Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Holidays

From Jon, Cameron and Wickett

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Year-End List

Everyone's publishing them nowadays so why not put my two cents in?

My list of best albums of 2008
(in no particular order):

  • Juana Molina - Una Dia
  • The Breeders - Mountain Battles
  • Jolie Holland - The Living and the Dead
  • Lucinda Williams - Little Honey
  • Paul Westerberg - 49:00
  • Russian Circles - Station
  • Silver Mt. Zion - 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons
  • Cat Power - Jukebox
  • Evangelista - Hello, Voyager

New to me, and noteworthy, in 2008:
  • Vic Chesnutt - North Star Deserter

What I've actually been listening to the most:
(Most played artists over the last 12 months, from my data)
  1. Jolie Holland
  2. M. Ward
  3. Lyle Lovett
  4. Lucinda Williams
  5. The Breeders
  6. Talking Heads
  7. Elvis Costello
  8. Glenn Gould
  9. Kristin Hersh
  10. The Blind Boys of Alabama
  11. Vic Chesnutt
  12. Gillian Welch
  13. Juliana Hatfield
  14. Joe Lally
  15. Little Feat
  16. Brian Eno and David Byrne
  17. Cat Power
  18. David Byrne
  19. Fugazi
  20. Death Cab for Cutie

Sunday, November 30, 2008

November happened.

The Low End String Quartet had an unexpected set-back. Our major funder for our 2009 season, which was going to be a joint effort with Washington Musica Viva, sent us a letter informing us that, "due to the current financial crisis, our funding is no longer available." We got our first un-grant. Wacky. I thought about reorganizing Improv Arts as a bank holding company and popping downtown to try and get some of that bailout money, but I don't think that would work...

I'm late getting my year-end solicitation letter together. I think it's a strange time to be sending out a mass mailing asking for money. Seems like most nonprofits are feeling the same way. Nearly every letter I've received at home so far starts with some kind of acknowledgment of the economy (then follows a predictable formula, laying out why their services are so wonderful and why they are worthy of my support and why I am wonderful for supporting them). Strange that I still get so many letters. I've been kinda broke for the last few years and didn't do much giving myself. That doesn't stop them from asking.

It feels stranger and stranger to me lately that the arts (or some portion of the arts sector) operates in the nonprofit world. This results in a conflation of the ideas of "the arts" and "charity." I'm not sure yet how to tease apart the tangled strains of this knot that are weirding me out lately, but I think this conflation thing is a problem. Arts groups really are a square peg in a round hole when it comes to charitable giving.

With things looking bad on the fundraising front for the foreseeable future, I'm thinking of re-orienting my business plan. So far my big idea is quite blurry: make awesome music. Figure out the money later. How to implement this poses some challenges... I need to work with other people and probably won't be able to raise the money to hire them. We'll see how things unfold. I'm thinking about taking guitar lessons again. Not sure who I should study with. Any ideas?

We had a nice thanksgiving. Cameron baked an awesome carrot cake. We spent "black Friday" lounging at home. No shopping. I spent a few hours learning to play a song by Jolie Holland, "You Painted Yourself In." It's really very simple, but it's taking me a long time to get it right. She does some fancy right hand picking that is giving me some trouble.

A few weeks ago, I performed with Daniel's dance company at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. That's always a nice gig. There's a built-in audience, good stage crew, and nice sound system. I also had a chance to catch up with a college classmate, Garth, who works at the Kennedy Center. I hadn't spoken with him in a few years, so that was cool. He's a remarkable guy and he's working on some exciting stuff. Interestingly, he's moving full-on into administration and management, away from writing and performing - and he seems really passionate about what he's doing. (What we didn't talk about was my plan to write a million dollar Christmas song and I need him to sing the demo... but I've gotta write the song first)

I started writing a song during November. I have some bits recorded, but it's still in a messy stage. I think I got lazy, and instead of composing out more of it, I just dropped in a free-improv noisy guitar "interlude." I justified that to myself but I'll spare you the excuses... we'll see what of this winds up in the trash and what might continue being tweaked and/or developed. Have a listen and let me know what you think:

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

One of my accounting-related projects that took lots of time during November should be wrapping up soon, so I'm hoping to get some more practice time - although I just took on another freelance job, this one is a data collection project having to do with jazz radio. It doesn't pay as well as the project that's ending, but it should be waaay more interesting.

I'm on twitter now. And so is Wickett.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Low End Quartet recordings

In September, the Low End String Quartet had a recording session at Inner Ear with TJ Lipple. I just got the mastered versions back from TJ. You can hear 'em on the myspace, and there's three free downloads on our website. Woo hoo!

October wrap-up

October was a busy one... started the month with a few shows with Step Afrika, as part of the Ellington Jazz Festival. We reinvented "Nxt/Step" to incorporate The WES Group, a jazz quartet led by saxophonist Will E. Smith. They were great, and scheduling problems notwithstanding, the project was fun. We did three shows in the big theater at Atlas Performing Arts Center. One daytime show for kids, and two evenings. Turnout for the first evening show was light, it was the same night as the VP debate.

Cameron and I took a quick trip with my folks to Florida to visit my grandmother. We got to spend an hour or so on the beach, which was nice. I haven't been in the ocean since I don't know when. I saw a picture of my great-great-grandfather. I think I'm going to get a copy on the computer someday... but I'm not holding my breath on account of the older people using the internets and everything... When I do get it, I'll be sure to share. He was a grocer in Brooklyn, and it's a great picture of him in his shop.

On a Saturday afternoon, we rode our bikes the entire length of the Sligo Creek Trail (plus the mile or so from our house to the trail). Turns out it's slightly uphill the whole way up to Wheaton... but at least that made the return trip easy (and fast).

This past weekend we carved our pumpkins. The next day, I found out about Oh well. I still like ours, it's simple. Nothing wrong with simple.

I did an informal show with the PlayGround at Joe's Movement Emporium last Thursday. Looks like they've raised some money to build out the theater there. I have mixed feelings. Joe's is a great community resource - but I'm not sure about the potential for quality performances. Oh well. The Meyer Foundation people love to put their names on buildings, so now they'll have a little community based theater space. This show was not our best, but audience was small and supportive. We're doing Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center on November 17th.

This morning I went down to NPR for an interview with Neda Ullaby. She's doing a story about the "DC experimental music scene." Marc Masters' piece that ran in the last issue of Signal to Noise magazine made a good impression, I guess? I got a quick studio tour after the interview, and being an NPR junkie myself, I thought it was really cool. I saw cubicles with the names of familiar reporters on them, and I saw where the Morning Edition and All Things Considered people work. I think I caught a glimpse of Corey Flintoff? He's my favorite. The little production studio where we did the interview had three Neumann U87's. Nice. When I find out when the piece is going to air, I'll post something...

Other news from October was the big grant proposal blitz. There were loads of deadlines around Oct. 15 and Nov. 1 so I spent all my "artist" time this month writing proposals.

  • One for-hire on behalf of Washington Musica Viva sent to the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (they love to reject my projects, hopefully this one will fly)
  • One for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities' "Small Projects Program;" on behalf of Low End String Quartet (LESQ), to hire an educational consultant and develop an in-school interactive concert program.
  • One for the Sparkplug Foundation, for the same LESQ project.
  • and finally one for the Maryland State Arts Council, also for LESQ - but this one is for our upcoming collaborative concert series with Washington Musica Viva. The rules for what the state arts council will and will not fund seem very strange to me. I couldn't ask them for money towards the in-school program, which I'm hoping will be like crack to arts donors
Hmm, that doesn't seem like so many in retrospect. Too bad it took so much time to do the work.

