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Music Production: The Unindicted Co-Conspirators
06/02/2003 The Unindicted Co-Conspirators: Live performance at Club Cafe

Announcement
It's yet another Wired Monday at Club Cafe, on Monday June 2! This time, we have (in reverse chronological order):

* The turntable-as-instrument sonic manipulations of DJ Cutups

* The unconventional grooves of MIDI-box master Sugapablo

* The Unindicted Co-Conspirators--in which I put performance artist Steve Pellegrino's electrified accordion through the laptop. And I play guitar, too.

If there's time, we'll do a set of collaborative improv, as well.

Monday, June 2, from 7:30 to 10:30--ideal if you're working for the Man. 21+, $3 cover--more electrons per dollar than any other Monday night electronics series in town, guaranteed!

Club Cafe, 56-58 South 12th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. 412-431-4950.

Report
From the bringing-people-in point of view, this was...not the most successful night. In fact. from that perspective, it was rather a failure. But in terms of artistic goals being accomplished, this was the best set I've ever had at Club Cafe. After listening back to the set that Steve and I did, I still think this evening was a success, and the people who missed it missed something really special. (Whether the people who were there got it or not, that's another question.)

The portents were mixed, since Geoff (Cutups) emailed me in the afternoon to say he couldn't make it, as he was home sick. Unfortunate, but I knew we could deal--Steve and I could stretch, as could Russ. We'd be fine for time. This sort of thing was part of a trend, however, which ultimately became clear to me.

I had the feeling I might be on for this one, since on the way down to the club I had that elevated adrenaline awareness, and I've often felt that before good sets. Since rehearsal showed us that we'd need Steve's little four-channel mixer to get the guitar and both of Steve's accordion outputs into the PowerBook, I stopped to get a new 9-volt to power it, and a new one for the Ebow. I ran into a friend there, who...would have liked to come to the show, but his parking brake was stuck, so he wasn't going anywhere until that was fixed.

I headed down to the club, got the DIs, mics, cables, and tables ready by the time Russ showed up 15 minutes later. Among the interesting parts of the setup were two mics--one straight to the board, the other to the PowerBook. Steve's wife called to tell me that Steve was delayed a bit--his accordion with the new pickups had broken a key, and he was bringing another. I wasn't quite sure if this one had pickups or not, but I was glad I'd brought the mic pre, even though we hadn't used it in rehearsals. When Steve arrived, I was ready, but the subsequent soundcheck was rife with problems. There were low levels from the accordion (it turned out to have crystal mics), the usual feedback problem we'd discovered in rehearsal (since these pickups were mics, after all. The little mixer seemed for some reason to be extra wussy compared to the rehearsal, and I wasn't quite sure why. There wasn't much point to worrying about it, so I repatched my setup to have the little mixer go through the mic pre before going into the PowerBook. This helped somewhat, as did my adjusting the input gain on the ASIO control panel.

Billy Death arrived, and contributed some tips to the above process. I was glad to see him--I knew he'd be willing to give us a serious listen. Steve went out to warm up for a while, as I gave Russ his soundcheck. Happily, his MIDI box was easy, and we nailed it (including the monitor mix) without much adjustment. By this point, it was getting close to eight, and only one thing was missing--the rest of the audience. I went out to hang a bit with Steve and talk shop, while Russ went in search of a candy bar. We decided to reconvene at ten after and start the show then, whether or not Billy was joined by anyone else. In the meantime, Steve entertained a passing drunk with an excerpt from "The Pennsylvania Polka"...but when he was doing the soundcheck, I'd heard a bit of "Einstein on the Beach," which is where Steve's really coming from.

Turns out, Billy wasn't joined by anyone else. But no matter--as John Zorn once famously said, the audience only gets in the way. Russ kept an eye on the soundboard, and after a few minutes of tweaking, we got rolling. We started with a piece based on A440 (and comparison frequencies justly related to it, for the ring modulation), a loose improv just to get us in the groove. Our rehearsals paid off--we knew to go either with drones to build up the tone cloud in our delays, or to hit brief notes or clusters. And it worked! One nice feature of playing this way was that we could play together, or alternate our activity, or sit back for a moment or two and let the pattern work dissolve into the background. A few times we had brief discussions about what we were doing or what we would do next. Listening back to the recording, it's occasionally hard to tell the guitar from the accordion, which to my ear is a measure of success. At one point I built up overtones from the ring modulators by simply tremolo picking the A string, in a kind of homage to Glenn Branca. It was satisfying. Ultimately, I started changing the delay times in mid-stream, building up interestingly glitchy patterns.

We let that piece die out, around the time two more audience members came in and sat at the bar. I think they were mainly interested in hanging out at the bar, but hey--they were an audience all the same. I announced the next piece, "Lady of Pain" (based, of course, on "Lady of Spain"--a cubist version of it, if you will), and opened up the configuration I'd planned on using, only to find that the program got amnesia about the frequencies for ring modulation, as well as the delay mix and times. Great. There was also a rogue process somewhere, modulating input that shouldn't have been modulated. I quit and relaunched the program, resigning myself to recalculating the frequencies and delay times, then checking our tuning. Five minutes after I announced it, we began. If there'd been a larger audience, I would have been worried about it, but not this time--things were a lot more relaxed.

This piece is where things really started to work. From the title, you'd expect something harsher than what we actually delivered, which ended up being a deconstruction with a gentle touch, with a good blend of Steve's accordion, the guitar, the gradual introduction of the ring modulators, and the glitchy delay stuff. The recording's quite listenable, perhaps to the surprise of some. Following this, we did a piece based on Steve's throat singing, which started at the clean mic, went to the PowerBook mic to build up the cloud, and again I slowly brought in the processing before adding touches of guitar. At times it's hard to tell which parts of his voice are going straight to the board and which are going to the PowerBook. Pretty cool. It sounds to me like the ideal soundtrack for a documentary on 21st century Nepal or something.

So we ended our set pleased, although very sparsely witnessed--the bartender bought me a drink, actually, as "It was the least [he] could do." Billy enjoyed the set, comparing the throat piece to Nurse With Wound. Russ dug that piece as well, which was also cool.

Russ started up his set as we all tried to applaud loudly, and he did quite well even in the potentially demoralizing setting. I actually owe him a more detailed review of his set, so that'll appear elsewhere. Midway through, my friend Joe came by with a date, upping the audience significantly. Shortly after that, Greg (Translator, Blackfish) and his girlfriend came by, which also helped boost morale a bit. So we did have a few more people in the house for the improv, in which Russ supplied the beat, bass, and some structure, while Steve and I went for texture. I set the delays to integrate rhythmically with the BPM on Russ's MIDI box--it's nice to have an actual number to sync to at times. At a couple points, I got into doing fast volume-knob swells on the guitar, and the resulting recording sounds somewhat like electrified harmonica. Steve asked me (enthusiastically) about these poorly-done Roy Buchanan moves--poorly done by Roy Buchanan standards, but serviceable in this piece. And they were reasonably smooth, which was good as in the most recent rehearsal I could feel some grinding in the volume knob.

The first one seemed to go pretty well, so we did another with pretty much the same results, as well as some throat singing, which I was glad our latecomers got to hear. A few more glitchy moves, a cold ending, and we were done. We even got paid a little, and the few people who were there responded warmly, or so it seemed to us. And then the evening was over, sparse but warm.

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