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Music Production: The Stem Cell Liberation Front
10/20/2005 The Stem Cell Liberation Front: WRCT: a live show

Announcement
Now expanded to a quartet, the SCLF rides again! We've added Steves Sciulli and Pellegrino (on flute, lap steel guitar, electronics, accordion, melodica, and overtone singing, respectively) to the core group of Ryan Sigesmund (drums, percussion, keyboard) and myself (guitar, untuned guitar, ukulele, electronics). We'll be doing the live WRCT show on Thursday October 20, 9-10PM EDT (GMT-4).

We'll be doing a structured improvisation in which we play in all the different combinations of players--that's 15 different performing units, packed into one hour, the changes and station breaks being cued by a Javascript I've written. Don't like what you're hearing? Wait three and a half minutes, and it'll change. Like what you're hearing? It'll change anyway. Join us for this improv experiment.

WRCT, 88.3 FM Pittsburgh, or over the 'net at http://www.wrct.org/ 9-10PM EDT (GMT-4).


Report
An unlikely victory. The experience of playing this show was a bad one at the time for us--technical problems that distracted us and put us in generally bad moods, and we didn't lock the way we're capable of, but given our lack of rehearsal (complex lives) and the bad experiences, we actually rose to the challenge rather well, and we really came together in places.

Load-in was 7:30, and we all converged pretty much simultaneously. Steve Pellegrino said, "What kind of band is this? Everyone's on time!" Things were generally relaxed with a slight edge, which is usually the ideal state of mind for me to be in, pre-performance.

In setup, I got to the point of tuning the guitar, so I powered everything up and plugged in headphones, only to hear--wow--quite the ugly buzz from my gear. This had to be a bad cable, so I started unplugging audio cables to find the fault, when wham--I got quite a shock from the Electro-Harmonix LPB2ube preamp. Maybe I had a ground loop going somehow, but at this point all my powered gear is new, so everything's either wall warts, polarized plugs, or three-prongs. Was I plugged into a bad outlet? We tried another, and--I got shocked again. The chassis was live with current. One of the selling points of this box is that supposedly there's 300V of current on the heaters of the tubes, so (if the marketing verbiage is correct) this wasn't something to take lightly.

OK, it was 40 minutes to airtime, and I had to do something. What I did was call home and ask Patricia to grab the solid state M-Audio DMP3 preamp and its adaptor, and I'd be by in a few minutes. In ten, I was home, got the pre, and was back at the studio in another ten. Things wouldn't sound as good (on guitar, anyway--for mics, it's a darn nice little preamp), but at least I wouldn't die.

At this point we were close to airtime, but we didn't have much of a soundcheck, though, as the crew didn't finish mic'ing Ryan's drums until a bit after 9, so our monitoring was compromised, and we were plagued by feedback throughout. Since we started late, I kept our intro short, and decided to skip the mid-program station ids. After the intro, we all were off and rolling...somewhat more quietly than I'd expected, but then we had no soundcheck during which we'd get the throat clearing out of the way, and gain a sense of how to start.

The piece was conducted by a Javascript I'd written, which led us through all the different combinations of players, including solo sets, duos, and trios, with the beginning and end covered by the full band. The script was randomized, though, so the order would be different from one performance to the next. The script printed the current player's (or players') name(s) in large letters, with a smaller block listing what the next set of players would be, and another block showing available time left in the current section. For the record, the score this time was this:

1: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sciulli, Sigesmund
2: Pellegrino
3: Sciulli
4: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sciulli
5: Pellegrino, Sigesmund
6: Rickard, Sciulli
7: Sigesmund
8: Rickard
9: Sciulli, Sigesmund
10: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sigesmund
11: Pellegrino, Sciulli
12: Pellegrino, Sciulli, Sigesmund
13: Rickard, Sigesmund
14: Pellegrino, Rickard
15: Rickard, Sciulli, Sigesmund
16: Pellegrino, Rickard, Sciulli, Sigesmund

During that first section, we were fighting feedback, and during Steve Pellegrino's solo (what struck me as a kind of Mongolian funeral rite for his late father-in-law), the engineer came out to adjust mics. The theory was that the 421 on Steve Sciulli was the problem, so the engineer went to adjust it, and popped it out of the clip, from where it dove down onto Steve's PowerBook, scratching the screen and putting a dent in the case. Ouch. His solo set was up next, and he laid down some beautiful processed shakuhachi. (I didn't realize until later how bad the damage was.)

We moved on through the sections, with some moments being particularly rewarding: Steve Pellegrino's use of the Whammy pedal on accordion, at times sounding like a pedal steel; Steve Sciulli's lap steel and flute and sense of texture, Ryan's grooves (sadly his softer playing didn't really come through on the recording, and my moments on untuned guitar, using the uke as a mic to pick up Ryan during his solo for later looping, and the act of just having us all got through this thing. Some not-so-good things: my being out of tune (particularly on the uke) with Steve's lap steel, and the constant struggle against feedback, as well as an occasional sense that I was just dragging down the process. But we got through it.

Afterwards, Steve Pellegrino was upbeat, having turned in a really good performance, and being excited about the composition in general; the rest of us were not so enthusiastic about our own playing, and about the personal misfortunes that had befallen us. We loaded out, waited around for the CD copy of the show, and decided to head to Gooski's for a beer (though Steve Pellegrino had to get going). Out in the garage, the first evidence of disjuncture: Ami called Steve to say that she really enjoyed it. On the way to Gooski's, I listened to the CD, and...it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. A phone message from Mr. Funky was congratulatory. Hmm. How about that.

We'll do this one again, I'm sure, and tighten it up. Good result, not so good experience, but the next one should be better.

Contact:

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