November is shaping up to be heavy on the bookkeeping. I've got a sweet project from Cameron's employer, but I've got to get it done by the end of November so I'm selling more of my time for dayjob stuff than I'd prefer. I figure I should take the work while I can get it... and I want to stash some money for our Costa Rica trip coming up in February. There's something to look forward to!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fall is here

Fall is here, huh? We spent last weekend enjoying the nice weather. We went apple picking with Jen and Trav and Jen's dad, who was in town for a visit. Now we have lots of apples so it's time to learn how to bake pie.

We also took our bikes out for a nice long ride on Sunday. There are miles and miles of nice trails from our neighborhood up to College Park and vicinity.

Some good news (and also sad news): Oreo is adopted. Her new name is "Scout" and she's shown here with her new sibling, Darcy. She lives at Andrews Air Force Base now. It's so sad to give her up, but nice to know that she's got a great permanent home. We did an enormous amount of vacuuming this past weekend and now the house looks like the humans outnumber the dogs again.

I'm hard at work (actually not so much... I'm procrastinating right now) re-arranging the music for "Nxt/Step" - the piece I wrote for Step Afrika. We're doing a new version with a jazz quartet as part of the upcoming Ellington Jazz Festival. Shows are Oct. 2 and 3 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sour Grapes

For several years now I've subscribed to a magazine called Signal To Noise, a publication that bills itself as, “the quarterly journal of improvised, experimental, and unusual music.” They do a fine job covering this terrain, and as far as I know it's a labor of love run by lovely people and filled with the work of lovely people who surely aren't motivated by money. This is all to say, it's a great magazine, and whatever I have to say about it is not meant as a criticism. This essay, like most everything I do, is all about me.

When each issue arrives, I eagerly flip through it. Quickly, I start to get bitter and defensive. I undergo a Kafka-esque transformation and soon resemble a certain fox. It gets harder to flip the pages with furry paws and no thumb, but I'm stubborn and I stick it out until the very last page. Muttering and grumbling over each glossy photo, and every superlative-laden blurb about every unshaven hipster doofus that they gush over for one reason or another. Sour grapes.

At long last, this cycle has been broken! The fall issue arrived in my mailbox this week, and in it there are two lovely features about me. No sour grapes necessary. There's even a glossy photo of me. Me me me. Finally.

Seriously, though... Marc Masters wrote a nice feature story about the DC “experimental scene,” and I'm included as well as many of the other people who, honestly, have a lot more to do with the scene than I do. But I'll happily take some credit. I am a sucker for acknowledgment.

There's also a short review of the DCIC cd included as well... and it's a pretty good review, I think:

DCIC is a guitar/electronics-reeds-drums trio with links to underground rock – guitarist Jonathan Matis recently toured with Fugazi bassist Joe Lally, drummer Ben Azzara was in Delta '72 – as well as jazz – they have performed with Greg Osby. They play in a hybrid language, slipping in the occasional rock chord as easily as they slide through textural explorations. Mike Sebastian's horns, and especially his exotically pitched saxello, are what makes their music stand out. He's as adept at tying knots in his own lines like Roscoe Mitchell as he is at reeling out an imploring, klezmer-tinged lament. At close to an hour, their debut overstays its welcome a bit, but there's enough happening here that I'd be happy to check them out if they came to my town.

-- Bill Meyer

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

LESQ recording session almost complete

I've been in the studio for the last two and a half days with the Low End String Quartet. We're recording at Inner Ear with TJ Lipple. I like TJ, but it sure is expensive to hang out with him.

Our tracking day went more smoothly than I expected. We got through everything with a little time to spare. The air conditioning wasn't working, so things got a little swampy. The string players had some interesting troubles with that. It turns out that bass rosin gets extra sticky; and one of Jodi's tuning pegs got stuck at one point. My bandmates were really great about it. We got through the day with nary a complaint about the heat, and everyone really worked hard.

Mixing is going well too... although it can be a tedious process. In a few weeks, hopefully, we'll get the mastering done and then I'll have some hot stuff to share.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Love the art vs. Love the artist

I am embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I've learned to make the distinction between these two concepts (as they apply to myself and my own work). In retrospect it is kind of hilarious that I was operating previously with these things conflated.

Happily, I have come to realize that what I really want to accomplish musically has something to do with having people like the work, but has nothing to do with needing people to like me. Ah, what relief. Of course, I do still need people to like me, but that's an entirely separate matter. Understanding that this is an entirely separate matter is a wonderful thing!

At the same time, I am more and more clear about the fact that all people will not like the work. In fact, most people will probably not like it (or at least not care about it). However, there are some people who will actually like it and be enthusiastic about it. This is nice.

Having learned these simple things makes it much easier to swallow a lousy review (like the one that was published on Monday in the Post), because my self esteem isn't all tied up in whether or not people liked the music. People responded quite positively to the show - and I think that has a lot to do with the potential for the group and what we're trying to accomplish, even though I've got some work do to as far as getting the music where it needs to be. Carl told me today that he thought about 75% of the music didn't really work, but the other 25% was really exciting. For our first time out with this project, I'll take that. Ok, so we didn't knock one out of the park our first try, but we'll get there...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ouch. A bad review.

The Low End String Quartet's concert on Saturday went quite well. I was really happy with how things went. We had a great audience, the "early show" experiment at Velvet Lounge worked out, and we made it through our set without any major troubles. Considering all of the technical things that could go wrong (especially with my poor old laptop running the show), I'm pretty psyched about how it went.

Of course there are technical / execution things that can be improved. This was our first time performing most of the music, and we can use some more rehearsal. I need to find a better system for dealing with Andrea's violin pickup - the sound we're getting now isn't so hot.

The Post sent a classical music critic, and she really didn't like it. Oh well. I had hoped we'd get a good review that we could attach with grant proposals and add to our press kit and whatnot, but this one ain't it. Oh well. Fortunately the other group members escaped unscathed. She only harshed on me - and particularly my compositions. I can understand that viewed through the lens of post-classical minimalism (Reich, Glass, John Adams, Terry Riley, etc) my work would come off as a bad imitation.

Anyway, we've got work to do. We have two rehearsal days this week before we head into the recording studio on Monday night. So that's two work days this week where I get to have super fun and call it work.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The greatest work day ever

I wanted to write this up two weeks ago, and then got behind... but I think it's going to repeat tomorrow, so I'm happy to revisit.

I've been complaining a great deal lately about my dayjob(s) and stress related to money, etc. That all took a backseat a few weeks ago when I had a daytime rehearsal for the Low End Quartet.

I started this project about a year and a half ago. I threw together a few pieces, found interested players who were willing to do a couple of rehearsals and one show for free, got us a spot opening for a friend of mine, and we did a little proof-of-concept. It worked quite well. The music was well received, we made some rehearsal recordings, and I was quite insipired to write more music for the group. Instead of writing said music immediately, I wrote grant proposals. And then some more proposals. Then I got really lucky and some of those were funded.

So here we are, I've got this thing going as a paid gig. I was able to take a few months at the start of the year to focus on composing, and I've got the budget to pay the performers (including myself) for a handful of rehearsals and a show or two. Plus we're going to spend three days in the recording studio in September. Exciting stuff...

Of course real life didn't unfold according to plan and some of the details in my proposals have been changed. I had to hire a new bass player, I didn't finish writing the pieces I needed in the time alotted, etc., etc... but we've got a show coming up this weekend, and the recording session is two weeks away. And here's the best part -- our rehearsal days are paid for. It's literally my job to rehearse with the group. Not as much as I'd like, but we're devoting a couple of days to it - six hour blocks of time, which is quite unheard of in my experience with other bands.

