Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Boundary Conditions and Transitional Phases

I'm just back from a winter break in Berlin. Photos to follow.

The highlight of the trip was Carolina Eyck's CD Release and 21st Birthday Party. It was excellent to meet Randy George while I was there, and to catch up with Barbara Buchholz. OK, I'm a dreadful name-dropper. Sosumi. They are three people I have so much respect for. Just wonderful.

Carolina played a couple of pieces - one duetting with Randy and the second accompanying him on the piano. Her brother Roman played a mean double bass. The first was something classical that I forget the name of. Unforgettable You was the second piece. Barbara played a couple of her own compositions with a looper. You don't need me to tell you how good it all was. Do you? Really? Oh, OK. Very Damn Good!

I also played a short set. Hadal Zone, Articulator and something that was basically a loose idea and not much more. I'll get to that in a moment, but first... this was me facing any scrap of performance anxiety head on - an audience of the afore-mentioned top-rate musicians and me with a few years of figuring it out by myself and a knowingly obtuse, even perverse, approach, launching into a piece that is begging to fail. And of course it was not my finest moment. But there you go. Afterwards I slumped against a wall and explained a bit to Barbara about the last piece - title: A Point Of Collapse.

This is the thing - I'm interested in boundary conditions, interim states and transitional phases. Of course I was mindful of the Berlin Wall and its destruction and the associated changes. But more generally, for instance, people settle on land near water - a boundary - how many towns have a river? Why do we go on holiday to the seaside and sit on the beach - the place between land and water? We duck our heads as we walk into rooms - even when we will clearly fit easily. And so on. I enjoy things that are in the grey area between sense and nonsense, structure and chaos, reason and irrationality. So the question is - how much can I allow things to fall apart whilst playing, without crossing the line irretrievably. Musical chicken. Theremin brinkmanship. As you might have guessed this is a panic-box piece. By the end of the performance I felt I was not so much taking it home as dragging its corpse to the river.

I felt fine about it. The point of playing before an audience is to empathise - to hear it through their ears, and that's a good thing.

And the moral of this story is; If you eat a live frog before breakfast, nothing worse will happen to you all day.

That night, back in the pension, in hypnagogic reverie I decided the piece needs an anchor, something to take it out of the theatre of the imagination and make it specific. In short, a few words.

One experiment we did at school was paper chromatography, splitting out the pigments in black ink to find a wealth of colours there. So I imagine a technique for opening out a momentary sound, unfolding it to find the richness therein. Not literally, of course - an "artist's impression".

Most of the words of the anchor followed from that idea. One line - the pistol shot - was from a dream I had later that night. Someone in a long coat asked me if I knew of a particular book by an author he named. I did not. He quoted that phrase from the book and it was clear that it had special significance.

So here it is in full.
frozen moments
the slow explosion
walls bulge
the pistol shot
a point of collapse

I think it should be spoken by a chorus of computer generated female voices.

I brought home some trophies - Carolina and Barbara's new CDs and a tourist t-shirt - black, with a white silhouette of an East German border guard leaping the Berlin Wall when it was just a stretch of barbed wire. Based on this photo.

More info here.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Attack Of The Killer Cleavage

The Beat Electrons - Arthur, Phil and I - opened for the White Label Music Christmas Party gig in Windsor yesterday.

After an age of hanging around we paraded into the hall wearing our flashing dealy boppers and twirling our whirlies.

We opened with Veil Nebula (iTunes link), which went rather well, I felt, and then Soupçon (iTunes link). As I don't recall posting the lyrics before, here they are...

in the soup of my vacuity
i hazard paralysis
entrails dragging
through the soupbowl of my life

oh soup
oh soup

biscuits dripping
saucers cracking
advancing downwards
bloody minded with a knife

oh soup
oh soup

each congealing morsel
treacled crawling
soft wet sighing
across the soupbowl of my life

oh soup
oh soup

asparagus soup

After that we went into the Christmas Classics section. Last Christmas and Merry Xmas Everybody. They bore little resemblance to the originals. (Think Satisfaction by The Residents. iTunes link)

I suspect Ann Shenton was the mastermind behind the, uh, distraction that came dancing up to us in the form of a voluptuous Goth with the kind of décolleté top that leaves men cross-eyed, grinning and startled like a deer trapped in the headlights. My polite requests for her to vacate my control zone were ineffective, so after a while I relinquished the pitch rod to her, letting her play it with her - well, let's just say the music had a rather jiggly, bouncy quality to it for a while.

Oh my.

We finished with an industrial wall of sound, "Power Station" for which I brought the Panic Box into play for some ring-moddy screams and growls, in conjunction with my newest electromechanical effect, which I call the VLS ("Very Long Screwdriver") as it is, in fact, a very long screwdriver. (The shaft is 42cm long - that's how long my very long screwdriver is; very long.) By holding it in the pitch hand by the non-conductive handle and touching the metal shaft with the index finger you can instantaneously smack your pitch up by an interval related to (amongst other things) the angle at which the VLS is presented to the pitch rod.

A track making use of the VLS will appear on my friend Fabio's forthcoming album (title not known - I'll post something when it is released.) I do know the track is called Binary Pulsar - I contributed the title and the theremin track that was later improvised around. (I offered an Italian name for the VLS, as the album was recorded in Italy. "La bacchetta di intervalli" - The Interval Baton or Wand.)

Typical audience feedback after our set: "That was the most fucked-up thing I ever heard. Brilliant."