Thursday, December 20, 2007

More good news on the grants front

This month has been a good one for me... I just found out that the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund has awarded a generous grant to the Low End String Quartet to commission new music (from me). The kind folks at Argosy also funded a proposal from the American Composers Forum (one of my day-jobs) to launch a new small-grants program for local composers. There's nothing else like that in the area, so it will make a big difference, I think. But wait, that's not all! They also funded a proposal from Step Afrika to continue working with me. Exciting stuff. Looks like I get to start 2008 as a nearly full-time composer. Woo hoo!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Two "yes"es

Finally some good news on the grants front. I've written quite a stack of proposals this year and I've been batting exactly zero -- until now.

Back in October, I submitted two proposals for the "Small Projects Program" of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. One for DCIC (to hire a publicist to help with the release of our new CD) and one for the Low End String Quartet (to help pay for studio time to make a nice recording). I just found out a few days ago that we got both.

I've still got one more proposal pending for the Low End Quartet, keep your fingers crossed and let's hope the Argosy Contemporary Music Fund finds our work irresistible.


For the last couple of weeks, I've been working pretty much full time for Step Afrika. We started collaborating over a year ago, on a multi-media piece called "Nxt/Step." Slowly things have evolved and we've got a version of the piece now that's fairly stable. Earlier performances were marred by technical problems (mostly with the interactive video cues), but we're getting a handle on it.

We worked intensely for about two weeks, culminating in three performances in an unfortunately named show, "Winter Heat." This was a mixed dance program featuring three african-american dance companies from DC: Step Afrika, Washington Reflections, and Coyoba Dance Theater; presented by WPAS and Dance Place, held at the Lansburgh Theater (a.k.a the Shakespeare Theatre, but now they have two venues so it has a different name).

After those performances wrapped up, we flew to New Orleans for the National Performance Network conference, where we have a showcase performance coming up on Saturday. We've been in New Orleans for two days now, and it's been kinda crazy. We had our tech time last night and it was, um, not so good. It seems to me like the showcase performances are beyond the means of the venue and it's production staff, but we'll see how things work out. I guess we're spoiled, having done the piece at two large theaters with union crew. This one's going to be a little rougher around the edges - which is too bad since the audience will be performing arts presenters from around the country. We'll just have to wow 'em even if the lights, sound, and video aren't implemented quite right.

First impressions of New Orleans: (second impression? I was here for a couple of days a few years ago) It's beautiful, and the "vibe" is quite unlike any other American city I've been to. It feels much more European, with people sitting at coffee shops, sidwalk cafes, and generally being more laid back than us East Coasters. I guess they don't call it the Big Easy for nothing. Also seems to be more interest in going out at night? Not just the tourist trap places in the French Quarter; it seems like there are restaurants and bars everywhere, so people must be out and about much more than in DC (which has plenty of restaurants and bars, but people seem much more focused on work than socializing).

So far it doesn't seem like New Orleans is a veg-friendly city. Since I'm here for a week and have to live on the cheap (but in a plush hotel, life is tough) I took a bus to Whole Foods and stocked up on all sorts of stuff. I asked the hotel for a fridge and they brought me one, so I think I'll be ok nutrition-wise. Last night I found a cool (and cheap) hybrid Thai / Vietnamese restaurant not too far from the hotel: Hipstix. They didn't have loads of veggie options, but easy to get tofu instead of chicken, beef, or seafood on the noodle dishes. The "Siam Street Noodles with Tofu" were delicious, so maybe I'll head over there again during the next few days. Dinner with the company tonight was at a touristy place in the French Quarter - only vegan option was a salad (iceberg lettuce and one slice of tomato) and french fries. My carnivorous companions didn't seem to fare so well either - everything in the place (other than red beans and rice or jambalya) was deep fried. The steppers must burn through a million calories a day, so I guess they can eat that stuff? Before I left home, Cameron helped me look up a yoga studio that does Bikram, so I'm going to try to squeeze in a class tomorrow. I just have to figure out the bus routes to get there...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Comissioning Club

Over the last two years, I've used the "commissioning club" concept to raise money for two projects: first was for writing a piece for the ensemble Fireworks - that was recorded during a reading at the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium in 2005. In the fall of 2006, the club matched a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for DCIC to make a studio recording. That turned into "Triangulation," our forthcoming CD. It's at Oasis CD Manufacturing now - we should get 500 copies delivered later this month.

The idea of the commissioning club is to aggregate gifts from a group of donors, at all levels, in order to commission new music, an opportunity that is typically only available to very wealthy individuals. Bang on a Can uses this model very effectively, they call theirs the "People's Commissioning Fund." My nonprofit, Improv Arts, hasn't come up with a catchy name yet.

For 2007, the Improv Arts Commissioning Club is collecting money to develop new music for The Low End String Quartet. In addition to this high-falutin' pan handling campaign, I wrote a bunch of grant proposals for the project. I already got rejected by Montgomery County, but haven't heard yet from the Argosy Foundation's Contemporary Music Fund or the DC Commission. Hopefully at least one of those will come through. My batting average for grants this year is pretty low. Zero, actually. So I'm due for a "yes" one of these days. It's discouraging to be rejected so many times, but that's the way it works.

For complete info about the commissioning club, click here.
For more about the Low End String Quartet, click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pange Lingua

I started working on this song / recording a few weeks ago. Again, it's another project that I've started and I don't know where it's headed.

A few notable aspects of this one:

  • It's a song. Like, with words and stuff.
  • It's got a steady pulse and chords and other trappings of "song" in the common usage of the term. It's got loud guitars and even a short shred-y solo.
  • Text is from a latin hymn. It's one that you encounter during music history class because the plain chant became the basis of various polyphonic pieces... so you run into it first as chant, then as organum, and eventually as the basis for a mass by Josquin. I didn't use any of that music, though. Just swiped the first three lines of the text:
Pange lingua gloriosi
Corporis mysterium
Sanguinisque pretiosi

in English:
Sing, my tongue
The mystery of the glorious body
And the precious blood.
I tried to take this religious text out of context and get at the strictly physical / sensual side of things. That's probably why I'm stuck and don't know where it's headed - I'm not sure what comes next. Maybe a related (musically) song with original or found text? Maybe something that has spirituality and sex and love all tangled up nicely. If it's going to be a found text, I need something public domain. Preferably really old. But then I don't want something that sounds stilted, since I want it to be visceral and sensual. Or maybe I get away from text altogether and just write some instrumental music?