So a few weeks ago, I set up the basement for us and sure enough we spent the better part of the day playing new music in my basement. We didn't cover as much material as I'd hoped, but I'm always putting too many things on my to-do list for any given day. This was no exception. We took a short break for lunch, and played some more. A photographer for the Express came by because they're running a feature about our upcoming show. We got to get acquainted a bit more with one another during lunch, and we got to get acquainted a bit more simply by playing together. (The cat's out of the bag, as far as my skills as a performer... the other members of the group are pros and I'm not quite up to speed when it comes to playing chamber music ;-)

At the end of the day, I was awfully content. I put my coffee down at 9am and forgot to drink it, I was so absorbed in what we were doing all day. When I found it again after the rehearsal was over and everyone had left, I realized that I'd just had the best work day ever. We'd worked hard, but it was seriously fun the whole time. Maddening at some points, given that my music is repetitive and we have to count bars carefully, but fun!

I can't wait for rehearsal tomorrow.. and the show on Saturday should be a blast. Check out the Express on Thursday (I think that's when the feature will run), and I think the Post is covering the show so a review should be in Monday's paper...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

Not qute viral marketing but...

I haven't really done much publicity for our upcoming Low End String Quartet show at the Velvet Lounge (Aug. 23rd at 8pm, it's gonna be awesome and you should totally come), but the wheels seem to be turning nonetheless.

I got an email from the arts editor at Washington Post Express - I don't think I sent her anything about the show, but honestly I can't remember... and they sent a photographer over to my house to take some pictures during our rehearsal yesterday.

Also, we got a mention in the Post yesterday, at the end of a review of the Section Quartet's show at Iota (they were doing an evening of Radiohead covers).

Does this mean that there is some buzz building and I don't have to push so hard to generate it myself? That would be sweet.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Money vs. Time vs. Misanthropy

I spent most of July working for the man, and now I feel a little less anxious about money. Getting my total net worth above zero makes a difference. Imagine that.

Now my anxious-ness has shifted focus from money to the other side of the same coin: time. Now that I'm committing the majority of my time to earning money, I'm running up against some real obstacles when it comes to accomplishing the things I think I'm supposed to actually do with my life. For whatever reason(s), one of those things is to write string quartet music that rocks. And I've got a deadline, since we start rehearsing again next week... but when do I finish the piece I'm working on, and how will I ever get the score and parts done before Thursday morning? And, oh crap – shouldn't I be doing publicity stuff for our show, now that it's less than four weeks away?! And on top of that, my list of grant proposal deadlines is pretty long for September and October, so I have to get started on some of that work during August, or I'll really be in trouble...

So here I am in anxious-land, nervous about how I can make time to do the things I “need” to do even though I “need” to pay the bills and I also “need” (and importantly, want) to spend time doing some leisure things – spending time with Cameron, and the dogs, and fixing up the yard and the house, etc.

I heard this sermon a few years ago, about looking at our calendar through a spiritual lens... not surprisingly, the big conclusion is to find a purpose in life and do things with that purpose in mind. Then the frenzied activity goes away, or at least feels rewarding rather than frenzied since it's all in service of the grand purpose.

Ok, but I still want to write this string quartet music that rocks. Is that my grand purpose? I don't think so, but maybe writing and playing music is... in as much as it serves a grand purpose like inspiring others or somehow expressing the inexpressible, you know, like music can do sometimes... or maybe it's more about allowing music to create the opportunity for people to come together and simply have a shared experience – one that may occasionally be a moving experience? I think I learned a little bit about that playing with Joe last May. He seems really clear about his purpose - which I interpreted as being all about bringing people together. And that meets the Henry Moore test as mentioned in that sermon I linked to, about having a purpose that is totally impossible. It is definitely getting harder and harder to bring a group of people together for any kind of shared experience. (And I'm part of the problem here... I'd much rather stay home and watch TV with Cameron and the puppies than go out and do something with people – hey wait a second, I hate people. I've been using the “so so so fun test” to say no to all kinds of activities; if it's not going to be so so so fun, then I'd rather just stay home. I haven't found much that passes the “so so so fun test.”)

Even with that aside, so let's say we're close to my grand purpose – to use my creativity to create something that brings people together for some kind of special experience (let's pretend I find a way to get over the fact that, in general, I hate people). Or something like that. Now what about the money? Am I just too chicken to really take the leap and live my purpose because I don't know how the money can possibly work out? I tried it for the first five months of this year – I wasn't doing very much in the way of unrelated day-jobs, and I wound up broke without much in the way of future earnings on the horizon, so I headed for the temp agency. So now what?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I think I remember music...

July has pretty much come and gone. Most of my time went to day-jobs. Accounting is fun! (That's what I'll keep telling myself anyway). There have been some rewarding little things... like:

  • The convenience of direct deposit. I don't get paid much, but it sure feels nice when the money just appears magically in my bank account.
  • The convenience of not having to collect from my clients. The temp agency pays me every week, wrestling money from the client is their problem.
  • Bored-at-work time online. Like the time I'm spending right now writing this blog post (oh wait, I shouldn't publish that, huh?)
The Source Festival came and went, and I spent a whole bunch of that bored-at-work online time yesterday and today fussing with the festival producers about my payment. I won't type up all the stupid details, but basically we had a misunderstanding about how much I was going to get paid. The real problem is that most of the festival performers were not paid at all and did it "for the love of it." No surprise that the results were amateur vanity projects that got bad reviews. Unfortunately, that's not how the festival was presented to me in the beginning, when I was invited to participate. At first, I was asked if I'd be interested - and there would be a stipend. I said I might be interested, and when the invitation arrived, the stipend idea was gone, but there was a split of the box office. This amounted to very small amounts of money for the artists, but I said yes anyway and did it. That was my big mistake. I had no burning desire to collaborate with other dance artists (I've done plenty of that over the last few years), and I don't need a venue for my work, so I wasn't so interested in participating in the festival - as an opportunity to show my work. I wanted a paying gig. Seems like I got on the wrong bus with that one...

I have had some clarity recently, regarding my motivation for making music. My own ego / vanity was a big part of it previously. Not as much now. Which is surprising to learn, actually. It turns out I'm quite happy to play good music in Ben's basement (with DCIC), or in my basement (with the Low End String Quartet), or in Trav's basement (with my as-yet-unnamed instrumental rock band). I don't actually care so much about having a public venue and an audience.

Ok, that's not entirely true... I do want people to hear my music - and enjoy it. I do. But that's just part of the process - not an end in itself. DCIC needs to have gigs on the calendar in order to give us the incentive to get together regularly and practice (and to give media outlets some reason to write a review of our album, which I'm quite proud of, and I do want people to hear it).
(and reviews are coming in the fall issues of Signal To Noise, and Cadence magazines) (and the Signal to Noise issue may or may not include this unfortunate photograph)

Similar situation with the string quartet. On one hand, that project is a grand experiment to see if we can find an audience for contemporary chamber music by playing in bars. At the same time, we have to be out in the world performing in order to raise the money to keep the group running (and to make some recordings). Maybe I'll write more about my ideas for the business side of the string quartet later... this week I want to focus on the artistic side. Tomorrow is actually one of the few days on my calendar this month that I'm able to set aside for composing and I need to finish one more piece for the quartet. We need to be out playing in order to be able to leverage the resources we need so I can hire the players (myself included) so we can play good music in my basement. (And then hopefully play it as well in the recording studio)

And we'll see about the rock band. That's moving forward, slowly. I'm honestly in no hurry to play out with them. I'm enjoying having a regular outlet for rocking out. We practice almost every week, one evening after work (they all have day-jobs, too). I'm also feeling like it's a good idea, in terms of process, to let the music evolve slowly and to take our time figuring out what we want to sound like. I was joking last night after rehearsal when I said we'd be ready to play out this time next year - but actually, that's more realistic than I first thought.

