During this time, however, I had a hard time hearing my own setup through the headphones, due to their volume, and tuning was impossible.

Ben Cox was up next, and he turned in a nicely consonant ambient set with the mighty 100-pound Kurzweil and also his significantly lighter Ovation acoustic with piezo pickups. The sound was nice, but...a bit quiet, expecially after the Ben Folds group. Arguably they wanted to keep us low so we didn't dominate the other stuff going on, but I think there was plenty of unused margin that could have been ceded to us. I finally managed to get tuned up, at least. And in any event, Ben's set was quite nice, and while he was playing I managed to get comped on lunch.

My set was up next, and I found this one to be better overall than the last Club Cafe set. The big difference was having everything going through the PowerBook--I could concentrate just on Girl, and not have to split my attention between controlling the software and controlling the whole guitar/effects/amp chain the way I usually have. Instead of doing separate pieces, I did one long continuous one for 22 minutes, starting with ambient ring modulated guitar, and slowly introducing more percussive sounds and samples. Listening back to it now, at some points it's actually kind of difficult to differentiate the guitar from the pre-recorded samples. (I also learned that my first set got written to the MD as monaural, for whatever reason.)

The texture ended up being rather nice--one feature of the software I'm happy with is the ability to apply low-frequency oscillators to just about anything, including ring modulation, which at frequencies below 20 Hz becomes a tremolo effect. I did introduce actual beat samples, but only let them run straight for a few iterations before changing their speed or putting them through granular modulation, some of which could actually work in a more lowercase setting. I kept building the layers up and manipulating the samples, though, and at a few points my set bordered on power electronics. A few guitar drones and swells put us back in the ambient camp for a while, then more beats took us out, and deconstructing them put us back in. I'm definitely in a transitional phase here.

Eventually I decided to try recording a sample of the processed guitar and then reintroducing it for processing. The moment I tried to bring it back in, however, all audio ceased for about thirty seconds, long enough for people to come to the conclusion that my set was over. Audio did come back briefly, but the set was de facto over. I had, after all, mentioned to a few people beforehand that I was using beta software, and if it shut down on me, I'd treat the interruption as the end of a piece. So it worked out.

Apparently the set was rather quiet, which Ben and Manny thought was a bit of a disadvantage, but probably worked out ok for me, especially at the few moments where I got mic feedback from the monitors or the PA. In any event, my set over, I got some lunch and wandered around for a while, just checking out the festival that was going on, talking to people, that kind of thing, although the rainy weather kept me from wandering too far afield. (Manny mentioned at one point that he'd taken ten minutes and walked around the business district.) A few folk singers were up next, and after they played I went back on.

I combined some drones (some of which came from low-level feedback) with broken-up granular beats, and finally a slowed-down breakbeat for a kind of dub flavor, before going back into drone territory, which was brought to an end by a software freeze. Starting again, I combined some environmental samples with things I've pulled out of the old film archive, treating them granularly. Going back into guitar drone and reverb sample territory, I was eventually joined by Ben on synth for a duet in the last six or seven minutes of my set. Very spacious and nice.

Then it was time to leave, so I packed up and we headed back to town, where the sun was finally breaking through the clouds. I hadn't sold CDs, I didn't expressly get paid, either, but I was comped in lunch an amount greater than the cost of the tolls getting down there, so I was happy. And it was another attempt at making a set with the new software, and not at all bad for going exclusively through the PowerBook. Even with a few crashes, not a bad day.

01/30/2003 My Fifteen Minutes: Press!

Turns out that I've been interviewed again by the City Paper, this time in relation to the PULSE performance series I'm involved in. While he does get wrong one detail about my performances, it's still a complimentary article, which is indeed nice.

Pulse at Kiva Han / Throb at Rex Theater
Turning the Tables

writer: RYAN WALSH

The freshly painted walls of Kiva Han coffeehouse's South Craig Street location are a bold lime green and vibrant, almost metallic blue. These colors surge throughout the shop, giving a sense of revitalization that matches the new ownership, food menu and event schedule. Beginning in October with a week-long Halloween series, Kiva Han has been hosting some interesting nights of music and gaming, and on Feb. 1, they -- led by a group of promoters, producers and deejays -- will embark on a biweekly series, Pulse, highlighting local electronic music producers.

