Saturday, December 8, 2012

Teaching Dogs to Drive

Fun news:  we’re making Memory Palace into an album!  Chris and I have had a couple wonderful recording sessions at Oktaven Audio in the heart of Downtown Yonkers with resident Pro Tour level Wizard of Recorded Sound, Ryan Streber.  Updates on its release will eventually follow, but first…

It was Calvin (Bill Watterson’s Calvin) who said, "The problem with being avant-garde is knowing who's putting on who."  

We composers and performers of new classical music tend to put outrageous demands on ourselves, and others. We are willing to do almost anything for the sake of our art and we often take ourselves too seriously in the process (show of hands, nerd friends, if you’ve done it or seen it happen).  At the end of our last session I had a moment of clarity followed by self-doubt and then reassurance.  Perspective:  it’s a powerful weapon in the arsenal of Self Awareness, or Not Being a Tool.

Take after take after take I was blowing into carefully water-tuned beer bottles, trying to achieve something resembling “cantabile” with smooth switches from bottle to bottle, note to note. 

“Wait, I gotta do that again,” I would say, “I cheated the end of the phrase.  Need to breathe from the diaphragm”  

Suddenly I got (unsurprisingly) light headed, like I might float away or pass out.  I held out my arms, said I needed a moment. I took off my headphones, leaned back on my stool and waited for the unbearable lightness to dispel.   I saw a table covered with beer bottles that contained no beer, and several very expensive microphones floating before me in space.  I felt ridiculous.

I peered into the booth at Ryan, asking, “Do you ever open your eyes and wonder ‘what on Earth am I doing?’“

He laughed and said it reminded him of a video he had seen where, in New Zealand, people were training dogs to drive cars.  He imagined of all the time and money that had been invested in the machine shop building custom dog-sized autos, weeks upon weeks of training and, in the end, for what? So that dogs could drive cars.
I found that video and yes, it’s totally absurd (and cute).

[Edit: turns out the driving dog operation is a marketing campaign advocating the adoption of rescued dogs. That's a good thing! But still completely bonkers.]

Ladies and Gentlemen, soapbox time:
Find comfort where you can, folks.  Art is hard, weird, sometimes awkward, and the world at large wants you to feel like it’s a useless endeavor. I may have engaged in an objectively silly activity, but I know full well it was in the service of making really, really pretty music that I will no doubt share with you when the time comes.  Perspective: I know we’re not saving lives here, but if we don’t go out on a limb to make the Nice Things, who will?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sooooo, I'm moving to Brooklyn.  I could go on and on about the rich musical tradition of this borough but I humbly offer this, the most slamming BK jam I can think of. Ladies and gentlemen, Definition by Blackstar (Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey, formerly known at Mos Def).  Don't miss Grand Army Plaza right off the bat!  

Friday, May 18, 2012

MN Nice

As I’m always happy to report, I’m on a plane to Minnesota.
No gigs, just a long-anticipated week of family and friends following a particularly harrowing (final!) school semester with two doctoral recitals and lots of road-warrior-style concerts.  Thanks to my leisurely MN itinerary I travelled light.  No mallet bags or mixing bowls.  No suitcases of scrap metal, snake’s den of cables, or anything called a “beater”.  The most exotic item in my luggage was a baseball glove, packed for the Bemidji backyard.  For once I sailed through airport security.
And she came, too!

However, upon my return life ramps up with three fun events rounding out the month of May, heralding June and True Summer.

May 27th
Long-distance relationships are tough, but I’m really pleased that Concert Black has remained active, albeit intermittent, this year despite my awkward Connecticut residence. You can find our fair trio performing our wonderful Robert Honstein commission RE: You as well as a group-composed, quasi-improvisational response to his work on Music With a View 2012.
Sunday, 5/27, 3pm, The Flea theater, free

May 29th
I’m very happy to once again join the daring and gifted Bang on a Can pianist Vicky Chow at The Stone to perform Daniel Wohl’s gleefully glitchy duet for piano, percussion, and electronics, Pixelated.  For more details on her solo recital program, have a look on Facebook.  If you have not seen her shrug off this challenging music like it’s no biggie, I suggest that you do.
Tuesday, 5/29, 10pm, The Stone, $10

June 2nd

After a successful U.S. premiere and subsequent tour of their co-commissioned, mind-altering work by Michael Gordon, Timber (seriously, give it a listen), Mantra Percussion is back at it with an ambitious three night stand, each of which focuses on the music of a single composer in a so-called “portrait concert”. 
Some of my favorite Dudes Who Drum, I’m especially excited to join Mantra on a brand new work by Ted Hearne playing, of all things, electric guitar. 
[editor’s note: This is also my birthday!  JUNE 2, !!!]
Saturday, 6/2, 7:30pm, First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, $10

