Wednesday, December 30, 2009

WAO Presents: "Save The Last Dance For Party Steve"!

Set 1 (64 megs)
Set 2 (27 megs)
Timelapse of the Whole Evening (14 megs ... just video for now ... will hopefully add an audio track soon)

Here's another surprisingly unique Woodland Acoustic Orchestra show, this time with the Chai-House-provided theme of "Save the Last Dance for Party Steve". The orchestra for the evening included John Beezer (rad 80's electric 6-string), TQ Berg (guitar and voice), Dennis Jolin (ukelele and miscellaneous percussion), Jesse Silvertrees (showing up mid-way through set 1 on djembe and voice), Me Woods (bassbox, trumpet, and voice) and a fantastic piano player named Colin (on the house piano) who we hijacked after hearing some of his magical key-noodling while we were setting up.

I'm enjoying the top of the night quite a bit now on the recording, but given the fantastic group we had out, it really did take us a while to get much momentum built up! For at least the first 20 minutes, the music kept drifting to a near-halt before each signaled change. Still, the spaces between signals were beautiful, and it seemed we had built up just the right amount of heat to make a quick switch from slow-boil to steam-fireworks when Jesse arrived with the djembe (at about 28 minutes in). And from there, we were suddenly able to maintain some energy even across the occasional signaled transitions.

You may notice a mysterious guest-vocalist on the recording: a guy that we've seen a few times before who we took to calling "party Steve" by the end of the night. He was playing the part beautifully, but then suddenly disappeared right before the "last dance"! We mostly couldn't hear him singing at the time, but he's clear as a vacuum on the recording since he was usually sitting on the front couches right next to the Edirol (singing "GO! ... GO!", laying down beat-poet versions of "takin' care of business" -- see JCR episode 21 --, and even briefly commandeering Dennis' dumbek -- which we quickly confiscated, since it was still the top of the night and we were barely keeping it together *without* the addition of semi-random finger-drumming. ;)

As I mentioned above, things really took off when Jesse showed up. I think Sarah nailed the strongest parts quite well as "heavy tribal" (albeit with diverse stylistic layering and many a harmonized anthemic chorus). All in all, as the energy built through crescendo after crescendo, it was a great cathartic evening and a fitting end to both 2009 and our long run on 2nd and 4th Wednesdays. Starting in 2010, we'll be moving to Tuesdays, where I'm excited to continue to expand the tradition, but where we'll definitely miss seeing our Wednesday-night super-baristas!

So that's about it for me for this one. As always, please call out anything I may have missed here in the 'comments' section and I'll look forward to seeing you all again in '010!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Juggler's Challenge Revival (Episode 24)!

Set 1 (43 megs)
Set 2 (30 megs)

Watch out!! It's Juggler's Challenge Revival Episode #24! Just when you thought we might not do another 3 piece drummer-less JCR ... Bam!! We totally did. It's a good one too. In fact musically, the first set had so many transcendent moments that I just about transcended my fecal-continence!

Jugglers for the evening were TQ Berg (guitar and voice), Donovan Raymond (bass and voice) and Me Woods (guitar and voice) ... plus William Fallen on my percussion-pile for the first couple of movements and David Testa on some of the same toys for the last couple of movements.

Challenges were slightly sparser than usual this evening, with slightly more room for free-jamming, but the input we did get was absolutely top-notch, including a whole packet (!) of eerily expertly-crafted abstract graphical scores by Chloe. I swear she made the whole set in under 10 minutes and they looked like they were penned by somebody who had just returned from a 6-month retreat studying Cornelious Cardew (though she claims no knowledge of his work or even graphical scores as a compositional form). We only "performed" 2 of them (I add quotes here because these are chock-full of strongly implied structure -- certainly on the difficult end of graphical scores, with plenty of justification for actual study before a successful "performance" could be declared!). I've included those two here (click on the photos for more detail), but I've also captured the rest of this epic packet, which I will be showing off to my fellow graphical-score geeks and possibly bringing back to future JCRs for extensive exploration. ;))

These technically-rich graphical scores shifted the whole discussion into a realm of music-nerd humor where jokes like "Fallopian mode? ... that's like Phrygian, but with a flat-1" seemed funny.

Due to miscellaneous baby-related transportation needs at home, I was traversing the 3 legged commute from home to work to the Chai House without a car on this particular night, and so had packed as much gear as I thought I could fit into my my backpack and a suitcase (the overhead projector, a couple of mics and cords, a couple of strings of bells, and my frog-blocks) to drag through the unusually icy weather from bus to bus on my merry way to audience-interactive glee. I *did* manage to score a generous ride to the Chai House after work with one of my coworkers, allowing me to add my office guitar to the minimal show-rig. Plugging straight into the Chai House PA with only the addition of a fantastic chorus-pedal that TQ brought out for me, I managed to find a simple sound that again raised a joy in the creativity that limited options often inspire. (TQ was also kind enough to bring out his v-bass for me, and I would say I was foolish for not taking the opportunity to play it -- I'd really like to someday! -- but I'm so happy with where the music went that I can't say I'd change anything!)

And, on that note, I think I'll add my usual Rachmaninoff ("dum da da dum") here by asking you all to add any related thoughts you might have to the comments below.

Monday, December 7, 2009

WAO Presents: "Grand Master Flash Drive"!

Set 1 (64 megs)
Set 2 (30 megs)

Here's another extremely varied, pleasantly chaotic, and occasionally brilliant Woodland Acoustic Orchestra meeting! Principals in attendance included TQ Berg (vbass and chorus pedal), "Filthy" (fretless bass), Johnny Greene (dumbek and others), Ian McKagen (guitar and voice for the first set, and misc. percussion for the second set), Donovan Raymond (Ian's guitar for the second set), Me Woods (guitar, trumpet, percussion, and voice), and a boy who I'm going to call "Piano Magic" for the time being.

