Wednesday, April 19, 2006

DCIC rehearsal

Here's a podcast from rehearsal with the DC Improvisers Collective last weekend. The group is a trio: Ben Azzara (drums), Mike Sebastian (reeds), and me on guitar. We're preparing for a recording session in the beginning of June. I felt like this rehearsal really was good practice. Practice isn't supposed to sound good. It should sound bad - since we're trying new things, and learning to do things we couldn't do before. You know, practice. Even though we're making up all the music on the spot, we can always use more practice. I think this track came out nicely, even though it was practice. Mike is playing soprano sax and then bass clarinet (mmmm i love the bass clarinet). It's the first recording we made with my new toy that lets us record up to 8 mics independently into the laptop - I think the results are promising (but I still have a few things to learn in the audio engineering department). This piece is called "Lost Civilizations, Part 2." We recorded the entire rehearsal, but I haven't had time to mix it yet... I think this might be a nice document of raw improv practice.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


This past weekend, Daniel Burkholder and I performed four shows as part of the "International Dance Jam," presented by the Theater Alliance at H Street Playhouse. This was our first opportunity to show "unmapped" - a work in progress that attempts to blur the distinction between our roles as musician and dancer.

For this run of shows, we did the piece as a fifteen minute improvisation. We set up the space with a stool downstage right, and a bench upstage left. The guitar is using a wireless transmitter and a delay - so we can move around the stage freely and whatever sounds we generate with the guitar are repeated several times, so we don't have to be "playing" the guitar at all times.

Before each show, we flipped coins to determine if we begin at the stool or at the bench, and to determine the costumes. At this point we have two kinds of shirts, and two pants each to choose from. Chris, our costume designer, built my pants with special pockets to hold my "tools" (dulcimer hammers, pencils, slide, paintbrush, vibrator).

We begin the piece with both of us focused on the guitar and gradually begin moving. We had a few light cues so we knew how much time had elapsed. During the first five minutes, only the area around the stool or bench is lit, then lights come up on the rest of the stage and we expand our movement. At ten minutes, a lighting change signals that we're "allowed" to settle into our traditional roles - I can focus on playing guitar, and Daniel can focus on movement. Another light cue at 14:00 lets us know that it's time to find an ending. Other than that - all content of the piece is made up on the spot.

This was pretty scary. I had to do a good deal of moving / dancing and I've never done that on stage before! Overall, I think the shows went pretty well. Daniel blogged about each performance, if you're interested in more detail click here.

Now we have some hard work ahead: we have to develop the piece from this fifteen minute version up to a forty-five minute structure. The full-blown "unmapped" premieres during Capital Fringe, July 21 and 22 at Warehouse Theater. We're doing it every hour for 24 hours straight. More info on that as it develops.

(photo by Cameron McPhee. Not bad for a camera phone in very low light...)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I Saw You

During our Austin trip, Cameron and I spent a day and a half working on this piece, and making a "studio" recording. It is intended for live performance, and we're almost done setting up the computer gizmonics to make that possible.

The text is taken from the "i saw you" section of the personal ads -- mostly from the Washington CityPaper, but we've left a few open slots to plug in new / local ads at the time of each performance. So in this case, there are a few from last week's Austin Chronicle. The order of the ads is randomized, old-school style. We put them on index cards and shuffle them up before each performance.

Special thanks to Graham Reynolds and Shawn Sides for providing gear and space for the recording process!

Austin, Texas

I've just returned from a few wonderful days in lovely Austin, Texas. I lived there from '93 to '97 and made the mistake of moving away. Hopefully I'll correct that situation in the next 18 to 24 months. That place totally rules.

Originally, I booked the trip as a short vacation, as well as a chance to spend a few days recording with Graham Reynolds. He's been hard at work on the score to Richard Linklater's new film, "A Scanner Darkly" (a Phillip K. Dick story, film stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., and others, and is done in the same style as "Waking Life" -- it's going to be awesome). Unfortunately, Warner Bros. called Graham about two weeks before our scheduled visit and told him he had to be in L.A. for the final mix of the audio -- for the entire time that we were scheduled to be in Austin. I guess that's good trouble to have... congrats to Graham - can't wait to see/hear the film.

Cameron and I went to Texas anyway - and Graham was generous enough to let us stay at his place (and his girlfriend, Shawn, was especially generous - sharing the house with two strangers for a few days). Shawn has a new play, "Revenge," that opened that weekend... check it out if you're in Austin, it's excellent!

So I didn't get to record with Graham, but Cameron and I took advantage of his microphone collection and spent a day working on our new piece, "I Saw You," which I'll podcast in a separate post. I also picked up a used Firepod from Graham, which is a nice addition to my home studio -- now I can record eight channels into the computer in real-time (with nice mic preamps). Can't wait to try it out with DCIC.

We also took advantage of the great weather and time away from work... Swimming at Barton Springs, Hamilton Pool, and Pace Bend park. Tofu Migas at Mr. Natural (twice). Dinner with Pat (old friend) at Mother's. Lunch with Scott (old friend) at Madam Mams. And we even spent a Saturday night at Emo's - just like old times - except that 6th Street sure has changed, and the show was disappointing, and they ran out of Shiner Bock. Hmm, a disappointing night at Emo's... that really is just like old times. Well, we sure had a great time and Austin is a very special place. Hope to get back soon!

Sound Exchange performances

Um, I got a little bit behind here on the bloggie blog... so, on April 1 and 2 I performed in Philadelphia as part of "Sound Exchange" - which was awesome. I was part of a large group of improvising musicians studying / rehearsing / performing with Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band (Pauline along with Stewart Dempster, trombone, and David Gamper, piano).

The Deep Listening Band gave a concert on Saturday night, complete with 12-channel surround sound. Nice. After intermission, the trio was joined by the full Sound Exchange group.

On Sunday, we gave an afternoon concert: it opened with the Deep Listening Band performing an acoustic trio (gorgeous) and then the world premiere of four pieces composed by members of the Sound Exchange group. My piece, "Beyond Vietnam" was up first. The performance went really well... the other musicians really seemed to dig-in, and after what I would call "minimal" rehearsal time, I was delighted that everyone really "got it" and did a beautiful job. Cameron McPhee delivered a stellar performance. She had the hardest part -- delivering excerpts from Dr. King's speech, which is no easy task. Honestly, I couldn't be happier with the performance. The event was recorded, so I hope to have a recording to share in the near future.

I'm a little short on time, so I can't write up a full blow-by-blow of the other pieces on the program... but it was a real treat to play with such a talented group. At times, it felt like herding cats (put a dozen improvising musicians in a room and try to get them to agree on what we're working on... or even just try to get them all in the room at the same time ;-) but I had a great time and it was really an honor and a privilege to participate. Big thanks to all of the artists, and to the Philly Chapter of the American Composers Forum for putting it together!!