Posts Tagged performance

Summertime Drifts, 2 of 2: Under the Picasso, Once More

The second of my two live events this summer was on July 6 at Chicago’s Daley Plaza, as part of the Under the Picasso lunch-hour concert series.

Technically, the stage isn’t under Picasso’s giant nameless steelwork – it’s some yards away. Too bad – I would’ve been grateful for the shade, as the stage baked in a hot and humid high noon. Always grateful for my trusty and good-looking Tilley hat! Some brave souls sat in the hot sun to listen attentively – muchas gracias! Others listened in the shelter of umbrella-shaded tables around the plaza. Cheers to them all, to everyone at Daley Plaza for making it happen, and to Ello comrade Dennis for his support and for lending a hand.

For practical reasons, I went with the minimal rig this time: just two guitars, pedals and the computer. The second guitar was originally just for backup, but since that turned out to be the 12-string, I got some new mileage from it by using it on Sirens of Maya for the first time, which went very well. This piece continues to evolve, as these two concerts have taught me a handful of ways to improve it – after I thought it was done!

eyes cast down Live 7-6-15

Playing First Day Apart. Photo by Dasi.

The opening “farewell suite” of First Day Apart, Intervening Ages and Fading Angel continues to inspire. “Hello, I must be going…”

Rebuild From Memory continues to be a platform for layering parts and technical evolution, with no end in sight. I’m getting better at using the EBow as an airbrush, to add lighter textures (OK, at least some of the time!). It’s too easy to use the EBow like a sledgehammer, to lay the power on thick, so I’m glad to have hit upon this way of using it.

Dasi says I should release a live album, and as always she makes a good case. Thanks to the intense rendition of Rebuild From Memory on June 20, this project is underway. But I think that’s going to be a year or two in the making.

Guitar improvising is also going really well these days, so imagine my surprise at finding that an album of that is suddenly developing, too. (Steve Roach’s Streams and Currents remains an absolute high-water mark in this field.) Four pieces from these two shows and their rehearsals – almost half an album’s worth – are in there.

I’m also looking forward to compiling a live demo CD for purposes of Prospective Gig Solicitation. These two events alone have yielded almost the full CD’s worth.

Here are some highlights. That Christmas-y bit in Rebuild From Memory (starting at the 7.54 mark) is the 7/8 riff from the Rush classic Xanadu. It’s practically unrecognizable, because my attempt to turn off the Illudium Q-36 Perfect-Storm Multi-Echo Propagator was cruelly rejected by the computer. When listening, don’t max out your volume. because the whole thing peaks with a roar about a minute before the end.

This was the end of my live apprenticeship, so … I’m done with playing free concerts. It’s time to challenge the popular myth that artists should give away their work in exchange for “exposure”.

So the energy’s at a peak, and I’m taking it into the studio! That will be our next subject, in about two weeks…

Set List:
First Day Apart
Intervening Ages
Fading Angel
Sirens of Maya
Rebuild From Memory

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Summertime Drifts, 1 of 2: The Muse Rises!

My first of two live appearances for this summer was on June 20 at Chicago’s Sulzer Library Auditorium.

Short version:

Definitely the best gig yet, a clear step forward.

Long version:

This was the most well-rounded performance yet, with more keyboard parts, more layers, and some best-yet guitar zones.

eyes cast down at Sulzer Library, Chicago, 6.20.15

Ready to bring it. (Photo by Dasi)

As I did for the September 2012 events, I brought most of the gear this time: three guitars, synth controller, lots of percussion, a couple of ocarinas. I should post an studio inventory with lots of photos sometime; it’s kind of amusing, some of the weird things one can make use of.

Highlights were many. I’m especially pleased with the opening half-hour “farewell suite” of solo guitar pieces, so I expect to use this a lot in future. This is: First Day Apart, Intervening Age and Fading Angel. Both of the latter were born as improvs played immediately following First Day Apart (the first in rehearsal for this event, the second in concert in 2012), so the connection is really organic.

