I tell you what, I've had a lot of fun playing solo music lately via working on my one man band. I'm working on booking shows, bugging people to write music for me, starting to write my own music--I even have a blog where I can be as self-bepuffed as I want to be about the whole thing.
I never really saw myself performing music onstage by...myself. As long as I've held drum sticks it was for the purpose of playing music with other people, and I've always been in bands ever since (let me think how many*). Since I've only been at the solo thing for a little over a year now, I still feel super awkward when I finish a song and people clap and it's just me up there. I look around for band mates I could high five or toast with my drink-ticket-scammed beer. But it's just me so I do the sort of half-bow that doesn't really make sense for the recital hall or the club. Not to mention that I went from being in the back behind a bunch of drums to being right up there in the Collective Grill with nowhere to hide. At least my music school solo recital requirements gave me some practice with that but man, it's not the same. However, as much as I miss the camaraderie I've found that being the only member in a band streamlines a lot of the process. No coordinating everyone's work schedules for band practice--it's just me! No arguments over which direction the band should take--it's still just me, and what I say goes. And since being in a band is like having 3 girlfriends (or boyfriends) no dramz or personality clashes except for my internal struggles, but we don't have to talk about that.
But when I watch bands really nail it--like Propagandhi, TOOL, the recent Bang on a Can Allstars' concert, or So Percussion with Meehan Perkins Duo a few weeks back--and remember how mind-meldingly tight sofakingdom could be in our heyday I have to concede that's where it's at. "For now, though, I'm having fun focusing on the Me Show," he said, sitting in an airport by himself waiting 5 hours for a delayed flight on the way to a gig.
*OK, here's what a brief dredging of my brain found: sofakingdom Written Off Elisa Ferarri The Tea Merchants Cobretti Sargeant Parkinson's Platoon G8 Erik Espe The Vinyl Collection Ah, Venice! The Pan-Metropolita Trio Rattletree Marimba The Aries Project Needs No Chill Racketball Undertow 5 Mile Chase Hips Don't Lie probably more that I'm spacing right now...
Steve is an unbelievably creative and hard working artist. He's a wizard when it comes to music technology and uses his fluency in several software programs to make sounds I've never even thought about before, and use them in musically meaningful ways. He also rides a Harley everywhere. Which is way kickass. He's the kind of guy that would write you a Max MSP patch in the morning, change your oil in the afternoon, and then cook up a dynamite chorizo stew for 20 of his friends like it was no big deal (he even made a special vegetarian bowl of it for me).
Steve and I had been friends for a year and a half, batting around ideas for a percussion piece before we began working on the project below. I had worked with dancer/choreographer Rosalyn Nasky twice before, once in a truly epic staging of George Crumb's Music for a Summer Evening and again in an eerie setting of Temazcal by Javier Alvarez. Naturally, I was really excited when I was able to get all three of us together to talk about a possible collaboration.
The premiere was in June, 2010 at Big Range Austin, an annual dance festival organized by the tireless Ellen Bartel. This was a particularly fun project in that it was a three headed collaborative process between Steve, Roz, and myself. Based on our schedules we had collectively about one month to put this together and for the first couple weeks Steve worked at an astonishing rate.
After deciding the instrumentation (tea kettle and mixing bowls) he and I came into the studio and recorded every single sound we could get out of those things. Steve then took all the sampled sounds and wove them together into a midi mockup mosaic of what the piece would become, meanwhile composing/building the complex electronic component. As he worked he uploaded his progress onto a blog he created specifically for our project so Rosalyn and I could witness the creative process unfold, offer feedback, and in her case find Inspirado.
Then we had couple weeks for me to try and learn the piece and for Rosalyn to work out her (and my) steps.
Steve had the presence of mind to record the live instruments through the soundboard, later syncing it with his electronic audio, AND getting multiple HD camera angles in on the action (oh, and he edited the video, too).
So, what you can watch here is our super hot off the presses performance from last summer's Big Range Austin.
Here's my take on Oscar Bettison's Breaking & Entering (With Aggravated Assault).
I grew up playing really loud, really fast music with my most excellent friends in Sofakingdom, a band started in high school that graduated to playing about a gazillion sparsely attended shows in Minneapolis and mounting a handful of unbelievably fun (if not lucrative) smelly-dudes-in-a-van tours. So when I first peeked at my Breaking & Entering drum part with it's expertly-notated blast beats I laughed out loud at the fact that I'd get a chance to use those skills I developed in beer-soaked basements and scummy dive bars for the higher call of "contemporary music". However, it resulted in a personal highlight when I took the stage with my colleauges at the 2010 Bang on a Can Summer Institute marathon concert (with Brad Lubman conducting!) and proceeded to play this piece. Loud. Really loud. I was told the janitors had to use extra mops that night clean up all the melted faces. OK, not really, but you can imagine.
Yeah, I know, it's all about the "genre busting" these days, but I never expected a collision between my two worlds of "classical music" and full-on thrash attacks. My friends from one never really understood the other. So thanks, Oscar. But hey, who's supposed to play that part anyway? There just aren't many people schooled both in Darmstadt and Cannibal Corpse. I mean, David T. Little of Newspeak just happens to be a composer extraodinaire/rock drummer with good taste in metal and he had to learn double kick pedals just for this piece. And admirably; the Newspeak recording rocks [B&E was written for them, and they play it like it was]. Either way, I guess I missed playing with my sofakingdom dude-lifemates so much I just relished the opportunity to make an unholy racket and channel my inner Dave Lombardo once again.
