Monday, March 23, 2009

karaoke


The other night I was invited out for karaoke, and I heeded the call to service. Karaoke is a uniquely democratic form of performance, a healthy subversion of performer-audience duality, and all of that sort of thing-- but most importantly, it's just plain more fun than a frog in a glass of milk.

I perpetrated a rendition of Dire Straits' "Walk of Life", signed up for another song and sat down with my crew to wait. A woman wandered over to our table and asked if any of us knew the artist associated with the song Life is a Highway, so she could look it up in the book. My girlfriend and I raced to look up the answer on our tricorders, and she won. The answer: Tom Cochrane! I never had any idea that was the artist, but as I always say, you learn something new every three days.

I did, however, feel sorry for the woman who was going to sing "Life is a Highway". I mean, come on-- what a lame song. Myself, I was slated to regale the crowd with Rick Astley's immortal "Never Gonna Give You Up", and darned if I didn't do just that. I felt I was cultivating a pretty loyal fan base among those assembled.

But nothing could prepare us for the revelry and camaraderie that greeted this woman's performance of "Life is a Highway". The crowd rose as one to howl along with the chorus, isolating me and my pooh-pooing of the song. At least I was able to take solace in the fact that I helped pull it off-- proof that when we all work together, great things can happen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ecstatic Dancing



So I'm designing sound for an as-yet-unnamed project being assembled (in collaboration with a cast) by Alan Berks, who I had the pleasure of working with on his play Everywhere Signs Fall for Gremlin Theatre in 2008. I say "assembled" because the show is being put together partially through improvisations and discussions with the performers. The subject matter at this point is a question: In a world fractured by media and technology, where a paradox of intimacy vs. isolation takes root because of these factors, where/ what is the self? And, moreover, how can/ does one love?

A few days ago Alan wanted to put together an exercise wherein the actors danced ecstatically (in whatever way they chose, individually and as an interactive ensemble) for 20 minutes. I've worked on enough of these developed-through-improvisation shows to know not to bother asking why, or what ecstatic dancing would have to do with the rest of the show, or what music he thought would be appropriate for ecstatic dancing (though he did give me a couple of examples).

Anyway, I sifted through my hard drives and put together about 18 tracks that I thought would be interesting to try, and played them for about a minute apiece in rehearsal: they ranged from 70s New York art-funk to Bollywood techno to British art-rock to a campy 60s trumpet instrumental to 2000s pieces ranging from languid synth-pop to jagged robot beats. This last I included because I feel like as a designer it's often valuable to think of what the worst, wrongest choice would be. 99 times out of a hundred, it's just plain wrong, but when that 1% incident clicks... wow.

Anyway, this wasn't one of those times, because of course robot beats don't exactly facilitate ecstatic dancing... but a lot of interesting things happened. Assorted contact improv, impromptu human clusters and forts and trains, one dancer riding another like a horse, mimed stabbing, ass slapping... what did all this have to do with ecstasy? I haven't the faintest, but it sure was fun to watch. Alan and I both realized too late, though, that we had no video camera.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fitness



So today I went to one of those fitness classes at the Y. A good experience overall.

I helped the instructor soundcheck her headset mic at the beginning of the session, since it wasn't sounding through the PA at first.

Good tunes for the most part: Postal Service, Queens of the Stone Age, Portishead. I think I'll go back to this one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Renovate



A showcase of work by Twin Cities choreographers, curated by Lisa Conlin, who will appear as a dancer/ choreographer as well.

I'm designing the sound for Conlin's piece, which is inspired by her family; different passages of music evoke specific family members.

For the first section she presented me with three pieces of varying styles and asked me to integrate them somewhat sequentially, but overlapping each piece with the one following it as much as possible. It was a challenge because each track was in a different key; some pitch shifting solved the problem between the first two pieces, and I found that if I overlaid the second and third tracks in just the right place and rode the volume just right, the result was consonant even if the music wasn't technically in key with itself.

The second section invloved a percussion piece heavy on the marimba, accompanied in one section by a whispery swishing sound it was my job to create. Conlin wanted many of the passages extended to accommodate movement onstage, so I did a lot of duplication and subtle pitch shifting to make phrases longer. There's often a lot of work involved to make edits of acoustic music sound right-- lots of digital gymnastics to accomplish things that sound like nothing's happening at all. So it goes. That, quite often, is what I do. Fortunately, it's a lot of fun.

I love working on dance pieces because it's all about the symbiosis of the sonic and the visual. Every project is an adventure and a learning experience.

Renovate runs March 13th, 14th, and 15th 2009 at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. More info/ tickets

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thingumajig



Absolutely the best user's manual ever composed for music software: "Thingumajig contains five oscillating thingamabobs: three rythmic thingamabobs, one clicky thingamabob, and one semi-melodic thingamabob." Etc. Read in its entirety here, down at the bottom of the page.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Siren / Ray Lee



I've been poky about posting this, but I'd be remiss if I neglected to do so, because this was one of the coolest performances I'd seen for a long time. Part sound installation, part music performance, part kinetic sculplture.

This show was hosted by Walker Art Center on several dates; I saw the 2 pm show on February 21st for those of you keeping score at home. The performance space was the stage of the McGuire Theater, but the audience was onstage as well, permitted to "promenade" through the area as the show proceeded.

A veritable forest of windmill-type constructions filled the roped-off zone opposite the audience corridors; two performers (one of whom I assume was Mr. Lee) turned on oscillators (?) strapped one to each end of the spinning structures, tuning them by ear and setting them spinning.

The result was probably the most notes I'd ever heard in a single chord, and the sound changed drastically as one moved through the space. Varying melodies emerged and vanished, and the chordal structure evolved slowly. For the last few minutes of the piece, the lights went out and all we could see was a forest of spinning lights in the darkness. Then the performers began turning off the devices, and the sound dissolved into silence again.

Read more about the career of Ray Lee at his web site; see and hear some samples of Siren.

A / V Connection : Freedom Highway

What do the films Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and the recent Derek Jarman documentary Derek have in common? Both lift material from the singularly strange 1956 educational film Freedom Highway-- and from roughly the same clip, no less.



I was only able to detect this because I've spent hours watching and listening to Freedom Highway while cutting it up to use as appropriated footage in a video project that may or may not ever be finished. But anyway...

In Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Ellen Burstyn tells her son to go in the other room so she and Harvey Keitel can talk. Her son complies, and soon we hear (presumably from the TV) a faint voice intoning "Gone are the dark days of the War between the States..." from about 54 seconds into Freedom Highway.

Derek, oddly enough, appropriates the visual from roughly the same passage; at some point in the film (I forget where, since I was taken by surprise) we see the rolling wheel of the bus and then a clip of the bus in its entirety.

Surreal in the way that only 50s educational films can be, Freedom Highway is, um, a film that tells us about American history or something. It features the bizarre combo of Angie Dickinson, Tex Ritter, Bill Roberts of the Philadelphia Eagles, and all kinds of other people, crammed aboard a Greyhound bus crossing the country and learning about life, romance, how to love their country, and stuff like that. The rest of it's kind of hard to explain, but it's worth watching. Make sure to get a load of the conversation between the mysterious stranger and "Fred Schroeder of Portland, OR".

I've embedded the YouTube version for the sake of the visual, but the incomparable Prelinger Archives at archive.org has a better version.

Recent listening

Calexico- "Feast of Wire"
Jon Hassell- "Earthquake Island"
Mott the Hoople- "All the Young Dudes"
Jon Brion- "I Heart Huckabees" soundtrack
Various artists- "Sounds of Rajasthan"
Peter Gabriel- "Last Temptation of Christ" soundtrack