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Music Production: CLUTTER
11/30/2001 CLUTTER

Apparently, I've joined local free improvisers CLUTTER, as the guitarist Nick just called to ask me, and the drummer Ty has emailed with much the same question. Rehearsal's tomorrow. And my first gig with them is...next Sunday, opening for NYC up-and-comers Gutbucket. Should be good.

11/05/2001 Toxic Spores: live

So in the wake of recent disturbing events, I've dropped the Toxic Spores name for my performances. But...Manny and I didn't connect before any of the postering or other media placement for this upcoming show, which was all done with the Toxic Spores name. D'oh. The end result: Monday November 5 is the LAST TOXIC SPORES SHOW EVER! The info, straight from the MIT list:

Mon Nov 5
CIMP recording artists from New York City
and Korean vocalist GE-SUK YEO
with local improvisors Origami Uprising and Toxic Spores
8 pm $10
at the Boxheart Gallery, 4523 Liberty Ave, Bloomfield
(right across the street from Paul's CDs!)

Come on by and tell your other friends that you saw me when I was still performing as Toxic Spores. (To which they'll reply, "Saw who?") This will also be the debut of my new ring modulator, adding some extra strangeness to the tonal palette. Ideally, no moonsuits or antibiotics will be required. If you need sugar or caffeine, you can wander next door to the excellent cafe El Dolce. There's a good Thai place just up the street as well. Parking, however, may be an issue. You might get something on Liberty itself, but you're more likely to get something on one of the side streets. (Remember that side streets are alternating one-way streets; turn right at El Dolce/Tessaro's for the most likely spaces. )

I have, as you know, solicited comments on my different options for other names, and...the focus group has responded positively to a few of them. As a result, the first show by Stoic Sex Pro (an anagram of Toxic Spores, actually) will be on Saturday November 10 at Duke's in Oakland (on South Millvale, across from the Pep Boys) with one of Robert Press's many musical projects. More information on that show next week.

To be removed from this list, email me, or stick me in your killfile.


While not a final final gig, it was the last one under the Toxic Spores name, which, I guess, makes it "special" in some way. Or not.

After having been up very late the night before and up early that morning, I did manage to get in a fifteen-minute power nap, which would keep me from falling asleep at the wheel. The evening began with...my having to pick up Manny, drive to MIT to get the PA for the show, and then back to the venue: the Boxheart Gallery in the diversely ethnic, working class, and funky neighborhood of Bloomfield. A very nice space, as it turns out, populated with their mask-themed Hallowe'en show.

Shortly after we arrived, the other acts started showing up: the Blaise Siwula Trio with Korean vocalist Ge-Suk Yeo, and Origami Uprising, the local improv band that changes its name with every performance. (Essentially, Michael Johnsen's group with Matt Wiener and three other people I see everywhere but whose names I'm blanking on.) Michael, known locally for the ability to make a film in a day, was mostly occupied with putting together his apparently home-made modular synth, an impressive piece of work, but he wasn't interested in explaining it or showing if off while he set up.

I was on first, so I set up and then hung out waiting for an audience to appear. We had all band members, the promoter, and the two gallery owners before any paying customers showed up, but show up they did--two friends appeared, and gradually a couple others drifted in. So I started.

I revived an older set of samples from the first official Toxic Spores performance in June and turned in a relatively dense set with some repetitive rhythmic elements. The ring modulator was essential--I didn't have to worry about playing unintentionally melodically or developing any "riffs," which is something I want to avoid with these improvs. It was pretty well received. As I was in a gallery, the natural second choice was "The Good Life (for Bruce Naumann)," which is built on layers of 60-cycle hum. It's the kind of quiet piece that just wouldn't work in a bar, but this was the ideal setting. I got a mild groove going between the guitar and the PowerBook--a first for this piece. Perhaps the only thing missing was that I neglected to do the grounding-the-cable part of the piece. Next time. Last up was another whack at "The Apparition," which is based on the resonant frequency found in "haunted" places (also the resonant frequency of your eyeballs!), but which I haven't been able to do as I've wanted, since no PA I've used can actually pump out the frequency. Last time I based it on a difference tone, but I opted this time to use multiples of the frequency. Ultimately, I'll need to do both, but I'll need to recalculate all the frequencies used in the piece to make it work. Nonetheless, I had an atmosphere going. At the end, I set the guitar up to feed back, and the samples to run for a while before stopping. Then I walked through the audience to the back of the room, where I watched the piece play out while everyone watched my empty chair. Not a bad way to end it.

Next up was Origami Uprising, who did three improvs, the first with Michael Johnsen on musical saw, joined later by two other members on musical saw. (With the violin player still on violin, this left only the trombonist without a bow. They should have given him one, too.) The loud screeching of the musical saws (not being used musically, exactly) ricocheted around the room in Glenn-Branca-esque fashion and was made enjoyable by my having brought hearing protectors. It was fun. The second piece involved the homemade synth and lots of AMM-style playing of the floor tom with other percussion toys and the ever-present bow, and this time with the violinist on autoharp and the trumpeter with a sax mouthpiece on the trumpet. The third piece was back to the musical saw territory, with some notable moments of comedy, including the percussionist trying not to make his ride cymbal sound, and the trumpeter spanking the trumpet mouthpiece of his trumpet. Well done.

