Monday, October 24, 2005

I (heart) Jane Jerardi

Last week, I had the honor / privilege of participating in an event called "Efficiency," directed by Jane Jerardi.

The show featured the world premiere of Jane's multimedia dance piece, "Efficiency," with original music by Scanner. It's an understated and powerful work, and I'm sad that it was shown for one night only.

The program also included a performance of "Heaven and Hell," by Stephen Vitiello and Scanner, with live video by Patrick Power.

At the top of the show, I performed in "Spill No. 3" with Ginger Wagg. This was a re-working of our site-specific piece (directed by Jane and Ginger) that was done at Transformer Gallery and on a parked bus during Arts on Foot. The piece includes crochet sculpture by Agata Olek, and some sound elements by dj milo.

Previous versions of "Spill" played with the boundaries between audience and performers. This presented a particular challenge in a conventional theater space. Ginger and I performed in two small balcony areas, and I set up audio installations in the lobby and in the stairway between the lobby and the theater. Since we were limited in how we could manipulate the space between audience and performers, we chose to also try to play with expectations about timing. For the lobby installation, I made field recordings on the street corner outside the theater a few weeks earlier, and for the stairway I made recordings in the lobby before another show the previous week. The idea was that as you enter the lobby, sounds of the street are present, and then as you move up towards the theater, sounds of the lobby are present -- so previous moments are "spilling" into the present one.

Ginger and I began our "performance" before the house was open, so as the audience entered the space the "show" was already underway. I was playing prepared guitar and laptop, including samples from dj milo's previous work as well as samples I made by rustling the crochet sculpture that was installed for the piece.

When the audience was seated, the house lights gradually dimmed, signifying that the "show" had "officially" begun, and after a few minutes stage lights came up as an enormous piece of crochet "spilled" across the bare stage (thanks to a cranky winch and a stage hand - theater magic!).

It's always a pleasure to improvise with Ginger. She did lots of imaginative work in the balcony, playing with the fact that she was partially obscured from view, so she was able to disappear, or show only her feet above the railing, and occasionally climbing over the railing completely. She also had a piece of the crochet to manipulate, spilling it over the balcony, or taking it away.

Photos: Lani Iacovelli

Monday, October 17, 2005

DC Improv Festival: DCIC

Last night I performed with the DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC) in a show called "BoiledDown," part of the DC International Improvisation Festival. The performance was presented by Improv Arts, Inc. and curated by Daniel Burkholder. The concept was very cool: a wide variety of artists (music, dance, theater, etc) - all performing five minute improv pieces.

Since there was no time for set-up or tear-down, we had to do a piece that would allow us to simply walk on stage, play, and walk off. That meant no drum kit and no electric guitar since we wouldn't be able to set up any gear. So, we put something together for bass, tenor sax, clarinet, and percussion. Ben played bongos (with brushes and hands), I played clarinet. We had some kind of structure pre-determined, but not much. I'll tell you what I can of the piece:

1. The piece opens with the bass playing a sort of drone thing with the bow, Sax plays with the drone. This texture returns at the end. (some other time, when I'm feeling less cynical, I'll write more about my theory of the "bring the beginning stuff back at the end and everything works out" theory)

2. The bass, sax, and clarinet are all playing in different, but related, scales. Dan is playing in a kind of ambiguous D mode, Mike is playing some Chinese scale, in A, and I'm playing some modal stuff in G. Plenty of common tones between us, but also nice possibilities for juicy dissonances (of which there were several during the performance)

3. Rest of the piece we make up while we're playing.

I think it worked out pretty well, and this instrumentation was a really nice change for us as a group. We've been playing for a few months with a straightforward jazz quartet (sax, bass, guitar, drums) and this gave us a chance to try something without any instrument that's playing chords - so we were able to do some much more linear types of interacting.

Our piece was pretty somber but I had assumed that most of the other acts on the program were going to be fast paced and lighter given the compressed time for each piece… I was wrong. Many of the dance pieces were slow, and done in silence. There was some heavy stuff… Jen Stone did a beautiful solo movement piece with no sound and very slow / minimal movement. Andrew Suseno did a dance piece with text about grieving for his father who passed away about a month ago, and a butoh style piece by They Can Never Take Our Crow (which I didn't get to see because it was right after us, so we were backstage. oh well).

There was also some humor in the show… Cyrus Khambatta did a funny (and technically stunning) movement improv, and members of Washington Improv Theater did a short scene.

(photos by Enoch Chan)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

DC Improv Festival: DJ Matis

Last night, I performed in a concert called "Breaking the Sound Barrier" -- part of this year's DC International Improvisation Festival. The program included dance and movement work that incorporated text in various ways.