Maybe I just leave it in the "incubator" for a while. Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Death Slug rears its Forgotten Head

I almost deleted an email yesterday, assuming it was spam, but luckily I read it first. Turns out it was an honest-to-goodness online order for five copies of "Death Slug 2000," a CD I made with Ty Braxton when we were both in school at Hartt.

This was pretty surprising, since the only place you can order a copy is this very outdated page at Metatron Press.

Ty has become something of a rock-star (deservedly so) now that his band, Battles, has become a favorite of critics and hipsters alike (deservedly so). Maybe it figures that as more people get to hear him, a few brave geeks venture far, far down the Google search results and find our sad, forgotten web page about dear old Death Slug. (Maybe it helps that I added it to Ty's Wikipedia entry a couple of years ago... come on - wouldn't you add yourself to the entry of an up-and-coming celebrity that you happened to make a CD with many years ago? Oh, you're too cool for that... Humbug! I'm sure you'd do the same. You're not fooling anyone, you smug imaginary reader of my blog that I am addressing in parentheses)

So last night I had to dig around for left-over copies of the DS2K packaging and I burned the discs, and now I'm on my way to the post office to mail them out.

Here's a link to a funny YouTube video of Ty's feet during a Battle's show. And here's a short snippet from their show last spring in DC. I had the good fortune of being there - it was a very good show. If you're curious, or just too cheap to buy their album, hype machine scours the blogosphere for you and finds free mp3's.

UPDATE (Aug. 11, 2009): Death Slug 2000 is now available online via our bandcamp page. You can listen to the whole thing, or download your own copy for only $3.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Romance of the Surveillance Machines

I made this recording a couple of weeks ago. It's been a while since I did any ambient guitar music, so I thought I'd revisit some familiar territory. I think this might be the opening section of a larger scale composition, although I'm not exactly sure what that's going to look like yet. For now, it's just a 7 1/2 minute piece of ambient-electronic-stoner-rock (maybe?).

It's all guitar, except for the electric piano and sampled french horns (horns enter around 5:30). I'd love to replace them with real horn tracks -- if you know a good horn player in the DC area please let me know...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Today was the deadline for a local grant program (the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities' "Small Projects" program). It's one of the few funding opportunities in our region that accepts applications from individual artists (as opposed to nonprofit organizations).

There's one catch: to be eligible, you have to be a D.C. resident. Fortunately, both projects I proposed involve residents, so the applications came from them (technically).

First, I wrote one asking for money for studio time to record a demo for the Low End String Quartet. Fortunately, our violinist lives in D.C. Unfortunately, she is out of the country at the moment, so getting her signature on the forms was a little tricky. Fortunately, she had access to email and a scanner, so we worked it out. I sure hope this one gets funded... I feel like this group has great potential, and if we can get some good recordings, we'll have good work samples to use for other grant programs and then we'll be well positioned for suckling at the teat of institutional arts funders. Oh right, as the economy tanks (which is imminent) arts funding will be the first slice of the nonprofit sector to dry up. Fantastic. Anyway, maybe the recordings will help us get some gigs... part of the idea behind this group is that we're designed to play in "alternative" venues (that's highbrow-speak for bars and clubs, you know, like the places I'm usually playing in).

Back in '06, DCIC put in a similar proposal, and that paid for 2/3 of our studio time used in making our forthcoming CD. Since we're self-releasing the album, I wrote a proposal this round for help with marketing. Our drummer lives in D.C., so this one is in his name. I sent out a barrage of emails last week searching for marketing help. I got several good referrals and lots of good ideas. Eventually, I was referred to Riot Act Media, and David really seemed to "get it" in terms of what we're doing and what would make sense given our limited resources. This doesn't seem like as much fun as a trip to the recording studio, but I've never had help with publicity before, so that actually is kind of exciting.

In other grantseeking news, I found out recently that my proposal to the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County was rejected. I don't live in Montgomery County, but Dan (bass player for the Low End Quartet and sometimes DCIC) does... I was able to "observe" the review panel as they discussed our proposal. That was surreal, and I get a little taste of vomit in the back of my throat every time I tell the story - so I'm not going to type it all up here, but anyway, it was frustrating - and also hilarious, in a dark-comedy kind of way. I wasn't surprised we got rejected having observed the proceedings, but that still sucks. We submitted a really solid proposal for that one (for Dan and I to collaborate on new material for the Low End Quartet, rehearse it, do two "in progress" performances at small venues in Montgomery County, and then do a recording session). I haven't seen the list of who got funded yet, but from what I saw of the panel, I'm pretty sure our local chapter of Sweet Adelines got the money they asked for.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Station ID's for your MP3 Player

I made a few little snippets, in the style of radio station ID messages - only but for your iPod (or mp3 player of your choice). Here's the idea:

  1. Download this zip file.
  2. Unzip and load the mp3's into your player.
  3. Add them to a playlist or two, or perhaps just leave them to be found while you're shuffling everything in your collection.
  4. As your player shuffles through things, once in a while one of these little messages gets played.
  5. You may be amused.
There are seven of 'em in the zip file. Here are a few as individual mp3's, in case you're too lazy to deal with unzipping....

Soda Can Mambo

I just recorded the number one jam of the summer. A bit late, so let's call it the number one jam of late September 2007. It's a dada-esque pop song. That may sound like an oxymoron at first, but have a listen to "Soda Can Mambo" and try to tell me it's not stuck in your head for days.

The number one jam of late September 2007 is missing one thing: Dance Craze.