The headliners were a sax/bass clarinet, bass/percussion, and vocal improv group (the drummer had hurt his back and bailed from this mini-tour). Very technically impressive. Vocal improv has to be about the hardest thing to do, because you can't let the instrument guide you--you're just out there making these noises with your mouth, having to fight the constant feeling that you might just be doing something stupid instead of arty. (Or at least that's the way I think of it, which prevents me from ever wanting to do any vocal improv.) The vocalist did indeed pull it off, however--obviously classically trained, she went from operatic styles to hissing, spitting out phonemes, and general unintonated drones. It was well done, although the genre is probably not to everyone's taste. There can be something rather method-acting about it, but I can't think of any other way one would do it. The sax player, Blaise, was good, but I was impressed most by the bassist, who had some percussion toys around his ankles and bells hanging off his (upright) bass tuners. He got aggressive at points, bowing "wrong," rubbing the bass with a rubber percussion beater for that howling tone, and playing bullroarer. At times it flirted mightily with what Robert Press calls a "honkfest," but it did settle into some contemplative, evocative moments. Not everyone was necessarily charitable, though, as some stomping could be heard from the apartment above the gallery.

Verdict: an artistic success.

10/17/2001 between names: live

Obviously, I'm dropping the old name now, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop performing. There will be another one tomorrow night, Wednesday October 17, at 7:30pm and running until 9:30 or 10:00 at Making a Scene, downtown. It's in the old Duff's Business Institute building, at 110 Ninth St., in room 19 (on the second floor). Admission is $5, but they don't seem to charge you if you're carrying an instrument. The Sonic Roulette semistructured improvisation event on Saturday went well, so in that spirit, feel free to show up in a collaborative mood. Or just swing by to listen. Or just wander around the interesting room installations in progress. There may be some surprises, as well.

To get there (and park), your best bet is to go down Penn, and turn onto Eighth and park in the Goodyear parking lot if they're closed (which is what I did on Saturday), or park in the other lots off Eighth, or the garage on Penn. Hell, I don't care where you park. Just don't try to circle the building--the construction on Fort Duquesne makes that impossible. The building entrance is right there on Ninth, just down from the intersection with Fort Duquesne.

So come on down, and soak up the post-capitalistic ambience of a decommissioned business school! Walk between the paint drippings! Cover your nose and mouth as you go by the spray paint rooms! Check out the two (!) different installations which use aluminum foil! Linger in the techno-destruction-fetish room downstairs! In short, see what happens when a bunch of artists get to trash a place. More info is at http://www.makingascenepgh.com/ (warning--contains schlockwave content).

I haven't decided on another performance name yet, but some of the possibilities may be seen at http://toxicspores.net/ (a domain that will expire on June 20, 2002). Just hit reload to see a new one. Tell me your favorite! Or keep it to yourself! Write it on a brick and toss it in the river--it's your choice!

See you there (or not).

This one was kind of strange, but ultimately in a good way. Making a Scene was about turning some artists loose in an abandoned building for a week or so, during which they could paint, sculpt, make installations, perform, whatever. And so it came to pass that I went down there a few times--twice as part of a Sonic Roulette group improvisation put on by Robert Press, once just to check out the scene on the last night, and once to perform. Since my performance was in the middle of the preparation week, there wasn't much foot traffic. In fact, there was no foot traffic, and the only people in the building were other artists taking breaks from their preparations to wander around and see what people were up to.

Without a paying audience as such hanging out watching me, I set up in the room, turned off the lights, and made noise for two and a half hours. Occasionally other artists dropped by and we talked about what I was doing (and what they were doing in their rooms); some of them wanted to check out the sampling software or the singing bowl I had with me. It wasn't terribly different from just making noise at home, in many respects (apart from the other artists wandering around). From time to time I'd let the system fall into some kind of interesting pattern, and then go off and wander around myself. (For a net participant count of zero!) Arguably, this could have been dispiriting, but I enjoyed checking out what other people were doing, finding out that others were curious (although some had seen pretty much the same setup during the Sonic Roulettes), and just experimenting with noise and atmosphere.

(Nearly two months later, it turns out that this was a paying gig, grossing me all of $10. I have now officially made more playing to no one than I have made playing to a live audience. Apparently, this is an epiphenomenon of how the event was funded by the city. Your tax dollars at work, baby! )

09/27/2001 Toxic Spores: live

Thursday, September 27, 7:30 PM--yet another Toxic Spores show at Millvale Industrial Theater*!

I'm planning on debuting a new piece, "The Apparition," which is...an experiment in several senses of the word. I may also reprise an abbreviated version of the "Bar Set" (aka "Britney Spores") from Saturday's Duke's show, as well as other crowd-pleasing phenomena.