When David stopped in last spring to hear the UT Percussion Group play the so-called laws of nature he commented that even after all these years he doesn't get bored listening to performances of The Anvil Chorus largely because it always sounds radically different from one performer to the next. Obviously there's lots of reasons for this, but musical execution aside he was referring to it's largely open instrumentation. Wherever you go a piano sounds pretty much like a piano, and a violin like a violin, but a piece of "non-resonant metal" could be anything from a wok to the hood of a car.
Hearing him say that about this piece at least made me less squeamish about trying my hands and feet at it after someone like Steve Schick put a pretty indelible, Sony-recorded stamp on it years ago.
Makes me glad I don't play the piano or violin.
It was still pretty fresh when I recorded this almost a year ago, but nonetheless, enjoy!
One of my favorite things about music is simply trying to keep up. Trends in art, literature, and music (and pretty much everything else) move so fast these days that it can be tough to stay aware of what's going on out there. And after all, knowing what's up can be directly related to one's own relevance.
As any classical music student, performer, or enthusiast can attest it's hard enough to get thoroughly familiar with all the essential composers from centuries past and that list is pretty finite. What I mean is that they wrote music, they died, and now we study them; it's not like more are popping up every year and writing new jams we have to learn to play. However, in the case of new music, things are much more fluid.
Keeping abreast of what composers are doing right now is more like following bands. It's daunting since there's like, a million of them out there but aggregate music sites like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan as well as reviews from festivals like Austin's South by Southwest can help one learn who exists, who's blowing up, and even just who has the most awesome band name. However, generating buzz and generating quality music are two very distinct things. In a perfect world they would go hand in hand but remember, there's a lot of noise out there...
[Editor's note: check out The Onion's hilarious annual compendium of band names, both excellent and bogus]
I'm really thrilled to return to the Southern Theater in Minneapolis for a concert with Jace Clayton, better known around the world as DJ/rupture. Not only is MPLS my favorite town full of great friends, great year round bike riding, and general awesomeness, it's also home to one of the coolest theaters in which I've ever had the chance to play. Music programming director Kate Nordstrum has consistently corralled innovative and eclectic artists often by bringing the pinnacle of New York Cool to the Culture Capital of the Midwest [editor's note: Owen just invented that title, but it's true].
At my last dance at the Southern in 2008, I was part of a MPLS satellite concert of NYC's Wordless Music Series performing music by Iannis Xenakis and John Cage alongside guitar looping artist Andrew Broder and laptop music/video composer, sepia.
This time around I'm bringing an all electroacoustic set with music by Austin composers Graham Reynolds and Steven Snowden, as well as works by Tristan Perich and Javier Alvarez. More on these composers and their music later, but they all bring something sonically and aesthetically unique to the table.
The show is Tuesday, December 14th, and tickets are available from this link.
A little more on Jace Clayton: Turntablist DJ/Rupture occupies a dizzying variety of musical and artistic spaces from holding court at parties and soloing with the Barcelona Symphony to running a record label, a great blog, and a radio show (to name just a few projects). An avid video collaborator, here's a look at a teamup with Brooklyn-based Panoptic:
Many of us that make music primarily by hitting stuff with sticks tend to spend a lot of time in hardware stores. Necessity is the mother of invention and a lot of times we're asked to produce sounds that you just can't find at your local Music Shoppe. So, we cut and grind metal pipes to exact pitches, salvage auto brake drums from scrapyards, or spend a Saturday afternoon selecting the perfect set of terracotta flower pots (to the consternation of the garden department staff). It can take a little time, but it's always fun in the end to step back and see what we've created, like some kind of Mr. Wizard meets Bob Vila. And then hit it with sticks.
After a day devoted to gathering supplies and testing my carpentry mettle I've completed setup version 1.0 for Graham Reynolds' in-progress piece. Check it out:
Here's the rundown:
Four oak planks suspended on weather stripping, four saw blades mounted on blocks with cymbal sleeves drilled onto them, and four sink strainers hung from a rack made of PVC pipes and joints. And yes, I strung the strainers with old shoelaces for extra Eco-points®.
Sure it took all day, but it beats cutting reeds and after all it's the easy part: Graham has to write all the music.
So... two composers, a hard-core complexist and an equally hard-core experimentalist, happen to meet in the lumber department of a hardware store, waiting in line to get some plywood cut to order. The experimentalist asks the complexist why he's there. The complexist answers that he's "working on a very big piece, and I'm using so many oversize charts and graphs and tables and arrays" that he needed a piece of plywood so he could add an extension to his desk in order to accommodate all his paperwork. "Why are you here?" asked the complexist in return. The experimentalist smiled: "I like the sound of plywood going through a really big table saw."
Composer Graham Reynolds is as Austin as Barton Springs and the Cathedral of Junk (RIP). Between playing in the ever unclassifiable Golden Arm Trio, writing music for choreographed garbage trucks, and composing tons music for dance and films--including A Scanner Darkly--he might be the busiest musician I know. Luckily, that didn't stop him from agreeing to take on a percussion solo commission project over the summer, the premiere of which will be on October 10th at Austin's own haven for misfit music the Salvage Vanguard Theater.
After a trip to Home Depot armed with some mallets and a violin bow we settled on an instrumentation of wooden planks, circular saw blades, and sink strainers. Oh, and he suggested electronics too, which was great considering my penchant for the portability of The Electroacoustic. Got a backpack full of junk and an iPod? See you at the gig.