In general, I think the lesson I'm learning lately is to say "no." Say "no" to unpaid (or poorly paid) gigs (except local shows for DCIC... since we're doing that for free anyway?). I still need to learn to say "no" to other music-related tasks that I don't need to do myself... like blogging, making a website, sending out promo emails, updates on myspace, etc etc. Now that I'm not as concerned with cultivating an audience (except where that's part of the business model for the string quartet), I'm hoping I can cut down on a great deal of the music-related admin work that I do on a regular basis. (Know anyone who wants to be my intern?)

So what does that mean for Improv Arts? I started this nonprofit that also houses Daniel's dance company. He benefits greatly from having the nonprofit infrastructure (and free bookkeeping), but I'm not sure that I actually need it for much. This is something I need to think about in more detail.

July has also brought some non-musical things to my attention. Like peaches. And zucchini that we grew in the backyard (although our plant seems to be dying now, after producing quite a bit of zucchini for us). And we went to Fort Reno last week with the dogs. That was fun. And Cameron and I have been beating the heat by staying inside and playing scrabble. She beat me so bad I shouldda called the cops last week in an online game (see bored-at-work bit above) but I redeemed myself when we faced off last weekend in real life. And I think I've got my work schedule and yoga schedule worked out so I'll be back on practicing 3 days per week, which should make a big difference in moderating my grumpiness (and maybe my weight gain).

And why not put in another picture of our foster puppy Oreo, because she is soooo cute, she de-zerves to be no.1

So here's looking forward to August. I have (miraculously) hired a new bass player AND scheduled rehearsals with the Low End Quartet; DCIC is playing at Velvet Lounge with Circles and Richard Lloyd (of Television); Low End Quartet is playing at Velvet Lounge the following weekend; and then the quartet gets to go to the studio on Sept. 1st. Lots of fun stuff to look forward to!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Meet Oreo! She's our new foster puppy and she is ridiculously adorable. Like our previous foster puppy, she arrived with a ripe odor and kennel cough. Over the weekend she got a bath, and her cough is improving steadily.

Honestly, I'm a little worried about how crazy she's going to be once she gets healthy. We're so spoiled by Wickett who is totally mellow and super well behaved. But who cares? It's a super cute puppy! What's not to love about a super cute puppy?!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Independence Day Weekend: I'm all over town

I've got a handful of performances coming up this weekend. Saturday and Sunday, I have a piece in the Source Festival (more on that later). And on Sunday night, DCIC is performing at Electric Possible with a handful of other bands.

Electric Possible is monthly concert held at George Washington University. The focus is on experimental music of different kinds. This month's lineup includes some good stuff. We're performing along with PRV Trio (Anthony Pirog, Ed Ricart, and Scott Verrastro), Seventh Ring of Saturn (from Atlanta), Cash $lave Clique, and maybe others.

DCIC will have a rehearsal before this show, which is something I'm looking forward to. We haven't played together since our in-store at Crooked Beat back in early May. So this will be fun, we get to play together on Thursday night in Ben's basement and then again on Sunday at GWU. Twice in one week! Woo Hoo!

The details:
Phillips Hall,
801 22nd St, NW,
Rm B120 (in the basement)
(22nd and H Streets/GW Metro)
George Washington University
8pm, $5

And now about this Source Festival thing... I was assigned collaborators as part of the festival's "Interdisciplinary Mash-Ups" initiative:

Mash-ups are the pairing together of artists from at least two different disciplines each with the goal of creating, in under three month’s time, a new interdisciplinary performance piece 15 to 30 minutes long.
I got paired with two dancers. This gig doesn't pay very well, so we had to address the conflicting issues of making a substantial (15 minutes long is substantial as far as I'm concerned) new work when we aren't being compensated for our time, while simultaneously we don't want to present something that's totally weak. Laura and Stephen were also keenly aware of this conundrum so we looked around for material that we already have on hand, that would be available to use as a starting point.

I brought them a piece of ambient guitar music that I recorded a while back and haven't used for anything, and Laura remembered a short 8mm film that her dad made in 1970 called "Paint it Blue," that she'd been wanting to use for something. Turns out there was a hint of a theme between them. My piece, "Romance of the Surveillance Machines," is up on myspace if you want to hear it. The film documents an episode where the Schandelmeiers were painting the outside of their downtown bar/restaurant one afternoon (with a small crowd of volunteers) and the cops showed up and starting arresting people for no good reason.

Laura's parents came over for dinner one night, and I brought my recording gear. They told us the story of the restaurant and how they wound up being harassed by police (and eventually the Airline Pilots Association as well) and lost everything: the business and the building. I went home with around 90 minutes of audio, and took a stab at editing it down. My first batch of edits got us down to 18 minutes. I gave that to Laura and Stephen, and they built a video around the interview clips, using the original film and some other footage. Last night, I made a final version of the audio track with the interviews, and background music (derived from the pre-existing piece mentioned above) and now I think we're done. Laura and Stephen have generated some new movement/dance material that will happen on stage along with the film.

Performances are this coming Saturday, 2pm and 8pm, and again on Sunday at 2pm. Some genius set us up for two matinees and only one evening show... and we get paid via a tiny slice of the door. I'm such a sucker. No, I mean, here's the link to buy tickets - enjoy the show! It's gonna be great! (We're in the show titled, "Group E.")

Assistant to the Pastry Chef

This past weekend, I was hired to help out with a big baking project. Cameron got a gig baking a wedding cake (and cupcakes and cookies) for her boss' daughter's wedding. I did lots of dishes. We made an enormous amount of icing. We also learned how to stack cakes. Turns out that the secret is dowels. Looks good, huh? It's a vegan red velvet cake with butter cream icing. It's crazy delicious.

The cake was accompanied by five dozen coconut cupcakes and one zillion Mexican wedding cookies.

We borrowed my parents' kitchen to do most of the work, which was crucial to our success. Having two ovens, two mixers, and all that counter space really paid off. I don't think we could've done it in our little kitchen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The opposite of "no more data entry."

I would very much like to develop a new relationship to money. Perhaps this would be easier if I had a little bit more of it. Towards this end, I am back to work selling my accounting skills. Temp-ing. My current assignment is at the Lincoln Theater. I got the gig through Accountemps. I do not think highly of Accountemps, so I met with another recruiter last week. We'll see if I get a better offer.

This morning, I got to work about 45 minutes early (Cameron needed to get to her office early, and I had to take Wickett to doggie day-care and then metro down to my new job site, wasn't sure how long all that would take). So I took a walk around the neighborhood (14th and U street). It's really crazy how much 14th street has changed - even in the last year or so. Lots of construction is now completed and the street is lined with upscale retail that makes me laugh. They got all of these ridiculously expensive stores open just in time for the economy to take a nose-dive. The absurdity of human activity is spilled out onto the sidewalk and I couldn't help tripping all over it. I've been thinking about the absurdity of human activity because temp-ing brings out the absurdity very efficiently.

I will say this: it's awfully nice having very little accountability. I promise to actually show up and do some work each day. I will not leave my client in worse condition that when I got there. Happily, I also will take on no stress related to the state of their financial management. It is not my problem. If it becomes my problem, I can, quite literally, walk away. Additionally, I have now re-joined the ranks of so many other white-collar workers: those sitting at a desk, bored at work. Gee, now I have time to make a blog post. Perhaps you too are bored at work. Why else would you be reading this?