"There are a million places just doing art -- I don't want that," explains co-owner John Mutchka. "I want to provide an open-mike forum for political discussion and activism." Given that one of the acts performing at the opening event, Stoic Sex Pro, is known for a piece that uses only samples of George W. Bush, [Ryan's misunderstood me slightly--Bush is a significant sample source for many pieces, but so far there aren't any pieces that use him as the only source of samples. Even so, I may whip one up for this show.--ed.] Mutchka's notions of content are surely part of what will be represented.

This is not the standard plug-a-deejay-in-a-random-venue event that has been seen lately, as the focus will be on a group of local producers that do not follow the traditional vein of electronic dance music. The music could generally be described as computer music, but within that you will find everything from dark ambient soundscapes to driving experimental hardcore. It is the fringe of electronic music, produced by a small but ever-growing group of individuals pushing the bleeding edge with their laptops, effects pedals and, in the case of local musician 8cylinder, Game Boys.

"Every innovation allows itself to be perverted," explains Maurice Rickard (a.k.a. Stoic Sex Pro) of the advent of the laptop as central to a genre of music. "[Computer music] is an invisible revolution. I compare the producers to the thousands of garage bands in the '60s." Rickard prides himself on the originality of his performances and brings a strong improvisational element with his performances utilizing laptop, guitar and effects.

To support the multitude of producers working in Pittsburgh, the production team behind Pulse (led by local event promoter, and CP contributor, Manny Theiner) are also looking to a larger scale event, Throb, on Wednesday nights at the Rex Theater with the more accessible lineups. That event, which debuts Feb. 5, features slightly more traditional electronic dance music in a much larger venue. Keeping with the Pulse aesthetic of highlighting live music, Throb's lineup boasts many recognized Pittsburgh producers and groups.

Geoff Maddock, a deejay (DJ Cutups) and head of local experimental distribution company Wrecked, has a vision for these events. "What ideally would come from the events is bringing more producers and fans out of the woodwork, and also creating something of a sustainable scene for new and different electronics in Pittsburgh," says Maddock.

The faster end of the new electronics spectrum will be well represented by breakcore producer Xanopticon, a.k.a. Ryan Friedrich. Friedrich has gained recognition lately with his recent releases including a 7-inch on Mirex , two releases on tigerbeat6 and a 12-inch on Peace Off. Other highlights include the noise stylings of Manherringbone, the dark ambient sounds of Requiem, electro provided by the deejay duo of Jwan and Ikari Bakudan, and a musical performance from noted local sound artist Jeremy Boyle. Throughout both events, expect a taste of the most progressive trends that have not exploded in Pittsburgh -- at least not as of yet.

Pulse, featuring DJ Cutups, Stoic Sex Pro, Impercept and Xanopticon, takes place at 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 1 at Kiva Han, Oakland. 412-687-6355. Continues bi-weekly.

Throb, featuring DJ Futurism, DJ Infamous and Automatic Matt, takes place at 9 p.m. Wed., Feb. 5 at the Rex Theater, South Side. 412-381-6811. Continues weekly.

So don't show up expecting an all-Bush evening, and you'll be quite happy.

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.

10/02/2002 Plunderphonic Poetry: Cabaret Xcen*trick

Two of my plunderphonic poetry pieces are going to be included in the show Cabaret Xcen*trick at the South Bend Regional Museum of Art in South Bend, Indiana. One is a poem (Tell Ya One Thing) assembled from various samples of public speech, and the other is a remix consisting of unintentional sounds from the first ("Tell Ya Another.") The first one took about three days to put together in P'o Tools, for a productivity rate of 1:16 per working day. (3:48 total.) The second one was a bit better for productivity.

The show is being held in the museum's Warner Gallery, and the sound works will be in the Project Room, located off the Art League Gallery, so I'm told. The show runs from October 12 to November 10. Try to get over if you can; it's unlikely that I'll be able to make it, however. There is an opening/cabaret event on October 12, from 7 pm to midnight--18 and older, $7 cover charge, and two bands...but remember that a) I won't be there, and b) the Project Room will probably be closed during this event. So if you do come out to the opening, try to make it back later during regular hours to check out the Xcen*trick Sounds. I know I'm psyched about it.