Here's the lineup:

1. Aepiphet <- well-textured experimental noise, music, and...poetry!
2. Brendan Zepp <- Pittsburgh's inimitable gothic karaoke song stylist
3. Hungry Bill
4. Leo's Operation <- They owe me a cable
5. Toxic Spores <- Your humble correspondent

Since I'm going on last, figure that's a start time of anywhere from 10:30 to 11:30...or later, but you may wish to be a good citizens and check out the other bands as well. So grab yourself a fistful of Toxic Spores tomorrow night at MIT. (Individuals or groups of individuals bringing their own, unauthorized toxic spores to the venue will be ejected.)

Future developments include Toxic Spores t-shirts for purchase, a CDR collection of the finest, hand-picked spores, and...a new collaborative project.

* Directions at http://mit.telerama.com/dirs.html. Wear old clothes, hearing protection, and an air of hipper-than-thou boredom. Expect not to be able to order food, purchase alcohol, or use the rest rooms. Soft drinks may be acquired by appeasing the Vending Idol. Use caution before touching any rusty surface, and monitor carefully any lit cigarettes Brendan may flick off the stage during his set. Be aware that my new piece may cause the jelly in your eyes to vibrate.

A rather sparsely attended show. Two members of Aepiphet showed up and did a good set, more minimal than the last time I saw them, but still engaging. Brendan's set has continued to develop, although he seems to be smoking more now. Hungry Bill never showed, and Leo's Operation didn't have all their band members in the building at first, so I went on after Brendan. My set wasn't bad, but seemed a bit diffuse to me. I did a reprise of the bar set, which sounded quite different from the other night, and I resurrected a piece from the summer, which also went well, apart from my usual MIT problem of not enough Powerbook in the monitor, making it difficult to figure out what's going on with the samples. "The Apparition," the new one, didn't occur exactly as I'd hoped, because the PA couldn't reproduce the subsonic stuff that I based it on. No matter--right before my set, I adjusted my sound sources so I could use a difference tone of the right frequency. It wasn't quite the same, but it was nice to get the stage vibrating. Toward the end of that one, I got the guitar to feed back, adjusting the delay so that it was a little more varied than just a straight tone, and then I got up and left the stage while the samples played out and the feedback died away. (I almost knocked the guitar over in the process, but I recovered.) After my set, Leo's Operation took the stage to the vocal support of their group of five enthusiastic fans. And then we all left. I did, however, manage to set something up at a new space for November.

09/22/2001 Toxic Spores: live

Saturday, September 22, 9 PM. Duke's, in Oakland, on South Millvale Street, between Center and Baum. Across from the Pep Boys. Between the Gulf station and the Thai restaurant that used to be a pizza place. Come on over for a short set of pulsing Toxic Spores, now in a new, alcohol-enhanced environment.

The lineup also includes Mr & Mr$ Funky (Ironic good-timey rock'n'roll, man), their new project The City Slickers (Jimmy Reed/Johnny "Guitar" Watson blues rock with a razor-sharp edge), and the guitar-drums improv duo Clutter.

Mingle with a handful of 60-year-old career drinkers! Marvel at the authentically aged interior! Pay the $1 cover! (Only one! Measly! Dollar!) This Saturday (tomorrow night) at Duke's.

Coming up Thursday the 27th: Toxic Spores at MIT...and perhaps an additional set of interesting stuff.

This one went well, actually. Duke's is a divey little bar without an actual stage. Instead, there's a room behind the bar with a bunch of tables, and that's where we played, right down on the floor at the same level as the audience. And in this case, largely due to friends of the other bands showing up, there was an audience.

First up were the City Slickers, Mr. & Mr$ Funky's R&B/Blues rock band. In addition to Mr. Funky on rhythm guitar and vocals and Mr$ Funky on bass, they had local arts and entertainment paper editor Marty Levine on drums and smokin' lead guitarist Kevin Kelly, formerly of the local band the Pep Boys. Incredibly nice guy and a very impressive player.

I did a really short set (20 min.) designed for a bar audience--it had a pulse (the music and the audience) and some amusing samples ("They SNAP! They glisten...they have tightness!"). I got some enthusiastic feedback--I stuck to the theory that I could pretty much do anything I wanted, as long as I kept things changing and didn't run too long. I got the set on MD by using my binaurals clipped to my bag out in the audience, and got two guys making comments about the set while it was going on. ("Kinda like Throbbing Gristle." "It's acid music for computer geeks." "It's nice to see something different than the same old thing." "It's kinda ambient." "I could see it for sitting around the house, but I don't know about a show...") Pretty amusing. I think the amusement value of the samples helped, but I was also kind of stoked, and it was a high-energy set.

Mr. Funky's comment: "Maurice! You're on fire, man!"

Mr. & Mr$ Funky were entertaining as always, treating the crowd to their modern tales of love, loss, engagement, and indifference. CLUTTER turned into a trio (they invited a bassist) and put in a 45 minute improv set that varied from sparse to melodic to noisily dense. Nice textures and good folks, too.