I finally played another short acoustic set here to open up the evening (debuting "Hey Bean", a song I started writing about Lucy when she was a couple of months old), so this was my first WAO appearance with some steel-string playing in months. It was a pretty good set in terms of the musical performance, but I always feel that if I don't play in that format pretty regularly, I'm so confused about where to put my eyes while I'm playing and what to say between songs that the whole vibe goes in a direction that doesn't help people to enjoy the tunes...not "uncomfortable" so much...just maybe overly introspective...? I'm gonna try to keep doing a short set every 4th Weds for a while and see if I can improve some there. Anyway, While I always enjoy the way the density of the Orchestra allows me to experiment with some of my weirder instruments, it was nice to have the full-range flexibility of the traditional -- if untraditionally tuned -- 6-string. In other Andrew-centric news, I think this was *by far* my best trumpet playing at one of these yet! I've been pulling it out a couple of times a week at home and listening back here, I'm really noticing some progress. ...definitely encouraged to keep working with it.

This show was extremely fun to play, but I knew the musical coherence was hit and miss, so I wasn't sure how the files would play back. But the way the recording filters down to just the sonic-component of the evening allows an active listener to easily weave a unifying -- if ever-hue-shifting -- thread through the whole night. One of my favorite WAO recordings yet!! (Note: the momentum *does* take several minutes to pick up at the top of the night, so if you find the first bits to be too wandering, just jump ahead a few minutes.)

The Chai House had provided a typically clever theme for the show that I regretfully failed to even look-up until listening back to these just yesterday, when I realized that we hadn't addressed it at all: "Grand Master Flash-Drive".

The kid that often travels along with Filthy's entourage joined in for the whole second set on piano and was *fantastic*! In spite of being introduced to him several times, I can't remember his name now (I blame it on the weird swiss-cheese-brain-high that often accompanies these shows...but I feel like it gets mentioned somewhere in the second set there...send it along if you catch it!), but his playing was sublte, energetic and simultaneously responsive to key and rhythm. The dude has got it!! I hope he joins us again.

There's so much detail and variety in this show here, that to even begin to log the interesting bits seems like an overwhelming task, so I'll just leave it to you to discover (and call out in the comments here!). But I'd just like to note one extra-cool effect in the recording: Ian was a few minutes late returning for the second set, so Donovan -- who usually just joins in for the electric shows -- hopped on his guitar, prompting Ian to settle in on the couch with a few percussion toys, playing ever so tastefully, but only a couple of feet from the recording mics. Since the sharp attack of his playing at that distance was far above the levels of the remaining instruments, but still below the clipping threshold of the recording, my usual post-compression/limiting pass results in some fairly crazy fluttering that I for one find extremely interesting!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

JCR Episode 23!!

Set 1 (59 megs)
Set 2 (42 megs)

Here we have Juggler's Challenge Revival Episode #23! The high number of defectors this evening \ ; { ) > left us with a percussion-less electric trio of TQ Berg (guitar), Donovan Raymond (standup-bass and rap-master) and Me Woods (keys and voice). As a juggler's challenge event, this was probably not as traditionally effective as the last one with nearly the same lineup (skip down two posts to October's), but it *did* feature some fantastic and relatively-musical "out"-style playing, and at least a couple of memorable Juggler's Challenge gems.  (Speaking of!...  I just noticed -- after upgrading to the new blog-editor here -- that the editor is now setting these images up as links to the larger images that I upload to the site, so if you're not seeing as much detail as you might like, from here on out, you should be able to just click on the image for a larger view.  Very cool!  :)

The location of the mics (low and directly in front of TQ's amp) probably isn't ideal here, but the recording works anyway, on the strength of TQ's consistently inspired playing. In "andrew's gear" news, this was my first show running the keys through my guitar-FX, and I really like the results! Mostly, I enjoy the simple tones of the keyboard, but I like how the pedal-rig allows me to manipulate the sound on the fly a bit, as well as capture a loop now and then when appropriate. The one thing I should probably add to this process is a little more time setting up a pleasing EQ through the PA before I get started, as I tend to find myself just rolling off more and more of the high-end on the keys as the volume ramps-up over the evening (which seems a little more crude than optimal :).

So, since I'm a couple of weeks behind here, I'm gonna leave it there for this one. I realize this is another rather stripped-down entry, but I encourage you to call out any personal highlights in the comments (as will I, when I get a chance to listen again). The good news is I'm now finally finished with production on the iPhone game I've been working on with game-developer Kevin Kinell and artist Dylan Sisson ( )! So not only will that be available soon, for anybody who's interested and has a compatible device, but my upcoming show-entries here should be more timely and substantial again for at least the next little while.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Woodland Acoustic Orchestra (October 2009)!

Set 1  (50 megs)
Set 2 (46 megs)

Here's another Woodland Acoustic Orchestra show, featuring a stirring quartet of Dennis Jolin (Percussion and Voice), Ian McKagen (Guitar and Voice), Jesse Silvertrees (Djembe, Piano, and Voice) and Me Woods (Charango, Trumpet and Voice). I had a lot of fun this evening! A pleasant sense of abandon bubbled throughout, with just enough cohesion to keep us moving through distinct realms and passages.

The Chai-House-Provided theme for the evening was "Hallo-Fiend Band-Snatchers", and indeed we were missing quite a few of our regulars. Just who could these band-snatchers be? I for one am beginning to suspect the minions of my old nemesis "Idle Hands", who has also managed to gobble up all of the time that I had intended to put into writing up this post and instead confuse me into creating music and sound-effects for his first ever videogame . Typical!! I'd already spent several weeks as his captive, crafting a "theme-song" for the occasion of the release of his Vinyl Toy. This latest project is a new (iPhone based) installment in Kevin Kinell's clever and highly addictive old-school RPG, "Yipe!", with all new art by Idle Hands' principal minion, Mr. Dylan Sisson.