That's where you come in:

  1. Invent the "Soda Can Mambo" dance
  2. Make a video of yourself doing the dance
  3. We all become internet superstars for a few minutes
The headline of this post is a link to the mp3 file. The blue play button plays it in your browser. If you're curious, download the lyrics (pdf)

Shoot me an email when your video is done. And don't be mad at me when having this song stuck in your head for days and days drives you crazy. Trust me, I've had it worse. Now let's get cracking on that dance craze...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Quarry House wrap-up

DCIC played last night, opening up for Chris Black. It was the first show I put together at the Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring, MD. It was a unique evening in many ways. In no particular order:

1. Quarry House is a neat little venue. It's a nice bar with great atmosphere. The ceiling is almost high enough for an upright bass. The staff that I've met so far have all be super nice and laid back. And how can you go wrong at a joint where they serve tater tots with Old Bay on them?

2. Cameron and Jen invited many friends, so we had a nice audience. Not huge, but nice. Which is much better than huge.

3. Mike, our sax player, called in sick. I made a few calls to try and get a sub, but it was short notice and that didn't pan out. So we played the show as a duo - guitar and drums. Chris joined us on bass for our last number. Lately, I've been playing without effects and gizmos - just my new guitar and amp (with distortion pedal and volume pedal, but that's it). The thought of doing a set of improvised music with just guitar and drums (and none of the looping and gizmonics that I used to use) was actually kind of terrifying. I think it worked out ok, actually. The music was quite different from what DCIC typically sounds like, but I think it was ok. We didn't record it though, so I only know how it sounded at the time, and while I'm in the midst of it, it's hard to judge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On the sixth anniversary of 9-11

I should have been doing other work today, but instead I made this recording. I've been in a bit of a funk lately. Maybe it was the Dance Awards last night (tedious) (and I didn't win... which may have more to do with it than I'd like to admit), or maybe it was listening to the news this morning. Anyway, I couldn't concentrate on my work this morning so I made this.

Don't forget - DCIC and Chris Black coming up on Sunday at the Quarry House. Mmmm tater tots.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

More vocals in my monitor (revised)

A while back, we were at a show and the opening act, a solo singer/songwriter, was being particularly fussy about the stage monitors. It seemed like between almost every song he was asking for something to be fixed in his monitor. I jokingly said to Cameron, "Some day I'm gonna write a song called 'Can I get some more vocals in my monitor?'" A few months later, I did.

I posted a rough sketch of this piece back then... Recently, Cameron and I (aka Eigenvalues) have made some tweaks and here's the new & improved version.

(little blue play button by the headline will play it in your browser; headline is a link to the mp3)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rusty's adopted

UPDATE: 9/1/07
Actually, that didn't work out and now he's back with us (and we couldn't be happier)

Our lovable furry foster dog was adopted two weeks ago. I was waiting to make sure the arrangements "stuck" before writing about it.

He was adopted by a nice young couple from Philadelphia. They have one aussie already, a grumpy old codger named Rocky, who is also red; he and Rusty look like a matched set. We got word today that Rocky has come to terms with the new arrival and things are going well. We knew they would get attached to Rusty immediately - he's the sweetest puppy and just loves to snuggle. It sure was hard to let him go, but it's great to know that he's doing well and has found a good permanent home.

Monday, August 20, 2007

DCIC with Glorytellers at the Black Cat

Last night DCIC performed our first trio show of the season. All of our concerts since April or May were with Joe Lally, playing his songs. It was nice to get back to our regular thing; I think that spending some time learning songs and playing more structured music was a good exercise for us.

Playing at the Black Cat is fun. They treat the performers nicely there and since Ben knows the staff people so well, it's almost like we're playing at his house. Well, his house is a lot cleaner, but the sound system at the club is much better. They've made some upgrades to the system on the backstage and it sounds pretty good in there.

The Glorytellers drew a good crowd (especially for a Sunday night in August) so we had a substantial audience. Quite a change from our last few shows at Warehouse Next Door where it was just Ted and the sound guy. Ted was at this show too... so we didn't have any worries.

I've seriously down-sized my guitar rig for DCIC shows so I have no gadgets and gizmos. No fancy laptop guitar effects and I didn't even use any prepared guitar tricks. No alligator clips, no dulcimer hammers, no vibrator. I just played the guitar with my fingers and a pick. Ok, I brought a distortion pedal and a volume pedal, but that was it. I do love my new guitar. It just sounds so nice no matter what I do with it.... Ben was rocking a new translucent red drum kit. It sounds nice - and looks cool too. The guy's got it going on. And with Mike always looking the bad-ass, that means I've got some styling to do, huh? Cameron is really trying her best, but I'm a difficult case.

For this show we had our first composed material. One of the pieces was built around some patterns I actually notated. Another was built around a short melodic theme that Mike composed. That still left plenty of time for complete improvisations as well. I think we rocked. I'll know better after I hear the recording.

Eigenvalues with The PlayGround at Carter Barron

A little over a week ago, Cameron and I (aka Eigenvalues) had our first performance at the lovely & historic Carter Barron Amphitheater in Rock Creek Park. We were performing a condensed version of "My ocean is never blue" - a dance piece by Daniel Burkholder / the PlayGround. We provide the music. And we did.

The program was a mixed bag of dance companies - all of whom won awards in last year's Metro DC Dance Awards. Fortunately, there was one company with lots of kids - a youth tap company - so there was a decent crowd of relatives and well-wishers. The venue is large - it could have really felt empty but the turnout was ok. These mixed dance programs are always trouble, I think. They are typically not curated, per se, but thrown together for some logistical reason or another. There was no relationship between any of the work on the program. Daniel and I have done a lot of these kinds of shows over the last few years and we're always the weirdos.

In any event, our piece went very smoothly. No glitches or computer crashes (like we had in rehearsal) and I got to play my new guitar through the venue's massive sound system. That was nice. Also, the weather was perfect. Not your typical summer night in DC - it was actually really nice out - a perfect night for a free outdoor concert. I sure got lucky with the weather this summer - this one and the Joe Lally - DCIC show at Fort Reno had perfect weather.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I just made this little ditty for no particular reason. The 80's are cool again, so I used cheesy canned drums and a synth horn section. The horn stabs really crack me up. The voices are from online pronunciation guides for medical terms.

