Sunday, July 31, 2005

Duo with Daniel Burkholder: Capital Fringe event

About a week ago (Friday, July 22), I performed another short duo with Daniel Burkholder. This time we were at Flashpoint, the occasion was an event being held for musicians who want to participate in next year's Capital Fringe Festival.

There were two short performances, then an "info-session." Lucas Zarwell played an excellent computer piece, then Daniel and I did a short improv. Once again, he got grabby with the guitar – this time we had more push/pull than last time and I tried to keep playing it as he was trying to pull it away from me. I think it worked out pretty well, as did the rest of the piece (when he left me alone to do my job). I'm enjoying performing without the computer processing, just focusing on the guitar itself, and my collection of "preparations" (alligator clips, paperclips, dental floss sticks with rosin, dulcimer hammers, etc). Daniel is urging me to get a wireless system for the electric guitar so I can be moving around the stage when we perform together… we'll see.

He also has a big idea for us to propose for the Capital Fringe: he wants to create a 50 minute structured improv piece, which we would perform every hour for 25 hours straight, with a ten minute break between each performance. Unfortunately, Damian, one of the Fringe organizers, responded enthusiastically to this idea and I'm afraid it may actually happen. Daniel has lots of big ideas.

Fending + Matis recording session

A few weeks ago (July 14 – 17), I went out to Minneapolis for two and a half days of free studio time at Fur Seal (thanks to ACF… they're trying to develop a program to make the studio available to members).

Percussionist, Brian Fending, traveled from Buffalo to meet me out there. We had a great "rockstar" weekend – jetting in for a recording session and jetting out when it was done. Zipping around Minneapolis in the Kia subcompact rental car, and our dumpy digs at the Homestead Eden Prarie (exurbia outside of Minneapolis) really completed the rockstar effect…

Brian and I used to play together when he lived in DC, but he moved to Buffalo four years ago. We basically haven't played together since. Our last performance was at the Toronto Fringe Jazz festival in 2001. I wasn't sure what to expect since it's been so long since we played together, and I really didn't have any material prepared coming into the session.

Everything worked out beautifully. Brian and I seemed to "click" right away as soon as we started warming up. It felt like we both are a bit more interested in "rocking out" these days, as opposed to what we did four years ago, so the improvisations we came up with certainly have a different feel now, and I was so very relieved after our first evening in the studio: the set up and technical stuff went much faster than I expected, and we even had time to record a few things, with encouraging results. After the first night in the studio we went out for a beer and worked out the rest of the material we wanted to record during our visit.

On day two (our first full-day in the studio) we somehow managed to burn through everything we wanted to record plus several free improvisations. Results were good, and there was only one track that we threw out completely. I had a computer melt-down that morning, so I did the session without any fancy signal processing. That turned out for the best, I think.

Our third (and final) day was spent mixing – which also went much faster than I expected. The house engineer at Fur Seal, Joe Johnson, is brilliant. Everything went so quickly and the audio quality is terrific. He's got golden ears, and he's so fast making edits in Pro Tools my jaw literally dropped.

So, I wasn't sure what would come out of the trip, but it turned out we made a new album (approx. 45 minutes of music) in only 17 hours of studio time. Crazy. Now we have to figure out what to do with it – how or if we should release it commercially, how to promote such a thing, how can we tour and play live given certain obstacles like geography and day-jobs, etc.

Some other random notes about the trip: vegan food is plentiful in Minneapolis. The studio is near a whole strip of Vietnamese restaurants. Spyhouse coffee shop must have some kind of discriminatory employment practice but I'm not complaining. The Wedge co-op is fantastic – including delicious prepared foods to go (even has vegan cookies and baked treats). Also, an ACF staff person told us to stop by a bar over by the University of Minnesota called Triple Rock. Two thumbs up from Fending and Matis… they even have vegan bar food. Hopefully we'll play there during our next visit. The two of us don't really have enough ink in our skin to fit in there, but at least my hair was still kind of blue – so we didn't stand out too badly either.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Joe's Movement Emporium Gala/Concert

Last night, Daniel Burkholder and I performed in the concert part of the Gala/Concert for Joe's Movement Emporium -- an arts facility in Mt. Rainier, Maryland (where Daniel and I will have our office for Improv Arts, Inc.).

It was a really interesting program for us to participate in -- most of the performances were ethnic dance of some kind: African, Thai, Indonesian, etc. There were two companies with outstanding african drumming. We were the only "modern" dance thing on the bill, and it seemed like this was not our usual audience.

The show was at the Kay Theater in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland. It's a huge stage (compared to places we usually perform in), and a plush venue.

We did a seven-minute totally improvised duo. Before the show, we had 15 - 20 minutes of tech time - most of which was spent on lighting, but we did do a run through. After the run through, Daniel mentioned that he was tempted to make contact with me during the performance. Sure enough, during the show he came over and gave me a good shove, then grabbed at the guitar and slammed his hands around on it for a bit. I had it cranked up loud and distorted, so that made for a nice bit of noisy music.

We got lots of positive feedback at the gala/reception after the show, so I think it was a success. Many people asked me in a whisper, "Were you playing your guitar with a vibrator?" (answer is yes)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Listening Party at Bar Rouge

I'm back in DC. As a way to say thank you to the "Jon Matis Commissioning Club" I put together a listening party (great idea – thanks to Jane Jerardi) so the club had a chance to hear a recording of the piece they helped commission.

Thanks so much to everyone who stopped by, and thanks to everyone who helped support the project. It was a truly wonderful experience, and I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity – Thanks so much!!! You have all made such a huge difference in my life.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Composers Symposium - final day

The FIREWORKS ensemble must be insane. Two concerts of new music, followed by five hours of workshops reading through more pieces… the guitarist was supposed to arrive two days ago, but flights were cancelled and the schedule got all mixed up. They did an incredible job that required super-human endurance. When it was all over, Mei-Ling, one the University of Oregon graduate students, hosted a party at her house. It was still raging at 3am when I left, had to head for the airport at 4:15am.

It was really difficult saying goodbye to everyone. It's strange and amazing how quickly so many friendships formed and how accustomed we'd become to one another. "Re-entry" in my "normal" life will be challenging at best…

Friday, July 01, 2005

Kronos Quartet

This afternoon, we had a discussion with David Harrington, founder and leader of the Kronos Quartet. He's an incredibly open and generous man. Two notable quotes:
"Each note we get to play is a world of opportunity," and he recounted a story of performing "Howl" at Carnegie Hall with Allen Ginsberg: before the show Ginsberg told him, "I can't wait to say 'cocksucker' in Carnegie Hall." (they weren't invited back for over ten years).

We heard the Kronos concert tonight. Honestly, I didn't like most of the music, but the playing was great. They did a transcription of Hendrix's version of The Star Spangled Banner as their encore, but the lighting was problematic. It's a great transcription, complete with distorted wailing and screeching feedback. Unfortunately, the lights were flashing in all different colors – like a send-up of a rock show. I felt like that made the piece read as a kind of joke. I wish they had brought the house lights up, asked everyone to rise, and then played the national anthem in this transformed way. I think that would have been so powerful people would have been in tears. I'm curious why they stage it like they do? Maybe they have to water it down some to not cause a riot?