Perhaps, if I can escape Mr. Hands' clutches over the next few weeks, I will write up an addendum to this post highlighting some of my favorite musical passages from the evening, but until I'm free again I'll have to leave any of that sort of detailed documentation to you (here in the comments). Pray for me! And, if you get a chance to put together a care package, I really enjoy candy-corn (and my nails could use some filing...hint, hint...ahem).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Juggler's Challenge Revival (Episode 22)!

Set 1 (56 megs)
Break it down! (1.3 megs)
Set 2 (45 megs)

Hey All! Here's another great Juggler's Challenge Revival show, featuring a drummer-less electric quartet of TQ Berg (Guitar), Dennis Jolin (Guitar), Donovan Raymond (Bass and Rapmaster...more on that later! :), and Me Woods (Keyboard and Vocals). By Tuesday, efforts to find a drummer for this one already weren't going well, and so I decided to see what would happen if we tried an electric group without drums. We'd done this before, but usually with an attempt to fill some of the gap with looping. This time, since I knew I'd be racing over from my soccer game at the last minute, I decided to forego the loops -- and even the vocal fx -- and just showed up with an old Yamaha keyboard and a mic.  I have mixed feelings when I say it was a *huge* success for the format! ...mixed because I know so many fantastic drummers. But the vocals were effortlessly audible throughout the evening here (a first for the new format...I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to *sing* more and shout less :), and without the looping, the music organically rose and fell orchestrally in response whatever the movement desired. Even though the guitars are usually what buries the vocals, it seems that it's the drums that set the volume that push the guitars into that territory. Perhaps I can convince some of my drummer friends to come out with simplified hand-drum setups for the next few of these...? I'd really like to try this again!

TQ and Dennis were like stereo treble magic all evening long, 
both playing rhythmically and texturally in a way that elevates the guitar beyond it's stereotypical role in rock music. Both of these guys really work from their tone. They seem to build reactively off of whatever sound is in the air and this really keeps things true! Donovan was typically brilliant on the bass and supplemented this with some ground-breaking work on his Realistic (TM ;) Rap-Master. A tiny radio-shack keyboard with an attached microphone that packs in a couple dozen (?) "awesome" keyboard voices and somehow allows you to sing through a weird shiftable harmonizer at insane volumes without feeding back. There is truly something weird going on with that mic-setup! It would audibly harmonize casual conversations at the other end of the room right through the PA, but wouldn't feed-back unless pushed to ridiculous levels and would nicely clamp any close vocals down to a pleasant dirty crunch. Donovan worked this and his bass (alternately and simultaneously) throughout the evening to truly spellbinding ends.

Thanks to the donated Yamaha from my mom, this was perhaps my first real appearance on keyboard since my last cover-band in the very early 90's.  Oh the memories...  (shiver)

The audience of Challengers for the evening was certainly small in numbers (tiny actually!), but giant in inspiration. The photos from this post include just a few of the sheets they provided. In a way, it was great that it was so slow. It felt a bit like an intimate house-party, and Chloe even had enough time to complete a few sheets -- including two of my favorites: Set 1's epic closer, "Oh Shit, It's a Cactus!" and perhaps our most abstract graphical-score to date (which -- I think -- opens Set 2).

So that's about it for me on this one, except I'll just say that switching back to recording with the external mics (as opposed to the Edirol's built-in pair) has been well worth it! The recordings have been really rich and spacious renderings of the evening's sound. Check 'em out! And let me know what you think here in the comments...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Woodland Acoustic Orchestra Presents: "System of a Clown"!

Set 1 71 megs
Set 2 23 megs

Here's a fresh and ultimately very satisfying WAO performance. The Orchestra for September included TQ Berg (v-bass and voice), Dennis Jolin (percussion, electro-uke, and voice), Ian McKagen (6-string and voice), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe, other percussion, and voice) Adrian Woods (percussion at the very end of set 2) and Me Woods (charango, trumpet, percussion, and voice). The Chai House had provided the theme "System of a Clown" for the evening and it was a great springboard -- both lyrically and, eventually, energetically.

By browsing the parentheticals in the list above, you can see there was quite a bit of instrumental diversity this month! It was also fantastic to have so many players adding their voices throughout the evening. Jesse (in his first -- and hopefully *not* last! -- NBP appearance ever) not only brought a new depth and solidity to the groove with his tasteful Djembe playing, but adeptly jumped right into the mix with great signals and vocals both. TQ, in the absense of "Filthy" on bass, gradually brought in more low end and contrapuntal rhythm as the evening progressed, building up the mass and momentum of the sound in a smooth trajectory aimed squarely at 10:00.

The first set featured a few bumpy patches, interspersed with sporadic brilliance. I perhaps took a little of the creative wind out of our sails by encouraging signalers to focus on structural -- as opposed to thematic/story -- signals. Usually we get our legs under us by charging off on a collective realization of something like "Bamboo-Lord Deals Robotussen". ...which is also fun! :) I was interested in bringing out more of the hard-shifting, challenging odd-time grooves that the WAO format is capable of. (I think my revised approach would be to encourage people to simply supplement any conceptual signals with a structural one.)

Granted, the structure of this show strayed a little further than I would generally like from the core strengths of the 'Acoustic Orchestra' format (mostly around the two goals of intentional-ambiguity/overlapping-threads and playing *through* the signaled-changes). But I realize now that this is mostly due to the gradual influx of so many great new players, and I think I should be able to easily bring some of those elements back with a simple review of the tools before the next show.