The headline is a link to the mp3 file, or press the play button next to the headline to hear it in your browser.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

August's upcoming shows

I'm performing in two shows I'd like y'all to know about:

1. Eigenvalues will be appearing with The PlayGround again for a shortened version of "My ocean is never blue," a dance piece that we performed in last spring. The show is at the lovely Carter Barron Amphitheater in Rock Creek Park, and it's free. The evening will also feature performances by other dance companies that picked up awards in last year's Metro DC Dance Awards.

The details:
Saturday August 11th, 7:30 pm, FREE >>Link

2. DC Improvisers Collective will be at the Black Cat opening for Glorytellers. It's been quite some time since we did our thing... over the last few months we were busy being Joe Lally's back-up band (which was great fun). I've written a few things that we'll play around with at our next rehearsals. It's likely that we'll have some different material for this show. Well, actually, we always have different material because it's all improvised; what I mean is that this new material has some (gasp!) composed elements.

The details:
Sunday August 19th, 9:00pm, $7.00 >>Link

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Rusty update

It's been about three weeks since Rusty arrived from the shelter. At the time he was in sad shape. His fur was matted badly, he had just been fixed, and he was severely under weight - he was 33 pounds, and should probably be around 60. And he stank, too. Now it's been a few weeks of a steady diet, two baths, and he's doing much better. We're just fostering him for an Aussie rescue. He's ready to adopt now. How could you not want a sweet dog like this?

Last weekend, we were in Atlanta visiting the un-laws, and another Aussie rescue volunteer took care of Rusty for us. While he was there, she snapped this glamour shot:

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pattern Sketch

Here's some more new music. I just made this recording, and I'm not exactly sure where this material might be headed. I am playing around with minimalist sorts of interlocking patterns, but trying to find ways to make the texture breathe, and have a more human feel. Often this sort of thing gets to be too mechanical, I think.

Headline of this post is a link to the mp3, or just click the little play button next to the headline.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Triple Helix

This is a guitar piece I recorded yesterday. It's loud and feisty.

Headline of this post is a link to the mp3, or just click the little play button next to the headline.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Our new arrival

Originally uploaded by J_matis
Meet Rusty. We're now a foster home for Aussie Rescue, and Rusty here is our first guest. Cameron picked him up last night at the vet. He's had a rough patch... in addition to just getting fixed, he's been at the local shelter for a while. Long enough that he was going to be put down, so the Aussie Rescue folks sprang into action and now he's living with us. He's bigger than Wickett, but only weighs 33 pounds. And he needs a bath. So far, he's getting along well with Wickett and he's proving to be a real sweetheart. If you'd like to adopt Rusty, let me know!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Joe Lally and DCIC at Fort Reno

Originally uploaded by J_matis
The weather yesterday was perfect. Perfect for a picnic and a free outdoor concert. So that's what we did. A good time was had by all (especially Wickett who played fetch for hours and befriended many children). Some rocking occurred. We made delicious peanut noodles and they couldn't have been better. Photo by Cameron.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Time to update the resume

I just got word that I've been selected as a "finalist" for the Metro DC Dance Awards in the category of "Excellence in Sound Design/Original Composition." This year, the nomination is for my piece with Step Afrika!. It's the second year in a row that I've been a finalist. Woo hoo!


Wickett on the way home from Prospect Park

All the boys in the house are freshly shorn for summer. Cameron buzzed my head last week, step one in her rock-star makeover plan. Wickett got his shave yesterday. Now he looks nothing like a rock-star, but hopefully he won't be so hot.

Wickett's shave

Friday, June 15, 2007

Stupid Pitchfork - Pimpin' Fort Reno

Stupid Pitchfork posted this article last week... plugging the upcoming Fort Reno show: Joe Lally and DCIC, opening for The Evens. No mention of DCIC, though. Stupid Pitchfork. Anyway, good press for the show. Hopefully it will get some local media mentions too. In any event, I'm sure it will draw a good crowd and be the most fun event of the summer. Don't miss it. Most fun event of the summer. And it's free.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My Laptop Guitar Rig

I've been getting many hits on the blog with search terms like "guitar and laptop" so I figured I'd take a few minutes and give the lowdown on my laptop guitar rig... this post will only be of interest to a subsection of guitar & computer geeks. If that ain't you, then read no further my friend.

Several years ago, I sold my racks of guitar effects & processors, convinced that it was redundant (and heavy) to use all of this dedicated hardware to perform functions that my laptop oughtta be able to handle by itself. I've since learned that this is not entirely true, although improving steadily as technology (and market demand for these gadgets) progresses.

I sold my tube pre-amp (an ADA MP-1) and my Rocktron Hush IIcx (guitar noise reduction). I still regret it to this day. I bought them both used, and sold them several years later for what I paid... they retained all their value, and sounded great. Oh well. I've since picked up a tube preamp, and a new guitar (with a humbucker, so I can avoid using my noisy single coil pickups if necessary).

So that's the first lesson... get the guitar signal into the computer using actual tubes. The amp and cabinet simulators are impressive, but still don't cut it (in my opinion). I use Amplitube, and Guitar Rig, but they both sound better when there's a tube in the signal chain before they get any audio. Here's the geeky goodness from the start of my signal chain to the finish:

1. Guitar
I have a heavily customized strat-style guitar. It has three Van Zandt "rock model" single coil pickups. They sound beautiful, but my guitar is very noisy. It doesn't play well with theater lights and clubs that don't have properly grounded outlets. I don't know if that's the pickups or my guitar - it could be that the guitar is not properly insulated and a good guitar tech could make it nice and quiet, but I haven't spent the money to find out. I've also got a custom neck, made by Warmoth. It's the biggest thing they could make for me that would still fit on a strat. I have Gotoh tuners. Recently, I bought a Les Paul "BFG" that has a humbucker and a single coil pickup. The humbucker solves my noise problem.

1b. Distortion pedal
When I'm not too lazy to bring it with me to gigs, I use a Buda tube overdrive pedal. It has two actual tubes in it and it sounds delicious.

