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Music Production: Maurice Rickard
01/26/2007 Maurice Rickard: Electrobelly2 at the Rex

It's time for another tribal fusion bellydance extravaganza with dancers Amethyst, Shanti and Astarte once again bringing their impressive work to the Rex...and this time with a narrative. I'll be playing guitar/uke/laptop, but with a significantly new flavor--one of my guitars is now in saz tuning, and it's become something of an obsession of late. Plus I'm working up some new arrangements and new pieces, so my segment will be largely new, and tied into the story. And we'll have other live musicians! In addition to me, it'll be psychedelic trance duo Life in Balance, bringing their holistic, vibratory explorations to the Rex...and I'll be joining them toward the end of their set.

Also on the bill, so Amethyst tells me:
Pre-recorded music by various artists of electronica, tribal and bellydance rock
Luminescent props and funky costume styles
Open Dance Floor with DJ Matt Monroe (Humanaut crew) (Tribal, Industrial, House music) and DJ Defiant & Godfather Sage (DC/Baltimore) (Drum and Bass)!

Come on by! You have nothing to lose but the lack-of-bellydance in your evening!

Friday, January 26, 2007, The Rex (South Side), 1602 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203, 8 p.m. - midnight, $10 Cover, 21+.

Over the years I've had varying experiences doing shows at the Rex, and this was one of the highs--lots of love in the room this evening! As happens, I was running late for load-in, but managed to wedge the Mini into a small space behind the Rex, so only had to walk around the front carrying pretty much the limit of gear I'm capable of doing in one trip. The extra is from my bringing the saz-tuned Heit Deluxe. Just as I was getting into the space, I got a call from Steve from Life In Balance--he and Ami were loaded in, waiting for me so I could keep an eye on their stuff while they checked out a gallery crawl (fine by me--I'd been planning on hanging out the whole night anyway).

Due to my not getting in the house until 7:25 or so, my available time was tight. While I was setting up, Anne stopped by with her vegan take on a popular chocolate-coated peppermint confection which was quite tasty and restorative. Awesome. Tuning went longer than I'm used to, now that I'm tuning three instruments, and the saz-tuned Heit doesn't really hold tuning that well, so I was getting a bit nervous about being out of tune immediately when my set started. I did manage to get a monitor soundcheck and be set up by 8...though soundman Denny and I didn't quite connect on a full soundcheck through the monitors. (It sounded good to me, and I'd thought we had gone through an FOS soundcheck. I had a lot on my mind, apparently.) Finally I was set up, though, with audience already in seats by 8. I hung out chatting with Godfather Sage and DJ Defiant, a couple of nice guys from DC and Baltimore with really good taste in drum 'n' bass. While I was waiting for things to begin, I saw my friend Dan walk in, and he mentioned that some other friends were joining him as well, so that was a plus. Good timing, too--in a few minutes the program would get started. Oh, and it was being taped for release on DVD. So there was a bit of pressure, but I couldn't let it distract me.

The cane dance was up first, and quite dramatic on the stage. I went around stageside so that I could make my entrance unobtrusively at the end of the piece. Nice bonus: Astarte scrupulously avoiding the laptop stand, even while swinging a cane around. That's control.

My set started with Shanti, and it started pretty much as planned--with more rigid beats at 180, gated to distortion. I put a typical guitar line over top, and started adding beats, putting the guitar line through stutterers and slicers as well. Some of the deep bass, apparently, was felt quite physically in the room, which was nice. While I kept recording loops and moving them into non-recording channels, I quickly found that advancing through the beats as I'd planned was also going to turn off some of the samples, so I had to do some patch editing during the set to prevent this.

Gradually I built up layers and changed the beats in a way that even now seems pretty good, though at the time I had some issues with swapping between the two guitars, having to unplug the one and plug in the other (no new AB switcher yet). When I brought the Heit in toward the end of the first section, it did sound good and in tune, though listening now I apparently got confused as to where the 1 was at times, and kind of drifted around the beat at first. Damn. The chaotic section I'd planned did work ok, although I really should have had the percussion gated at the time--it doesn't sound broken enough without the gating. (I really should have had most of the patterns gated into distortion for the first part.) And I have to say that the saz-tuned Heit sounded pretty good when beat-sliced.

Amethyst had relieved Shanti during this section, and by the time Astarte came on, I was able to make the transition to 130. In retrospect, I spend way too long at 180 bpm--certainly more than I planned. The 130 section was looser and more organic, with more consonant volume swells from the Kalamazoo, and ultimately the uke, doing the kind of exotic minor key thing I tend to do in these pieces.

After Astarte went off, I'd expected Shanti to come back on, but what they'd had in mind was that after their solos for the DVD, this was my solo. At the time I wasn't sure if they were coming back, or if I was running too long (I kind of was--long by three minutes) and should end things, or step out for a solo (with the uke, a bit, but not with the guitars). I did loop the uke and reverse it, and underneath that added the Heit on a drone, which maintains the exotic mood in a way. So at the time the end of my set felt kind of like a half measure...though listening back to it, it works.

So while there were some uncertain moments, my performance was not at all bad, and of course the dancers were awesome...though I'm often a bit too busy to watch the dance much. I must have done reasonably well, though, as I ended up making a number of CD sales of the earlier belly dance stuff! So, another bonus.

Coming offstage, I saw that Min of My Boyfriend the Pilot was in the house, too, and caught the last bit of the set--she said she dug it, which was nice. Particularly at that point, I had no idea how it'd gone over. Other friends concurred, and I spent some time touching base. The DJs were digging it as well. One common thread seemed to be the surprise of the uke sounding the way I tend to use it, as opposed to the plinka-plinka that people are expecting. So, cool.

The dancers then did more pieces to prerecorded accompaniment, all of which was quite engaging, and even striking in movement and the use of costumes. This is a really good group of dancers. Each has her individual style, but they also work very well together, and you should check out their next performance.

By the first intermission, we had Steve and Ami back, so while they didn't see my set, they got to see some of the dancing. At the second intermission, I pitched in to help them set up. We put Ami in the middle, with the bowls elevated in front of her on a table, which just happened to be at the right height and angle to pick up the colored lights from above, so they seemed to glow in several colors--neat. Steve's new Radius keyboard was really nice, particularly in its ergonomics--the laptop fits right on a little shelf next to the main module.

Theirs was a really enjoyable set--they accompanied Shanti in a kind of mermaid dance, and Steve's new synth patches had a very Gong-esque underwater feel, and Ami was really stoking things along with the percussion (it was a bit tough to pick out the bowls from where I was standing). Great stuff. As we'd agreed, at the end of their first piece I ran up and joined them for a 10-or-so-minute jam, during which Steve did synth, flute, and pennywhistle, and I alternated between beats, both guitars, and uke. We really hit the pocket after a few minutes, it seemed--for my part, it was when I started adding consonant drones from the Heit, getting into the rhythm of it and showing my Branca connection, though the uke (and backwards uke) and the sitar-like string of the Kalamazoo also made appearances. I wasn't quite sure how to end, and in fact probably missed a good ending cue, but Steve covered for us by launching a Shepard tone for that endlessly-rising effect. And we were done. One more dance to pre-recorded music, and it was on to the open dance floor.

I touched base with the friends who'd come to the event, and eventually we broke our gear down. Rather than load out right away, we had a beer, chatted a bit, and loaded out. On my way out, I got some more appreciation from audience members who invited me to go drinking (I declined--it was midnight; time to get home), but settled for a CD. And Amethyst and a friend of hers helped me load out, saving my back and knees a bit. And soon I was home, listening to the set, and deciding that it indeed had its moments. I'm looking forward to the DVD, as well.

Extra bonus: now that many Pittsburgh bars, performance venues, and restaurants are non-smoking, I actually managed to leave the Rex not smelling like I rolled around on the back of Satan's tongue. The only smoke in the air was the vanilla-scented fog machine. I'm impressed. Now I can reconsider playing bars.

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

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

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

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

12/01/2006 Jalsah Jam: at Zenith

A fun show, though I was a bit exhausted at the time, due to work issues, and there's the question of how well I was fitting in with the other players from the Ishtar circle--they're all working from the same sheet music, and rehearse this set quite frequently. Still, I found some textures and melodies to play, didn't embarrass myself significantly, and people said they appreciated my being there. Some very nice playing from the guest oud player, as well as from others.

11/10/2006 Maurice Rickard: Arts in the Autumn at Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills

I and the belly dancers of Wicked Temple will be taking our act up to Pittsburgh's North Hills, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills' third annual Arts in the Autumn festival. We're playing the opening night, Friday November 10, from 7-9 PM, and sharing the billing with a piano player. Rather than doing sets straight through, we'll be alternating for some variety. And there'll be visual art, as well as the ability to talk to the artist(s). Considering how great this went last year, we're all stoked to be playing here again.

