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Music Production: Maurice Rickard
05/19/2005 Maurice Rickard: Live at the Blue Light District, South Side, Pittsburgh

Announcement
In another move in my tour of non-traditional performing venues, I'll be accompanying a troupe of belly dancers at the Blue Light District event on the evening of Thursday, May 19. We'll be performing in front of Ethnic Artz at 1102 East Carson St. Should be fun. Rehearsals have been very promising--I'll likely do several layers of atmospheric guitar parts, looped over each other live, along with semi-IDM treated hand percussion samples. I'm probably also going to sneak in some pieces I'm working on for another project. Sonicly, it'll be rather like my Whole Health Expo set--only this time you'll have more to look at than just a guy hunched over a laptop.

See you there!

1102 East Carson Street, South Side, outside Ethnic Artz. All ages. 7-8PM.

Report
The portents were good on this one. In the event, a righteous victory over adversity, although the musical advances were made the day before.

A while back Steve from Life In Balance mentioned that he'd been talking with some belly dancers about doing live music for their performances, but wouldn't be able to make all the gigs, so would I be able to do something like that? Since I'd done music for belly dance before, yeah, it seemed like a fit. The downside? All of the upcoming gigs were outside with no AC power, so I'd need to be on battery. The PowerBook was fine for this, and I could borrow a Pignose 20 amp from Steve Pellegrino, but I'd have to work something out for the preamp.

So I got in touch with Amy, the main dancer of this group, and she was enthusiastic. The first rehearsal went well, and the dancers in general dug what I was doing (basically a retread of what I'd done in June of 2004, but new to them). In the rehearsal space, the Pignose had a surprising amount of balls--just turn that thing up a quarter of the way, and off one goes. For that one, I remained plugged in, though, not sure of how much battery life there'd be, and needing to plug in the preamp. Do note, though, that if you buy one of these rechargeable Pignoses, follow the instructions about charging the batteries. It's been working well for me, but I think a lot of people may ignore the documentation on it. They're lead-acid batteries, and you need to keep them charged or they'll die permanently. Like I say, I've been lucky, but I've also been careful about the recharging. In practice, if well cared for, they have a pretty amazing battery life, in fact, so it's worth preserving.

The day before the rehearsal, I opted to rent a Bass Sansamp from Pianos 'n' Stuff. At first I thought I might just haul out the Big Muff (hey--it's battery powered), but a test proved that while it was glorious, it wasn't appropriate for this stuff, since there was no clean option. I'm tempted to do an Earth-like sludgecore/dronecore project with this thing, after I hit it with some contact cleaner. But in the meantime I needed to check out my other, cleaner battery-powered options. Turns out there wasn't much to buy down in the price range I wanted, but rental was extremely cheap--$5 for the few days I'd be using it, or $10 for the whole month. I'd brought the guitar, the PowerBook, and headphones so I could check out how they actually sounded, and the guitar Sansamp seemed to subtract a lot of tone in its amp simulator circuits, while the bass Sansamp sounded more like the actual instrument. So I went with that.

Steve Sciulli showed up at Pianos 'n' Stuff to hang a bit while I checked out the scene, and we discussed the sheer level of gear he has to carry around--this just for a flute player. Back in rental, he picked up a mandolin and just messed around with it, but still displaying his usual high level of musicality. I observed that if he started playing mandolin, he'd probably end up needing a semi for all the related gear.

The Wednesday rehearsal (May 18, the day before the gig) was to be a tryout of the all-battery setup, and it all performed surprisingly well. In advance of this (and following up on a suggestion from Beth, another of the dancers), I worked up some traditional drum patterns and embellished them, as well as arming some randomized stutterers to keep things varied. I'd also created a Live setup that would let me do the set as one constant stream of music, without stopping. I couldn't use my MIDI footpedal, though, due to the no-AC requirement. This time, though, I thought I'd add the uke.

The off-the-grid rehearsal went well--very well, in fact--staying at a moderate tempo and pretty much sticking to one mode, I nonetheless moved through a series of rhythms and moods, alternating guitar and uke, swells and plucked notes, and forwards and backwards samples in a way that surprised me. I've been listening to the result quite a bit, in fact, and I'm tempted to put it out.