So, all that being said, many of the signaled changes still pack a nice wallop here, and many of the "songs" from this particular evening are unmatched in recent WAO history. Truly spontaneous, sprawling, and vibrant...ecstatic collective tributes to the concept of the moment! My personal favorite is probably the first set's "It Aint Easy" (starting at around 29 minutes in). The whole celebratory movement builds gradually against Ian's and my traded verses, with some spot-on clown-FX from Dennis gleefully slapping us in the face like a pair of size-22 shoes. And the brief second set is nearly all gold!

What was your experience of the flower-spray?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Juggler's Challenge Revival (Episode 21)!

Set 1 56 megs

Here's another typically atypical and -- for me at least -- highly entertaining Juggler's Challenge Revival show. Jugglers for the evening were TQ Berg (guitar and voice), Dennis Jolin (percussion and voice), Ian McKagen (bass for 1st set, guitar for 2nd), Michael Perry (drum-kit), and Me Woods (trumpet and voice for 1st set, bass and voice for 2nd).  The JCR idea-engine whizzed smoothly along in 21st gear for the whole evening here, with the return of some veteran Challengers from the early shows providing so many colorful and odd-shaped "balls" that by the end of the second set, we'd Juggled barely over half of them.  For me, the highlight was perhaps the 1st Abstract Graphical Score (starting at about the 40 minute mark in Set 1), which landed on the overhead projector with 3 perfectly open-ended linked-symbols/drawings. We'd just worked through the dangling necklace of notes and the slice-of-bread with the giant keyhole in the center, and I had just begun wondering what to put on the other side of the door when Krista (sp?) added the sparkly octopus. For me, that's what Juggler's Challenge is all about!

The first set began right as Ian (who had graciously showed up to fill-in on bass at the last minute) finished setting up his rig and then abruptly and mysteriously booked out the door, saying that he'd be back in a couple of minutes. In the absence of bass, the first few minutes featured some beautiful open space and then an "interlude" of some of the most vicious feedback we've gotten in years (the biggest peak is actually clipped out of the recording here to spare your ears :).  Unfortunately, since TQ was set up near the PA I think we mistakenly focused on the wrong mics in fixing the problem (his and Ian's), when I'm pretty sure now that it was the mic that we had set up for Michael's harmonicas, but which by then had been passed over to Dennis who was much closer to the speakers. Oh you bitter whiner, blasted "hind-sight"!! In any case, within another minute or two, Ian was back and we were off and running again on our first module. From there, it was a supremely beautiful evening, marred only slightly by one guy's repeated requests for "Takin' Care of Business".

On the recording front, I think the return to the split-mic really helps spread the mix and bring the vocals forward a bit (the left mic was strategically placed quite close to one of the PA speakers).  But apparently the excitement of the set-break erased any memory of the recording gear from my mind and I didn't remember to restart it again until probably over half-way through the second set, missing a stellar warm-funk warmup, a bluegrass-folk-boogiewoogie-motown-electronica version of the innuendo-fueled mad-lib song, and a story of Frodo the Hampster Farmer and Jinxmooh the Assistant Demigod.

One detail I wanted to call out: I *think* most of the other Jugglers understood at the time, but since I've been known to advocate for lower volumes in the past, I wanted to clarify that the bit that starts just before 8 minutes into what remains of the second set was pure theater. ...not an artsy way to try to get people to turn down! This was the 2nd graphical score of the evening, and I was pretending to be an elephant getting paranoid that the cops would bust him for smoking pot with his fellow pachydudes in the storm-sewers. I swear it was right there plain as day in the score! ;)

Okay, that does it for me for this one. Anything else that I might've called out? ...please add it in the comments here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Woodland Acoustic Orchestra (August 2009)!

Set 1 57 megs
Set 2 19 megs
Bonus: aWoods Solo Set Opener 18 megs

Here's an unusual and -- I think -- very successful WAO show featuring TQ Berg (6-string and voice), Filthy (fretless bass), Johnny Greene (dumbek), Bill Wolford (banjo and 1-string bendy thing), and Me Woods (guitar, voice, trumpet, and miscellaneous percussion).

As we were playing, I think many of us were oscillating back and forth between complete absorption in navigating the gentle musical chaos and thinking "wow, this sure has been chaotic for a while now!".   As such, in spite of the glowing reviews from several listeners, I wasn't sure whether it was as strong as our average show, but now that I've heard the recordings I'm a complete convert. Rhythms, melodies, lyrics rise and fall amidst a loosely-organized, constantly collapsing and overturning musical babble. Each thread seems to emerge, gently pull on some neighboring tangles and then unwind back into the mass of soft colourful yarn. The maturity and active ears of each musician are on full-display as they patiently respond to each other without forcing any particular groove or motif to the forefront. The general patience with inconsistency allows layers and layers of overlapping and loosely-connected patterns to build and shift against each other. This is advanced listening to be sure, but not so easily dismissed as wankery in my opinion.  In the second set, things became more conventionally stable but still great.

So, I think I'll leave it at that for this one. As always, I encourage you to add your own thoughts below in the comments section. Oh, and one more thing: Many of the "signals" written up on the white-board by the various band members were unusually conceptual and even pleasantly risky...just so you don't give me too much of the credit (or blame ;) for the somewhat questionable lyrics!

Monday, August 17, 2009

JCR Episode 20 !!

Set 1 56 megs 
Set 2 24 megs

The 2nd Wednesday of August was another in what feels like a steadily-building series of Juggler's Challenge Revival shows: Episode 20! Jugglers included Woody Frank (Electric Guitar), Dennis Jolin (Percussion Spread), Donovan Raymond (Bass), Paul Turner (Drums), Adrian Woods (Loops, Chimes, Vocals, Percussion, "Crust-Wave"), and Me Woods (Vocals and Trumpet).The audience-interactive portion of the show went better than ever, with the seasoned band making grand use of input-sheets that seemed to pile up on stage before we were even plugged in. A heaping of heartfelt thanks to everyone who added their words, ideas, and drawings! It was a model JCR show. (Also, for posterity, this was the debut of the "5-Adjectives" sheet.)