Yesterday, Cameron and I performed with Daniel Burkholder/The PlayGround at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. It was nice doing the show outside, along the water. The weather cooperated, the rain that was in the forecast didn't arrive until after we got home and unloaded the gear. The show went fine, I guess. I think my interest in modern dance is waning. Maybe "has waned completely" would be more accurate. I will probably feel better about the project after I get paid.

We got our notification from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Once again, the Low End String Quartet has been rejected for a "Creative Projects" grant. At least this year I had the good sense not to observe the panel as they discussed the proposal. Unfortunately, they were no more enlightened this year than last year... I will no longer waste my time applying to AHCMC for funding. Too bad, though, I could've really used the money. Oh yeah, better get back to the bookkeeping...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Photo from Joe Lally at Knitting Factory

Joe Lally
Originally uploaded by Fists With Your Toes
Just found this on flickr... someone posted a shot of our show at the Knit last month. Joe Lally: bass, vocals; Ricardo Lagomasino: drums, I'm the blurry one with the guitar; and special guest Aurora Nealand: alto sax. We should've brought Aurora along for the rest of the tour because she's awesome. Joe joked about doing his next US tour just with her and without us (me and Ricardo) which would sound great. I'd like the work and all, but he should do that...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Grant Seekin' Update

I got four pieces of news on the grants front this week... first one I mentioned already, Creative Capital invited a full proposal. Neato. Then I got two rejection emails: American Music Center's "Composer Assistance Program" and Meet the Composer both said no. But tonight I got a nice phone call from Carl Banner at Washington Musica Viva -- our joint proposal to have the Low End String Quartet join up with his group for a series of concerts in "alternative venues" during 2009 was funded by the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund. Now we have to find matching funds for something like $6,000. That seems like a nice problem to have...

None of this takes care of my short term money problem, but it sure is good news! And there's a possibility that I'll do some future grant writing for Carl, for money, so that'll help.

Unrelated, I went to my first yoga class today since the tour ended. Turns out that sitting in a van for two weeks, eating badly, and drinking beer every night makes for one hard yoga class.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tour complete; Back to Real Life

It's now been a few days since the end of my two week tour with Joe Lally. I think it may have been a strange dream... I got to play music with Joe and Ricardo every single night for two weeks straight. Did that really happen? Yes, I think it did...

The last few nights of the trip were strange, in different ways. The DC show was odd for Joe, he said he was nervous about it - playing to a room full of people he really just wanted to sit and talk to, rather than be on stage playing songs. Turnout was a little bit lighter than I expected, but there was certainly a nice size audience and the set went just fine. Ricardo was disappointed with his playing that night, but Ricardo on an off night is still pretty awesome. Philadelphia was a strange one because it was an early all-ages show at a venue in an odd neighborhood. A 7pm show on a weeknight feels odd to me, but we had a roomful of people listening - and they were there to listen. Very quiet. The soundguy was very stoned, which made me nervous but he did a fine job. There was some unfortunate lighting at the end of the show - and then we had to hustle and get our gear out so the club could switch over to DJ night which began immediately when we were done. Baltimore was strange too. The club recently moved into another club. There was a dance party upstairs and booming bass rumbled the room where our show was going on. This proved to be distracting, but not an insurmountable obstacle. In the end, our final show felt anticlimactic. I made a handful of mistakes which seemed extra frustrating since we'd been playing together so intensely for weeks - I thought I would've been able to get it right. Then we said goodbye and that was that.

Returning to home life was abrubt - and wonderful. I am eating about four million calories per day now. Hopefully that will get back to normal. Home cookin' rules. Vegan desserts are also nice. We made asparagus lemongrass risotto last night for Cameron's birthday and it was mighty delicious. I'm a little bit jet lagged. I had gotten onto a late night schedule and now it's back to the land of the workin' folks. Except that I need to find me some work now... which is strange since I'm as busy as ever, only I'm not getting paid for most of my work. I have a batch of grant proposals to write, so hopefully that will bring in something later on in the year. But that won't help me get out of debt now.

I got some great news yesterday: I had applied for Creative Capital, which is a very competitive national grant program for individual artists. Turns out I made the first cut, and I've been invited to submit a full proposal. This is very exciting. But now I need to clear a few days to sit down and get the proposal done.

I'm also supposed to be working on a new piece for the Source Festival. They set up a series of "interdisciplinary mash-ups" (their term, not mine). I'm performing in early July with two dancers: Laura Schandelmeier and Stephen Clapp. (What an exciting mash-up! Music! and dance!) We're supposed to create a new collaborative work that is 15 - 30 minutes in length. If they sell 60% of the tickets to our three performances, I will get paid about $300. That means we need to create this new 15 - 30 minute piece in approximately zero hours, but I suspect this will not be possible. Especially since I would like the piece to not suck. Not sure why I said "yes" to this gig. Probably because it was by invitation only, so I was all flattered to be invited. I am such a sucker.

Now I'm also supposed to be finding another day-job because I owe Cameron a bunch of money for our household bills over the last few months. When I am actually going to work at this new job is a bit confusing to me at the moment, but I guess I need to figure out how to make it happen... because I really need the money.

This new as-yet unnamed day-job also needs to be fairly flexible. Joe invited me to do some more touring in September, and Step Afrika is supposed to hire me for some work in the fall as well, so I might be a full-time musician again in September / October. For a little while anyway.

Relationship-land is going nicely. I was worried about how touring would play out, with Cameron stuck taking care of everything at home while I was out having fun and not getting paid enough to cover my share of the bills. Money aside, I think we were able to discuss the various issues that came up and not have things get ugly at all. Realistically, I won't be touring much at all in the near future since I don't have any road-ready or seaworthy ensembles at the moment. Maybe in 2009 I should get the Low End Quartet out of DC to start building audiences elsewhere, but we'll see. I probably have to hire a whole set of new players for that, so it seems difficult, if not unlikely. So, I think it's actually much simpler than I had feared. I do enjoy living at home, in a house, with only one other person (and a pet). I do enjoy having a car, and a yard, and health insurance. Since I'm not really in a position to even try to make a living as a touring performer, the real issue to be solved is only money. What I want for myself, and what Cameron wants for herself, in terms of creature comforts, are really pretty similar. There's only so much lower I'd be willing to drop my overhead expenses... so I don't think there's going to be any conflict there.

Being away only helped to highlight how much I miss being at home. Even though I did reaffirm that I'm a sucker for acknowledgment and validation, I also reaffirmed that I'm super lucky to have what I have at home and I don't want to trade that for anything...

Now to figure out that money problem...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wrapping up New England

After Providence, we moved on to New London, Connecticut. I haven't been there in a few years... I went to college there, but didn't really know the town too well. Sure seems like it's been nothing but hard times there since. The venue was a small bar in the heart of downtown. We had low expectations for a Monday night at the end of a holiday weekend, but it turned out to be a popular event. Sean, the promoter, was great to us and really seems to work hard trying to make a scene happen up there. It was a tough room to play since things got noisy, but the show went well.

Next day we drove into New York City for our show at the Knitting Factory. It was my first time on the main stage there. The sound in that place is perfect. The guys working the show were first-rate and the gear is a cut above any club I've played before. I'll spare the geeking out over the microphones but a club that uses an RE20 on the kick drum warms my heart. Dinner at "House of Vegetarian" was especially satisfying; yesterday in New London (on a holiday) it was slim pickings. We had no idea what the turnout would be like and it was good. The room was pretty crowded. This all made for an ideal situation... New York City, good sound, good audience, but wait - that's not all. We had another guest musician, Ricardo's friend Aurora played alto sax on a few songs which was freakin' awesome. She nailed all of them (with no rehearsal). The rest of the show went smoothly, and I think we all felt good about it. Definitely my best New York show so far...