I'll be playing atmospheric tribal ambient music on electric guitar and electric ukulele through the PowerBook, and I'll also have CDs for sale. The dancers of Wicked Temple will do co-ordinated dancing as a group, as well as individual solos. Expect mesmerising dance, trance-inducing music, and an open, contemplative mood. See you there!

2359 West Ingomar Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, (412) 366-0244. Saturday November 12, 3-4 PM. Map

Another good gig here. Some initial signs were ominous, but in the end it all worked out nicely. I hit the road at 5:45 and got in a bit after 6:15--surprisingly little traffic, and not any trouble finding the place (as I'd been here last year). No dancers, however, and since Amethyst wasn't joining us, I didn't have cell numbers handy. I set up, though, and placed a call to Astarte's cell to give her my number (got voice mail). I had my own screwups, in getting shocked by my Alamo amp at one point, before I flipped the ground switch. (I really should rewire it as three-prong.) One other factor I'd have to deal with is that the g-string on the Kalamazoo is now bottoming out a little bit, but in an interesting way--it kind of sounds like a sitar, so I planned just to roll with it for now, but to do any other style of music, I'll need to give the truss rod an eighth of a tweak.

I'd have been rather concerned about the time except for the fact that we were sharing billing with a cocktail pianist, who would go on first. The plan was to alternate 20-minute sets, to keep things from getting stale, and this really saved us at this point. A bit after 7, I was leaving a voicemail for Amethyst, when suddenly Astarte appeared--she and Shanti had been calling back and forth trying to get directions straight, and while she got my message, the part where I left my number was garbled, and she'd been hoping I'd call back. Great...but she did get there, and gave me Shanti's number, so I could check in with her--in her case, Mapquest proved to be not so accurate. (In my case, I'd rejected Google Maps last year on the best way to get to the church--the church's own directions were much better.) So now we'd have at least one dancer for the first set, and likely two--our third, Vitriol, had car trouble and had to cancel.

At this point the opening had started, so--I said this was a good gig--we were able to check out the hors d'oeuvres. Soon, though, it was time to go on, and Shanti did appear, so we'd be at full strength for the set. I started a similar set to the previous week's set, again starting out at 140 bpm, and combining straight traditional drumming patterns with embellished ones and abstract electronica beats all at the same time. Things went reasonably well, and I kept the vibe and groove going, though at times it seemed to me that I wasn't doing enough actual live work.

At our break, Shanti and Astarte suggested that I give them an audio cue 10-seconds before set-end, and I decided on Ash's zils from the Electrobelly show, which I had cued up. We refueled while waiting for the next set at 8, and I decided to kick things up to 180 bpm, though unlike last week I'd do it with the recording running, so that the tempo change would be recorded. This one seemed like another good one, and some of the percussion textures were setting up into good grooves. (As happened last weekend, at one point the pianist came up and talked about what I was doing, wanting to see what the process was.)

The cue with the zils worked, and I brought the set to an end a minute early, but the dancers expressed some concern that they were getting worn out--the culprit was the fast, complex percussion programming. So for the next set, I took the tempo down to 130, and the result was much more open and contemplative. This was also from my increased use of chordal volume swells underneath everything else, and building up some higher-pitched swells in Looplex, and some melodic uke playing. I think the Delayifier repeats were a bit more present at this lower tempo and added to the spaciousness. I was even moved to work in some ring modulated guitar. Modulation frequency is difficult to set accurately with the pedal, but I chanced on 168 Hz, making B and E fairly consonant bell tones. I cued Astarte at the two-minute mark so she and Shanti could dance together, and then it was 9, so out with the zils.

And we were done! We wound down a bit, packed up, and got paid--a nice way to end the evening, and it's always enjoyable working with the UUCNH.

11/04/2006 Maurice Rickard: Private party, the Bruno Building, Pittsburgh, PA

I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, but it turned out to be quite a nice evening. I knew it was a graduation party, and that apparently they'd also hired a magician and boxing midgets, so I wasn't sure of the vibe. That uncertainty aside, we had decent preparation: Amethyst and Shanti had danced to my music before, and we set up a rehearsal with Amethyst and Astarte, as Astarte hadn't danced to my music yet. I also spent time organizing the percussion samples, looking for sets of loops that worked well together, so I'd have a general plan for moving through the set. I changed strings the night before, and discovered that the winter low humidity has kicked in, and the neck has lost some relief--currently, one string in the low frets is bottoming out in a sitar-y way. Not enough time to correct that before the show, but I resolved to go with it, if it came up.

Parking was right across the street from the building (the offices where our host worked), and I quickly got hit up for honky tax. I showed up at the door right as the dancers arrived, so we all went in together, and immediately encountered the boxers.

We were sent on the slowest elevator in the world, not to the sixth floor, where we'd be playing, but to the fourth floor, which was empty. Apparently here was our staging area. I headed on up to do my setup, and immediately was met by someone who surmised I was the musician, and asked what she could get me. (Water.) Already this boded well. I set up near the front of the office, next to the DJ, and here again things went smoothly--I had enough cable to get into the PA comfortably. We didn't start on time, though, as by showtime I hadn't seen the dancers upstairs, and went to look for them. As you'd expect, our paths didn't intersect, but by the time I was back up we were ready to go.

We'd agreed on three dances choreographed to other people's short pieces (which I had), separated by longer sets of mine, and that's what we did (largely because Amethyst reminded me right before we started). After the first prerecorded piece, I started at 140 bpm, and the set was pretty strong, apart from some early uke feedback. Early on, I also dropped in Ash's vocals from July's Electrobelly this past summer, and that added a nice texture to things. I tried to keep up a regular regimen of changing things--new melody, new rhythms, new textures, whatever--to keep the audience's attention from wandering. At one point this was a bit difficult, as one of the audients came up to talk to me during the set, with some (positive) observations about the uke, and some curiosity about the software, but he quickly realized that I was busy.

I tried to keep an eye on the dancers so that I wasn't making any major changes during a single dancer's set, though sometimes the audience blocked that, which was ok--better to have a lot of interested people. At one point I noticed that Shanti had taken a tray of pizza from one of the servers, and balanced it on her head while she danced, which was a nice touch. After about 20 minutes, I made the rhythms more sparse and cued the next prerecorded piece. During the break, I kicked up the tempo to 180, and did a bit of other prep. For the second part, I kept things more abstract, did some remixing, and also did record some new stuff. I played with the gate plugins to get a bit of distortion and attack cut effects, and I did notice that we lost a few people from time to time, but we had some others taking their places. Even with the audience shifts, I felt energized enough that at one point I busted out a conventional solo, which is usually a sign that I'm having a good time (unless, like some gigs, it's a sign that I'm pissed off, but this time it was the good time sign). I did mistakenly give Amethyst a visual cue about five minutes earlier than I should have for the last pre-recorded piece, but it worked out, and we moved into the last pre-recorded piece, in which the dancers used canes as props.

I did do some outro music out of stuff I'd done earlier in the evening, though the vibe didn't lend itself to an encore. Instead, we headed to the bar, picked up some food, and talked to a few interested people. Soon, though, we were told we all had to move downstairs to the fourth floor, which was empty--this made sense, as people were crowding around computers, and in any case I had to head down there to get my jacket. This was less of a good thing for the DJ, though, who had to tear everything down and set it up again down there.

Once downstairs we hung out, talked a bit, and tried to determine how long to stay; in the event I headed out at 10. As I was leaving, some guests commented on the uke, and noted that they'd not heard this cute instrument--apparently they'd arrived late). Unfortunate for them, but it was nice to have the interest. I was home quite soon after--maybe 10:20, though apparently the party was swinging rather late. A good gig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notable items:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09/21/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

09/20/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth

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

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

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

09/19/2006 LOSER Chamber Ensemble: Drywall Macbeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/26/2006 Maurice Rickard: Oakland Square

At the last minute, here's a gig. It'll be a free afternoon show outside, in Oakland Square, to accompany a neighborhood party/community gathering kind of thing. I'll be doing the solo guitar/uke/laptop belly dance tribal ambient breakcore that I've been doing (like at Electrobelly), and I'll once again be working with Steffi Brüninghaus, which we're both excited about.

So what'll happen? We're not sure. She may bring in a few other dancers from the troupe she's working with. I may get through the set without hitting the space bar on the keyboard. In any case, we're sure to entertain you, unless it rains. That's right, we're depending on the weather to hold out, which it just might.

So it's free, all ages, and there'll be other stuff going on there, too. C'mon by and check it out.

Sunday, August 27, 2005 at 4:30, Oakland Square, Pittsburgh, PA. Map.