The rest of the summer looks bright.  When not job hunting/gathering and planning a move to The City, it will be filled with a massive Inuksuit recording project, a world-premiere of Memory Palace by Chris Cerrone, Amy Garapic-inspired Make Music New York hijinks, and a couple outrageously fun festivals with Concert Black.  To quote a favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, “further bulletins as events warrant”.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Memory Palace

One thing I've been meaning to mention is an ongoing collaboration with Brooklynite composer Chris Cerrone.  When I met Chris at a picnic table outside of MassMoCA in the summer of 2010 he immediately recognized the IFARM sticker that adorned my old laptop. That's notable because to this day no single other person has that distinction.  Sure I'm into obscure thrashers but come on, people.  Get with it.

In the year that followed I heard several performances of Chris' music.  Most memorable was the large-scale production of his opera Invisible Cities at Columbia University and the small-scale production of How to Breathe Underwater, performed by Loadbang Ensemble at a tiny violin shop in New Haven.    

The haunting, reflective, lyrical qualities of these works stuck with me and I began to think of them as qualities lacking in percussion music, known more for its bombast than coloristic subtlety.  I was keen to hear how Chris would treat a percussive medium, and the process has been one of continual discovery.  However, I wasn't much help.  
     "No big instruments," I said.  "No marimbas."  
     "How about vibraphone?"  
     "Dude, you are killing me." 

When commissioning composers I tend to get obsessed with keeping things small and "tour-able". This runs the risk of inhibiting the sonic scope of a piece, but Chris picked up that creative gauntlet and got crafty.  No marimba?  No big deal.  Instead, he prescribed that I cut and sand seven boards, fine-tuning them to specific pitches.  In our recent test run of two movements at Fast Forward Austin we close mic'd the planks, added reverb, and the electronic component of the piece did the rest.  The result?  Humming drones from the boards, with the amplification and electronics acting as the resonators of our "marimba".  Other melodic instrument workaround experiments have included tuning metal pipes, plucking pianos, autoharps and zithers, tuning glass bowls with water, and some surprises I'd like to keep under my hat just yet.

The title of the piece is Memory Palace, a reference to the method in which medieval monks constructed imaginary buildings in their mind's eye as a means to mentally store information.  The finished work will span five movements with twenty or so minutes of music within a full premiere slated for June 20th at the Stone as part of a Sleeping Giant Collective bash. However, just as with FFA we're thrilled to offer a preview at next Saturday's Hartford New Music Festival.  See below!

Memory Palace at Fast Forward Austin.  Photo: Elisa Ferrari

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

This week (my week) at SXSW

When the dust settled from booking SXSW and Beyond shows I was surprised to find that starting this Thursday (tomorrow!) I’m playing 6 out of the next 8 nights in various capacities.  Since my natural state is tour-mode I’m extra excited since this is the closest thing to a tour I’ve been on since Sofakindom took the West Coast and our livers by storm back in ’05 (neither coast organs have been the same since).

The hot, hot dates!

Thursday, 3/15
Big Star Tribute
I’m playing in a small orchestra (with maestro Brent Baldwin at the helm) as part of a SXSW recreation of legendary indie band Big Star’s album Third.  As I have learned, Big Star was a huge influence on R.E.M. so as I play timpani, steel drum, and cowbell this Thursday at the Paramount actual members of R.E.M. will comprise the orchestra’s rock and roll section (historically, which emerged shortly after the demise of the basso continuo keyboard conductor in the classical era, famously rising to prominence as Beethoven’s hearing diminished).
But seriously, whoa. Actual famous rock star dudes.
Check it out here.

Friday. 3/16
Nonclassical Records Showcase
This year, London’s Nonclassical label joined forces with local boys done good Fast Forward Austin for an intercontinental indie-classical love-in featuring line upon line, Bel Coure, Peter Gregson (UK), P. Kellach Waddle and more.
For my part I’m performing Tristan Perich’s Observations with Adam Bedell (line upon line), a work for amplified sculpture by Lisa Coons wherin I alternately caress and assault a spiny hunk of twisted, welded rebar with all manner of implements, and Ian Dicke’s throwback loop-romp Eight Oh Eight.

Saturday, 3/17
Innova Records Showcase
It’s high time I met the nice folks at Innova Records because they are from Minnesota and so am I.  Hell, my mom is from St. Paul, where Innova is based.  Well, I finally get my chance when I sit in on drums with Austin renegade classical heroes Golden Hornet Project as we put the “rok” in Prokofiev.  I am really excited that also on that show are the masterfully innovative composer-performers Sxip Shirey and Todd Reynolds: Fiddle Wizard.  Does the fun ever stop?  No, it does not and please don’t talk with your mouth full of tacos like that.