2. Preamp
The output of the guitar heads to a PreSonus BlueTube preamp to get some real tube color before I send it into the computer. This is a nice, versatile, piece of gear. I got mine used, and I'm very happy with it. When I'm not using my laptop rig, I use this preamp & my Roland keyboard amp. This thing actually gives me a decent guitar tone through a keyboard amp.

3. Audio Interface
I'm using a PreSonus FirePod to get audio in and out of my laptop. It took me a few weeks to get it working nicely with Windows XP, but now that I have it set up, I'm very happy with it. It sounds nice. I've used it for recording in many different contexts, and it always does the trick. I picked mine up used (thanks Graham!).

When I first set up my laptop rig, I was using an M-Audio MobilPre interface. That thing is a piece of junk. I don't recommend it. The preamps do, in fact boost incoming signals. They do not, however, sound particularly good.

4. Laptop
I have a Sony Vaio with a Pentium 4. I will not buy another Sony laptop. It had a problem with overheating, which caused the CPU to slow down, which caused glitchy audio. Blowing the vents with canned air fixed the problem (for now). I also get some nice noisy interference, even when things are grounded properly. I've tried my audio interface on an old iBook, and there's NO NOISE. So I'm pretty sure the problem is inside the Sony.

5. Software
Once the guitar gets into the laptop, I'm using a variety of things. Mostly, I'm using Audiomulch. This is fabulous software (and cheap!). There's a large, active user community, and it keeps improving. It does lots of things that I don't use, but it makes a great environment for patching together contraptions for signal processing. It hosts VST's, so I can use lots of third-party processing contraptions, and it's very easy to manage signal routing and mixing. In some ways, it's like Max/MSP for guitarists (i.e. idiots). You can't build your own gadgets, but most guitar gizmos have been duplicated as free VST's. Almost all of the VST plugins that I use are available for free. The exceptions being Guitar Rig and Amplitube. Audiomulch is great for real-time processing, and I've been performing with it for several years. It's reliable. Can't say the same for all of those free VST's, so you need to keep an eye out for sloppily coded plugins that can make things unstable.

6. Control Surfaces
Now that all my processing is happening "in the box" I need some knobs and buttons so I can actually perform live and control this stuff. I use two: one UC-33, so I have knobs and faders, and one ART X-15 Ultrafoot. I picked it up used, very cheap, and it seems to be durable. One drawback is that the paint job is so horrifyingly ugly. I solved this with black paint and a paintbrush. I also don't like to have manufacturer's logos visible on stage, so I was happy to paint over that junk anyway. Audiomulch makes it so easy to map MIDI controllers to the software processors, even a guitarist can do it. With these two control surfaces, I have all the knobs, faders, and footswitches I could want, and set up is a piece of cake.

7. Outboard gear
When my laptop was overheating, I didn't trust it to do looping. So I put a Lexicon JamMan in my rack with the FirePod. Since the FirePod has 8 ins and outs, it was very simple within Audiomulch to make an aux send to feed the JamMan, and an aux return to bring it back into the laptop. Now that I have the laptop heat issue resolved, I still use the JamMan just to take that function off my CPU, and leave processor power for other stuff.

8. Amplifier
So, now the laptop has done it's magic and it's time to bring audio out into the real world... I use a pair of Roland KC-150 keyboard amps as a makeshift stereo PA. They are fairly small and lightweight, and versatile. They are transparent sounding, so there's no additional amp color added at this point. I also bought two long (50 foot) cables to go from balanced TRS 1/4" (the output of the FirePod) to XLR, so I can patch into a house PA when I'm playing in places with good sound systems -- and keep a balanced connection.

So I think that's it... that's my laptop guitar rig in a nutshell.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Recap

I've got a few assorted bits of news to share... in no particular order:

1. Last Sunday was the end of my run of shows with Step Afrika. It was loads of fun. They are incredible. The new theater at Atlas is really nice (and really well equipped), it was a treat to do five shows in a row at such a plush venue. Step Afrika packed the place too. Most of the shows were sold out - or damn close to sold out. The crowd went nuts every night. There were many families with kids there, and the kids were adorable; after the show some of them wanted all the performers' autographs. That was new (and hilarious) for me... I had to sign autographs! The show got a great review in the Post. Thankfully, there's hardly any mention of my piece (and no, it's not techno music). The critic was there on opening night, when our piece, "Nxt/Step" was marred by technical problems (we didn't get the live video stuff really worked out until the final show, actually). After the first two shows, I was asked to change my little "solo" section - so it would rock more. Which I did, so I got a little solo every night where I got to rock out. I just got word that they've been asked to do this piece in New Orleans at the NPN conference in December. I probably shouldn't mention that so as not to jinx anything... but keep your fingers crossed - it would be cool to travel with them & cool to perform and mingle at NPN.

2. The DC Improvisers Collective's latest CD, "Meme and Variations" got reviewed in Cadence Magazine... and the critic singled out the prepared guitar work... and compared me (favorably) to Keith Rowe and Sonny Sharrock. Crazeee.

"...No such limitations [on spontaneity] hamper the free blowing of the DC Improvisers Collective (Ben Azzara, d, perc; Daniel Barbiero, b; Jonathan Matis, g, prepared g, electronics; Mike Sebastian, ts, ss, bcl.) The 57-minute Meme and Variations (Sachimay 31) presents ample opportunity for everyone to solo, and this is accomplished with skill and thoughtfulness. The prepared guitar work is especially noteworthy, sounding at first like a mixture of Keith Rowe and Sonny Sharrock but taking on a refreshing life of its own as the disc proceeds. The four long tracks (Affinity is as Infinity Does/Four Soliloquies (a) The Composition of Air (b) Opaque Mirrors (c) A Portrait of Jerome Horwitz as a Young Man (d) The Unwobbling Pivot/After Europe After the Rain/Meme & Variations) veer between modality, swing, and controlled freedom."
3. And to top it all off... The Fort Reno schedule is out - and we'll be playing with Joe Lally on July 2nd, opening for The Evens. (I get to open for The Evens two years in a row - how lucky is that?) It's free... and it's going to be a really fun night. Come on out, I'll bring a big cooler full of soft drinks and snacks, and you can throw a ball for Wickett. He'll be your friend for life.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A very special day

Today was certainly a good day. For many reasons...