This was Woody's last show of the Summer before he heads back to CA for the school-year. We had thought we were going to have TQ on guitar again this week as well, so Dennis was 'all-percussion' instead of his usual strings/percussion mix. As it turned out, instead of our usual 3-or-4 treble-guitars, it was just Woody. But let me tell you, if anybody can play with enough energy and versatility to make up for 2 extra guitarists, it's Woody! And indeed he did. With his single guitar playing a key role in outlining a wide range of diverse styles and syncopations for each movement, it was an inspired and fitting end to our all-too-brief Summer run with him. We'll definitely be looking forward to seeing Woody again whenever he's back in town next!

Dennis had decided to (for the evening) trade in his strings for an impressive spread of hand-percussion that just about filled the entire abandoned drum-riser. It seemed that no one -- except possibly Dennis himself -- was hearing enough of him at the time, but on the recording his supremely tasteful grooves and pinpoint-targeted soundscape additions come through pretty clearly and really bring some tang to the sauce.

I'd been eager for my next chance to play with Paul, but had been waiting for a non-chai-house show, in light of our common Juggler's Challenge difficulty with volume-balance and Paul being one of the hardest-hitting drummers in the city. But in running into him at the previous show, it was suddenly clear that we needed to try it. Mercifully, he brought a range of lighter drum-whackers, allowing his precise, intricate, dynamic-driving magic to transform the JCR format. I now greatly look forward to rotating him into the band more regularly!

It was fantastic to have Adrian back again as well, soundscaping just below the threshold of perception with mostly just house-mic input and hacked fx-loops as only he can! (I even caught him playing percussion on the table-legs towards the end of the night. :)

I played Trumpet again! ...and it was much less embarrassing this time. I think I'll do it some more.

At this point, I think I should mention that it's hard to imagine even pulling these shows off these days without Donovan on the bass. I guess -- since the format tends to shift happily to accommodate whoever's there -- we'd manage, but Donovan brings it all: rock-solid, bone-shifting grooves (across a diverse range of feels!) that never fail to either trigger or seamlessly integrate a new thread or concept. Somehow he manages to "fill" us towards a new chord or through a turnaround at just the perfect point in the lyrical structure every time. It often feels like he's already memorized the chart for the song that we're supposedly making up on the spot, but I suspect he's just a really good listener.

Okay, that's it for me on this one. Please add your own thoughts and observations here in the comments!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Woodland Acoustic Orchestra Presents: "Super-Cali-Fraggle-Rastafarian"!

Set 1 70 megs
Set 2 24 megs

WAO coalesces again here for another successful run with the whiteboard-based signaling approach! (See the post from the end of June below for more details on the format.) This month featured a plentiful orchestra of regulars, including "Filthy" (Fretless Bass) Woody Frank (6-String and Vocals), Dennis Jolin (Ukelele, Percussion, and Vocals), Ian McKagen (6-String and Vocals), and Andrew "me" Woods (Fretless Classical Guitar, Trumpet, Vocals, etc...). We also had a two-piece dumbek section of new-ish arrivals, Johnny Greene (who gave me a CD of a well-recorded, mind-blowingly technical, and thoroughly listenable 20-minute drum-solo!...but more on that later) and Seth "I-don't-know-his-last-name" (the guy seen directing the Abstract Graphical Score in the post below). For the first set we had John only (from the couch in front of the stage), but sometime later in the evening, Seth grabbed my unused dumbek from the stage and joined him on the neighboring couch. Together, the extra percussion extended the grooves out into the house and untold dimensions beyond.

In addition to the continuous stream of expertly signaled direction from within the Orchestra, we also had an unusually fruitful Chai-House-provided theme for the evening (reportedly by Erin...if so, then bravo, Erin! :): "Super Cali Fraggle Rastafarian". As with a handful of the best themes we've had in the past, the story of a ganja-toking Muppet on the road in Northern California shaped the show from first notes to beer-o'clock. (I only wish the theme had been listed on the Chai House's calendar like it usually is...after the show, I got to talking to a guy who remembered Fraggle Rock better than I did and I realized there was so much untapped potential there! many details that were apparently wiped from my 13-year old pre-rastafarian mind.) But kudos to the group for the nuanced improvisation, the many fantastic -- and often theme-appropriate -- signals, and the stellar muppet-vocals.

I think this might be the first time that the fretless nylon-string has been to the Chai House in at least a couple of years. It seemed to add a nice bit of tonal contrast against the two steel-strings, and the lack of frets forces me to keep things simple, which is great with so many players. It's been much longer since I've seriously picked up the trumpet (...junior year in high-school?), and my impression as I was playing was that I was mostly making a fool out of myself. But listening back to the recordings I really liked the added texture and I don't think it should take me too long to get back to the point where I can find a way to play things that people can enjoy listening to. So perhaps I'll make this combo my WAO rig for a while and see what develops!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Neon Brown Presents: "Juggler's Challenge Revival (Episode 19)"!

Set 1 54 megs
Set 2 25 megs

Another 2 fine sets of Juggler's Challenge! July's Jugglers included TQ Berg (Guitar from the last bit of Set 1 on), Woody Frank (Guitar and Voice), Michael Perry (Drums), Donovan Raymond (Bass), and Me Woods (Acoustic Guitar and Voice). It's great to have Woody out during these summer months when he's not away at school. He always brings a pot full of melody, driving rhythm, and unique energy. And this evening in particular I got a number of compliments about his playing. The rest of those guys: Idiots, all! ...I mean genius! sorry, "genius" was what I meant to say. It was a good lineup all 'round.