Overall, a successful gig. We were paid in beer.

08/30/2001 Toxic Spores: live

Remember those unfounded rumors of my playing on the 30th as well as last night's show on the 28th? Well, they're not unfounded anymore.

Yep, for those of you who missed last night's Toxic Spores set at MIT (and thanks to those of you who didn't!), the Week of Spores continues with yet another set Thursday evening the 30th, once again at MIT*. Robert "Unfinished Symphonies" Press can't make it, so I'm stepping in with a set of fresh Toxic Spores.

Showtime and full lineup will follow when I get that information from the promoter (song stylist Brendan Zepp), but mark tomorrow evening on your calendars. (Most calendars should already have the date marked, of course, but probably don't mention the show specifically.)

What I know so far about the show is that showtime is likely to be 7:30, and in addition to Toxic Spores, you can expect a vivid performance by Brendan, and an intriguing improv set by drummer Ryan Sigesmund. Marvel at the size and variety of Ryan's drum kit! Watch Brendan smoke cigarettes! Get an earful of Toxic Spores! All tomorrow night, Thursday August 30th, at Millvale Industrial Theater.
* For the uninitiated, directions are at http://mit.telerama.com/dirs.html. Standard disclaimer: MIT is not a bar or restaurant. The sole tray of soft drinks at the front of the room is apparently for performers only. MIT's internal atmosphere is 77% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, and 3% "other." Hearing protection is recommended. Your MIT experience may be more enjoyable if you test your chair for sturdiness before sitting down.

The Report:
Thursday, August 30--a mere two days after the previous Spores set, I was back at MIT with another dose. And it was good.

Let me just say that the two disappointments of the evening were: 1) since the sound guy didn't know how to use the new board yet, I ended up getting only one channel into the MiniDisc--my recording of the set is in glorious right-channel mono; and 2) I'm really, really tired of the new Edith Frost disc, which kept getting played over and over between sets.

Apart from those two things, it was a damn good night. I played a good set, added more people to the email list, got a couple offers to join bands, and was asked several times if I had Toxic Spores shirts for sale. (Thanks, Dawn and Steve!) And I got to see a band that might be the next, I dunno, Nirvana or something. (They're from Seattle, and were coming through town.)

I caught up with drummer Ryan Sigesmund, who played keyboards tonight for his set. Very sparse and minimal (lots of rests while he was changing programs), but quietly engaging nonetheless. I would have liked to hear him drum again, but the keyboard improvs had a nice quality to them. Well done.

I had actually arrived somewhat late--around 7:30, which was the supposed original start time. I'm glad I did show up late, though, as I used the extra time to prepare my sample setups more carefully. Higher level, better pitch selection, better layout. This made all the difference. I started with a new piece that uses some older samples of mine, and some from various other sources. The noise went well.

I considered myself warmed up, and took another whack at the Naumann piece, which finally worked, and was engaging, even though it's still a lot of 60-cycle hum. Layering and brevity were the keys to this one, and the grounding-the-cable part is getting more dramatic (playing the cable end against my throat). The "Tone Beating" piece was the crowd pleaser it usually is, and I realized a longtime desire by walking off toward the end of it, letting the machines play on the empty stage.

While I was breaking down, I got an offer to join a local band--which says the guy liked the set, if nothing else. We'll see--my schedule this fall is unlikely to permit. A number of people wanted to talk about the set, which was rather cool. Ryan and his posse were chatting with me, and someone from Aepiphet was interested as well. Turns out we'd participated in Robert Press's first Sonic Roulette together.

Next up was a loud local punk band, followed by The Last Great Liar, an awful name for a tight, passionate band. Great sound, good songs, intense catharsis, and the one guitarist has been playing with a broken left hand. (Your standard self-destruction mirror-punching thing. Even the martyrdom thing is falling in place!) They're touring the country in an RV, for, like, months. It'll be interesting to see what happens to them, but they have the potential to be spokesmartyrs for their generation. The CD is unfortunately not as energetic as the live show--they were a trio when they recorded it, and the new guitarist seems to bring more focus and energy to the band, or perhaps they're just extremely tight live from having played a zillion shows. They should probably record the next one as live as possible. And they shouldn't print the lyrics in the CD booklet. But keep an eye out for them--they really have something.

Promoter Brendan Zepp's set may have suffered from the contrast of immediately following the previous band, and the mix didn't help, either--his vocals were lowered to a mumble, rendering the words unintelligable. Perhaps next time...

Aepiphet was next, a large local ensemble with unique instrumentation (drums, violin, keyboards, vocalist, and delay manipulator) and a great sonic manipulation thing going. At one point the vocalist was reading a poem of his, and had worked in parts of my soundcheck ("I must remember the spores/they're in hard shells...") It was nice to get a shout-out that way. I really dug 'em. Turns out that the vocalist/poet is also named Maurice, so there was a kind of slight sub-theme to the performances this evening.