The day of the show itself was rather hectic, but I managed to be in the appointed place at the appointed time to join Amy and her boyfriend for an appetizer before heading down to the designated performance zone, on the sidewalk outside Ethnic Artz. Some friends would be arriving, as would Steve and Ami Sciulli. The rehearsal had gone well, I had the right level of energy, and was getting positive response from the dancers. The store owner was a fellow musician, and was also supportive. What could go wrong?

The weather, as it turns out. The rain started very lightly before the performance began, and I thought maybe I'd be able to get through without having to move inside, what had begun as sparse droplets soon became actual rain, and I had to move things inside. Due to the loop-based nature of what I was doing, I could unplug the guitar, uke, and preamp and still keep the show going, as long as the PowerBook was still connected to the amp. The battery-powered nature of the setup was also helpful here, since I wasn't drawing from actual mains. So I reset everything up inside the shop, with the amp in the door pointing out, but no sooner did I get set up again than some resourceful person set up a tent right outside, so I'd be able to see the dancers (kind of useful, if one's actually playing for them). I brought the gear back outside, and continued, the only real fallout being that there was a long stretch of the same old stuff just going on and on and on and on, since I wasn't making any changes to things in Live, what with all the moving activity.

For audience, my friends Dan and Michelle did show up, checking out the show from across the street, from nearby, from inside the shop, and Michelle took several photos. Local electronic/noise artist Min of My Boyfriend the Pilot also came by to check out the gig, and Steve and Ami Sciulli did drop by as well, contributing some spur-of-the-moment flute. Very nice.

So how'd it all sound? It sounded ok, although now with the Pignose turned up to project in this unforgiving environment of buses, cars, and other sonic distractions, I had to turn it up at least halfway, which brought on the resonant frequency rattles, serious distortion on low notes, and the speaker crapping out at similar high-level low tones. Kind of a drag, and distracting, but this little Hog-20 wasn't designed for bass or keyboard frequencies. I did get some nice uke playing in, and explored some musical motives that I liked from the rehearsal, but I think overall this one failed to have a shape. I may revisit this, but I think the rehearsal was thematically stronger.

How was the dancing? Great, actually. The dancers freely combine traditional techniques and other dancing forms, working individually and in sub-groups with each other, for an ever-changing improvisatory approach that works really well with my improvisation. Sadly, I didn't get as much of a chance to watch what they were doing as I probably should have, since I was often preoccupied with the rain, grabbing loops, changing rhythms, etc. But what I saw was really good, and the dancers are wonderful to work with. Generally when they'd switch from one solo performer to another I'd try to change the rhythm, but my location next to them, facing the same direction (a repeat of my setup for the belly dance show with Steffi last June) made it difficult to be consistent with that. A lesson for me for next time.

A sociological note: while we were playing, plenty of cars would slow down, a passenger would roll down the window and hang out, apparnetly hitting on the belly dancers. I guess some people do courtship this way, but I'll tell you: it wasn't working in this instance. Gentlemen, the hollering and wooooooo screams just put the women off.

I ended my set as the PowerBook battery ran low (estimated remaining time under 50 minutes), a byproduct of how much the hard drive was being used, the power behind the audio out, and the brightness of the LCD monitor (which I needed to have rather higher while it was light outside). Steve kept playing, though, which was good--the dancers could keep going for a while, and he did a rather nice tempo increase which I'll probably steal for a future piece, to keep things from being monotonous. After bringing my gear inside for a liesurely packup (and to plug in while I burned CDRs of the rehearsal for the dancers), I chatted a bit with Dan and Michelle, talked with the owner of Ethnic Artz (a drummer himself, and appreciative of the music, too!). I also talked for a while with Min, who'd stuck around for the whole thing, and was in fact interested in having me play the Electric Boogaloo performance series she's curating, likely for the June 18th date. Look for details once this is confirmed.

It's still somewhat surprising to me that the dancers are into what I'm doing, and it was good to be reminded of that after the show. They all headed off to get dinner, while I joined Steve and Ami for a couple rounds of good beer and good conversation at Iguana, after which they dropped me off at home. In all, quite a nice evening, even with the weather, and boding well for the future.

Contact:

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