1. Cameron and I both kind of took the day off (now that we're both freelancing it's hard to tell if it's a day off, or just a day unemployed) and had lunch at Sticky Fingers Bakery. Yum. They have vegan soft-serve ice cream. I haven't had soft-serve in many years. That was very special.

2. After lunch, we went and bought my new guitar. I shouldn't have spent the money, but I felt like I found "the one." I found out about it yesterday. It's not particularly rare or hard to come by. I stumbled across the manufacturer's website because I googled "Duane Denison" (I've been on a Jesus Lizard kick lately) and there's a promo video where he gives a sales pitch for the guitar. It's a Gibson Les Paul "BFG." The marketing stuff from Gibson is hilarious. "It's a stripped down rock 'n' roll flamethrower..." (and that's only the first sentence in their hyperbole-drenched promo blurb). I guess the demographics for electric guitar buyers must be a strange mix of knuckle dragging Neanderthals and teenage metal enthusiasts. My inner caveman head-banger must be the one that controls my wallet, because I ran out and bought one. It's black. Sort of... The idea behind this instrument is that it's sort of unfinished and raw looking. It has all the components of a "real" Les Paul, but none of the fancy finishing touches. The top isn't sanded, there are no covers on the pickups, no truss rod cover, etc etc - but it sounds like the real thing, because it is. But it's a little bit cheaper since it's kind of unfinished. A perfect match considering what my current guitar looks like (hacked up with a circular saw and the paint stripped off). But this one sounds and plays soooo much nicer. I've never actually had a "pro" grade instrument before. Woo hoo! Very special.

3. Today was my first peach of the summer. Nothing fancy, just from the neighborhood Safeway. A white peach. Ripe and delicious. Very special.

4. The weather was really nice and we made dinner on the grill. Tofu and vegetable fajitas - with a cilantro-lime marinade. Delicious. We made it with cilantro from our herb garden, and ate outside on the deck. Very special.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Stepping, and Rocking (and Jammin' Java)

The DC Improvisers Collective just played our second show backing Joe Lally. This little project has been just great... I think we're getting the hang of Joe's songs, and actually starting to figure out what this material - and ensemble - should sound like. And more importantly, it's been fun fun fun.

We played last night at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia. It's a funny little club / coffee-house in a strip mall in the suburbs. I hadn't played there before - it turns out that it's quite the plush venue. There's like a green room and stuff. And they have music stands, and some nice microphones - and the sound guy was terrific. Sadly, the vegetarian chili is not vegan. Cameron and I walked across the street to Amma - a vegetarian Indian restaurant - and they botched up our order (by not actually cooking our food) so we had to leave without dinner, since I had to be on stage. Soft pretzel and beer for dinner at the club. Why do Virginia clubs only sell the meat-food? (Besides Galaxy Hut, are there any other veg-friendly rock clubs on that side of the Potomac?) I shouldn't be so complainy - the club was quite nice and the people there were very friendly - and I did mention the good sound, right?

Anyway, the show went quite well. I think Joe is writing some excellent songs, and I think the combo of his composed music with our improv group is really clicking. I actually "composed" quite a bit of my own parts, so I'm not really improvising all that much - but there's still plenty of room in the songs to let them go where they seem to want to go in the moment. Joe is heading off to Japan for a month of shows - but (please keep fingers crossed) we hope to be playing at Fort Reno with him in July.

After our last rehearsal, he gave me a CD of rough mixes of nine new songs that he's recorded - and he invited me to work up some guitar parts and come down to the studio and see what happens. I had to act all cool and collected and professional, and respond like, "yeah, of course, I'd be happy to," like this sort of thing happens all the time. But really I'm like a giddy little kid jumping up and down and hooting and hollering (on the inside). I've listened to the new songs - and have LOTS of ideas, hope to begin working them out in earnest later next week. His songs are really spacious. One of their greatest charms is all of the open space - so I have to try not to clutter them up. But you know, I'm a guitarist, so I want to play all over everything. Let's see how well I'm able to practice restraint. His songs are also very minimalist - with lots of simple (in a good way) riffs that repeat and repeat. I think it's a good fit for me these days - I'm enjoying playing only a few notes over and over and over lately. For the dance piece I just did with the Playground, there were several sections where I played for three or four minutes at a time with only three notes to choose from.

And in a totally different musical universe, I've also begun rehearsals with Step Afrika for our upcoming shows at Atlas (May 30 - June 3). We're re-mounting a piece that we performed last November at Dance Place - with some nice improvements. I spent the last two days in rehearsal with them, and head back on Monday and Tuesday for more. They're loads of fun to work with, and it's an interesting challenge for me. It's kind of hilarious that this professional step company hired little white jew-boy with glasses to write and perform the music for their Big Ambitious Major New work - but I'm loving it. There are a few sections where I get to rock out with the heavy distorted guitar. With all the steppers, it's like playing with a whole percussion section (that happens to have crazy moves as well as chops). Someday I'd love to work this piece up for a larger instrumental group - it would be super cool to do with the Low End String Quartet... But that's just pipe dream for now. This time around I'm keeping it all solo, you know, so I can eat.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"no more data entry"

Last night DCIC played our first show backing Joe Lally. We had two rehearsals. I think we sounded pretty good. But I might be biased. The show was at La Casa in Mt. Pleasant - sponsored by Hear Mount Pleasant and a benefit for Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School.

The room reminded me very much of playing shows at Abbey House at Connecticut College. With the addition of crosses and some other Christian paraphernalia. And a small stage. And lots of toddlers. Don Zientara opened the show, and was upstaged by a gaggle of squirmy kids. They either got worn out, went home, or went to play somewhere else by the time we came on? Maybe kids don't like us. The audience was a who's who of DC Hardcore ex-scenesters (and their toddlers). It was like Fort Reno, but more exclusive (and with gross carpeting and the faint odor of rat poop). Watching all the kids rolling around on that carpet made me queasy.

But seriously, the venue was cool... a nice small room, and appreciative audience. Way better than playing in a bar.