Not a bad night, and even the mono MD recording sounds all right. At least some of this will show up on the upcoming disc.

08/28/2001 Toxic Spores: live

Tuesday, August 28: open wide for yet another dose of Toxic Spores (that's me) at Millvale Industrial Theater*, this time opening for Transient Stellar (members of Projekt artists Loveliescrushing), along with longtime Pittsburgh noise scenester Powder French and Telesys.

On the menu for this evening is another whack at "The Good Life" (for Bruce Naumann and Nam June Paik), a tasty bit of whirring, clicking, and dramatic 60-cycle hum featuring some new sounds from Our Nation's Capital. This time, in full-dimensional stereo! (I hope.) I'll be doing a new improvisation as well, and probably work in the frequency-rich "Tone Beating" as a palate cleanser.

Showtime is 8pm. I'm on first, so you can enjoy a course of Spores while you're still fresh, but I'll also recommend sticking around for the other sets as well.

Rumors of a Toxic Spores show on the 30th (of which I was the source) are, apparently, unfounded. Nevertheless, check out another Brendan Zepp-promoted show that evening at MIT; I'll be in the audience. More Unfinished Symphonies for your listening pleasure, the song stylings of Brendan Zepp himself, and lively drummer Ryan Sigesmund.
* If you've never been to MIT, directions are at http://mit.telerama.com/dirs.html. Standard disclaimers apply: wear old clothes, don't expect to be able to order a drink or anything to eat, and if clean bathrooms matter deeply to you, consider arriving slightly dehydrated. If not, don't anticipate being able to wash your hands. On the plus side, most of the shows I've done to date have been sparsely populated, so the cigarette smoke should be manageable.

So the evening begins. I'm sitting in the parking lot of Millvale Industrial Theater. Today was busy, and having just got back from our trip, I was editing sounds up until 7:00, when I had to load the car and jam over to MIT to give myself a half hour setup before the 8:00 showtime. I leave at 7:15, and all the lights are with me. I pull in at 7:30 on the dot, and MIT is locked, with nobody around. Well, nobody except Powder French, who has a cell phone and has learned that Manny the promoter/proprietor is running late and is without a ride. OK, Powder French steps in and does his social duty of going to get Manny and bring him back here. It's 7:45 now, so we're not looking at getting into the building until 8:15 at the earliest.

All right! Off to a rousing start. I opt to use the time to generate some more sounds for the improv I'm considering sticking in the middle of the set.

Time passes. My friends Dawn and Steve show up, and...they've made Toxic Spores T-Shirts! Very, very cool. Steve's design is exquisite! Disturbing-looking spores all over the place. Dawn points out that I can't change my name for a while now. I'll have to wear one for the next show.

Eventually, Manny arrives, and I load in and set up. The audience...is Dawn, Steve, Powder French, and Manny. All-righty, then. Turns out that MIT has a new board, and the cable I bought specifically for recording off the board no longer works. I don't have the right adapters, naturally. Fortunately, I've brought the binaural mics, and can clip 'em to the bag. Unfortunately, as I find out shortly, there are monitoring issues.

The Naumann piece I keep trying to do is a tough one, since a lot of the sounds are based on 60-cycle hum, from Naumann's and Nam June Paik's sculptures. This muddies up the low end, and I can't hear the Powerbook in the monitors at all--I have to listen for the house speakers. I can hear the guitar just fine, since I'm sitting right next to the amp. Without a clear fix on what's going out to the house, I can't tell if I'm manipulating and layering the samples effectively. And, for that matter, it doesn't sound like I'm getting much level out of the Powerbook, even though it's turned up. Is there an impedance problem, or what? There's nothing I can do about it now...

Another problem is the rush job I did on putting the sample set back together. Without a lot of time to test how they blend, often I'm just triggering samples and hoping they work. At the time, it seems to me that they don't. I'm not unhappy with the middle section in which I unplug the guitar and just play the cable, however.

I can't be sure of how the Powerbook's coming through, so I skip the new improv and go right to the "Tone Beating" piece. (Probably better this way--next performance needs some significant prep time.) Again, I can't monitor the Powerbook very well, but I can at least hear the beats. It takes me a while to find the best way to work in the guitar--I reach for the ebow, and I never got it out of the bag. How about tremelo picking? Nope. Turns out that I can get good results with feedback, if I kick on the distortion and constantly vary the delay rate of the sampler pedal. This way it doesn't settle down into a fixed pitch, but gives me the interference pattern I want with this piece.

I consider stretching things out, but we started late, and I don't want to prolong the agony of not hearing half of my sound, so I cut it short. Just about 25 minutes, or so. Well, that's more space on the minidisc for next time. Surprise, Dawn and Steve felt that I was just warming up, and thought the set would be longer, as did Manny. Oh, well. Powder French thought that I had some good sounds going, and was reminded of Fripp and Eno on No Pussyfooting. One audience member later initiates a conversation about what I'm doing ("How common is this? What do you call it? Is it usually this empty here?"), and I snag his name and email for the email notification list.

