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Music Production: The Unindicted Co-Conspirators
10/18/2003 The Unindicted Co-Conspirators: Drywall XX: Equinox/Stone

Announcement
Performance artist/accordionist extraordinaire Steve Pellegrino and I are at it again, this time as part of one of his performance pieces under the umbrella of the Loose Organization of Surreal Ethereal Realists (LOSER). This one's a parable of life, work, the cosmos, and our place in it all, and Steve and I will be working with a drummer for the live soundtrack (an expanded improvisation based on John Coltrane's "Equinox"). Rehearsals have been a lot of fun, so come on out.
PFMI Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Avenue, North Oakland, Pittsburgh. See directions here.

Report
A fun, if cold, evening. Steve and his crew were built the set and props over the last few days, and had some finishing work to do Saturday morning. I had a lot of CD burning to do in anticipation of the next day's New York gig, so I had plenty with which to occupy myself. I also figured I should pick up some hearing protection, extra cables, and extra adapters for that show, and I took a detour to Pianos 'n' 'at, a stop for coffee, and was down at the performance site at 2:00.

Beyond an arc barrier of leaves was an expanse of white sand. Beyond that, a tall wood and metal structure holding some lighting and the winch for the concrete blocks. Beyond that, about 20 feet back, was where we were setting up. Steve was already there, of course, as was Mike the drummer. Frank, who was Steve's partner in working out the staging, was there spreading the sand, and was eager to talk to me--we're apparently living in the same aesthetic neighborhood. Sounds like some good potential collaboration.

I set up by Mike, with the PowerBook up on a stand of his (this had worked well at our rehearsal), next to the submixer. Since I'd be required to switch back and forth between my PowerBook channel and the clean channel (or the Line6 channel, as I'm sending each channel to a different send), I brought the Morely A/B switch. Very useful little device. One problem, however, is that I've been noticing some noise from the mic pres in our little Yamaha submixer from whichever channel I'm not plugged into, so I'd thought to use my M-Audio DMP3 for the pres...but there wasn't enough room on the stand, and I'd have to go noisy.

One disadvantage of the rehearsal was that the sun was a bit too bright to see any of the LEDs properly on my gear, but I'd manage. We ran through the tune a couple times, and it felt pretty good, although I kept feeling like I wasn't following the structure appropriately. At no point did I really build the tonal cloud to the complexity that I do solo, so I was feeling as though I wasn't following the structure closely enough. In reality, this was probably best so that I didn't overpower anyone else.

It took us a while to get the balance right, as there was no PA for us, and we were at least sixty feet from the audience. I heard myself way louder than I heard Steve, but it worked better out at the audience point if he turned down and I turned up. The overtones I was building were getting to me and were certainly affecting Steve, so I pulled out the hearing protectors. (Apparently I'd given him quite the headache after the last rehearsal. It's the extreme high tones that get you.)

We did another couple of run-throughs, and then worked with the actress and actor. She was our timekeeper, making a statement and then dragging a chair through the sand, orbiting the winch structure while the actor dragged concrete blocks painted with planetary symbols back to the winch. The actress would then sit, read another portion of the libretto (during which time we'd get quiet), and then resume dragging the chair. After the fifth speech, I was to do a glitch delay thing, and the actor would drop a screen in front of the winch structure as backlighting came on.

For the initial couple of speeches, I'd just be playing the chords of the tune (Coltrane's "Equinox"), once per measure, on a backbeat. When the actress was speaking, I'd back off on the volume and do pinky swells for that measure. Gradually, though, I'd build the overtone cloud, a process I'd have to take carefully, because with the slow delay, our tones would stick with us for quite some time. It was looking to be about a 20-minute piece, and then we'd play Steve's "Drop Four," which is a piece of constant, diabolical chord changes that all work well with C, so I could just hang out on the white keys, as it were, and could build drones around them. Cool.

We covered some equipment, packed up more valuable stuff, and I took the PowerBook with me. I made it back to the set at 7:00, and got ready. With the relative darkness, it was of course much easier to see all the LEDs and the PowerBook's screen. Setup was fairly easy at this point, so after tuning, there was little to do but hang out. Ryan from the SCLF came by, as did our friend Mary Ellen. We had a large crowd, actually, so the energy was good. Our only problem was that it was getting cold. Well, that, and the fact that at 8:00, the parking lot lights came on, subtracting some of the drama from our lighting setup. Not ideal, but then it turned out to work reasonably well for video, and we'd have to roll with it.

The performance felt right--we got in the pocket and stayed there--but the pace of the overall structure was a lot quicker than we'd anticipated. I think the actress wasn't doing as many orbits as she had at rehearsal, leaving us less time for developing each section, and in ten minutes, it was over. I'd expected to do some delay glitches, but the only ones I'd had a chance to do were at the end; at no point did I have a chance to use the Line6 or do the multiple feedback loops. While my final glitches were fading, I reset the ring modulators to C, and we launched into "Drop Four." This, too, was over quickly, which was probably just as well because all our fingers were losing facility. I think Steve felt it most, because he had to do a chord change every beat. It went well, though, and we got a positive response from the audience.

The next forty minutes were spent breaking down the gear and the set, and soon Tom (a faithful audient of many of my shows) came forth; it turned out that he'd expected the show to be on typical delayed show time, and so missed the proceedings entirely. But hey--there were at least three video cameras, so I suspect there'll be some video format available sooner or later. There was an offer to hang out afterwards, but Patricia and I had to be up early, so we headed home to trip preparations and lots of CD burning.

Thanks to Steve, Frank Ferrarro, and the rest of the crew for making this happen, and to the PFMI for giving us the space to do it. It was great fun, and it looks like Steve, Mike, and I will be dropping into a studio sometime soon to record a longer version with some development.

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