Today it's back to DC for a show at the Black Cat. We're leaving New York in time for me to stop by the house and visit with my dog - yay! Sadly, the tour's not done yet and we head out again for two more days, but at least I get to spend one night at home with Cameron... I'm sure when this is done there will be much soul searching and relationship negotiating as we figure out if this "touring musician" thing is going to work again in the future. It's been hard for both of us, and I'm not sure how to work this out so there's no resentment on her end after she's left taking care of everything at home for weeks on end while I drive around playing shows. Doesn't seem fair, and I suppose it truly isn't. Add to that the money issues and we've got a recipe for some major relationship hurdles. Do I remember enough Landmark mumbo-jumbo to have the conversations we'll need to have to work through these issues without things getting totally ugly?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Vanity, Dim-wittedness, and Cities that start with P

We drove up to Portland, Maine and had a nice Saturday at a place called Space. It's a multi-use nonprofit arts facility that hosts lots of shows. The people there were super nice and treated us well. We had a pretty good turnout and the crowd was very attentive - a big change from the bar scene the night before. Spent the night at the venue, our first nightclub slumber party of the tour.

Spent the next morning at a Portland eco-friendly laundromat. Clean clothes rule!

Then off to Providence. We played at The Living Room, which is basically a dump. I don't think the proprietors would mind that label, as it seems to be dumpy intentionally. The sound system is equipped with enough firepower to blast the audience into another zip code. Fortunately, Pete the soundguy is skilled and doesn't overdo it (plus the mixes and monitor mix are solid and he works super fast). Smallest audience yet, but the music is good. We have a New England super fan who has spent his holiday weekend following us - from Cambridge to Portland and Providence.

My realization / insight about my vanity issue has been helpful... I think having seen it and named it, it's been almost easy to drop it. It remains to be seen whether this is more self-delusion or actual progress.

After the Portland show, a too-young cute girl was asking about the vibrator and said, "Do you need to practice with that?" The following day it occurred to me that this comment may have been a come-on. I am the dimmest bulb. And even if it wasn't a come-on, I can still go with that story, so now I got what I wanted - some little piece of validation. Ridiculous. I am ridiculous. Happily (and thankfully) I've got a super hottie sweetheart at home and this nonsense can be seen for the nonsense that it is. And we get to back DC on Wednesday - only two days away...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tour continues: starting New England

The show in Ithaca went quite well. I was worried about turnout in the “off season” in a college town, but that was unwarranted. The people were great, the music was good, the opening bands were good, the meals were good. Ithaca was just swell, although a bit disorienting at first since all of my previous time there was spent visiting in the in-laws (now ex-in-laws), so it was a bit strange making new memories and associations with the town.

Day eight: Fairly long drive to Cambridge, Mass., but it's a scenic drive and the weather was nice. Our venue here, The Middle East, took good care of us. Sound was good, food was good. From here on out we're playing with the Glorytellers and Geoff Farina is sitting in with us on a few songs. We had a quickie rehearsal during soundcheck, and I'm delighted with the new sounds he's bringing. It was a Friday night and the place was pretty crowded. We went on late; the room was pretty well drunk. Now that we've been playing together for a week, the songs are starting to fit us. Or more accurately, our versions of these songs are starting to come into focus. After the Ithaca show, Ricardo said he felt loose and I think we're just getting looser and able to inhabit the songs more deeply.

Joe nimbly handled a couple of hecklers, and effectively established that his show isn't a party show. He also managed to address some deeper aspects of the coming together that is made possible through music. It's really something how he's able to stay focused on what a joy it is to be with a group of people and play music, even though a late-night bar scene isn't the most conducive environment for thoughtful reflection. He's somehow able to make it more hospitable by his example: who he's being and what his intention is.

Here's the part where I reveal what an incredible asshole I am. See there was this cute young lady at the show. Much too young for me, mind you, but she was right up at the front of the stage and enjoying the performance in an inebriatedly enthusiastic manner. A manner which seemed to say her mind was in the process of being blown by us. Especially the guitar playing. Of course this is flattering, and I can use the confidence boost. But here's the bad news: I was actually disappointed when she took off after the show and didn't stick around to chat for a minute. It's not that I wanted anything to happen with her (see the “too young” part above, and let's not forget that I'm in a fabulous relationship and am totally and passionately committed to Cameron) but what I learned – and would rather not admit - is that I really wanted to have the opportunity for something to happen. Because I need the affirmation somehow? This was a saddening realization. I think this makes me some kind of higher order asshole. Like asshole to the tenth power.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tour journal continues... week 1

Day two: Cincinnati – show at Blue Rock Tavern. Neat little up-and-coming neighborhood; venue / promoter was super nice. Dinner at strange next door “community center” fundraiser event. Opening band, The Pomegranates, are coming to DC to record a CD. Why? Seems like more trouble and expense than it's worth, but best of luck to 'em! Met 1st kid of the tour (20 something guy) who was affected by Fugazi / Dischord similarly to myself. Nice to learn that some of the young kids are still getting the message from the same source. Since then, have met people in every town with similar stories. It was a Saturday show in a small bar – decent crowd. About half were there for the music, other half was out on a Saturday night. Joe is very enlightened in his response to non-attentive audiences. He ends the set each night with “Sons and Daughters,” acapella standing in the middle of the crowd. The chattiest crowds have all gone silent during this...

Day three: First trip across Indiana, show in Chicago at Schuba's. Plush venue – nice sounding room, nice gear, good soundguy (Stan). We are joined by cellist, Alison Chesley. She rocks. An old friend from college, Chuck Jones, surprises me at the show. He's large. He gave me a whammy pedal and an electric kazoo. He said I look like an aging baby bird. Mahmood also came to the show (he booked the tour). We should have taken a photo for the alumni magazine. Show was good. We stayed with Joe's friends Damon and Wayne of The Eternals. They visited into the wee hours, I fell asleep.

Day four: Second trip across Indiana, this time south to Bloomington. Venue, the Art Hospital, is a small DIY venue, an old house in a commercial district. Not sure if anyone lives there. Seems to be run by college kids. Unfortunately, it's a rainy Sunday night and school is out for the summer. Small crowd, but super-attentive. We went for dinner late, and the nearby vegetarian restaurant had just closed. We popped into the coffee shop downstairs and happily ran into Jesse, who hosted Joe and Ricardo during their last visit. He happened to be working there. Good thing, since we didn't have arrangements for a place to stay. He took good care of us, even made vegan pancakes for breakfast and we all had a chance to play with his scottish terrier Dexter.

Fun trivia fact: Joe Lally keeps a bottle of fish oil tucked into a compartment near the driver seat at the front of the minivan, so he can take a swig as needed. Icky.

Day five: Our third and final traversal of the state of Indiana, this time heading back up north to Detroit. We have a motel room near the airport. The hotel has funky 70s soul music playing day and night. The place is funkdafied. The bathroom is a bit funkdafied, but passable. The show is a strange one. It's a large venue, with a massive stage. Joe, smartly, decides that we should set up on the floor, in front of the stage so we can perform as though we are, in fact, in the same room as the audience. This turns out to be perfect, especially given the modest size of the crowd. Mostly the opening band and their friends. Seems like everyone is pretty drunk by the time we play our set. The music goes well. I'm now “off book” and playing the set without peeking at my notes. This frees things up considerably and I feel good about it.