Ouch. This was in many respects a nice day, but I went a long way toward screwing it up. Steve Pellegrino said he'd like to sit in, which would be fun, and the general vibe was good. We followed a singer-songwriter who did a good, short set, and then we were into ours, but the problems started quickly. Sometime early on, I hit the num lock key and didn't realize it, and as a result my keyboard command to check on my MIDI configuration actually turned off quantization. I'm used to cuing drum patterns before the bar line, so that they'll start on the one of the next bar, but with quantization off, it's all instant. So that's right: I'm accompanying a dancer, and I keep moving the location of the downbeat. Great. Due to this distraction of trying to figure out what was wrong, I didn't spend enough time or attention on varying things that could be varied to generate interest. I'd also been told we'd be doing 45 minutes, but kept it to a hair over 20 minutes. Still, later Patricia asked why I played so long. (No, not too long; it just seemed that way, because I suck.) The next act up said, "Now we're going to play some real music." On the other hand, Steffi and Steve said they had a good time, and various people in the neighborhood lobbied us heavily to move in, so I must not have offended them that much...or maybe these were just latecomers. Other parts of the day were good--people were nice, the other acts were good, and just as the whole show was over and we loaded in the PA and everything, only then did the downpour start. The event timing was good. But it's still tough to get the bad-set taste out of my mouth.

07/21/2006 Maurice Rickard: Electrobelly at the Rex

Time for something a little different: I'll be doing a short set at Electrobelly, an evening of electronic music and dance, organized by Amethyst. I'll be doing about 15 minutes of guitar and ukulele over traditional hand drumming patterns...and what's shaping up to be breakcore. And I'll be accompanying the amazing classically trained vocalist Asha Black, so this is really going to be worth hearing. (True to form, I'm still working on the music, which will probably change between the time you read this and showtime.)

I'll be on at 10:30, but you'll want to check out the whole evening. There'll be DJs, a VJ, and many performances by different dancers--think of it as a bellydance rave, including an open dance floor later in the evening. How can you lose? By not going, that's how. See you there.

Friday, July 21, 2006, The Rex (South Side), 1602 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203, 10 p.m. - 1 a.m., $10 Cover, 21+.

This was the first time out for the MacBook Pro, and there were surely going to be issues: two plugins I frequently use (Delayifier and Looplex) hadn't yet been ported to Intel, so I had to work with what I had. In the case of Looplex, I'd simulate it with the dub delay plugin from the same developer (mda). Other new things: the set would be more breakcore-like, faster, with lots more percussion than I've been using...and this time, with vocals. So it'd be interesting to try to keep from feeding back. It ended up being a tough ride due to the monitoring, but the audio was good. There was a nice vibe going with the vocalist, and the dancers were really on the changes. Not only was Asha doing great singing, but she'd also brought some zils which added another element to the percussion zoo I had going on.

The attention of the dancers helped me a great deal, of course, when I hit the space bar by mistake (I think the thought at the time was to get one thing to line up with another by restarting all the loops at the same point...but of course that stopped everything). The dancers saved me, however, by smiling and bowing, as though everything had been planned, and we got quite a bit of applause. Ash and I decided to do another piece, which went reasonably well also.

Afterwards, I caught up with a couple friends who'd attended, and they said they'd liked the set, which was nice to hear, though I was a bit troubled by the space bar screwup at the end. Other sets were very well done. At one point I was looking around for Amethyst to thank her for saving the set, and couldn't find her--she was in costume onstage, and it took me a while to recognize her.

The rest of the evening continued the thread of very impressive dancing, though at the beginning of the open dance floor, I loaded out and joined my friend Dan for a drink or two at a bar down the street. Overall, a very pleasant evening.

06/10/2006 Maurice Rickard: Western Pennsylvania Fairie Festival

I'll be making the trek up 79 to Cooper's Lake early Saturday morning to play an AM gig (11:15 AM, main stage) at the first annual Western Pennsylvania Fairie Festival. I'll be there to play for Erin Price and Pittsburgh Gypsy Dancers. Erin's done several shows as part of Wicked Temple, and we performed together several times at Blue Light last year, as well as that glorious show at the UUCNH in November, along with the Konono No. 2 show in January. Wow--has it really been January that I last played with the dancers? Astonishing.

It's been too long, so expect us to dig into this show with great enthusiasm, especially as I'm ready to get back to performing now that I'm mostly healed from my broken finger. I'll be doing the guitar, uke, and laptop tribal ambient/IDM that goes so well with belly dance. Expect a positive outlook to the music's tonality, some further modern touches to the rhythm, and a general lightness of spirit (and of finger, now that I don't have to heft that swollen beast around...but please, no crushing handshakes). I'm not sure what Erin and the dancers have planned, but surely you'll enjoy it.

There's much more going on than just us, of course: our partners in ambience Life In Balance will be shifting the electrons your way, and let me tell you, they're freshly quantized and exotically controlled. (2PM Saturday, main stage, guided meditation on Sunday at 10:30, and another Sunday performance at 11 AM.) Plus, we may busk, so be on the lookout for Irish music being played on a bright yellow ukulele. (That's no more absurd than my playing Middle Eastern electronica on a uke, I guess.) So you can bask in the cognitive dissonance, as well.

Also there are several other performers you may recognize, notably Heather Kropf, as well as Candice Night of Blackmore's Night (not sure if Ritchie himself will be there, but he's been at several Fairie Festivals this year, so I'm told). (No, if he is there, he probably won't play "Smoke on the Water.")

So come on up, if you're into the Renaissance Faire scene: both days, Saturday and Sunday, 10AM to 7PM (though I'm only playing Saturday morning), and only $10 to get in. For more info, see the festival's site. See you there.

11:15 AM, Saturday June 10, Cooper's Lake, Slippery Rock, PA

I haven't listened to it at this point, but it seemed good at the time.

The drive up (early!) was pretty quick and painless, apart from construction for a mile or so before the exit. Still, I got there on time. Just off the highway though we were, this was a peaceful landscape, with rolling hills and farmland. Pretty nice.

As I loaded in (with Ash's help--thanks, Ash!) I could check out the current act, a solo acoustic singer/songwriter, who was dressed for the event (medieval gear), and fit in really well...to the point that I wondered how I'd go following him. Despite a bit of confusion during setup (how the power was going to run, mainly), we made our start time, and yes, most of the audience wandered away. Once the dancers started, however, many of them came back, and brought more with them. So for a morning show, we had a decent crowd.

The set moved smoothly, though I don't recall any standout musical moments. While I don't have to have the finger taped up or splinted anymore, I still noticed some pain when anchoring with the pinky, and on doing the pinky volume swells. This was a bit of a surprise, since generally everything else with the finger is fine, and there's not a lot of force on it with the swells. We'll see what's going on at the next checkup.

For much of the rest of the day, I hung out in the merch tent, talking to people and making a couple sales. I'd not brought any of the Clif bars we'd bought as a lunch plan fallback, but happily one of Pittsburgh's fine vegan bakers was there, so food was available.

I'd hooked up the PowerBook to the battery-powered Pignose, so I demoed the CD at a reasonable volume for people all day. One thing that became notable later was that I chose not to reboot the G4, which I've often done before shows. This was a good decision, as the last few reboots had resulted in my having to keep trying to get the thing to power up all the way. This, in fact, turned out to be the last show with the venerable PowerBook G4, as shortly afterwards, it stopped booting at all, unless one tried hundreds of times. But these problems were still a few days in the future.

Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent trying to make sales and stay warm--it was quite cold for a summer's day, and so when Steve and Ami played their rousing set, I made sure to stand in the sun and soak up some infrared. Their set has really become as tight and powerful--they really know how to draw people in. Great stuff. We didn't busk, as it turned out--there were plenty of other things going down, with roving puppeteers, pirates, a parade, and other performers. (There was something of an alliterative theme there, looking back on it.) Also, no Ritchie, but his wife was there, apparently. Ultimately, late afternoon rolled in, and it was time for me to head home...so that we could attend the free Tom Verlaine concert that evening! A pretty good day, then.

06/02/2006 Recording: Silkworm tribute record

The heartbreak of last summer was the unfortunately premature passing of Silkworm's drummer, Michael Dahlquist. A drummer of stunning power and taste (this from a late starter!), he was also a hell of a nice guy. I didn't know him well, but he seemed to handle every situation with the exact right response--even me happening upon him on First Street in Seattle as he took a smoke break from work. (It wasn't completely random; we'd had a discussion after the SKWM show in Pittsburgh the previous September. But it was close to random, and he'd handled it well.) Other meetings were warm as well, and his fine humor comes through well in the SKWM tour diaries. If you don't know Silkworm, now's the time to get acquainted. What a beautiful band.

So. When doing a tribute to a loved band who will never come back, one weighs every decision. Even before the bad news, I was having trouble deciding on a course of action for this cover. Time went by, and I'd figured I'd have enough time to finish something, until at some point I figured I'd missed the deadline. The I heard from Ike, who put the project together--there were still a few days left before mastering, and he'd like to have me involved.

OK, so a quick triage suggested that I abandon some of my intended covers ("Insomnia" and "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like" for example), and I ended up concentrating on "Shitty Little Yacht." The riff in the recorded version is too similar (for me) to the band's cover of "Ooh La La," so I just dispensed with it, with the thought of "what if Bedhead covered Silkworm?" Well, it wouldn't sound like my results, but at least I got the thing to happen.