Ian McKagen created the 'Insider's-Surprise' -- the first free-form entry of the evening, played while the bulk of the Challengers are familiarizing themselves with the format and deciding what to put on their first transparencies. He penned a perfectly whimsical riff on the Chai-House-provided theme for the evening: "Acoustick Popsickle" (sic). (If you're new to these shows, see some of the other Juggler's Challenge entries below for more context.) From this point, it seemed that no other explanation was necessary as first-time Challengers immediately grokked the concept and jumped right in with a steady stream of inspired input.

Building a consistent group for this format was clearly paying off this evening, as the Jugglers brought more subtle cohesion and spontaneous momentum out of their diverse experience with vaguely similar forms from previous shows. I had a lot of fun start to finish! The audience was generous and involved and the players were amazing. The fine-print paragraph that follows addresses my only ongoing difficulty with this format. This difficulty is addressed here in the form of a lengthy analysis of the sound-mix and the presentation of part of my grand-unified-theory-of-ideal-live-performance-EQ. Unless such things interest you, feel free to skip ahead.

Sorry to ramble on about the mix every time, but -- especially with this audience-interactive format -- I really do think that getting a good volume balance is near the top of a very short list of logistical/technical keys to getting the format to work. And I keep kicking myself because I never seem to be able to figure out how to fix the problem at the time. As usual, the vocals were slightly more audible at the beginning of the night (and perhaps generally more intelligible than what was captured on the recording), but again they became progressively buried and by the end of the night, I was again singing in a very narrow and loud dynamic range (shouting), just to get the notes -- much less the words -- to cut through. And I think my conclusion after this show is that this problem generally has everything to do with the treble instruments being out of balance. Again, I couldn't figure it out at the time.  This time, TQ was *plenty* quiet. He tipped his amp up at a 45-degree angle on stage and played at an unusually low volume (most likely too low, since we were both up on the tiny stage, and I know he was being careful not to braise my ears...but it was a good experiment and generally I think the tipped-amp approach pushes things in the right direction).  Woody's amp, on the other hand, was in the traditional flat-to-the-ground position, and -- in retrospect -- was probably a few notches too loud. He's a solid listener and could clearly tell something was up, because by the middle of the set, he wanted me to turn up my guitar to match. But by this point, the vocals were both too loud and buried.  One could argue that I should just turn them up, but I could already see the wincing near the PA, and in retrospect I think the vocals were already perfectly situated in relation to the drums and bass. (If I'm going to complain so much after the fact, I definitely need to get better about figuring these things out on the spot.) But this brings me to my general formula for band eq: The bass should be the very loudest...especially with Donovan's all-lows tone. It provides a solid foundation to the frequency pyramid and doesn't interfere with the audibility of the treble instruments, even if they're much quieter than they generally tend to be. (In fact, if you *did* want an audience to embrace a band playing really loud, the best way to do it is to make sure that the low frequencies are the loudest.  We used this approach for half a decade in 'neon brown' and had virtually no volume-complaints, even at tiny coffee-houses that generally eschewed electric music. Conversely, If the bass frequencies aren't keeping up, even a modest volume can feel harsh and overwhelming.) In terms of instruments and VU meters, the vocals and drums should be next loudest.  You should be able to hear the words and the vocalist should be able to sing at lower dynamic ranges from time to time and still be at least audible. Then the treble instruments (guitars, keys, saxophones, chain-saw) should be notched in a bit below those.  You'll still easily be able to hear every note they play (since the bass and drums don't generally interfere with their frequency-range and the vocals are intermittent) and their tones will provide plenty of power and texture without being on top of the mix. Anyway, that's the theory...

Okay, endless theorizing over! I hope none of the fantastic players who have been joining me feel in any way put-off by my theorizing. I certainly blame no-one but myself and my consistently poor planning and communication on this issue. It's obvious that everyone is trying to get a better mix. But since I'm hosting the show, people are probably trying to listen to my suggestions and I'm not giving good ones at the time.

Some of the highlights of the evening included the "Style-Blender" module (consistently working it's chaotic magic these days), the abstract graphical score (written(?) and directed by Seth), the 2-characters-meet module (with input from both the house and the baristas), any of the purely instrumental bits, and -- for sheer shock-value -- my guitar crashing off the side of the stage at the end of the first set. 
Never fear: though I was vocals-only for the second set, the pickup batteries weren't too hard to get back into their slot on the weekend...once I could loosen the strings and hold the guitar over my head in a little better light.

Did I forget anything? Please feel free to add your own liner-notes (and/or rebuttals to my grand-unified-theory-of-performance-EQ) here in the comments section.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Woodland Acoustic Orchestra Presents: "Hot Lettuce with Sweet Mayonnaise"!

Set 1 50 megs 
Set 2 30 megs

Here are both sets of June's breakthrough 'Woodland Acoustic Orchestra' performance! Expecting at least a couple of the musicians to arrive slightly after 8pm, I had prepared another short acoustic set to use the gap to test some arrangements. But by 8pm, the core group for the evening -- TQ Berg (Steel-String), Woody Frank (Steel-String), Dennis Jolin (Ukelele, Table, and Bike Wheel), Ian McKagen (Steel String), and Me Woods (Bass-Box and Percussion) -- were completely set up and ready to roll! (At this point, we didn't realize that the Chai House clock was over 20 minutes behind due to a failing battery, but it sure *felt* like we were off to an early start.)

And a strong start it was! With a solid critical mass of 5 players right from the top, we were finally able to explore the new signaling approach that I'd been planning to try as soon as we had enough musicians to pull it off.  This new "breakthrough" system is actually pretty simple: A white-board is set up in front of the band -- facing the stage. Once a groove is established the first player works their way out of the jam and writes a signal (chord-change, time-change, stylistic/structural concept, etc...) on the board. While the composer-of-the-moment is getting their instrument back on and re-entering the groove, everyone is quickly reading and integrating the signal...preparing a musical response to it. After the signaler has insinuated their way back into the groove, they signal the transition. Everyone changes what they are playing in accordance with the signal.  
Any time after this point, the next person in the circle puts down their instrument and writes a new signal on the board -- during which time, the rest of the group can ignore them and just concentrate on developing whatever movement has come from the previous signal. And this group of players definitely rocked it! ...deftly manipulating the abstract system to maximum effect, while keeping enough moment-to-moment focus for expressive instrumental interpretation and some interesting vocal-additions.