Day six: We drive through Canada to take the short-cut to Buffalo. We go through a tunnel from Detroit to Windsor, Canada. Detroit seems like a hardscrabble town. Coming out of the tunnel in Windsor, everything is sunshine and smiles. We find a Little Italy type of neighborhood, but it turns out we can't afford to eat at restaurants in Canada with the exchange rate where it is these days. We pick up a few things from a cute little Italian grocery and have a makeshift lunch on the sidewalk by the van, followed by espresso at a lovely gelato joint. My romance with Canada wears out as we drive to Buffalo; long stretches of highway through farm country is the same as in the USA, but with lower speed limits. We catch a peek of Niagra Falls on our way back over the border. The show is at Soundlab, a nice little basement club downtown. Orthrelm opens for us, and Mick sits in on a couple of songs. He's unreal. In a good way. Brian Fending puts us up for the night at his place in the suburbs. Somehow we don't wake his wife and daughter at 3am, and Reba, the Rottweiler warms up to us after a few minutes.

Day seven: Scenic drive to Ithaca. Lunch at Moosewood. On the way into Ithaca, we listen to Gillian Welch's “Time: the Revelator” in the van. It ends with an epic song, “I Dream a Highway” and every chorus (“I dream a highway back to you...”) makes me tear up. It's tough being away from home – and we're only now finishing the first week. It's going to be a while yet before I get home to Cameron.

This touring thing is a strange way to make a living. Especially when it costs $80 to fill up the van every day. The small shows we're playing mean that we're living close to the break even point. Joe's been selling a few CD's – some nights are better than others, but I'm not sure how he's going to pay for his plane fare to/from Italy plus our tour expenses. Doesn't seem like he'll have much change in his pocket when we're done... Maybe we'll do better as we get later in the week and into another weekend.

We walked around downtown after lunch and saw several posters up advertising the show. Hopefully we'll get a decent crowd, but playing a college town like this after school's out doesn't seem too promising. Joe has a great attitude about this stuff. He is so committed to playing music, he'll be doing it one way or the other and the business stuff will catch up eventually.

I'm a bit jealous that he's able to put his writing and playing first. Personally, I get all caught up in the money, or more accurately the fear of not having enough money. Ricardo, our brilliant drummer, doesn't have health insurance, doesn't have a car, and doesn't make enough money to need to file taxes. My overhead isn't so low. I have a mortgage, I choose to live with only one other person (and our dog), I have health insurance, we have a car, and comprehensive auto insurance. Otherwise, we're quite frugal – I'm not sure how I can get my overhead much lower. It seems that being a musician today means giving up attachment to all material things, not having insurance, and also giving up attachment to “normal” personal relationships, since you'd need to be touring almost constantly in order to have any kind of steady income. Of course things aren't all that bleak, and many musicians find ways to hold onto part-time or project based day-job work in addition to their writing and playing. Hopefully I can make some progress towards that when we get back from the tour. My fear is that I'm going to need a full-time day-job to get out of debt and that's going to put my musical projects on hold for three or four months at least.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

On the road with Joe Lally, part 1

It's been a wacky week or so... Cameron and I got back from a trip to Egypt and Jordan with her parents. We haven't had time to go through our pictures yet... maybe I'll get to post some next month. After we recovered from the jet lag and various digestive difficulties, it was time to scramble to catch up on things before heading out for a two week tour. That was complicated by my granmother's passing away last Tuesday night. The funeral was on Friday morning. It was a nice service - short and sweet, and we had a nice chance to share memories of her.

Then I had to split real quick and get in the van. Which is, I guess, how this business works. I'm missing my other grandmother's 90th birthday party, which is taking place tonight in Boca.

I'm on the road right now with a rock band. How crazy is that? We had our first show last night in Pittsburgh. It was a little strange, it was an early show that was set up that way for kind of bizarre reasons... but the audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. It was honestly our third rehearsal more than our first show, but I felt pretty good about it. There were a few places where I felt like I was being a little tentative, but for the most part I was able to relax and let the music be. The drummer, Ricardo, is really fantastic. I haven't played with him before, so that's very cool.

I meant to bring a few things that got left behind. I left my camera at home, I didn't want to carry any more junk - so I don't have any photos of the trip. And I forgot to bring a towel. We spent the night yesterday with some college students in Pittsburgh. Very nice of them to put us up, but I would've enjoyed having my own towel. Lesson learned.

So the early show thing was because there was a big show that night, presented by the same promoter who put on our show but at a different venue. It was a reunion show by The Meatmen. There were two local reunited punk bands on the bill. I think it was a very good decision for us not to be on the same bill, although the money might have been better (but the crowd and vibe would've been wrong wrong wrong)... the place was packed. It was weird though, like it was suddenly 1981 or something. Most of the audience was in costume. Costume like they were at a punk show in 1981. That was surreal. I guess it's nothing new that punk rock is now a costume rather than a subculture, but it still makes me feel strange to see it that way. I was introduced briefly to punk icon Tesco Vee, which was also a bit surreal. Turns out that the guy who wrote "Tooling for Anus" is quite down to earth and used to live in the DC suburbs where he was an elementary school teacher. Wild to think that he still does his "act" and can draw a big crowd doing it. Or maybe that's not strange at all? Maybe being a normal guy and simultaneously being a raving madman is perfectly normal? Maybe just doing both in public is what's rare.

Tonight we're in Cincinnati. We'll see how things unfold. We talked in the van today about me adding some backing vocals. Hopefully we'll have some extra time during sound-check to practice that. Singing in public... yipes!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Gusty Winds May Exist

One of my favorite records ever is now available for free online. The self-titled debut by "Gusty Winds May Exist" has recently been posted on It's definitely the best shakuhachi / recorder duo record you'll hear anytime soon!

I think the "transcontinental duets" are particularly striking, as the two instruments were recorded independently, yet they work so beautifully. Tom and Nancy agreed on a specific date and time when they would each record. They would meditate for a specified period (a few minutes, I think), then play and record for a specified length of time. Tom was in Washington DC, and Nancy was in California. They put the recordings together, and thanks to some kind of cosmic karma mumbo-jumbo, the resulting pieces are gorgeous.

Don't take my word for it, download your own copy:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fundraising now, touring later

Eigenvalues received a small grant from the Puffin Foundation to launch our new project. Now we're starting a new Commissioning Club campaign to raise money for the project. Click here to learn more.

In other news, I'll be on tour in May, playing guitar with Joe Lally. Here's the itinerary, for the latest version check his website.

May 17: Cincinnati, OH - Blue Rock Tavern w/Pomegranates

May 18: Chicago, IL - Schubas Tavern

May 19: Bloomington, IN - Art Hospital

May 20: Detroit, MI - Alvin's

May 21: Buffalo, NY - Soundlab (Big Orbit's Soundlab)

May 22: Ithaca, NY - No Radio Records

May 23: Cambridge, MA - Middle East ~upstairs~ w/ Glorytellers

May 24: Portland, ME - Space w/ Glorytellers

May 25: Providence, RI - The Livingroom w/ Glorytellers

May 26: New London, CT - The Oasis

May 27: New York, NY - Knitting Factory w/ Glorytellers

May 28: Washington, DC - Black Cat ~backstage~ w/ Glorytellers

May 29: Philadelphia, PA - The Barbary w/ Glorytellers

May 30: Baltimore, MD - Talking Head w/ Glorytellers

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Low End String Quartet: two new pieces

Yesterday we had our first rehearsal of the season for the Low End String Quartet.

Assuming we can solve the crazy logistical problems involved in scheduling additional rehearsals, we're going to get together a bit more regularly, learn several new pieces, play them out a few times, and we have a recording session booked for the beginning of September.