Over a few days I worked on it, putting additional guitar lines on (three total), and doing my latest vocal trick of blending a crystal mic with a typical dynamic, which manages to add some top end to the voice. I slowed the tempo down just a hair for this cover, but that (and the long end solo) stretched it to the 6-minute mark. I went through several attempts at the end solo, but ultimately went with the first take, which was just supposed to be a scratch take. Oddly, all the other attempts ran out of ideas too early.

After I'd done this tracking, I went back through the drum tracks and changed patterns a bit throughout, and in a couple places nudged drum hits off the grid, so that they'd match with the guitar. This is sort of the opposite of what often happens in digital recording, in which the human-played tracks are often nudged to match the machines, but in this case I wanted to keep the fluidity of the time in the guitar. In retrospect, I should have nudged drums throughout, as they get a bit tedious and mechanical in places. One last change was that I didn't like my initial backing vocal--the performance was good, but I recorded it entirely through the crystal mic, so it had that "telephone" effect, which is sadly overused and rather cheesy. I re-recorded the backing vocals, but wasn't so fond of the results, and I ended up blending the re-recording with the initial crystal-only take.

Not perfect, but the end solo remains one of my favorites on record. You can hear it for yourself by checking out the tribute disc, which is actually two full CDs for $8. Only a thousand were made, so act now. Proceeds go to two charities in Michael's name. There are some fine, fine performances on this set, I should say, and it's an honor to be in such refined company.

04/06/2006 Comprovisations & Impositions: WRCT: A Live Show

It's that time again--time for another set of large group structured improvisations. The last one yielded some really successful pieces...totalling 15 minutes in length, so I've been working on my randomizing conductor Javascripts, and we now have so many potential combinations that it would take centuries to go through them all...yet we only have an hour. Expect plenty of guitars, a few non-guitars, and some surprises--hey, we'll be surprised, too.

Currently, the lineup:

Altos: the inescapable Mr. Funky (also playing keyboards) and Pittsburgh music luminary Sam Matthews. Tenors: Glenn Branca Ensemble members Taichi Nakatani and aesthetic troublemaker Maurice Rickard. Bass: Avant-gardiste-about-town-and-elsewhere Stephen Pellegrino. Drums/percussion: master drummer/SCLF member Ryan Sigesmund and percussion innovator James Gyer. What sampling kids are doing with Acid and Frootyloops, these guys are doing with sheer muscle and raw nerve.

Listen, and be elevated by hairpin turns of sudden invention and interpretation. Bask in the Outer Radiance of your mode of music consumption! On the other hand, miss it, and be one of those people 15 years from now lying about how you were there in the studio, and wasn't it great, maaaan, while the acidity of deception eats away at your blackened core. Or, y'know, just have something else to do. The choice is yours--and yet there is no delta of marginal utility! How can you lose?

Thursday April 6. http://www.wrct.org/ or 88.3 FM Pittsburgh, 9-10 PM EDT (GMT - 5).

This one was...difficult. In some ways, the difficulty started weeks before, with a significant work load, which (along with parenthood) left me little time to prepare additional scores, and also a set of complex performer schedules which meant there wouldn't be any rehearsal. An even greater difficulty presented itself two days before the show, when I broke the little finger on my right hand.

I was shopping (for baby food), and knocked a baby food jar off the shelf at the store. Lunging to catch it, I somehow jammed my little finger right into the shelving unit. At that instant, I kind of wondered what the hell had happened: my finger felt wrong, had a blood blister on the tip, and I had a couple bloody knuckles. It ended up being three weeks before I learned it was actually broken (the swelling went down, finally, and the tip...wiggled...in a way the others didn't). But for the meantime, it was a throbbing bag of blood on the end of my hand. Guitar playing--particularly double-strumming--would be a challenge. For the time being, I kept it taped up.

To maximize the scores I could generate in the limited time I had, I decided to go with the Javascript conductor for the new pieces, which required in some cases extensive revision to the conductor I'd been using. This on top of regular work, and all without the usual typing speed (semicolon and quotes keys were rather awkward for me).

The evening of the show I collected my gear and Mr. Funky, and we went down to the studio, meeting up with the others, though our drummers were a bit late. During sound check I went over the Javascript conductor behavior with this group (Ryan and Steve would know the drill here, but not necessarily the others.) We did get our drummers, of course, and were in good shape to go. "Rest" was good, as always, if a little less loud than I'd like. In fact, the conventionally scored pieces worked well in general, but we did have some problems.

The lack of rehearsal hurt us with the Javascript, in that--even as I'd programmed in rests--there was a tendency for people to play anyway if they saw their name up, even if there was a rest indicated. Also, in cases where the note wasn't specified (and in a few cases where it was), there was a tendency to double-strum (even with note patterns indicated), or to make noise. Mr. Funky pointed out that this was likely a limitation of the tuning, since one couldn't just play what one heard in the open improv piece. This was particularly the case in the very highly compressed every-ensemble piece, which went four seconds between changes. The biggest problem there was that there was no room for anyone to develop something, although there was the bonus of the tension resulting from people having to be on their toes the whole time.

What did it sound like? Throughout the hour, it was pretty much moments that seemed pretty wanky, followed by moments of almost-gelling, or the reverse. I liked the energy of some of the pieces, but the Javascript stuff was wrong for this collection of instruments and this tuning (octave unison)...and in any case it certainly requires more rehearsal. Another lesson learned is that I really need to take more control of things in this context after having set up the initial criteria. Also interesting was that the graphic score didn't work, unlike the previous performance. So that piece may now be dead, too.

Ultimately, this was an experiment that resulted in good data (mainly, don't do what I did for this one), but less than pleasing aesthetic results. Mr. Funky, Ryan, James, and I repaired to the Sharp Edge to discuss things, which was pleasant, though I still had that whiff of unsuccessful project about me. Well, lots to think about for the next time, at least. And despite my issues, many thanks to the industrious players who helped to make this happen.

03/09/2006 Open Mic Jandek Cover Night: WRCT: A Live Show

OK, the players are in place, distant contributions have been received,
and essential shout-outs have been prepared. This will be the most
condensed OMJCN ever--and it'll be on the radio.

We will have live in the studio performances (on guitar, sure, but also
accordion and ukulele), and some absolutely wonderful contributions from
far-flung Jandek fans, some of whom you may even know.

The broadcast is Thursday, March 9, 9-10 PM EST (GMT - 5, so 2-3 AM
Friday March 10 GMT). Pick up the streams from http://www.wrct.org/ or
if you're in radio range of Pittsburgh, tune into 88.3 at the bottom of
your FM dial. WRCT doesn't archive these, so embrace the ephemerality
and check it out as it all unfolds. We'll see you...on the radio.

For something that seemed certain to fail, this one ultimately worked pretty well. As the date approached, I had essentially no commitments from local performers. Unfinished Symphonies would have been there, though family-related travel kept him away, unfortunately. Otherwise, apart from the DJ/host Underwater Culprit, I had a lot of local, well, radio silence. On the other hand, there was a lot of interest nationally and internationally, so it seemed best to go along with this energy--if someone really wants to participate, they should in preference to people who don't. So I prepared to use pre-recorded work. And man, these contributions were all really good.

In the event, it went pretty well, with one snag: I used the Ableton Live setup from last Fall's J-night, and swapped channels, so that (damn!) I was rolling all the highs off my voice for the broadcast. Oh, well. But overall, it went quite well. The lineup:

Since I Went Outside: Christopher Petkus
Unfinished Symphonies: Unfinished Symphonies
Interlude: Christopher Petkus
Naked_in_the_afternoon: Naythen Wilson
I'm Ready: Danny Saul
Real Wild: Christopher Petkus
Wild Strawberries: My Boyfriend the Pilot
Lizard of the Institute - I passed by the Building
The Clothes: Christopher Petkus/Sarah Haldeman

I of course did the trio of "Niagara Blues," "Open E," and "Only Lover," although my performances were better in the live J-night shows. Jason did some very noisy electric stuff, which was quite entertaining, and at the end, when we ran out of material, we did a quick "Electric End" improv, another noisy apotheosis. Quite a nice evening, even as we kind of missed the vibe of everyone in the same room.

02/04/2006 Glenn Branca Ensemble: Symphony No. 13 survival guide

Arguably I should have posted this earlier than I have, but someone may yet find this useful. It's a kind of survival guide to playing the piece, including various things I found that made life easier.

* Notation: If you're not much of a reader, that presents some difficulty, but it's not insurmountable. You're halfway there with your rhythm notation, so I have a suggestion for the pitch half of the equation.

As someone who's played guitar for many years, I tend to think of the guitar as being "in" E, since that's how the lowest and highest strings are usually tuned. As a tenor, though, my guitar was tuned to all B strings (octave unison), which I found to be disorienting during the 2004 sessions--I'd often have to double-check what fret I should be playing by looking at the fretboard, doing a quick recalculation in my head, and playing that note. The problem was, in certain sections there was no time for that, and looking away from the score led one to getting lost quickly.