I am working on a project this season with Jane Franklin Dance that includes work by several local poets. This was the first performance of material from this project -- still very much in-progress. The piece features a poem by Rueben Jackson called "Leroy." I'm not sure that I've made the right choice... it seems too obvious, but the text really seemed to want samples from old soul records, so that's what I've been working with. I made seven loops and then programmed a patch in Audiomulch so I can juggle them with some other signal processing in real-time. This seemed to work out ok, but I'm still not convinced that it's the right approach. Maybe after we start working on some other pieces in the series, I'll see how it feels in context of the larger work.

I also had a last minute surprise, helping out dancer / poet / performance artist / diva, Holly Bass, with her piece. (Holly doesn't appear to have her own website, but for a glimpse at some of her work, try here, here, and here) For her piece in the show, she wanted to use a radio program that was only available as streaming audio - so she enlisted my help to burn it to cd. Ok, no problem. Then at the theater, it was revealed that there were three other sound cues and some crossfades that needed to happen - and the sound system at Joy of Motion wasn't going to cut it (they only have one CD player). So, I put all the cues onto my laptop and threw together another Audiomulch patch... and now I've had the pleasure of doing sound for one of Holly's pieces. The piece is called "America" and includes two poems, one by Lucille Clifton: "Cruelty" (click here and scroll down a bit for the complete text), and "I, too" by Langston Hughes. Sandwiched between these two poems, is a radio piece about the Pledge of Allegiance (you can listen here) cut up with an Aretha Franklin song.

Besides Holly's piece, I thought another stand-out was a text/movement improvisation by Wendy Woodson. This doesn't really tell you anything, but it felt like part Laurie Anderson, part Emo Phillips, part Stephen Wright - kind of a stream of consciousness storytelling - that wasn't about the story, but had a continuous narrative thread (kind of like a Jim Jarmusch movie) - but as a dance piece. Actually, that's probably the worst description ever of her work but anyway, if you have a chance to see her perform it's worth the trip.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Baltimore Composers Forum Fall Concert

Last Monday, I performed my piece, "shut up and listen," in the Baltimore Composers Forum's fall concert. The piece is scored for electric guitar, amplified cello, and laptop. I played with an excellent cellist, Amy Cavanaugh. You can hear a "studio" recording of the piece on my page.

I think the performance went fairly well... no screw-ups that would have been noticeable to anyone else. I pressed a wrong button and looped some guitar material that wasn't supposed to be routed to the looping system, but that didn't really cause a problem. The laptop is functioning basically like a collection of delay pedals. The signal processing patch that the piece calls for is pretty simple. Funny that I still messed it up a little bit in performance.

Amy did a great job. She's a good match for the piece, and for my work, in general. She's classically trained, but like me, didn't finish her masters degree and went on to play in bands and other non-classical ensembles. I hope we'll be able to continue developing duo material, but she moved to Baltimore last summer, so it's a long trip for rehearsals. We'll see what happens... She's currently playing in a group called Yeveto, they're performing a live soundtrack to an old silent movie called "The Golem" at the lovely AFI Silver in Silver Spring on October 29 and 30.

The other pieces on the program were an eclectic mix. I particularly liked Kendall Kennison's solo cello piece, and James Brody's serial work based on DNA structures.

Monday, October 10, 2005

More Duo Shows with Daniel Burkholder

This past weekend, Daniel and I performed our short duo improvisation as part of Joy of Motion’s 29th Anniversary Concert. This was the first time we’ve done it since I bought a wireless system for the guitar. Now I have no excuse for staying the corner of the stage while Daniel is dancing all over the place… scary.

From what I can tell, we kinda rocked the house. Now that I’m moving around on stage, I can’t always see what Daniel’s doing, so I don’t really have a clear sense of what the performance looked like to the audience, but it felt good, and we got lots of positive feedback.

I had alligator clips on five out of six strings, so I couldn’t play much pitched material. It was mostly percussive “prepared guitar” sounds, with the guitar loud and distorted. On both nights, I took the strap off the guitar so I could move it around more – mostly to imitate gestures that Daniel was initiating. This also freed up the instrument so Daniel could literally take it away or lead me in one direction or another. While on stage, I have my pockets loaded with the various implements I use for the prepared guitar sounds – like pencils, dulcimer hammers, paintbrush, a metal slide, and the vibrator. During these particular shows, I didn’t have much chance to dig around in my pockets as I was playing so it was mostly slide, dulcimer hammer, and fingers – but I did do some playing with the vibrator both nights. It’s hard to resist; when the guitar is distorted and turned up so loud, it really makes a tremendous grinding wall of sound. Also, it doesn’t require much movement on my part, so I can generate a ton of noise while the movement on stage is winding down.