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.

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.

03/16/2002 CLUTTER: live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03/06/2002 My Fifteen Minutes: Press!

As a promotional activity for our show on March 8, 2002, Robert "Mr. Funky" Press and I talked to a writer from the CityPaper...and it turned out wonderfully. A description of one of my recorded live improvisations is the lead paragraph! While it's apparent that what I'm doing wouldn't be the writer's primary choice of listening material, he does a great job describing the milieu and the overall effect. As the City Paper doesn't keep archives on the Web, here's the full article by Justin Hopper, which appeared under the title Rubber Bands:

Listening to Stoic Sex Pro (a.k.a. Maurice Rickard) go through his 10-minute guitar-and-PowerBook epics is a bit of work. Listening to "It Is Highly Concentrated; It Is Pure" live at Duke's bar in North Oakland must have been akin to seeing Throbbing Gristle open a new Kmart or Tangerine Dream play a frat party. But "...Concentrated..." on SSP's self-titled demo/album was, indeed, recorded live at that venerable dive institution -- all 20 minutes of repetitious movie samples, guitar drones and computer glitches.

To a certain extent, that click-and-glitch bar-band mentality is what spawned The Elastic Concept, an erratic series of shows at local bars and clubs featuring a diverse, purposefully awkward array of local artists that kicks off this Friday. Joining Stoic Sex Pro are lauded indie newcomers The Count-Ups, barroom-blues outfit The City Slickers, genre-bending improv group Clutter, and Elastic Concept founder Robert Press in his one-man organ-music guise, Unfinished Symphonies.

The Elastic Concept's purpose and future are, even according to Press, a little bit selfish: "When I hear four rock bands in a row, by the middle of the second band I don't want to hear rock music for a week." There's no duty-bound musical mission here -- just an opportunity for Press (a.k.a Mr. Funky of Mr. & Mr$. Funky) to showcase the musicians he himself wants to see play together. And that might get a little bit weird.

Clutter, The Count-Ups, Stoic Sex Pro, The City Slickers, and Unfinished Symphonies play at 9:30 p.m. Fri., March 8, at the Memphis Room at Zythos, South Side. 412-481-2234.

The photo for the article is one of my favorite doctored photos--it's not exactly of me, since I don't actually appear in it, but one of the 6V6s from my Alamo amp does. It's better than your usual head shot, and quite gratifying for it to be in print.

But that's not all! The CityPaper also runs a weekly blind listening/review column, in which they play recordings of bands who will be performing during the week, and some unsuspecting soul is asked to provide comments. Here's what Juli Werner had to say about "It Is Highly Concentrated; It Is Pure" from the Stoic Sex Pro CD:

It's really just lots of different noises -- at some points they sound like they're on the verge of breaking into something else, but then don't. It just changes, very gradually. If I were somewhere, and it was playing, I wouldn't go running out of the bar -- but if someone told me they were going to see them play, I wouldn't exactly go running to the bar! I couldn't deal with a whole show like that -- not that it's bad, just that it's not my cup of tea. I think they're probably doing [this kind of music] well, but I don't have any context for judging it. It's so repetitive; it reminds me of when you have a dream where you keep trying to do something over and over again, but you can't accomplish it.
While it isn't her thing, I quite enjoyed her comments, for some reason. Her site's swell, too.

12/09/2001 CLUTTER: live

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

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

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

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

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


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Maurice Rickard: Circuits of Steel Tour 2003: Chicago, St. Louis, Muncie
$5.00 US; $7.00 World.

Guitar Clouds
Maurice Rickard: Guitar Clouds
$5.00 US; $7.00 World.

Lady of Pain: Live, June 2, 2003
The Unindicted Co-conspirators: Lady of Pain: Live, June 2, 2003
$5.00 US; $7.00 World.

Live at the Quiet Storm, November 2, 2002
The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the Quiet Storm, November 2, 2002
$5.00 US; $7.00 World.

The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Blast
$4.00 US; $6.00 World.

Tell Ya One Thing
Maurice Rickard: Tell Ya One Thing
$3.00 US; $5.00 World.

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