I really love the effect of rotating through the line-up with each player contributing creative open-ended compositional direction and the group spontaneously responding! And the written format naturally breaks up the mix (as each player in turn has to temporarily stop to write) and allows the band to communicate without "tipping their hand" to the crowd. 
The audience, not knowing exactly what the syntax of the signal was, picks up only on whatever semantic value it added to the collective groove, unburdened of their own interpretations of how the group "should have interpreted it", yet simultaneously just a wee bit curious as to what words might've provoked the latest large-scale shift in the sound. From informal polling of family there that night, it seems to produce a pleasing mystery.

For the second set, frequent drop-in collaborator William Precht was available to jump on the piano and so we all tuned down the 3/8 of a step to match the average of the Chai House piano's scatter-plot tuning scheme. 
It was a welcome addition, providing a new dimension of rich sustained warmth for the remainder of the evening. At about 10:12, after a third extension of "Super Barista" (still failing to get a reaction out of Erin and Rita :), I glanced up at the clock and was surprised to see that we had already gone so far over time! This, of course, was before Erin told me that the clock's battery had needed changing, and I suddenly realized that our seemingly magic ability to start on time -- and then play such an amazing second set that it appeared to catapult us through some sort of experiential worm-hole -- was actually just the result of the two of them deciding that they should probably wind it ahead to "Ballard Standard Mean" time, in case we looked up for reference.

Anyway, that's just about it for this one from me. Special thanks to Tina for the photos! And as always, I encourage you to add your own show-notes here in the comments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Neon Brown Presents: "Juggler's Challenge Revival (Episode 18)"!

Set 1 50 megs
Set 2 37 megs

"Wednesday, June 10th, 2009. This is Juggler's Challenge." This week's typically raucous interactive-music extravaganza featured veteran jugglers TQ Berg (Electric Guitar and Vocals), Dennis Jolin (Electric 6-String), Michael Perry (Da Kit), Donovan Raymond (Bassss), Me Woods (Hybrid Guitar and Shouting) and -- for the second set -- Woody Frank (Acoustic Steel-String). Continuing to build upon the recent Juggler's Challenge Revival momentum, episode 18 featured plenty of inspired Challenger (audience) input and the various sounds that this input provoked from the band.

Set 1 started off with the usual warmup jamming and show-introduction, followed by a less-usual kick-off sheet from within the band (thanks TQ!) to get us going. The "song" that resulted was one of my favorites of the night. IMO, this is another fine example of the increased synergy within the group resulting from retaining most of the same Jugglers from show to show. And this particular idea seems like something we should keep doing (helps tie that first 20-minute free-jam while waiting for Challenger input into the rest of the show)!

As the Challenger input started coming in, the music built on plenty of continuity, creative counterpoint, and ready energy. Several of the pieces spontaneously developed distinct repeated movements (verses and choruses?...sortof). A rich sonic palette combined with some new and effective leadership on the part of the other Jugglers really made this a breakthrough JCR show in my mind. Michael brought out a sheet as a screen for the overhead projector, and TQ even launched a whole movement on lead-vocals, which makes me think I should really set up some extra mics and try to lure the rest of the band to step up to the mic from time to time. Thanks to the band for continuing to jump right into the mess each month!

Speaking of energy, somewhere in the second set, I began to realize that my ears and the small vocal PA couldn't quite keep up with the swelling sonic mass. At the time I couldn't clearly determine or articulate the problem (you'll hear me repeatedly calling for general volume reduction towards the end of set 2), but in retrospect it's clear that the two electric guitars, while perfectly balanced with each other, ended up well above the remaining instruments and were most likely the searing stereophonic source of my ringing ears. (Given the often laser-like throw of a 12-inch guitar cabinet -- stealthily spitting fire well beneath the altitude of the average player's ears whilst flash-cooking the corneas of the guy who's only 7 feet further from the amp -- I suspect neither of them had any idea at the time.) Even still, with a bit more shouting than is maybe ideal, I think most of the concepts came across at some level and a good time was had by all!

That's it for me for this one for now, but as always, please jump in with your own observations, favorite morsels, costume-suggestions, etc... here in the comments section.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Woodland Acoustic Orchestra Presents: "Unilateral Carp Tarp"!

Set 1 37 megs
Intermission (Bonus) 3 megs
Set 2 (Truncated) 23 megs

This entry's recordings are from May 27th's superb WAO show! (The Woodland Acoustic Orchestra presents: "Unilateral Carp Tarp") Like many of the acoustic shows, for the first half of the week, it looked like we might have a fairly huge orchestra. But like many of the acoustic shows -- even after I had eaten my entire plate of food for the first time ever and played a short 4-song solo set to stretch things out a bit -- we ended up starting the first set with a scant trio of musicians. ...thankfully, in this case, the very capable Dennis Jolin (Ukelele and Percussion) and Aaron Stepp (Fretless Bass) joined me (Six-String, Percussion, and Voice).

I had planned for a more formal signal-driven evening (using two white boards facing the band as a way for the musicians to log simple concepts where everyone could see them before signaling the change). But with a trio's ability to turn-on-a-dime, coupled with the expected drop-back to 2/3rds power every time somebody would have to stop playing to write something on the board...well, we didn't end up using the boards.

Nevertheless, I thought this first set was pretty fantastic! Dennis' sweet mid-rangey riffs looped perfectly across my warm/sparkly acoustic-jazz and Aaron's brilliantly syncopated bubbling bass-pointalism. Momentum was unbroken as the soundscape morphed from one relaxed contrapuntal mood to the next.