Joe Lally has a recent CD out on Dischord, "From There to Here," and we played most of the songs on that record plus a handful of new ones. Thankfully, I didn't see Guy Picciotto in the audience until halfway through the set - that would have made me super nervous. Especially since he actually played most of the guitar parts on the record that I am butchering. Ian Mackaye and Brendan Canty were there too... Am I a rockstar yet?

We're playing with Joe again on May 17 at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia (just down the street from Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant). Don opens again.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

rock... and roll and lift and turn

Last weekend Eigenvalues performed with the PlayGround at Dance Place. Three shows, and they all went pretty well. Actually that's not true. The first one was super shaky but after that all was good. The show went well - we got a pretty nice review in the Post. Daniel and I also re-staged our duet, "unmapped" that we did for 24 hours last summer. Apparently, according to the critic, it's about "male energy" and my guitar is a remote control. That's all news to us but I'll take it - I think those were generally good comments about the piece?

Coming up this weekend: DCIC performs with Joe Lally. Super exciting! We had one rehearsal scheduled before the show, so I had to learn all the songs on his new album last week (while in rehearsal for the big production at Dance Place). Thankfully, they're nice and simple. And good... simple is good. We had our one rehearsal, and it sounded pretty good, I think. We're squeezing in one more rehearsal tomorrow night... so I'm certain we'll rock the house.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Vacation over

Just got back from an incredible trip to the Galapagos Islands. Photos coming soon...

Photos up, click banner for more:

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cookin' with gas

Ouch the last few days have been crazy busy... but I think I managed to juggle everything.

Friday was rehearsal with the PlayGround. That piece is coming together (at least the dance is coming together, my work is just beginning), but I felt quite good after this rehearsal - my first ideas for most of the sections actually worked pretty well. There are only a couple of sections of the piece that have to go back to the drawing board.

Saturday night, Eigenvalues had our second (or third?) show. We premiered two new pieces - one of them, O.C.D. (obsessive compulsive dog) went just fine. It will be even better when we get the film/video figured out. The other new one, Can I Get Some More Vocals in my Monitor Please?, had a few glitches. I pressed some wrong buttons with my feet. I'll get it worked out soon. Funny that I got it right several times in rehearsal and then missed it at the show. Oh well. Cameron was terrific. She says she gets all nervous about being on stage, but you'd never know it once the show starts.

Sunday night was the debut performance of the Low End String Quartet. That went super smoothly - no technical troubles, and the group did a great job (especially considering this was only the third day we've played together). I'm really excited about this ensemble, it's got great potential. Now I just have to write some more pieces.

We opened for Chris Black, who was excellent. He had some problem with his amp, so did his set totally acoustic, which was really cool. If you get a chance to hear this guy, don't miss it.

Whew. I made it through those couple of days. Figuring out what gear had to go to which gig was enough to make me dizzy, but in comparison, figuring out what notes to play when was just plain easy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Upcoming Show: Chris Black, Low End String Quartet

Here's my press blurb for a very very very cool show that's coming up soon (Sunday, March 18) featuring Chris Black (bassist from Golden Arm Trio). He's driving all the way from Texas so I really need to get an audience for this one... please come out and tell your friends about it. The music is going to be dy-no-mite. Chris' songs are really great - dark / americana with some Tom Waits sort of aspects and some old-time blues aspects - and some drunkenness and lechery thrown in for good measure.

Oh, and I'm playing too... with my new string quartet.

Chris Black Photo

Improv Arts, Inc. presents:

Fiddling on the Fat Strings
featuring Chris Black and The Low End String Quartet

Who: Chris Black (from Austin, Texas), and the Low End String Quartet
When: Sunday, March 18, 2007, 9:00pm, $7
Where: Warehouse Next Door, 1017 7th Street NW, Washington DC 20001

“Bass! how low can you go?”
-- Chuck D

The bass violin goes by many names: Contrabass, Double Bass, Stand-up Bass, etc. Call it whatever you like, the important thing is that it sounds so damn good. Spend an evening with a few basses, and some of their smaller-stringed cousins.

Chris Black has played nearly every instrument you don't blow into with nearly every conflagration of degenerate sound junkies within shouting distance, starting out as upright bassist for Shoulders back in the early 90's. From there, he hopped continents and sat in with Parisian rockers Les Wampas for a couple of records and tours before returning to Texas to pursue his love of gambling. In 2000 he met Graham Reynolds of the Golden Arm Trio, and toured around the country as upright bassist and guitarist for that hair-raising improvisational eutastrophe.

“Jericho” is Chris Black's first solo release, and was recorded in living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms in Austin and Los Angeles with upright basses, banjos, guitars, accordions, kick drums, fiddles, pianos, saw blades, brake drums, tambourines and maracas acquired by chance, in situ, ad hoc, and Amen.

He's now in the midst of a national tour promoting the record. For his live solo show, Chris plays with an upright bass, overdriven acoustic guitar, banjo, and an assortment of other instruments. He loops the music live and on the fly, creating sounds and rhythms to sing against. It is boomy, dark, abused and simple. His songs are soaked in booze, sadness, and redemption.

Opening the show, will be the debut performance of the Low End String Quartet, an ensemble formed by composer / guitarist Jonathan Matis. The instrumentation differs from the standard string quartet model, adding a bass, dropping a violin, and swapping a guitar where the viola should be. This “new and improved” string quartet lineup is much better suited to clubs and bars than the classical model, and better equipped for rumbling your ribcage.

The group is staffed by a diverse bunch: jazz bassist Dan Barbiero; classical (although quite eclectic) cellist Jodi Beder; Matis on guitar, bringing his mixed bag of avant-rock, jazz, and post-classical influences; and another classical veteran, Andrea Vercoe on violin. They intend to rock.

Upcoming Show: Eigenvalues and more

We're going to have some new material to share. Hopefully we'll finish our piece about Wickett (the OCD dog) in time to include it on this program...