This day’s take on Rebuild From Memory was the best live one yet, even evoking soundscape pioneer Robert Fripp at times, and I’m working up technical ideas for ramping it up further…. inexorable evolution. This is definitely going on a future live album, unless it gets replaced by a better version.

I Am But a Fledgling… (part of the Dreamlife suite slated for an album-in-progress) was tons of fun, with ocarinas, lots of percussion, and a hair-raising synth bed. (My wife Dasi filmed most of the 19-minute piece, so we may be sharing some of that soon.) Haven, a solo synth piece which will open the same album, is a serene pleasure to play, which I hope to do many more times.

Four pieces were played live for the first time, including the massive Knife of Karma, Expanse of Heart (with Alannah’s voice clips), and Exquisite Divination of Patterns. I expect to keep playing these, hopefully take them to some new places, and release live versions if all goes well.

The increase in keyboard parts is a most pleasing development, as I’m trying to move in the direction of having a more balanced guitar-synth sound.

The “surprise cover piece” I promised was the Enya song Sumiregusa, with the two melodic lines from another song, Fallen Embers, woven in at the end. This 12-string arrangement went off really well. Too bad it’s owned by a major record label; I’m not optimistic about ever getting clearance to release it.

Here is a 24-minute highlights clip, culled from 9 pieces:

The audience was small but enthusiastic. Special thanks to our friends Lou & Sue, who really appreciate and support the music!

Next up: a report on the July 6 Daley Plaza event.

1st Set
First Day Apart
Intervening Age
Fading Angel
Exquisite Divination of Patterns
Sirens of Maya
Knife of Karma

2nd Set
Rebuild From Memory
Haven
I Am But a Fledgling…
Expanse of Heart
Sumiregusa (Enya)
Submerge/Emerge

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A Fledgling, New to Flight

After a five-month break, during which I played only one live event (a laptop-driven atmosphere for an art show opening in mid-May), I emerged from The Keep in September for a workshop and my highest-profile concert so far.

Having determined to begin exploring a more earthy, tribal sound, I recently added a djembe and clay pot drum to the percussion section. And for these shows I finally got to bring along my keyboard controller, as there were no space constraints. So I had the artistically-necessary feeling of leaving behind the safety of the nest. This timing was perfect, especially given the nature of the first event.

September 15: the Carving Through Shadow workshop was an exploration in going within and expressing the journey through drawings. I’ve been keen on working in such a situation since I started playing live, so I was jazzed to finally have a chance to give it a try.

The music followed the workshop’s three-part program:

1. Getting Comfortable was a purely atmospheric, slow-moving and fairly minimal synth zone. It’s a great pleasure playing around in this mode.

2. Getting Uncomfortable, an inward descent, got down, dirty and earthy. The whole percussion section came out for this.

Getting past some discomfort of my own, I finally undertook to use my voice as an instrument, to open another door inward. Immediately, a couple of the participants joined in, giving voice to their own work. That was a good start, for a direction which I hope to pursue down the road. (Anyone know an overtone voice teacher anywhere near Chicago?)

3. A New Way was about coming back up to the surface and integrating what was discovered. For this I used mostly layered guitar loops.

The energy was good all around, as everyone came ready to go for it. Many thanks to expressive arts therapist Eve Brownstone for running the event, and to everyone who took part!

Set List:

1. Haven
2. Inanna
   First Day Apart
3. Emerge

eyes cast down Live Rig

September 25: Music of Many Worlds – concert at Chicago’s Daley Plaza, under Picasso’s famous unnamed steel giant, as part of the Daley’s lunch-hour concert series.

Chicago Picasso - Photo by J Crocker 2004

Photo by J. Crocker, 2004

This show also celebrated the one-year anniversary of my move from Toronto to Chicago.

To help capture the mood, I picked up a wonderful eagle T-shirt from the Amerinkas gift shop. So now it’s a feeling of leaving the safety of the eyrie – hopefully to soar.

Apropos of this, the most exciting development from this show is the Fledgling suite, which came about of its own volition. Three pieces that were intended to be separate simply drew together (both musically, and as a concept, when their titles turned up). The middle one, First Expanse, is modeled on one of those formative studio jams from Spring 2004 (see my First Iterations blog).