So this time, I cheated my writing fret numbers for each note above or below the note head, depending on which set of strings the note is played on. (For the thinner strings/higher notes, write above the staff; for the thicker/lower, write below the staff.) To save time, i did this only for "new" notes--for the static sections requiring the same notes over and over, I didn't have to do that much writing. This was my sanity check, so I wouldn't have to keep translating from E to B, and I think it'll help you.

* Getting lost: This happens. Fortunately, if you're watching John conducting, he's doing the following:
1) keeping the beat with his left hand (as I recall). 1 is down, 2 is left, 3 is right--though I may have that reversed, and 4 is up. At the very least, you know where the 1 and the 4 are.
2) with his right hand, he's indicating which bar we're in during the current set of ten bars (this gets a bit tricky above five, but you can follow his system)
3) on any 9th bar, he holds his hands up to remind you that we're coming to a 10th bar
4) on many of these bar changes--5s, 9s, and 10s, he mouths the number of the new bar.

With all that going on, if you're not sure where you are, it's ok to stop playing for a bit, watch John, and look at your score. That way, you can see what's coming up, and get back into the piece at a predictable spot.

I also found that if I got lost, I could keep one eye on John and one on Reg, our section leader. In several sections, I knew what we were supposed to be doing in general, but not necessarily what we were doing right this moment, so keeping an eye on Reg was helpful--as Glenn's wife, she was obviously very involved in the preparation of the piece (according to Glenn, she did all or most of the copying), so I'd figured that she would know what to do. If you're not in Tenor 1, watching her does you no good, but watching your section leader can help. I was also lucky in that from my seat, when I watched John, I could see Reg quite clearly in my peripheral vision. Luck of the draw, but if you're in the front row, that's a benefit. (The problem with being in the front row is that the audience can see you looking at the other players.)

* Score management: Dealing with loose score pages is a nightmare. I was able to do this for the first version of the 13, but this version goes by way too fast for that. The first day was a real struggle, with all those loose sheets flying around. Some people came prepared, with their scores bound at Kinko's or somewhere, which made page turning easy. I ended up taping each movement together in a long sheet, and then folded each accordion-style. This worked fine, although I should have paginated differently--I forget how I was doing it, but my pagination had my page turns occurring one page before/after Reg's page turns, and that occasionally made me think I had lost my place when I hadn't. There's something reassuring about everyone turning pages at the same time.

Bring a pen or a pencil for in-the-moment notations or corrections. If they're still using Encore, they'll still be making corrections.

* Amp: Make sure you have a loud enough amp: 25 or 30 watt output at least, and two 10" or one 12" speaker, at least. A few people had little amps that had to be pushed into distortion in order to be heard, and they sounded awful. If you're using a tube amp and a guitar with older or weaker single-coil pickups, consider adding a preamp to your signal chain. In 2004, by the end, I was running my amp on 10. It didn't blow, happily, because takes were short then, but for a full performance, I'm sure the amp would have suffered. Knowing this, I brought a preamp this past time, and was able to keep my amp at 6 the whole time.

Other people's amps did blow fuses and tubes, so it's a good idea to have spares. I had a spare for each tube in my amp, though I would have been screwed if I'd have blown a fuse.

Guitar: Just make sure everything's stable. You don't want the output jack connections breaking in the middle of the show. Make sure that your double-strumming position is comfortable. If you find that you're continually cutting yourself or whacking your hand against something, the damage is going to accumulate during the rehearsals and performance. Some bridges are ideal for this kind of playing (like the wraparound LP Jr bridge on my old Kalamazoo), but some have a lot of exposed metal sticking up, which you'll have to watch out for, avoid, or put tape on or something.

How's your guitar's intonation? Does it play in tune all the way up the neck? If not, then I'd look into having it properly set up. One can do this oneself (I do). If you like the action of the guitar (proper string height, no buzzes, no dead spots) and the only problem is your intonation, you can adjust this at the bridge: see this link. If you have other issues, like action, neck bow, dead spots, etc., I'd take the guitar to a shop for a setup. The intonation would be different for the octave unison tuning, so you should mention the tuning to the shop. (If they're jerks and give you a hard time about the tuning, go elsewhere. They'd probably do a bad job anyway.)

Strings: I had good luck with GHS strings for these sessions. Very little breakage. Whatever strings you use, it helps to bring a bunch of them for your own use. The community string bag is a helpful fallback, but I found I broke those a lot more easily (Dean Markley). If you're breaking a lot of strings at the bridge or the nut, you might want to lightly take a slot file or nail file to the string slot there to even out burrs or other irregularities. There's a lot of back-and-forth motion for these strings over two/three days, which means the string rubbing over the same contact points again and again. If you're getting consistent breakage of one string in one place, a burr is most likely your problem. Also, when you're changing strings, it helps to draw back and forth through the nut groove with a pencil. That prevents string binding when you're tuning. Some people spend money on graphite nuts; you can get the same effect with a pencil.

I suggest having a complete fresh set to put on immediately after the last pre-show rehearsal. Go into the show with a fresh set of strings (even if there's life left in the ones you have on), and you probably won't break any during the show.

If you have a pocket electronic tuner, bring it. If not, someone around you will have one.

Picks: I used the Clayton .94 mm. Indestructible. As a comparison, I really ground down a conventional pick in the 2004 session: see this photo (Control unused pick on the left, with two post-Branca picks on the right. The middle one only lasted one six-minute take. The Clayton is at the far right--and it's the one I used consistently throughout the 2004 sessions.) Bring a lot of them.

Other necessities: Bring a couple power strips, and mark them as yours. I brought two, and immediately after plugging them in, everyone else around me plugged into them (happily, leaving me with the two slots I needed). I did get them back at the end, and I was glad I brought them. Bring a string winder and wire cutters for quick string changes. Bring an extra guitar cable or two. Any little screwdrivers or hex wrenches you usually use for adjustments to the guitar, bring 'em.

Gig bags are better than cases, unless your guitar is really fragile. I was able to fold my bag up under my chair, and thus had access to my spare strings and tools as I needed them, without having to go offstage for all that.

Food/comfort: If you're vegan, let the organization know before the first day--preferably as early as possible. I assume these days are being catered, or food's being brought somehow. The vegan food is always better than non-vegan, and so non-vegans seem to scarf up the vegan food before the vegans get to it, leaving the vegans with nothing. This was an issue in Montclair. But if you're vegan, get on the list so that they know how many meals to set aside.

I brought a stainless steel vacuum bottle for espresso--I'd buy a quadruple shot in the morning on the way in, put it in the bottle, and then have access to good coffee throughout the day. Good also if you're a tea drinker--it's good to leave a couple of bags of Throat Coat steeping for several hours if you're feeling a cold coming on. Keep a few of your preferred energy bar brand in your bag for that late-afternoon slump.

Conduct: In NJ, some people got a reputation for annoying others by noodling between takes ("Sunshine of Your Love," "Stairway to Heaven," etc....all of them *can* be played in Octave Unison, but should not be), or by not following John's instructions, notably on the very end of the piece, where we have to watch him for the signal to mute our strings on the last downbeat--no continued sustain or anything; we want a blast of absolute silence. During the last rehearsals on the second day, one guy consistently would not stop when John signalled us. Several times, over and over. "Oh, I guess I wasn't paying attention." Don't be that guy. Watch the conductor.

Practicing between rehearsals is fine, as long as you roll off all the volume on your guitar, or do what I did: since my guitar has two volume/tone controls (one pair for each pickup), I used the bridge pickup as my "live" channel on 10, and the neck pickup rolled off to 0 as my practice channel. At the end of a take, I'd flip the switch to the dead channel so that any practicing I did was acoustic. It's fine to practice sections of the score that are giving you trouble. I think that's generally appreciated, but noodling is not.

Oh, and do make an effort to follow the dynamic instructions. There's only p and f, but people really want to play this f all the way through. I think it'll be appreciated if you try to play p where marked.

Misc: Hearing protectors are essential, but you probably knew that.

As for knowing the parts, I would play through them as much as you can. If I had to suggest a private rehearsal regimen, I'd say try to play through one movement a night, which would give you two full playthroughs before the real rehearsals start. Do you have a metronome? It'd help. I'd try your first rehearsals at a slower tempo, and then start upping it. You won't feel very comfortable doing rehearsals on your own, but the time you spend now will pay off when you get to the group rehearsals and the show--things will begin to look familiar, and you'll encounter little oases where you know exactly what to do. Enjoy those sections, and don't worry about the ones that might give you trouble.

I did indeed have a good experience overall, though I did have a bit of a slump on the first day, so don't worry if you feel the same thing. (What am I doing here, this is too hard to play, I'm screwing up, etc.) If you do feel that way, definitely go back for the next day, and you'll likely feel a lot better by the end. It is an ultimately exhilarating experience, I think, and quite enriching.