Sunday, 3/18
Texas Lutheran University Perucssion Festival
This marks the first of 3 post-SXSW university stops.  The TLU visit is an especially exciting reunion since I was on faculty there, teaching percussion before I moved to the East Coast for love. These things happen, but I’m really excited to see the gang again. 
Again, I’ll play music by Tristan Perich, Lisa Coons, and Ian Dicke, but also Javier Alvarez, and Steve Snowden.  Professor Bedell has put together a great festival lineup of line upon line, Chris Lizak working his marimba magic, and the percussion groups of TLU and UT Austin.  So many old drum friends in one place it’s unreal.

Wednesday, 3/21
University of Texas San Antonio
I’m taking my electro-percussion show for a visit to my dear friend and Prince Edward Island native Dr. Graeme Francis and the UTSA percussion studio for a recital and open discussion about commissioning works and collaborating with composers.

Thursday, 3/22
Southwestern University
The final salvo in This Wild Week brings me to Southwestern University, where the wonderful Erin Martysz hosts me for a recital.  Of note is that Ian Dicke himself is also on faculty at SU, lending EXTRA GRAVITAS to my performance of his piece.

So if you’re in Austin come out to a show and say hi!  Or, can find me Saturday afternoon at Lovejoy’s, furiously bobbing my head at the Brooklyn Vegan heavy metal extravaganza.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dual Loves: College Hoops and SXSW

 Some thoughtful thoughts as I plunge headlong into this year's South by Southwest festival.  
     Sporting isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind as one journeys forth to the cultural din of SXSW.   However, this year I’m considering similarities between two distinct worlds of March Madness, only one of which involves basketball.  Obviously, SXSW and the NCAA’s Annual Platform for Really Good Beer Commercials occur simultaneously, but underneath that coincidence lies a number of oddly unifying factors.  Each have an official selection process, although the real fun of SXSW are the innumerable and free unofficial shows attached to the festival like an iceberg’s bulk floating beneath the surface.  Fans pore over venue and show listings, charting their daily course through music, food, and booze as fervently as those who fill out basketball tournament brackets making agonizing decisions along the way about whether the 8 or 9 seeded team will come through in the first round, with the office money pool at stake.   
     For the players, both hold an opportunity to make it to the big leagues--to get noticed above the noise and be drafted by a small market NBA franchise or a major label.  But for most rockers and ballers alike it’s not as much a grab for glory as it is a chance to make much ado about having fun living in the moment, whether drunk on the camaraderie of hoops or Hornitos.  Each has their Cinderella stories of plucky 16 seeds that make the hallowed Final Four, or nobody bands propelled to sleazy stardom by the right combination of talent, buzz, and posturing.   
     64 teams. 2,000 bands. OK, that last statistic throws off my game, but each event represents the pinnacle of zeal and fanaticism for music and sports in America.  During March enthusiasm knows no bounds.  Ultimately, in the Final Four there is only one champion crowned, one net cut down (or do all Final Four goers do that?), whereas one could argue that at SXSW everybody wins, at least until you find yourself back at work the Monday after sleep deprived, sick as a dog, with irreversible hearing loss.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fast Forward Austin

On this fine Sunday I have two things Fast Forward Austin related. One past, one future, both totally awesome.

As the weekend wraps up my head is still spinning from an exhilarating show last Thursday at the Gerswhin Hotel's Contagious Sounds Series.  To bring you up to speed, this concert series is curated by the Bang on a Can Allstar's pianist Vicky Chow and this particular event was presented by Fast Forward Austin,  a collective in Austin, TX who debuted their first annual Fast Forward Austin Festival last spring to much critical acclaim.  Thursday's show saw myself--a quasi-Austin artist, thanks to my time living there and wonderful friendships that remain--paired with ATX saxophone quartet Bel Cuore, who brought the house down with a truly face-melting (memorized!) set featuring music by Jennifer Higdon and Nick Sibicky as well as FFA co-founders Robert Honstein and Steve Snowden.  In fact, you can watch their entire set here, and I think you should!

For my part, I was thrilled to represent the exploding Austin new music community in addition to serving as a sort of Central Texas new music ambassador, excited to share some hot new tracks (if you will) with an East Coast audience.  I picked pieces I had commissioned from an all star, all-Austin cast of composers including Graham Reynolds and the entire FFA crew, Steve, Robert, and Ian Dicke.  The only "non-Austin" piece was a duo for percussion, piano, and electronics by Daniel Wohl, but it fit the theme just fine since I was joined by Vicky who happens to be this year's Fast Forward Austin Festival headlining artist.  If you're curious, you can watch my set here.
[Click for JAMS]

Which brings us nicely to...
Fast Forward Austin: April 15, 2012
I won't go on and on about how great this will be.  For your convenience I will list the Reasons of Greatness in a handy, linked, bullet-point format.