Like many pieces from this year’s shows, these are works in progress, hybrids of composition and improv, trying out some cool ideas. I’m excited to see how they move forward; Fledgling could end up being the centerpiece of an album as well as live shows.

eyes cast down Live at Daley Plaza 9-25-12

The program was completed by guitar staples First Day Apart and Radha’s Tears, which will open and close the Separate Ones album, along with one cover: Future Tribe, from the Serpent’s Lair album. I’ve dreamed about opening live shows with this piece for years. Hopefully I’ll really nail it sometime, so I can send it to Steve and Byron.

Along with taking photos, my wife recorded about 20 minutes of video on her iPad, some of which I will post as soon as I can get it together.

Big thanks to the team at Daley Plaza for helping to make this happen!

Set List:

Future Tribe (Roach/Metcalf)
First Day Apart
I Am But a Fledgling…
First Expanse
… New to Flight
Radha’s Tears

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Hamster on a Speeding Treadmill: My Studio, v2

It’s wonderful how circumstances can push one forward. Venturing out to play live this year has been a major growing process, as one learns quickly (and sharply) what works and what doesn’t. For this fledgling, circumstance dictated a significant setup change, which was such a huge improvement that it instantly took over the studio. Adapt or die…

Here is The Keep v1 – the original setup of the computer table and keyboard/percussion stand, perfectly suitable for the studio hermit I was at the time (and the way that I thought I would play live):

The Keep v1, October 2011

The stage at the April 1 live art gig forced a change, which has the extra benefit of allowing me to see out in front (when I can spare a moment to look up), and is way more ergonomic for the way that I actually play live. This was a no-brainer to implement in The Keep, and it goes something like this:

The Keep v2, Oct. 2012

Thanks to the new djembe and clay pot drum (and their dedicated microphone), once I get to the chair and move them into place, I’m completely surrounded. It ain’t called The Keep for nothing…

So that’s The Keep v2. Never finished, just a work in progress…

Looking ahead: v3 will be the dream rig: a second mondo Loop Station (one for guitars, one for voices and percussion), both fed by a mixer, with compressor and reverb boxes in the respective signal paths, all feeding the Musical Box, along with MIDI from the keyboard controller and (dream about it) a Roland GR-55 guitar synth. There will also be a few more drums, probably at least a tar and a djun djun. Yum yum!

(When that happens, I’ll probably move the keyboard stand next to the computer table at a right angle, and turn them to make a V opening forward. My seat – at the bottom of the V – would be a drum throne, allowing me to spin around as needed. I’ll need a bigger room… John Cleese moment: That’s planning, isn’t it? Forethought!)

Another major circumstantial change has been the birth of the laptop/softsynth live experience. This was necessitated by the art show background music gig back in May, for which I didn’t want to bring the concert rig to the smallish café again. That would have distracted from the art show. On top of that, many otherwise viable art galleries and other spaces are just too small for the concert rig.

Inspiration struck: I could compose spontaneously with softsynths, on the laptop, and fit everything on a little table out of the way, in the background proper. Call it The Keep Portable

eyes cast down Laptop Rig

This approach yielded the Free Floating pieces Exquisite Divination of Patterns, Radiant Perception (hopefully to come soon) and Crystalline. The first was such a pleasant surprise that the second followed almost immediately. After Crystalline, I thought I was probably done with working in that mode. Fool!

I don’t want to be a laptop jockey, creating arrangements (I wouldn’t call them compositions) entirely from prefab/pre-recorded elements. Some folks do very well at that, but it’s not my path. My way is tabula rasa, spontaneous composition from scratch, using Ableton Live’s “pencil/piano roll” feature to write in the notes. My softsynths are Propellerhead Reason, Native Instruments Absynth and Camel Audio Cameleon 5000 (the precursor to Alchemy). I have hopes that a viable longform piece will one day emerge from this process.

Work in progress. Let’s see what happens next year…

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