02/02/2006 Glenn Branca Ensemble: Hallucination City: Symphony No. 13 for 100 electric guitars

Day 0
In 2004, I took part in composer Glenn Branca's recording sessions for his Symphony No. 13, Hallucination City, which requires 100 electric guitars. It was a volunteer gig, a fair amount of work, and quite a blast. I was curious as to why it wasn't coming out, and in mid-2005, Glenn emailed us to say that the 2004 sessions weren't usable, so we'd be going at the piece again in early 2006 at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ.

I really like this piece, and was happy to see it through to its conclusion, so I set up a place to stay (with a friend and fellow player), and waited for the parts to come out, as Glenn was changing the structure of the piece.

A week or two ago, we started getting our parts--less lead time than the last one, and these parts were substantially different. It's more rhythmically complex, with new techniques (not double-strummed throughout, but with periods of individual downstrokes, or regular downstrokes), with shorter rhythmic notation (eighths, dotted eighths, and sixteenths, often tied across bar lines). It's really a different piece, and I regret to say that I prefer the earlier version for a few reasons: the earlier one was easier to play, had a much slower tempo, and was a great example of getting complex results from simple ingredients; there were some devices in the older one that I found to be very elegant, like a series of climbs up alternating wholetone scales, and a clustered call-and-response section. Perhaps this one will grow on me when I hear the recording (and hear the last movement), though.

I also was not been able to get enough rehearsal to feel really comfortable with my part--the greater complexity requires more time, and that's been difficult on the shorter lead time we've had. So I tried to mitigate that by retranscribing it into the notation program I usually use, so I can hear the piece (some of these sections are simple to play--they're just difficult to play at precisely the right time)...but that's a long process, too. So I'm showing up and doing my best.

I left late on the drive up (1:00, since I'd had to take care of a number of things, and at the last minute turned back to bring my power strips), and with a few stops arrived at Fred's place after 8. Very nice to be met at the destination--friendly folks, friendly dog (after my short probationary period), and some hang-out time before getting to sleep. Readers of my account of the Kaufman-Astoria sessions will note that this first night was much, much better than the last time.

Day 1
As concerned about my readiness as I was, I still didn't get any practice time in before we left. There were, of course, things to do--send business-related emails, pack the car with both guitars and amps (everything fit in the Mini just fine), etc. Great weather, though Fred pointed out the oddness of seeing young mosquitos in the condensation on the Mini's roof. In February, I remind you. It was about a half hour to Montclair, not bad at all. Directions were clear, as well--where to go, where to park, etc. On the way up to the garage, I saw composer Lloyd Mair, one of the bassists, walking with one of the tenors. Great to see him in the group for this one.

We parked, schlepped the gear down to the stage, and found our places. Oddly, there didn't seem to be room for me, although it was just that my seat was going to be at the front, and on the edge of Tenor 2. All right, no problem. I was still in Reg's section, and would be sitting next to Marlowe Stern, a guitarist from the NY area. Ben Miller was back in Tenor 1, as well, and it was good to see him. I'm glad I remembered the power strips, because the nearest power breakout was over by Ben. I set myself up with some power, and a few minutes looked back to see the strips almost filled. Wow. I looked around and saw a few other familiar faces: Wharton Tiers, Joe Fogarazzo, and some other people whose names I didn't know.

Giving in to my feeling of unpreparedness, I practiced various sections, and got rather more uncomfortable, shuffling score sheets around, trying to count, etc. Unlike the last time, instead of having Glenn do the conducting, John Myers would be our conductor. For me this was fine, as he was very helpful last time, though I wondered what the audience might think. Would they expect to see Glenn conducting, and be disappointed? Ultimately John went around to everyone and asked for us to play a note, turn up, turn down, etc. I ended up diming the amp, which didn't seem good, going through three days of playing, and I was sure I'd be asked to turn up eventually, so I'd need to find a good time to put in the pre.

After a while, we were ready for a run-through, and I learned how clueless I was. The fingering was easy, but the timing was hard for me on the more syncopated parts (dotted eighths and sixteenths, ties across the bar, etc.). Once I got on the train, so to speak, I was ok on the dotted quarters, but once it got to the dotted eighths, I had about a 50% chance of hitting the note at the right time. Disheartening. Other parts of the movement weren't much better for me, and I found myself looking at Reg's hands quite frequently for cues. After this, I brought in the EH preamp, thanks to the power cord swapping help from my neighbor behind me in Tenor 2. With the preamp, I was able to bring down my master level considerably, and I ended up with better tone, too. Bonus.

We broke for lunch in the green room at the back of stage left, where I learned that in New Jersey, cheese is a vegetable. I chatted with Fred and Lloyd, among some others, meeting a few people, including photographer/musician Jodi as well as Matt from Bellini, who were playing Travis Beans. Once again, lots of good gear in the house--another Tenor 1 was playing a gorgeous black Hagstrom, and the gentleman on my right was playing an aluminum-neck Kramer. We decided that if he noted my attention drifting, he'd give me a whack with the Kramer's tuning fork head.

On the next run-through, Glenn determined that the front row was too loud, so we'd lay our amps on their backs. The result of this is that I can hear myself really well. It also means that my fellow players can hear me screw up quite clearly, which is potentially humiliating. But we moved on, rehearsing the first and second movements, while I learned just how far out of trim I was. One problem was that I didn't have a good page turning system. I had just loose sheets, and was taking advantage of the wide music stand to go three across to reduce page turns, but that introduced two problems: what to do with each page as it was discarded, and (if I didn't take care of that right away) remembering to do so. On at least one occasion, I started playing page 5 instead of page 8 because I'd forgotten to move the middle page. Clearly, I'd have to work something out. My first inclination was to have everything taped together accordion style, though I noticed Marlowe, my neighbor to the left, running into trouble with the whole long string of the score just flopping off the side of the stand. Something to think about.

Soon enough, we reached the dinner break. I'd initially thought we'd just stick to the green room for dinner, but instead the college set up a buffet in a private dining hall a short walk away. What little I've seen of the college is quite pleasant, and they have one heck of a view of the city from that 7th-floor dining hall. I sat with Lloyd, Joe (turns out he's doing quite a lot of live sound, engineering, and playing in bands; the dude's hard core), and some other folks. I talked some, though I tried to keep some head space for marking up my score with (I hoped) helpful notes indicating repetitions of larger patterns in the piece. These ultimately weren't helpful at all, and I should have spent time marking beats and fret reminders, since it's always a struggle not to think in terms of E, which I usually do.

So back down to the stage, where I now saw that to capture the Tenor 1 section, our engineer Liz had suspended a mic pretty much right above me. While I have complete faith in her engineering, I did wonder if it was a good idea to put the mic over the guy who sucks. We worked on the second and third movements, for which I was still rather lost. For the second movement, my problem was that the tempo is much faster, and that I'd not spent enough time with it. It's another wholetone climbing section, so the concept is clear, but there are a few brief backtracking sections, as well as alternations between double-strumming, single hits, and tremolo strumming--basically all our different techniques, as well as variations within each climb. I found it easy to get lost, as has been happening with these.

The third movement was also difficult, once again for knowing when to come in. It's a cluster section, so hitting the exact pitch isn't critical, but hitting it at the right time is critical--lots of rests between short blasts--and I didn't often do that in this run-through. At this point, I wasn't feeling too great about this piece, largely due to my poor performance. Still, a cursory glance at the fourth movement showed something fun, especially at the end, with an instruction to "detune" and another just saying "random." By this point, I realized that I was keeping my eyes open for long periods of time, and they were getting quite red, so I'd have to pick up some drops.

We broke up for the evening, and while Fred and I left our amps, we took our guitars and scores (and I also took the EH pre). We did stop to pick up the eye drops, so I'd have some relief. Back at his place, I checked email while he did family things; then we got a late bite to eat, and talked for a while. It also happened to be a significant birthday for me, so I called home and touched base with friends. Happily, there wasn't any big deal made about it, though it did feel odd to have a day of such sub-par performance mark the occasion.

Day 2: Dessert of Vengeance
I'd wanted to practice in the morning, but didn't get much time before having to head over, due to the twin necessities of marking up the score, and taping my score sheets together (which I did, though I didn't get to mark up the score all the way). We're falling into a routine--stop for espresso, put it in the vacuum bottle, go down to Montclair, get settled, do some practice. Same deal today, though there were changes. For one, my neighbor on the right got some new company in the person of a young man with an Eastwood copy of a Guyatone. (He said that with some setup tweaking, it was a really good guitar.) For another, I was staring to gain competence with this piece of music. I wasn't able to count the dotted eighth sections, but I was getting better at feeling them, and thus play them correctly.

And because I was now more comfortable with the piece (probably everyone else was, too), my performances are stronger. And now that we were playing it better, I liked it more. Run-throughs of the first three movements were more solid, and I was feeling that locking with everyone else. Still, there were mistakes--my concentrating too hard on one aspect of the score (say, a switch from the usual chords to full bars) and blowing another (wrong note).

