Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hurricane Relief Benefit at Dance Place

Last Sunday, September 18, Daniel Burkholder and I performed a short duo (again) as part of a Hurricane relief benefit event. This is the third time in the last three months that we've done this piece. So far, the "piece" consists of the following determined elements:

1. Daniel and I are both on stage.
2. We perform for 5 to 7 minutes.
3. I play the guitar.

We've got to make up the rest on the spot.

Back in July, Daniel had the great idea of dancing his way over to me and grabbing at the guitar while I'm playing. This worked really nicely, so it happened again when we performed in August. During our tech rehearsal this time, I felt like it was becoming a kind of "schtick" and I wanted to know there was some artistic reason why we were wrestling over the guitar. Daniel's a smart one. He made the piece more about the fact that we're both in the space and interacting with each other – physically, not just in relation between sound and movement. Now that means that my whole body is fair game and not on stage simply to play music, but movement is part of the show too… so this time during the performance we interacted closely, I had to move around quite a bit to avoid certain gestures – for example, Daniel would thrust his arms out just above or below the neck of the guitar so I had to respond in some way. At one point he picked up my leg, and so on… Now I'm hoping we'll find time (and rehearsal space) to work on this further. Of course, I'm totally reluctant to become a movement-based performer (it's enough to try and fool an audience into thinking I can play the guitar!) but I do think if we're going to take this idea further it's going to take some rehearsal.

And by the way, Daniel and I are happy to share that we have a new website for our new joint venture: Improv Arts, Inc.

Arts on Foot

On Saturday September 17, I had a busy day with multiple performances as part of Arts on Foot, thanks to Capital Fringe. The organizers of the upcoming Fringe festival presented loads of free performances and I was lucky enough to be included in two of them…

Ginger Wagg and Jane Jerardi put together a site-specific piece called "Spill." We did this last February at Transformer Gallery, and made a new version for this event, which took place on a parked bus.

We re-used certain elements from the first version, but things were considerably different this time. Originally, visual artist Agata Olek constructed an enormous sculpture made entirely of crocheted balloons, this time we were using different work of hers, made from crocheted plastic, toys, and other materials. Agata made new costumes for Ginger and Jane, and I made some new recorded audio materials using field recordings of the DC subway system plus some samples of public transit in Budapest that I found online… the live elements included dance by Ginger and Jane, and I played clarinet and a few small percussion instruments. There wasn't electricity, so I couldn't play electric guitar. Dave Maddox wrote up a nice review on his blog – so I won't write a redundant description of the performance… but I will tell you that it was a unique performing experience, since the audience was coming and going during the show, and the boundaries between performing space and audience were totally blurred. There were four performances, I played live in two of them.

We're doing this piece again on October 22nd as part of Jane's big show, Efficiency, but that will be in a theater, not on a bus.

I had to miss two Spill shows because I was also scheduled to perform with Jane Franklin Dance. We did a piece called "This Just In…" which includes live music performed by Amber Dunleavy on theremin, and me playing prepared guitar. We've done this piece several times, and I felt like it went pretty smoothly. We were in a vacant store on 7th Street – it was a raw unfinished space, and made for an informal performance environment. I think this led to our own perception that the stakes were low, so it was ok to take some risks. That resulted in a lively performance.

I'm working on a major new project with Jane Franklin Dance for this coming season… some info is online here.

photos: top three by Julianne Brienza, bottom one by Jason Horowitz.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Berkeley visit and recording

Over labor day weekend I was out in California for a cousin's wedding, so I stayed for a few extra days to visit and play music with Tom Bickley and Joe Zitt. Tom, Joe, and I used to play in a quintet called Gray Code, back when they lived in DC. Now that they're out in Berkeley, I don't get to see them much, so it was great to have a chance to visit. Joe was able to get access to a church near the monastery where they live, so we were able to set up some recording gear, and spent a few hours improvising in a really nice sounding space.

We tried a few structured things - some of which worked better than others, as well as some free improvising. I'm not sure what we'll do with the recordings, possibly we'll use them as raw materials for further editing and processing, maybe someday I'll have some time to add additional guitar tracks or something... we'll see. Tom did a few pieces with a "snake bead," a reed instrument that his partner, Nancy, brought back from India. It's very loud and has a remarkably piercing sound. One piece involved Tom walking around the space playing that thing, while I tried to put out a similar amount of sound using the vibrator and a slide simultaneously on the guitar.

Unfortunately, scheduling didn't work out for us to also play with Phillip Greenlief and Jonathan Russell - hopefully next time!

While in the bay area, I did have a chance to eat at Cha Ya, Manzanita, and we stopped for vegan gelato, but I don't remember the name of that place. I also had time for a quick trip to Otsu.

DC Improvisers Collective at True Vine, Baltimore

On August 26, the DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC) performed at a great little record store in Baltimore called TrueVine. To keep their neighbors happy, they have a funny rule that drumsets are not allowed. Our drummer, Ben Azzara, came up with a novel solution that involved a snare drum, one cymbal, bongos, and a variety of shakers and other small hand percussion instruments.

Turn out was, well... let's say it was an "intimate" performance. It was hot that night, and pretty humid in the store. I was pretty unhappy with my own performance, although the rest of the group sounded good. I haven't listened back to the recording yet, but I think I made a mistake that I often am guilty of: playing it safe. I was really reluctant to take risks and try things that I wasn't sure if I could pull off. I think our best work happens when we're all taking chances and simultaneously dealing with the results in real time. Lately, I think that's when free improvisation really works in performance, so I have to remind myself to go ahead and take a leap of faith in performance. It seems that I'm more able to do that in rehearsal, when there's less pressure - if something fails there's no harm done, but on stage... I'm concerned that the audience will figure out that I'm in over my head with this group.