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Music Production: The Stem Cell Liberation Front
11/02/2002 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: Live at the Quiet Storm Coffeehouse

Announcement
The freshly rejuvenated Stem Cell Liberation Front will be performing at the Dunket Records SADBEAR split 7-inch record release party for brainstorm Sheen and Eric Fox at the Quiet Storm Coffeehouse. Ryan and I are saving up to unleash some improv action, and our set's shaping up to be a surprise to everyone, including ourselves.

Based on what we know of our fellow performers, the whole evening's going to be good. We were on the bill with Eric back in May when we opened for Yume Bitsu, and I have to say that Eric's well worth seeing. Very fine baritone guitar stylings into the mighty Boomerang pedal. The brainstorm Sheen .mp3s on the Dunket Records site suggest that brainstorm Sheen will be serving up some tasty electronic beats and infectious sampling action--and I can vouch for Greg's good taste in music.

Be there at 9PM, on Saturday, November 2, and be ready to buy some vinyl.

Report

Some weeks later, I'm finally getting around to writing this. Why the delay? You might think it's because I wanted to put the show out of my mind...but you'd be wrong. A very good set, punctuated by a few weird moments. And...a connection to some stuff in the future.

Chastened by my bad intonation and tuning at the Roboto show, I'd made sure to spend a good hour and a half on the intonation of the Kalamazoo this time. Ultimately...we're not quite there, but I'm closer. I'm also never taking the pickguard off again, once I get the intonation right. (No doubt, I'll live to regret or contradict those words, but for now it's how I feel.) But it worked well enough for the show.

I'd started the day by biking down to the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library, as Mr. Funky had hipped me to the (semi-?) annual book and music sale there. I ended up paying $12 for 13 pounds of books and a CD, including some very potentially useful books on harmony, and one wonderful book from Princeton published in 1960, Problems of Modern Music. It contains lectures from various important figures from 1960--including Ussachevsky and Babbitt. As Ryan had resolved to be in the venue about two hours before show time for adequate setup, I decided to take this one along to the show for pre-show reading.

When I got in, I learned that I was pretty much the first one there, although there was plenty of time to spare. In fact, I wasn't quite done with my sample set (again). For several months, I've had the goal of consolidating all the best SCLF samples into one setup, for use throughout the set. I'd done it for the last show at Roboto, and some things worked quite well while others didn't--in particular, the speech samples didn't work there. So I revised the master setup, in this case to include some sound sources from NASA--they converted some data sets into audio, and the results are just gorgeous, from my point of view, anyway. I still hadn't imported these sounds, and set to work on the process once I was loaded in.

Ryan came by a bit later, and we got him loaded in as well. I spent some further time on the samples, but still had a chance to chat a bit with Eric and Greg (brainstorm Sheen) when they arrived. After getting the samples set up to some degree, I went for the rest of my gear. At this point, it's fairly easy to get everything connected, although I did notice that the LED indicator on my Electro-Harmonix Graphic Fuzz has now fallen into the body of the thing, and the AC adapter and strain relief seem a bit loose. I'll have to open this thing up soon and figure out what the deal is. (This is disheartening, because my Memory Man is out of commission when a similar repair didn't go so well.)

While we were setting up, we discussed with Eric and Greg the possibility of an all-star jam at the end of the evening (much like the show I did with Hrvatski and Joseph Suchy), so I made sure all my gear could be moved out of Eric's way, but still give me some room later.

After we were ready to go, Eric and Greg suggested that we start later than announced--hey, the exact opposite of the Roboto gig! So I spent some more time on the samples, greeted Mr. Funky and Manny, who'd graciously shown up. There was getting to be quite the crowd in the place. Ryan was ready to start immediately and play a longer set, but I was in kind of an odd state. As I wasn't quite done with the samples, and with the memory of the non-optimal Roboto gig in mind, I wanted a bit more time to get into the right mode. I think at the time I felt a little detached for some reason, not fully present. Ironically, this may have been the result of not having the time pressure on me that we had the last time. I may have been waiting for that adrenaline rush that didn't come.

But at about 9:30, we decided to go on, even though Eric and Greg were suggesting we start at maybe 10. I dunno, I like playing early, and Ryan was totally ready to play at that point. I announced the evening by holding up the Problems of Modern Music book, saying that this was our theme. At Ryan's request, I explained the circumstances under which I purchased it, and its mind-boggling price of $0.50. (Eric and Greg had said that they wished I'd told them about this before the posters were made, but since I'd only bought the book that morning, there was no way.)

After the introduction, I realized I hadn't turned on the MiniDisc recorder, so I jumped off the stage and started it up, happy that I'd thought to use my long guitar cable. And we were off and running, with a dissonant improv heavy on the ring modulator. From the stage it's sometimes hard to see what's going on in the audience, but this evening it was easier. One interesting thing was that I noticed people pulling up chairs in front of the stage. One woman pulled a rocking chair up pretty much in front of me, and while it was nice to have the audience right there, it also reminded me that I wanted to give them a good set. I also found myself faintly wondering why I'd warrant close attention, and then I realized--duh--I'm on stage. These people paid to see a show. Glad I cleared that one up for myself, there.

I didn't take my Digitech 2-second sampling delay this time, relying on the Line6 for looping; I recall accidentally hitting the loop start/end button twice very quickly, giving me an extremely short, fast loop--an effect I hadn't intended, but which I did like. While we were doing this first improv (as ever, not discussing the structure beforehand), it took a few minutes for us to find a groove, but it did work. I think we were also trying to feel out what kind of show this audience wanted--trance, rock, glitch, weird, funky, what? I know for me it was a struggle between not wanting to be too ambient or too mainstream, probably from Mr. Funky and Manny being there (representing those who like our more avant-garde side) and the audience members we didn't know (who probably didn't want that, but who knows?). Ryan's playing was really energetic, and when I hit on a weird delay-modulated groove sample, we got very nearly funky. We brought the piece to a quieter close, and then decided to play "Blast" from our EP.