In the break room, cheese was once again a vegetable. New signs were up--apparently the vegan selections looked much better than the non-, since they were all gone. Sadly, they were gone before the vegans could have any, so there were signs cautioning people to stay away from those selections if they weren't official vegans. I hung out with Ben during lunch, and he pointed out that the March rhythms were at times five over four, which he was counting, and he gave me some tips to that effect.

Afternoon practice was stronger, particularly the rhythms in March (the first movement) now. I'm not counting them as such, but I'm feeling them better, and I can get back on the train when I fall off. As a group, one of our problems has been managing the dynamics. While the previous version was something of a monolith, this one is more like ocean waves, with some parts swelling up and cresting over others, then receding and revealing them. There are only two dynamic levels here (p and f), but even that can be hard to manage for a large group of guitarists. And no, the old joke doesn't apply here. ("How do you get a guitar player to turn down? Put music in front of him.") So we needed to work on getting quiet for the quiet parts.

For one of these practices, John worked with us in sections--apparently Tenor 1 is the rhythm section for March, and we could hear our parts better in isolation. At either this point or close to it, Glenn decided that us 1s should play our non-double-strummed notes as f throughout this section, so they could be heard. Afterwards, while the Tenor 2s and Alto 2s were practicing, I went wandering around, and was stunned at how great even just a few players sounded from up in the balcony. If I were seeing this as an audience member, I'd want to be up there, and I hoped there was a stereo pair up there somewhere to record it. (Turns out not, but there is a pair above the conductor.)

At dinner I sat with with Fred, Lloyd, Joe, and other folks. Much of our conversation dealt with modern composers we'd been listening to, favorite Branca pieces, analyses of this piece. We'd have to be somewhat obsessed with this stuff to do this as volunteers, many of us coming in from way out of town (and some from the West Coast, even). Many different perspectives on this stuff. Lloyd is a fan of Branca's third, though of course Lloyd's own work sounds nothing like it. (One of Lloyd's pieces is just incredible--a Spanish church organ section with field recordings. Really gorgeous stuff.)

Back on stage, we did more rehearsals, working on the dynamics more, and finally getting into the last movement, which did in fact involve detuning on a long double-strummed open chord (hard to keep this as p; we keep wanting to open up), followed by several specific rhythmic patterns, and finally random playing--play anywhere on the neck, or not at all (though "No 'Louie Louie'," as Glenn and John pointed out). It sounds quite...well, it's hard to say what it sounds like. I can hear myself, and hear everyone else, though all that microtonal blending sounds like white noise, but also not. And I quite clearly sense that I'm missing a lot of it with hearing protection in, but if I took the plugs out, I'd miss a lot of it due to eardrum rattling. (Glenn says, "I've done this before, and it always sounds the same." He also mentioned that it was "great" and that he'd thought of working on a full-length piece of the detuned stuff, which could be interesting, if he did it. Or it would have to be interesting, in that it would be easy to do it badly, and making it a good, rigorous piece would require a smart structure.) So with all this microtonal stuff blasting for fifteen seconds, we watch John, and on his signal, we mute the strings instead of letting the piece ring out. Unfortunately, someone keeps not muting his strings, though. Several times. I'm really wondering what's up with that--if it's more "band-practice" mind, or something else. We never did get it right before it was time to end for the evening.

Once again, we had a late night of conversation, though this time I had a lot more energy, pumped up from the feeling of getting more competent with this piece.

Next, day 3: performance

After last night's late conversation, I was up early, again. I checked mail, ate breakfast, and did a bit of marking up of the the score, though I'd thought I'd take some time to update my notes, and possibly even post some of this. (No dice.) Fred had errands, so he left early on his own, and the rest of the family had Saturday commitments, apart from Fred's eldest, with whom I ended up talking film for a while--he has quite an advanced engagement in cinema, and it was interesting to hear his take on various films, many of them outside the usual teenage scope. So I didn't get around to doing any blog posting, but no matter.

I got ready and headed into town for the usual coffee. I'd also wanted to stock up on some provisions for the session and the trip back, so thanks to Fred's wife, I had directions to Trader Joe's, where they had some natural energy bars to keep me going. Meanwhile, I called Steve and Ami back home to touch base, though there wasn't enough time or cell phone battery life to do a full update other than tell them how positive I was feeling about this piece now.

My directions to the GSP were good, and I headed in the right direction, but I turned off one exit too soon and called Fred, who reassured me that I could get there anyway via this route. A few 180s later, yeah, I came out somewhere that looked familiar. In fact, I pulled into the garage right behind Fred, so we had coordinated timing again. I'd been concerned about being late, but the 1:00 start time actually was lunch, so I wasn't keeping anyone waiting.

Cheese was still a vegetable, but that was ok. I did finally see some vegan lunches, and man, they did look good, which explains why they were pilfered on the other days. Turns out, vegans had given up on being fed, and just preemptively made their own arrangements. I did chat a bit with one of the Tenor 5s from last time (sadly, his name escapes me; nice guy, recently moved to New Mexico), speculating about the reasons the last sessions never came out. I had to leave the conversation, though, as I had to get back to rehearsing--I'd wanted to concentrate on the third and fourth movement, but also refresh on the second if I could.

I kept marking up my scores, realizing now that my plan of early yesterday (count the number of bars in each new playing pattern) was largely unhelpful. More useful was to write fret reminders, so I wouldn't get confused with the B root of the strings, also to write rhythmic notations (too late for that, really; it'd been better if I'd have done it earlier), and just plain play through the piece. Since my pattern-counting notations often conflicted with the fret reminders, I ended up doing a lot of scratching out. I wasn't being too quick on the uptake here, though I did get a chance to play at least some of these sections.

John came out to have us rehearse the last movement and its end a bit more, as well as when/how to stand at the end, when presumably we'd be basking in the audience's applause. I notched my strap up a bit more, all the way to the top, in fact, silly though it might look--the goal here was to avoid banging the guitar into the music stand, and also to keep it high enough to make the double-strumming easier.

Rehearsals of the end seemed to go a bit smoother this time, and then it was back into rehearsing parts of the other movements. At this point, my memory becomes rather fuzzy (we're a week out from the experience as I write this), but there were several breaks as people swapped out blown amps, or amp fuses. There was an additional delay in dealing with one of the tenors behind me, whose tiny amp went into overdrive pretty quickly, and in fact was just plain distorting. Nice amp, but the distortion stood out to me against the loud, clean background of the rest of the ensemble. John felt it was extra texture, though, and wasn't too worried about it, and in any case there was little that could be done if that was the player's only amp.

Around this time, the paths in and out of the theater were locked down, or at least changed somewhat, as Glenn expressed some consternation that he wouldn't be able to go right out of his dressing room and onto the stage, as he'd done throughout the sessions so far. Instead, he'd have to wind around backstage a bit, apparently, for reasons that weren't made clear by the staff.

After these interruptions, John asked us to play through the piece, front to back, as a dress rehearsal for the performance. With no audience to distract us, and having played through the sections as many times as we did, the energy seemed really good. I was better focused than I'd been other times during the week, and everyone seemed similarly on top of their parts. Things felt really good here, and the piece seemed glorious in this realization--indeed, waves of other sections cresting over ours, the syncopation of the 1s holding a rhythmic tension, the fast climbs of the second movment, the resonating dissonances of the third, the chaos and blast of silence at the end of the fourth. And finally, after all this time, I was hearing the re-emergence of different themes throughout the piece. This piece is really quite something.

After the full rehearsal, there was a break while photographer Paula Court took some promo pictures (posing him against the little distorting amp!), and some other players held up their guitars behind him. While this went on, I decided I'd restring entirely, to minimize the chance of breakage during the show. Once I'd done this and tuned up again, I heard Paula asking for a third guitar, so I figured I might as well step in and get the Kalamazoo into some shots. While it seemed pretty clear that she was just focused on Glenn (these were his promo shots, after all), there were a bunch of other photographers getting these shots as well. It was weirdly like being at a press conference or something. In a lot of them, I'm looking down at Glenn--not my best angle, but I didn't want to whack him in the head or anything, especially with the notably heavy Kalamazoo. Turns out, a lot of these non-official shots are pretty good, and the ones taken by my fellow Tenor 1 Marlowe Stern are very good. Check out the photo section.

After the photo op, Paula showed us the shots she'd been getting, and she mentioned that she'd tried to get at least one of each player, but that she'd not gotten around to a few of us, me included. So as a quid pro quo for my holding the prop, she took a number of shots of me, which should be pretty good. (And she did the same for the other propmeisters.) Later I learned just how many portraits of influential musicians she's taken over the years--interesting company to be in.

Yesterday, someone had asked about a dress code for the show, and John said he'd been told "no bad shoes, and not too much makeup." We weren't sure what constituted "bad" in this case (clown shoes? pointy elf shoes?), but I did think that I'd want to change out of the older sweater I'd been wearing that day, so I put on the perhaps inevitable black turtleneck, which would have the advantage of not being distractingly garish.