So far, I've completed two new pieces for the group and here are recordings of our first rehearsal. Hard to believe these folks are sight reading. It's been quite some time since I worked with players who could read this well. I just put paper in front of them and then out comes music. Crazy. No, seriously, they got these pieces immediately which really felt good. These performances aren't perfect (it was our first day with the new material after all), but I was really delighted with the results so far.

The pieces actually sound like I had imagined they would - which is also very satisfying.

And now the music:

audio (mp3) | score (pdf)

audio (mp3) | score (pdf)

(those are both working titles, hopefully they'll get cooler names in the future)
Andrea Vercoe: violin; Jodi Beder: cello; Daniel Barbiero: bass; and I'm playing the guitar.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Our first grant for Eigenvalues

Some good news came in the mail today: we've been awarded a small grant from the Puffin Foundation for Eigenvalues. We've got two other proposals pending for this project. We're going to create a new, fairly large-scale work built from texts taken from Supreme Court decisions. Particularly dissenting opinions from the court's worst-decisions-ever. That will include the ridiculous Bush v. Gore case in 2000, and we'll put that in context with other historical missteps made by the court such as Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, and a handful of others that may not be quite so widely recognizable.

In a few days, we're having a rehearsal for the Low End String Quartet - it's been almost a year since we played together, it will be very exciting to finally start playing some of this new music that I've been working on. It's always gratifying to actually hear music that previously only existed in my head.

Spring is here and I have the allergies to prove it. I spent yesterday like a good suburbanite working in the yard. Fired up the lawnmower for the first time of the season. Happily, it started right up. Then I spent about an hour doing my spring/summer ritual: the dandelion meditation. That's what I call it when I take to the yard with my weed hound and pull up dandelion's one at a time. It's, how-do-you-say, Quixotic? But I really don't want to use chemical fertilizers or herbicides so I stand out there for hours pulling up each little plant.

Yesterday, I timed my dandelion session by listening to the new Silver Mt. Zion record "13 Blues for 13 Moons." Despite what Pitchfork had to say about it, this is a fine fine recording. Pitchfork got all caught up in a discussion of political whatnot, but I think the album succeeds largely on the power of the instruments. The lyrics aren't necessarily the focal point (at least for me). In any event, the political content of the lyrics is cast mostly in metaphor - at least enough so that it doesn't weigh down the music. It's not like they're playing Billy Bragg songs or anything... If I wasn't so broke, I'd order the 2-disc vinyl version. They do a lovely job of incorporating strings (2 violins and cello) with loud electric guitars, no easy feat in my opinion. The last track, "BlindBlindBlind,"is especially awesome.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New piece for Low End Quartet

I'm chipping away at my goal of an evening length set of music for the Low End String Quartet. Here's a new piece, tentatively named "Grinder."

This mock-up version uses a sad MIDI organ sound for the bass part, and all the other parts are played on the guitar. The cello is in the left channel, violin on the right, and the actual guitar part is in the center.

The mock-up is missing one important thing: there's a cello solo in the middle of the piece. I didn't take a crack at that on the guitar, it's just missing. We have quartet rehearsal this coming week, so hopefully we'll get to record it and I'll be able to post something a little better than this wacky home version.

If you're curious, here's a link to the score: pdf

DCIC on the radio

I got word from a DJ on the Pacifica station in Seattle that we had a track featured on his program last week (the same track that's available for free download from the CityPaper).

And here in the other Washington, I was interviewed on "Metro Connection" on WAMU. The feature is over 9 minutes long. Quite generous of them, in my opinion. If you want to hear the interview, it's available streaming on their site:
or if you want an mp3, you can download from my site, it's under "DCIC Press Clips"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

DCIC In the News

DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC) has a cd release show coming up on Saturday. A couple of articles appeared in local media today:
The Washington CityPaper did a "One track mind" review of the new album
The Washington Post Express interviewed Steve Lehman (who we are sharing the bill with)

Unrelated: Jodi Beder, cellist in the Low End String Quartet, is profiled in a feature story in the Prince George's County Gazette. Her band, Zen for Primates, is also performing on Saturday. Our quartet got a mention (although she is credited as being the group's "erstwhile composer" which is a little off... but so what).

Click here for details about Saturday's show.

UPDATE: Friday Mar 21
We got another hit, this time in the Washington Post's Style section. Apparently the facetious headline that I put on our press release actually got some traction. Funny.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Guitar piece, work-in-progress

It's been a while since I wrote a piece that's notated from start to finish... so I'm unduly proud of myself for taking the time to write this one out.

I'm working on a guitar piece that's going to be adaptable for a few different uses. First, it's performable as a solo for electric guitar and laptop, next it's got a version for electric guitar and electric piano, and finally I'm going to arrange the piano part so I can do this with my Low End String Quartet as well.

I made a mock-up recording of the guitar / piano version, and the draft of the score is posted too:

Audio: mp3
Score: pdf

Any ideas for the title? So far I've just been calling it "Rondo for Guitar" since that's the form of it. I think that's a boring title, though.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

DCIC rehearsal

A few nights ago, DCIC got together for a rehearsal. Sadly, it has been a few months since we played together, so there was much excitement.

I've been working quite a bit during the last several weeks on the business side of the group, trying to generate some media interest in our forthcoming album... hopefully we'll start to see some reviews in the next couple of months.

Well it sure was nice to get back into the music. Here's something we came up with. Be patient, the opening is populated mostly with skittery conversational stuff back and forth among the three of us, but wait for it... right about the three minute mark, a heavy rock thing comes out of nowhere and holds together pretty well for the next couple of minutes - up to the end of the track.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Political Song Cycle

I have an idea for a series of poems, possibly to be turned into some kind of song cycle or something? I'm not going to get to this for a while, so I'm publishing something here, now, so I can claim some kind of ownership of the idea. Mine:

So far, two poems to be written - titles:
1. "This is all Grover Norquist's Fault"
(probably about Republican's succesful strategy to win over working class by tricking them to vote against their own interests, especially by changing public perception of certain terms / language)
2. "Karen Hughes Blows my Fuckin' Mind"
(something about "how do you sleep at night" knowing that you are travelling the globe lying through your teeth, in order to support a policy platform of greed, inequality, and the weakening of actual democracy and freedom in so many ways)

As this takes shape I'll share what I've got...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rejection Ritual: Year Seven Complete

It's that time of year again, when the Maryland State Arts Council's "Individual Artist Awards" are announced. The award comes with money, from $1,000 to $6,000. One of the few sources of unencumbered support for artists - there's no project that has to be done, no community outreach, nothing. Just an award in recognition of your previous work. It also happens to be the only source of funding for artists (as opposed to arts-organizations) from the state.

Every year I apply (since 2001) and every year I am rejected. This year's music category is "Solo Instrumental Performance." Next year will likely be composition - they alternate yearly. Every summer I submit my application and every January I get my rejection letter. I have quite a collection of rejection letters now. If only I could find some way of monetizing my collection ;-)

In other news, I'm in the process of mailing out copies of our new DCIC album, "Triangulation." We're working with a publicist who put together a list for us of around 150 freelancers and publications. Hopefully we get some nice things written about the new record... The official release date is April 1. We're doing a local release show on March 22nd (opening for Steve Lehman at Velvet Lounge).

Monday, January 14, 2008

Low End String Quartet article published

I was invited to write an article for "Bourgeon: Journal of Dance," a local publication covering the dance scene, for the most part. I'm not sure when the print version hits the streets, but it's online now. I wrote about the Low End String Quartet, specifically why I started the group.