Powder French is even better than the last time I saw him, with thick slabs of noise. (Why couldn't I have been that loud, huh?) Lots of different frequency bands, and he's using a combination of keyboards and prerecorded digital 8-track. His set's a short one, too, shorter than mine, it seems.

He's followed by No Doctor from the upper Midwest somewhere. 70s clothing, lots of soul-man moves, and...out of tune guitars that bear only casual timing relations with each other. The drummer doesn't really have a kit--he just stomps on the stage and bangs a cymbal, but he also plays sax. Simultaneously. Lots of impassioned screaming, with rock-star moves sitting oddly atop the chaos. I actually quite like them--there's a fun quality to all this, although I think the easiest way to describe it is "awful," but not without its charms. Some kinds of awful are more enjoyable than others, and this was the enjoyable kind. A couple times the lead singer's mic goes out, but he keeps on screaming anyway. All right! That's the spirit! They prove to be really nice guys, as well.

The headliners, Transient Stellar, also had some audio problems setting up, but turn in a pleasant atmospheric techno kind of set. Nice Jaguar and some kind of Guyatone. Lots of echo, prerecorded beats, and the longest set of the evening, but we're all out of there by around midnight.

On listening back, it turns out that the two pieces I did sound better than I thought, but I still need to get the Powerbook louder next time. Well, on to the next one. More varied frequencies guaranteed, and thanks to Dawn and Steve for showing up (and making the amazing T-shirts!)

07/30/2001 Toxic Spores: live

The announcement:
Monday, July 30 at the Millvale Industrial Theater--yet another Toxic Spores noisemaking set. The current plan is to perform two improvisations, the first of which will be "The Good Life" (for Bruce Naumann), and featuring some new sounds, one of which was recently invented by a researcher at Leeds, UK. (I am not making this up.) And there will be many frequencies your ears don't often get a chance to process.

Or you may opt to bask in the whammy-pedal excursions of Unfinished Symphonies, organ soundtracks to those moments you've forgotten, but which later give you deja vu. Robert Press will be wearing his Composer's Hat, so you can be sure that these pieces are Authentically Composed for your listening pleasure.

If that's not enough to bring you out, you may wish to attend merely to observe the sociological phenomenon that is promoter Brendan Zepp, who will be there, most likely with an enthusiastic entourage and dedicated fan base in tow. It must be seen to be believed, I tell you.

Here's the lineup:

7:30 Conelrad
8:15 Ryan Sigesmund
9:00 Unfinished Symphonies
9:45 Brendan Zepp
10:30 Toxic Spores <------ Your correspondent.
11:15 Terminus Est

Tickets are $5; memories are guaranteed to persist for at least 24 hours, if not a lifetime. (YMMV.)

The Report:
The evening began with Conelrad, a guitar/drums death metal duo. It was actually rather fun--pummelling prog beats, cookie-monster vocals, the whole bit. Couldn't understand a word of it, though.

Ryan turned out to be the major surprise of the evening. He set up quite an elaborate drum kit, and did a set of solo drum improvisation. Not a "drum solo," mind you, but a drummer listening to the sounds he was making, responding, making decisions about what to do next, exploring. Very promising. I was impressed that he'd even do a solo set, and more impressed when it was obvious that he was taking some risks and experimenting. Another fine moment was his performance of some jungle--on his acoustic kit. And he's a nice guy to boot.

Robert's set was another good one, with the tunes we've grown to know and love--and he got some audience response this time. The composer's hat is reminiscent of some of the hats Monk used to wear, and the songs took on an extra glow of sorts. Brendan's set benefitted greatly from his move to an all-karaoke format. While his posse was smaller this time, they were enthusiastic. Brendan hung on the mic stand, smoking evocatively, cloaking his songs of doomy angst in an air of euro-scented world-weariness. Rock (or at least goth) stardom awaits.

My own set: I chased a few people from the room with the first improv, which is largely based on 60-cycle hum from one of Bruce Naumann's neon sculptures, so it was kind of subtle and weird-sounding. I stretched this one too long, perhaps, and it might be better at ten minutes or less, as opposed to twenty. I wasn't too happy with it as I was doing it, as it didn't seem to hang together, but listening to the playback was another story. It seems to have some life, if I can just figure out how to balance the thing. (The MiniDisc isn't sounding half bad when I don't overload it.) The other piece--based on tone beating--was fun, and I'll probably do it again in longer form.

Terminus Est...had brought along much of their family. (It was, apparently, their first gig. They'd even had T-shirts printed up.) The sound check took quite a long time, and then they announced that they were "going to do something a little 'different'..." and proceeded to play a mix of post-Metallica metal, some rock, and, oddly, a little bit of jangle-pop here and there--pretty much all over the "rock" map. (Including an incongruous cover of the Cars' "Just What I Needed.") Nonetheless, the mom of one of the members was there, rocking out, holding up a lighter, the whole bit. Admittedly, I wasn't the intended audience, and their constituents seemed to go home happy.