At dinner we walked in the light but cold rain to the dining hall, presented with more purely veggie options, and a vegan spin on an eggplant and pasta dish. Not bad at all. I sat again with Fred and some other tenors, and conversation tended toward cultural things outside the ensembler--the Southwest, Burning Man--though we soon came back to people's plans for the March show in LA. (West Coasters will make it, probably; many of the rest of us are uncertain.) Fred and I briefly got a chance to talk to Glenn for a moment to talk about how much we liked playing the piece, though he was carrying his plate and looking for a place to sit, so we didn't want to detain him.

Back at the theater, I was surprised to see a lot of people milling about in the lobby. I shouldn't have been--I'd been told that we sold out the space--but it still surprised me. I couldn't go in via the usual stage door (there was that backstage traffic pattern issue again), but wound around a bit and came out at a door in the back of stage right that I'd never noticed before. We'd been asked to leave all our coats, cases, and bags off stage left, but I was hesitant, having the laptop in there. It was also a good idea to have extra strings nearby, which meant that I should have my winder and pliers with me, so I figured I'd just fold up the gig bag and put it in front of my messenger bag, and slip the coat in there somewhere. It all fit fine under the chair anyway.

I tuned up again to counteract new string slippage (which made me happy I'd changed them before dinner), and did some more last-minute practicing on the quiet channel. It was hard not to feel jittery, though, so I took some photos, noted that my neighbor in Tenor 2 had some water, so I briefly went to get my own, and then settled back into more practicing. I scanned the audience from time to time for familiar faces, and did spot Fred's wife and son, but no other familiar people.

Finally the house lights went down and John came out to general applause. He cued us for silence, and after what seemed like a long count, got us started. The first movement seemed oddly slow to me here, and I found myself getting lost more than the last run-through. At this point I was familiar enough to follow the score, but in concentrating on matching the slower tempo and not getting rhythmically lost, I found that a couple times I had missed a chord change and was--yikes--playing the wrong chord. On one of these occasions, I'd been struck by how beautiful this particular section of the first movement was, with the interaction between Tenors 1 and 2, both harmonically and rhythmically. Then I noticed that I was on the wrong note, and not expressing the tritone this movment's concerned with. Great. It was covered by other Tenor 1s, of course, but I was a real outlier there for a while. Overall, though, the first movement's really striking, with those cresting and breaking waves of sound from the basses, baritones, and higher-numbered sections. The beginning and ending of the movement were very pleasing as well, with the rumble starting from the basses at the back, and then the sound gradually receding back to them at the end. It was also, apparently, quite loud out there in the audience, as I noticed two women in the front row who were holding their ears from the first few notes (I'd heard that the college was supplying hearing protection, but that must have been a rumor and not real information), and they were gone after the movement was over. "Sonic terror in music hall" all over again. Everyone else applauded, though.

The second movement was something we'd nailed well in rehearsal, though somehow this time I found myself off the train rather quickly. Since it's mostly wholetone climbs, it's easy to get back on, but it's not always certain which climb one's in, so I kept looking from the score to John and Reg, trying to verify that I was on the right climb, but at 144, this movement is passing by rather quickly, and I did miss a page turn or two (and caught myself fairly quickly...but then the climb was largely the same in shape each time, so the damage was minimal). Very frantic, and I found myself feeling a bit sweaty under the stage lights. Again, applause (for the music).

The third movement, all clusters, was even faster at 152, with a lot more rhythmic interaction. For us it was a lot of rests, starting playing at various offsets from the bar line, and only briefly. Sometimes we were double-strumming, but mostly doing measured, steady tremolo for these brief notes. The result, especially on the low strings, was a stunning wobbling gong sound, really incredibly powerful. I wonder now if there was a matching set of notes going on with the baritones and a few other sections, because this astonishing sound would just emerge from our picking. Our notation instructed us to clip notes rather than letting them sustain, but from the sound of things, I don't think many people were remembering that instruction. Still, I'm inclined to say that I prefer how it ended up. While I often found myself lost in this section, I was mainly only 10% lost, and it seemed fairly easy to get back on, and play at the right time, though I did find it difficult to stay on top of the climbs at the end of the movement. Still, as it was all clusters, it'd be hard to pick out my inappropriate notes here or there. And we ended on a fermata, which allowed everyone a chance to get caught up. People were applauding consistently at the ends of these movements, which was encouraging.

The fourth movement was again our reward for making it through the difficulties of the rest of the piece, and at this point I don't remember much about playing the first couple parts of it. The first part's a satisfying set of drones (in which we have to be careful to start p), and the second part's another set of complex climbs. I do remember powering into the satisfying third part of the movement, which is another set of the sonar pings before another set of tricky climbs...and then the detuned section. I think everyone was so relieved to get to this section that we really powered into it, and John had to hold us at the fermata to bring us back down to p. Looking over the score now, I don't see where it goes to forte after that (a double-time section anyway), but go to forte we sure did, powering into the rhythmic sections and the last sonar pings before the total chaos of the random section. Happily, we clipped it fairly clean at the end, though there was a slight buzz from somewhere back in the tenors. And again, applause--a standing ovation, actually.

John invited us to stand, shook Reg's hand, and we waited for Glenn to come out. And waited. And waited. Did we do that badly, or what? Wharton started hitting the bass drum, and a few guitar players (myself included) started rhythmically whacking on our now out-of-tune guitars, and this little jam itself was quite nice--kind of like "Structure" from The Ascension. Eventually Glenn did appear, took a bow, and walked back off. Those of us in the ensemble saw plenty of Glenn during this whole process (even if we didn't all interact with him much; hey, he was busy and so were we), but I wondered how the audience felt about the brief glimpse. The event was about the music and not the composer's appearance, but I was still curious what the audience made of that.

The audience filed out, and the rest of us had to break our things down quickly so the crew could strike the stage. I quickly unplugged various amps so I could get my power strips back, and got things packed up a bit more slowly than I would have liked. Supposedly there was a lockup room for guitars, though I wasn't sure where it was (green room? elsewhere?) and didn't want to risk losing my guitar behind a locked door somewhere. I consolidated bags and coat down so that I could just have the laptop on me, and trusted that with all this security and crew around, nothing would happen to the guitar or amp at stage left. Other people were doing the same, though still others were loading out to their cars. (I was reluctant to leave gear visible in the car if I was going to be hanging out at the reception for a while.)

Having figured all that out, I joined the rest of the ensemble in the lobby, where I got a chance to meet Lloyd's wife and chat with them for a few minutes before circulating. It seemed that the reception was already out of red wine and much of the food, so I made do with white (red later appeared, though, so I got a chance to have some, and it wasn't bad). Marlowe introduced me to some friends who'd attended (nice folks), and I touched base with Fred and family. (His son's reaction: "It was different." I suspect he didn't have the background context to know what to make of it.) Since audients weren't really likely to pick me out as someone to talk to ("Hey, isn't that the guy who fucked up in the first movement?"), I sought out other ensemble members to greet. Ellen Watkins and I talked briefly about the piece, and her perspective was interesting, having toured the 6 and been with the ensemble since. Some of the points she made are sending me back to the 8 and 10, of which I've generally only liked the second movement of the 10, but I'm willing to give the other movements a fresh listen, as it's been a while. (For me, the second movement of the 10 is a stunner, and one of my favorite pieces, but the other selections on that disc are a bit too, well, Wagnerian for me.)

Some other players discussed the possibility of leveraging this event into sexual capital, but I think they may have been a bit overly optimistic about the social cachet of being in the ensemble. Not an issue for me, having a family to go home to, but I found it charming to observe others' pursuits.

I did chat briefly with some other regulars, Reg, Libby, Wharton, and I listened in on Glenn's conversation with John, jumping in to greet at what seemed like a reasonable moment. Much to my surprise, it seems the earlier version of this piece isn't dead after all, and may yet re-emerge one of these days. "The way to do it," Glenn said, "is to do both on the same night." Now that would be a commitment. Still, given the chance to play that earlier version again, I'd probably go for it.

Eventually the crowd thinned, and I chatted with a few folks on the way out to the garage. All the rain left the air rather picturesquely foggy, and the trip back to Fred's place was an appropriate ramping down after the peak of the performance. Fred and I debriefed a bit more in another late night conversation before turning in. Unfortunately, a late-night phone call signalled a not-unexpected family emergency, and my sympathies are with my hosts.

The next morning, I got some breakfast, hung out, entertained the kids a bit before getting on the road in the early afternoon. Trip companions this time were Boards of Canada, the Tod Dockstadter/David Lee Myers collaborations (very nice!), and GBV. By the time night fell over the Pennsylvania turnpike, the snow was heavy, and I ran out of wiper fluid by Somerset. Stopping here reminded me to turn on the radio to catch parts of the Superbowl, and by halftime I was home to Patricia and the Boy, getting a bit of dinner and catching the last half of the game, once again (slightly oddly) back in the civilian world.


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