At the time, I thought that it might be a touch slower than what I would have preferred, but listening to it now, it sounds fine. It's weird when the first time you play something (in this case, the time we improvised it in rehearsal) is the time you nail it completely (without even discussing what we were going to do). What do you do after that? Try to duplicate it? Play roughly the same stuff and hope the magic strikes? "Blast" isn't a bad one for dealing with these issues, as it does have an actual chord progression (suspended chords--I'm not liking thirds much in our stuff, it seems). My solo was better in rehearsal, but not too bad. One feature I liked was turning the rhythm track backwards in the middle of it, and then coming out playing rhythm forwards against it. Ryan's playing was really good, even with the curveballs I threw him, of two conflicting rhythm parts at the same time.

The audience seemed to dig it, even with the conventionally tonal guitar moves. I'd wondered what Mr. Funky and Manny might have thought, although Mr. Funky later told me he liked the looping on it. We definitely had lots of sound going up there.

Next up we did "Martian on Date," this time a bit rushed in some ways and a bit dragging in others. The first time we played it, the beginning was sparser and slower, with a much more gradual build and more tension, before we got funky with it. This time, we played it with a condensed sparse part--probably out of a desire to play, but without as much preceding tension, the funky part was slower. Still the audience seemed to appreciate it.

We didn't have a set list, so once we got the named pieces out of the way, we could just play and figure out what we ended up with. In a nod to my friend Richard Mockler, I announced the next one as "Is Anyone Here Missing a Chicken?"--it's a title he's had in mind for a while, which he told me in response to my thought that "Atheist Boy Scout" would make a great band name. So I started it with some chicken noises and Ryan followed suit. It was a much sparser piece in the beginning, with downward glissandos, some silences, and nothing to hint at where it was going. In a way, much more like the way the "Martian" piece should go. And with a slower, sparser buildup, the piece exploded into a much more powerful onslaught, and we stopped on the same beat. Very nice to have that communication going, and have such a strong result.

I'd hoped to make a gesture of kindness toward the audience at this point with a much more tonal piece, essentially the same thing we ended our May 26 set with (the Yume Bitsu show we did with Eric). Early into it, I had the disturbing realization that I have three current tunes ("Blast," this one, and my piece from Guitar Guitar Guitar Guitar) that all use the same suspended chords in different ways. I dunno, maybe I'm in a rut. One nice feature of my playing this one was that I did some cascading volume swells into the Line6 that worked quite nicely. Ryan definitely lifted the tune up as well, and I chose some good ambient samples for it, too.

Our last tune was another pure improv, heavy on the ring modulator, and beginning with a lot of those very short loops, which lent a kind of dubby effect to the piece. Ryan picked right up on a very powerful drum theme, and we were playing very aggressively. Once the piece peaked, we played more slowly and sparsely, with less energy, and I tried playing conventionally over a ring modulated background. Then, suddenly, we picked up on another theme, and I ended up hammering on a distorted minor E--very powerful, and I eventually put the guitar on top of the amp for feedback (none was forthcoming, for some reason), but also letting the chord play on through the Line6. I then cut out the sample, giving Ryan's fine drumming some room, punched it back in, cut it out, put it back, and someone in the room laughed--it must have been amusing to see all this loud guitar come out of the amp with someone just pushing a button and not even playing it. Finally, I faded it to a close and we stopped. The audience seemed to dig it.

One odd thing was that the audience member who'd been seated right in front of me got up and left midway through the set. I wish I remembered exactly when that happened, because it'd be nice to correlate it to what we were doing. I do wonder what kind of reaction she had--sitting up front for much of the set, but then suddenly being alienated by something. It's not something I take personally; I actually am interested in people's responses when they have them, so I'm curious as to what provoked this response.

brainstorm Sheen was up next, doing a set of very ambient clicks and cuts laptop investigations. Very nice use of speech samples, which made me want to use mine better.

Eric's set was another gorgeous investigation of the baritone guitar, although he's also picked up a Jazzmaster of late. Apart from one tune, he was using the Danelectro and the Fender Bass VI throughout (along with Moog). He's got a great feel for interesting arpeggios, and he's solid on the Boomerang pedal. Very good set, and Greg joined Eric on Ryan's drums for the second half of the set. I dug it, and one friendly but perhaps inebriated gentleman from the neighborhood was quite getting into it as well. (Afterwards, he seemed to think I was Eric from some of his questions to me.)

After that set, Ryan, Eric and I did do a bit of a jam, but in retrospect, I was a bit out of tune, and I was standing with my head outside the projection cone of my amp. I must have been blasting Eric. Parts of the jam do work (apart from my out of tuneness and sloppy slide playing) particularly the harmonic movement toward the end, when we came out on an E or something.

By that point, no one was left in the place, apart from us, staff, friends, and the inebriated neighborhood man. We split the reasonably-sized door (and our food and drinks were comped! I might add!), and although we only sold an EP and a poem CD to the guy who was collecting money at the door (a pity sale, really), there was a strong feelgood vibe in the room. Ian, the owner, told Ryan he dug us, which was nice. Now we'll just have to see about the woman who books the room.

And! Greg's invited us to do a split 7" for Dunket in the Spring, so that's a good deal, as well. And he later sent digital photos that either he or his girlfriend or somebody took of our set. See the link up at the top of this review. A fine night, indeed.

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