Tuesday, August 19, 2008

As I was walking home from the gig...

...I was thinking: "what a lucky dude I am!"

But I digress...

The gig (see below) was fun. VERY LOUD. My ears are still ringing. I wasn't too sure at times if I was even hearing myself, so I'd stop and listen to see what was missing. Happily there was generally a missing element at those times. At other times, you'd think, "am I playing that?" or you'd hear a sound and think: "what instrument could that possibly be?".

In a musical existence where I'm generally adding a dash of this or a pinch of that, this was a wild sex orgy for music (Yes, it's a mixed metaphor). I met the participants about an hour beforehand at the venue, and we did a minimal setup. We didn't play a note together until the event started. There was no attempt to discuss in detail what we would do. I walked around the stage as our contingent took out their wild toys, at least those that were preset. Some would make an appearance only after the music had started. Then the bandleader introduced us, we started playing, and two hours later it was all over after one of only a few decrescendi of the evening. Beginning to end - it was continuous with no break. We said our goodbyes and that was it. But it wasn't like an orchestra (where the music is written out), or even a band (where you know the songs), this was an all out free-for-all. The feeling was wildness.

I wish all my relationships were like this!

But seriously...

The evening was designed to bring together the world of film, poetry and music. At the start there was a screen in front of us, and films played. All the films were by emerging filmmakers, a few of whom were there in attendance. Then there was a poet, who from time to time, when inspired, would read poetry from her seat in the audience. You couldn't hear her that well either

From the start notes were flying everywhere.

Our percussionist [Ravish Momin] had a small kit: a tiny (by most standards) kick drum, a snare and a cymbal with a large ride and small splash on the same stand, and an assortment of percussion toys, some of which I saw, some I only heard. There were shakers, and hand drums and things.

The bass player [Tom Abbs] had an upright bass, but he also had a digeradoo mounted in between the body of the instrument and the strings, cattycornered to the fingerboard of the instrument, and on top he had a violin bolted to the bass in the upper left quadrant. He played a lot with the bow (meaning 'a lot' if you're thinking of jazz) but also a lot of pizzicato (fingerstyle). The program says he also would be on tuba, but I didn't see that one come out. This guy was coming up with all sorts of unexpected stuff. I really enjoyed his energy and adventurousness.

Our guitarist [Bruce Eisenbeil] was as adventurous in approach, if not in instrumentation. He just set up a standard Stratocaster and a Fender twin. He did have all sorts of pedals, some of which were quite old, with lots of those old school sliders for real time interaction. Occasionally I would l look over at him and he'd be holding a feedback note - channeling Jimi Hendrix - and adjusting his musical figure with his knobs on the pedal (one of which he had on a stool so he didn't have to lean over while adjusting).

I was just playing a piano, and I was the most conventional in the mix by a long shot (imagine that!). No gadgets, no uncommon instruments - just piano. Once I got into the swing of things I did strum the strings a bit -- I wish I had taken a guitar pick! Oh well.

[Josh Sinton] played Baritone sax and Bass Clarinet. He took out a bunch of metal bowls at the beginning, but I didn't ever see him use them for musical purposes. He was right next to me too. Perhaps they were for spiritual or ornamental purposes, I never did find out. At one point in the proceedings, he spilled some water and went to get a paper towel, but I wasn't sure if that had to do with the metal bowls or a drink.

Finally our leader [Dan Godston] played trumpet, and came out with a few different horns surprising me during the evening. He had the standard trumpet which he used with and without mutes (which as you may know, are often less about muting per se, and more about timbre change on a trumpet. A muted trumpet can be very loud played forte.) Also he had a piccolo (small) trumpet, and an instrument he called a "slumpet", which was a trumpet with a slide, similar to a trombone.

As the evening spun out, the films ended and the screen was rolled up and we just kept playing. I felt like the music got better at that point. As a film scorer, I'm used to adding just a little to reinforce the film, so the in your face feeling of the music re: the films was something I wasn't used to. None of the film's audio was used, so we were the only sound. Afterwards I was discussing it with one of the musicians, and he mentioned that he had assumed the personage of one of the characters in one of the films. Interesting thought. There are of course lot of ways to score a film. You can score the action, or the emotion. You can score the setting, you can score the mood of the setting or of a particular character. You can also comment on the action/setting/mood/character either directly or by writing against it (think of the "Adagio for Strings" in "Platoon"). You can decide to drive the action, or to comment on it - in it or above it, so to speak. While impractical in a conventional sense, the music we were making didn't go with my default approach, but it definitely opened up possibilities.

One funny thing was, I was so sure everyone was going to be impressed by my touch. It's kind of 'my thing' as a pianist, because I can really play amazingly softly, which is difficult -- but it didn't come up!

I was nervous - after all - in the beginning. As we were playing, when someone in the band would look at me, I had this feeling they were thinking "don't play that, we don't do that here..." Afterwards though, the band was generally complementary. I was holding down the rhythm a lot. Like the proverbial group sex experience (and proverbs are the only experience I've had with that) you'd focus on one person for a while and then move on to the next. I found I was most comfortable getting with the bass and drummer. Often when I played single melodic lines I couldn't be heard, even though I'd play them at double or triple octaves as loud as possible, so I moved into more percussive stuff, taking a chord voiced in a 'part writing' style (lush and jazzy, in the middle of the keyboard) and hammering away, wandering chromatically about. By later in the evening, I had decided to let Dan, Josh and Bruce go on their way - occasionally musically commenting on a rhythm they made - while mostly holding with drums and bass. Other times I would do very high arpeggios, figuring that would be a way to leap out of the texture, and commented or complemented that way, like a bird flying quickly through the scene and attracting attention though quick movement and high altitude. The piano had by far the highest range of any of the instruments, so I spent a lot of time above middle c.

It was a test of technique which I felt pretty good about. I did trills, and tremolandi figurations that lasted probably for 2 minutes or longer, which is pretty demanding, without feeling like I was going to pass out.

Unfortunately, while there are pictures of the event, I don't know who took them, so I decided to write here at length for posterity.

Many thanks to the awesome Rona Mark for hooking me up to this gig!

...and that brings us back to me walking down the street after the gig feeling lucky. What wild dream did I have that in the space of one week I could be recording vocalist Carol Woods, playing electric guitar over a soaring pop ballad, recording strings, working with singers on a composition I wrote for choir, mixing a funk tune I wrote, working on my world music project, and doing this free improvisation gig last night?

It's everything I could have ever wanted out of life. Lucky.

Everything except the sex thing...

1 comment:

Ravish Momin said...

Hey Reed! Nice to meet you indeed! Hope to play sometime in a clearer setting. There were indeed moments, and I'm glad you noticed the interplay between the bass/drums and found that something to latch onto...
good descriptive exposition of the evening's proceedings,