Stripey Socks Productions Presents:

Saturday, March 17, 2007
7:30pm sharp!
$7.00 / all ages
7014 Westmoreland Avenue
Takoma Park, MD
Jack Wright’s free jazz trio
Jack’s solo and combo performances have enlivened and enriched recent Electric Possible shows in DC and he’s performed around the country and overseas for many years now. If you’re not already hip to Jack’s work, have a look here:
Don’t take those words for it, come out and experience his sound and collaborators firsthand.
Weaving together original and found text with composed and improvised music, Cameron McPhee and Jonathan Matis compose and perform material blurring the boundaries between music and literary art in a way that retains the integrity of both the spoken language and the musical composition. Eigenvalues unites Matis's skill as a composer and musician with McPhee's training in the theater. Matis is a composer and performer who has performed and recorded with a variety of ensembles, and is a co-founder of the DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC), a quartet exploring the intersection of jazz, contemporary composition and experimental music. Cameron McPhee has performed on and written for the stage since she was a child and trained in theater at the New World Conservatory for the Arts,.
Washington, DC graphic designer Jeffrey Prosser created Mimeth in 2005 as an outlet for his sound experiments using urban field recordings. Sounds collected on Minidisc are layered and treated on the computer. In performance, Mimeth creates soundscapes which embrace elements of dub, drone and post rock, and recent work has seen the addition of string arrangements. Mimeth is excited to be collaborating with Ivan Khilko and Michael Hendley of Immanent Voiceless for this performance and other upcoming live projects.
Pat Gillis of Northern Machine and The Angus Brainpan returns to Sangha with further dispatches from the alchemical universe of melody-free electronic sound.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

DCIC in-store at Crooked Beat

On Friday night, the DC Improvisers Collective played a little show at Crooked Beat in Adams Morgan. It's a super-cool little record store - the kind of place that I'm especially grateful for these days with the music retail business in such turmoil. It's also the kind of place that I'm not allowed to browse in because I'll spend a small fortune in no time at all. On this occasion, I had my hands full with the guitar playing, so was able to keep my paws out of the record bins and kept a few dollars in my pocket for dinner and a beer afterwards (Asylum is just up the street and they have Shiner on tap, and several vegan treats on the menu).

We set this show up as a "release party" for our new quartet disc that's out on Sachimay Records' "interventions" series.

For this show, I left the laptop-guitar-rig at home (to save space, the "stage" at the store is quite small). So I had to do the whole show with no effects. No looping. No gadgets (except low-tech stuff like alligator clips, paintbrush, etc). Imagine that - I had to play the guitar. That is my job in this group after all. Hmmm. I think it worked out pretty well, and honestly, I think I should do it this way all the time. Cameron mentioned after the show that she thought there was better listening and interacting among the group - maybe because I had to focus on playing guitar and not think about what buttons to push. She's a smart one... I think I better keep her around ;-)

Photo by Alexandra Gardner

Friday, February 16, 2007

Low End String Quartet

I'm delighted to introduce my newest project / ensemble:
The Low End String Quartet.

We've got a myspace page thrown together. Be our friend, and you can hear some music there too. We'll be playing at Warehouse Next Door on March 18.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Professor Matis

Today I just did my first teaching at the college level. I taught a dance class at the University of Maryland. For real. (stop laughing)

I was subbing for Daniel's improv class. We talked about listening. We did some improvising. Jeepers college students look really really young.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

DCIC in-store, Feb. 23

Save the date...

Come experience DCIC and celebrate the release of our new CD, MEME + VARIATIONS - Live recordings from 2005-2006 part of Sachimay Records' "Interventions" series.

It's a full length album of DCIC's quartet lineup, recorded in various places such as rehearsals, live shows, and a radio broadcast.

It's only $5. You can read more (and order a copy) from our site or from Sachimay Records. Seriously, it's only $5. How cool is that?

RSVP for the in-store and "share" this event with your friends via

Friday, February 02, 2007

DCIC at Warehouse Next Door, Feb 1

I had a gig last night with the DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC). We shared a bill with Tim Feeney and Vic Rawlings (from Boston) and The Caution Curves. We played as a trio, the same "power trio" lineup we've been using for the last few months. We played last, and it was getting late so once again it was a short set. Here's the last short piece we did (headline on the blog post is a link to the mp3). We did two pieces before this one... but they ran together, so in practical terms it was one long piece (around 20 minutes). The "score" for the set was negotiated on stage a few seconds before we played. I think it was "a short free one, then a soft long one, then another short free one." And we pretty much stuck to that plan. Mike did some very cool bass clarinet work during the soft one, followed by some very cool soprano sax (actually saxello if you care about such things) work when the dynamic level started to rise.

The show is uploaded to "the vault" so if you really want the whole thing you can get it...

We've also released a new CD, part of Sachimay Records' "Interventions" series. It's a full length album of DCIC's quartet lineup, recorded in various places such as rehearsals, live shows, and a radio broadcast. It's only $5. You can read more (and order a copy) from our site or from Sachimay Records. Seriously, it's only $5. How cool is that?

We learned last week that Dischord Records will not be releasing our new studio album. That was not a surprise - since we're pretty far afield from the music that Dischord specializes in, so we're still trying to figure out the best arrangement for releasing the DCIC "power trio" album. Leave comments if you have any suggestions, thanks!!!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Can I Get Some More Vocals in my Monitor Please

Here's a rough draft of a new text-based piece. Most of the text comes from the web. I googled the phrase "the world is a noisy place" and found some great stuff. If you don't listen to the whole thing, please at least skip forward to the canon at the end (starts around 5:30). I found a way in AudioMulch to perform this little ditty live, and that's how I recorded this section. It's awfully simple musically but I'm proud of it nonetheless (intonation problems and all).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My Ocean is Never Blue, Rehearsals Begin

I'm working on a big new project with Daniel Burkholder / The Playground called "My Ocean is Never Blue." We're still early in the process of developing the work, but I thought I'd point it out since one aspect of this project involves documenting our creative process... There's a new website with excerpts from rehearsals and information about the piece, updated as things take shape.

My first rehearsal with the group was last Friday, and there's a short excerpt online already. Hi-tech, no?

This is a duet improvisation score where the dancers are imagining they are either on the bottom of the ocean or floating on top of the ocean - and their perspective changes throughout.
I hadn't seen them do this section before we ran it, so the music is definitely all improvised...