Overall, an interesting evening, and some good connections were made. Gotta keep working that Naumann piece, though.

06/29/2001 Toxic Spores: live

The Announcement:
Friday, June 29, 2001 7:30 at the Millvale Industrial Theatre. Tickets are $5. (Directions are available at http://mit.telerama.com/dirs.html)

Here's the lineup, in chronological order:

Farmgold ensemble
Toxic Spores <----------- my nom du bruit at the moment
Unfinished Symphonies <-- Robert Press (Mr. Funky)'s Organ Bar tunes
Brendan Zepp
Leo's Operation
Orgasmic Sound Explosion <- the headliner(s)

For the taxonomically inclined, let's say that my set will be "improvisational dark ambient." Yeah, that's what we'll call it.

This email is for informational purposes only. You're not obligated to come by, since...it may suck. (As the last one went well, the law of averages would in fact suggest this.) I'll be recording the set, as usual, so you won't necessarily miss anything.

So show up (or not), wear old clothes (or not), stay the whole time (or not), and watch out for the native rodent population (or not).

The Report:
For those who weren't there (given the 6 billion people on the planet, statistically that'd be everybody), the gig went really well. The promoter (Brendan Zepp, nice guy with a massive posse of devoted girls) loved it, the guy who runs the space (Manny) loved it (he made sure to get my phone number--he puts on many experimental and punk shows in town), and Robert "Mr. Funky" Press (who had recommended me for the gig) was into it as well. At the time I wasn't too artistically happy with my improv (hey, all new, unfamiliar samples), but on listening back to it, it does have its moments.

I'd been editing audio samples for the last several days, and put them together (mapping them to the keys on the PowerBook's keyboard, setting pitch, volume, and repeat parameters) right before I left for the show. Not much time to double-check, and no time to get familiar with this sample set and how to blend it. But...on with the show.

I went on second, and there were about 20 people in the audience for my set. (Nearly a 100% increase over the last one!) I wanted to get this on minidisc, so I clipped the mics to my bag behind me on stage, set the record levels low, and hoped for the best. (Unfortunately, the levels were still too high on the peaks. Damn.) So amp beside me, guitar on my lap, and PowerBook on a chair in front of me, I let the noise loose.

It was very hard to hear myself properly--the monitors were much louder than I'm used to, and I should have put the amp up on a chair or something, and moved it behind me. Usually, I was bent over the PowerBook or bending down to adjust the sampler or delay pedals on the guitar, and consequently it wasn't much of a "show" for the audience, I think. Most of the guitar playing was ebow (with a pick jammed in the strings for extra dissonance) to set up drones for the sampler. The digital modulation delay stretched the pitch around, and the amp tremelo gave it, for lack of a better term, a beat. Many of the samples were percussive and bassy (when in doubt, slow something down), which added to my levels problem, but I made the best of it. Some spooky sustained trebly samples balanced it out, with occasional speech samples for humor value.

At one point I had a complete outage--no PowerBook, no guitar. At first I thought I'd toasted the amp, but the tubes were still glowing, and there wasn't any smoke. I tested the PowerBook, and...nothing. Nothing substantial, anyway. I reached around and tugged on the cable, and back it came, into a kind of groove, so to speak. The guitar came back as well--probably another bad cable. (I'm buying new cables immediately.) Whenever the energy seemed to dissipate, I'd raise the pitch of a few samples, or adjust the delays to do the same thing for guitar--it was remarkably effective for building tension.

Eventually I came up on the end of my half hour, killed the samples, and let the delays run out. Applause, kudos, accolades ensued. No chairs or foodstuffs thrown.

I still have to get the hang of the MD recording--the mic pres are excruciatingly easy to overload, unless you have a -20dB pad or something, which I don't. I brought the record level way down, but not far enough. some of my peaks really distort. But it does give one a sense of what it sounded like.

The sets after mine were interesting--Robert's Unfinished Symphonies were unfortunately sparsely attended, through no fault of his own. It was as if everybody had a simultaneous nicotene craving. They missed a bunch of groovy, catchy songs--their loss. Immediately after his set was Brendan (promoter guy)'s set, which was very bassy guitar and vocals over very bassy 4-track backing. I think it was very difficult for him to get things going with that setup, but when he put down the guitar for the karaoke tune, all the girls in the audience screamed at his rock star moves. It was really sociologically fascinating, as was the constant stream of well-wishers coming up to him afterward. Nice, really popular guy. Robert and I recommended that he ditch the guitar and go all-karaoke next time, to take the maximum advantage of his rock-star power.

Leo's Operation bummed a cable from me for their set, which I forgot about before the end of the evening, so they owe me one. And at this remove, I don't recall Orgasmic Sound Explosion, unfortunately.

So I had a good time, got some applause, and it may lead to more stuff, which was my real objective. So we'll call this one another good gig.

