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Music Production: Comprovisations & Impositions
04/06/2006 Comprovisations & Impositions: WRCT: A Live Show

Announcement
It's that time again--time for another set of large group structured improvisations. The last one yielded some really successful pieces...totalling 15 minutes in length, so I've been working on my randomizing conductor Javascripts, and we now have so many potential combinations that it would take centuries to go through them all...yet we only have an hour. Expect plenty of guitars, a few non-guitars, and some surprises--hey, we'll be surprised, too.

Currently, the lineup:

Altos: the inescapable Mr. Funky (also playing keyboards) and Pittsburgh music luminary Sam Matthews. Tenors: Glenn Branca Ensemble members Taichi Nakatani and aesthetic troublemaker Maurice Rickard. Bass: Avant-gardiste-about-town-and-elsewhere Stephen Pellegrino. Drums/percussion: master drummer/SCLF member Ryan Sigesmund and percussion innovator James Gyer. What sampling kids are doing with Acid and Frootyloops, these guys are doing with sheer muscle and raw nerve.

Listen, and be elevated by hairpin turns of sudden invention and interpretation. Bask in the Outer Radiance of your mode of music consumption! On the other hand, miss it, and be one of those people 15 years from now lying about how you were there in the studio, and wasn't it great, maaaan, while the acidity of deception eats away at your blackened core. Or, y'know, just have something else to do. The choice is yours--and yet there is no delta of marginal utility! How can you lose?

Thursday April 6. http://www.wrct.org/ or 88.3 FM Pittsburgh, 9-10 PM EDT (GMT - 5).

Report
This one was...difficult. In some ways, the difficulty started weeks before, with a significant work load, which (along with parenthood) left me little time to prepare additional scores, and also a set of complex performer schedules which meant there wouldn't be any rehearsal. An even greater difficulty presented itself two days before the show, when I broke the little finger on my right hand.

I was shopping (for baby food), and knocked a baby food jar off the shelf at the store. Lunging to catch it, I somehow jammed my little finger right into the shelving unit. At that instant, I kind of wondered what the hell had happened: my finger felt wrong, had a blood blister on the tip, and I had a couple bloody knuckles. It ended up being three weeks before I learned it was actually broken (the swelling went down, finally, and the tip...wiggled...in a way the others didn't). But for the meantime, it was a throbbing bag of blood on the end of my hand. Guitar playing--particularly double-strumming--would be a challenge. For the time being, I kept it taped up.

To maximize the scores I could generate in the limited time I had, I decided to go with the Javascript conductor for the new pieces, which required in some cases extensive revision to the conductor I'd been using. This on top of regular work, and all without the usual typing speed (semicolon and quotes keys were rather awkward for me).

The evening of the show I collected my gear and Mr. Funky, and we went down to the studio, meeting up with the others, though our drummers were a bit late. During sound check I went over the Javascript conductor behavior with this group (Ryan and Steve would know the drill here, but not necessarily the others.) We did get our drummers, of course, and were in good shape to go. "Rest" was good, as always, if a little less loud than I'd like. In fact, the conventionally scored pieces worked well in general, but we did have some problems.

The lack of rehearsal hurt us with the Javascript, in that--even as I'd programmed in rests--there was a tendency for people to play anyway if they saw their name up, even if there was a rest indicated. Also, in cases where the note wasn't specified (and in a few cases where it was), there was a tendency to double-strum (even with note patterns indicated), or to make noise. Mr. Funky pointed out that this was likely a limitation of the tuning, since one couldn't just play what one heard in the open improv piece. This was particularly the case in the very highly compressed every-ensemble piece, which went four seconds between changes. The biggest problem there was that there was no room for anyone to develop something, although there was the bonus of the tension resulting from people having to be on their toes the whole time.

What did it sound like? Throughout the hour, it was pretty much moments that seemed pretty wanky, followed by moments of almost-gelling, or the reverse. I liked the energy of some of the pieces, but the Javascript stuff was wrong for this collection of instruments and this tuning (octave unison)...and in any case it certainly requires more rehearsal. Another lesson learned is that I really need to take more control of things in this context after having set up the initial criteria. Also interesting was that the graphic score didn't work, unlike the previous performance. So that piece may now be dead, too.

Ultimately, this was an experiment that resulted in good data (mainly, don't do what I did for this one), but less than pleasing aesthetic results. Mr. Funky, Ryan, James, and I repaired to the Sharp Edge to discuss things, which was pleasant, though I still had that whiff of unsuccessful project about me. Well, lots to think about for the next time, at least. And despite my issues, many thanks to the industrious players who helped to make this happen.

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