04/20/2001 Toxic Spores: live

This went really, really well--11 paying customers, all of whom applauded my 1/2 hour noisemaking set. (Guitar, two delays, ebow, ORI sampler on the Mac.) I didn't do the showman thing yet (as in working the crowd), but they were really warm. The theremin player who was also on the bill said he was really excited about the noise stuff I'm doing, and he'd like to work with me. (I invited him up toward the end of my set for a brief duet that went well.) There was some kind of altercation during my set involving several neighborhood kids who may or may not have wanted to come in, and the other acts on the bill tried to get them to commit one way or the other--I wasn't really following it, being more concerned with the actual playing.

Sure, it wasn't tunes and it wasn't straight playing (although there was an ensemble piece where I got to play some lounge-salsa licks) but it was a blast. There's nothing like playing in front of a live audience. My grad-school-addled mind can pick it apart endlessly, but--dammit--there really is nothing like it. Verdict: a low-key artistic success.

06/30/2000 Covers: Jandek cover

Turns out that the Jandek cover didn't make it in. An mp3 file is available here. Be warned that the drum machine sucks and the solo is overlong.

05/23/2000 Covers: TV cover

Finished the cover for the Tom Verlaine/Television tribute. It's available here.

For the gear geeks among us, here's the lineup: lead guitar: Univox Hi-Flyer (Mosrite copy) through Kalamazoo Model Two tube amp (with attenuator); rhythm guitar: late 60's Kalamazoo solidbody (Mustang copy) through the same amp; keyboard: $20 Farfisa Compact; bass: generic Japanese Epiphone boatanchor (great neck, though); drums: BOSS DR-660; mic: generic Audio Technica knockoff of a Shure SM-57. All of it was recorded on a Fostex cassette 4-track running at 3 3/4 ips, and mixed to a PowerBook running Sound Sculptor II. The vocals, bass, and the overall mix went through the truly fine FMR Audio RNC and the mp3 was encoded using N2MP3.

05/23/2000 Covers: Jandek cover

Still no word on whether the Jandek cover's in or out. Well, you'll have that. Why haven't I updated in quite a while? You can click here to find out.

03/27/2000 Covers: TV cover

Now on to the Tom Verlaine cover for the Marquee Moon Mailing List tribute.

03/27/2000 Covers: Jandek cover

The Jandek cover was a success from my point of view, at least--the guitar sounds good (not direct, but recorded with mic and amp at very late hours--thanks to the attenuator I put in the Kalamazoo Model Two amp) and the performance is acceptable. I could have used more reverb in the mix, but live and learn. Structurally, it was a useful exercise to do, since the original has nonstandard verse lengths, at-will chord changes, and some other entertaining features. Putting my own structure and arrangement on it was fun, and a useful education. I have to agree with certain members of the Jandek mailing list that there's no point in doing a cover that's just a Jandek impersonation. In general I'd argue that the only reason to do a cover is to prove that you can add something to the song, to reinterpret it. I'm not sure if it's going to make the final cut, so I may put up an .mp3 of this for the truly curious.

03/27/2000 recording: Dope Den

My main musical co-conspirator and I have finished mixing one of the pieces we've worked up for the new project. It has a name, but I'm inclined to wait until some release mechanisms are in place. It's interesting in that we're not playing these things as such. There's some raw sound generation, some edits, but the secret weapons are the PowerBook, Sound Sculptor II, and BackToBasics. A Web site devoted to the project will appear shortly. And I reserved the domains! How 'bout that? Not all domain names are taken. Who'd'a thunk?

02/20/2000 Covers: Jandek cover

Much of my latest cultural activity has been to work on a cover of Jandek's "When the Telephone Melts" for a tribute CD.

02/20/2000 recording: Dope Den

Last weekend was particularly productive for the new project. We've got a respectable length of material. We need to add some parts, but it's close.

These aren't tunes, exactly. They're more about sound than they are about music, which means throwing out a lot of ideas about "playing." I'll have more detailed descriptions when we've mixed.

01/16/2000 Covers: Jandek cover

I've got commitments to do tunes for the Jandek tribute and the Television (the band) tribute. Again, watch this space. The Jandek's been an interesting challenge, but I'm over the hump now.

01/16/2000 recording: Dope Den

My main musical co-conspirator and I are about half-done with a new project. You'll be the first to know.


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Live at Thundersnow 2020
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improvisations for guitar and delays
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80 84 88 92 Hz
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Live at Garfield Artworks, February 14, 2011
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Live at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, June 4, 2010
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Live at Garfield Artworks, October 27, 2010
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Live on WRCT, March 23, 2009
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Live at Morning Glory Coffeehouse, March 6, 2009
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The Furbies of Tibet: Live on WPTS, February 18, 2009
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With Guitar
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Live at the Black Forge, April 9, 2018
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Exorcism Meditation
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for Memphis Concrète
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Tell Ya One Thing And Then Some
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Death Pig (Live, July 2, 2003)
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Circuits of Steel Tour 2003: Chicago, St. Louis, Muncie
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Lady of Pain: Live, June 2, 2003
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