For the second set, we were joined by William Precht on percussion and electric kalimba. We also had a guy named Jo(h?)n playing some extra percussion from the couch. He must've been operating under the "first, do no harm" principle, because his additions were so sparse and/or tasteful that I didn't even notice him on my first pass through the recording. (I'll have to listen more carefully and see if I can pick him out next time.) William is always a super strong contributor and this set immediately opened up into a much broader space with -- for me -- cosmic overtones. Much like the first set, each movement segued beautifully to the next. Everyone really seemed to be having a good time. Sadly, though I had thoughtfully prepared the recorder for battery-only operation following the demise of my power-adapter, I had neglected to delete the tracks from the previous show and so we ran out of memory about 10 or 15 minutes before the end of the set. Stupid, stupid show-host/documentarian! Bummer to lose any of such a great set, but I guess at least the recorder -- unlike previous recorders I've worked with -- didn't trash the whole file when it ran out of room. :) And the remaining 20 minutes are well worth checking out!

I'm also including some of the setup for Set 2 here as a bonus intermission track. I liked the way the various noodly instrumental textures collage against the last of the Chai House break-music.

Well, that's it for this one for now. As always, I look forward to reading your thoughts about the show here in the comments.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Neon Brown Presents: "Juggler's Challenge Revival (Episode 17)"!

the show 102 megs

Here's a top notch Juggler's Challenge Revival show by a group that is mostly a duplicate of April's 5-piece band, but with two extra musicians. So, all told, that's Noah Adler (Mandolin), TQ Berg (Destroyer), Brett ??? (Big Sax), Dennis Jolin (Electro-Uke), Michael Perry (Drums), Donovan Raymond (Bass) and Me Woods (Hybrid Guitar and Vocals).
For those of you who are interested in numbers but not good at counting, that's 7(!) people at a fully-improvised event where (1) interpreting audience-input in a relatively focused and accessible way and (2) keeping the instrument volumes in balance with the vocals are both of fairly-high importance. And really, on both of those counts this was possibly the best group yet! Apparently, if the players are actively listening (something I know I can count on from all of these guys), 7 people is actually a great number of people for something like this -- allowing each person to play more sparsely and have plenty of leftover attention to explore and amplify whatever conceptual challenges the audience has thrown our way.
Throughout the evening, grooves, melodies, and counter-melodies morphed and intertwined seamlessly with nary a hint of devolving into an escalating-volume war. In fact, now that I think about it, we actually had 8(!!) for a while when William Precht briefly plugged in a thumb-piano for perhaps our most nuanced, uplifting, and rhythmically-interesting piece of the evening.

We started a bit late due to a combo of transportation malfunctions and generally poor time-management on my part. Except for Dennis, who was still completing his marathon journey to the Chai House, we were all finally ready to go at around 8:30, when I got a funny feeling about the recording device and decided to check the adapter.
Sure enough, the AC-power adapter was shorting and the screen was already flashing the 'low-battery' message. Sensing that it was likely to be an extra good one, I booked over to the drug store on foot while everybody else started warming up with some instrumental grooves. The recording here starts when I got back about 10 minutes later and stuffed the new batteries in. Since, we had less than 90 minutes from our start-time to Chai-O'Clock, the show became a single unbroken marathon set!
With only a little hounding of the audience on my part, the transparencies began showing up on the overhead-projector early in the evening and became ever-more-inspired, all the way up to the closing verbal input of the night from Erin, "Snails Exploring an Abandoned Salt-Mine".

Here's a rough outline of what went down: 0:00:Warmup-Jams/JC-Introduction/Dennis Arrives/More Jams, 20:30: 'A Musical Experience in 10 Words or Less with Some Cheating', 27:30: 'The "Musical" Love Song', 39:30: 'Todd's Abstract Graphical Swirl-Score', 44:00: Thumb-Piano Jam --> 52:45: "The Key", 59:30: Challenger-Penned Lyrics ("Leanne Rhymes With Busta"), 1:09:00: Sadbot's Grand Cycle, 1:15:30: Snails Visiting A Salt Mine, 1:24:00: Introductions/Sweet Home Mr. Spot's.

So that's it for this one! It feels like this format is really starting to come together. I'm looking forward to coming up with some new challenge-templates over the next month. I'm also looking forward to seeing where this goes if we can keep at least 75% of the band from show to show and can make the whole concept as accessible for the Challengers as it seemed to be on this particular Wednesday. As always, feel free to add your own notes in the comments here!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Neon Brown Presents: "Woodland Acoustic Orchestra" (April '09)!

Set 1 58 megs
Set 2 25 megs

Here's another full evening with the ever-mutating Woodland Acoustic Orchestra. This month's lineup consisted of Noah Adler (Mandolin), Dennis Jolin (Percussion), Aaron Stepp (6-string Bass), and Me Woods (Acoustic Guitar and Voice).  After the minor sound-reinforcement debacle of two weeks previous, I brought my own mini-PA to this show, which allowed us to easily plop the speakers down in some much-more-ideal locations. I suspect the sound from most random places in the audience is usually pretty decent even with the built-in PA, but having greater mixing freedom certainly made it much easier for us to hear each other clearly and -- coupled with some much-more-thoughtful mic-positioning -- definitely yielded a better balance on the recording.

Even still, things took a while to get rolling. Something about the way we started seemed to push us into a corner from which it took a while to figure out how to step away. I'm guessing the general vibe for most of us was something like "man, I feel like I'm already playing too many notes to easily move this somewhere else, but it still feels like we could use some more momentum". To be fair to all of us, the Acoustic Orchestra is a slightly unconventional and ever-shape-shifting beast, and it can often take a while to figure out how to work with (or maybe relax-into) the balance of sonic textures on any given night. Also, we were still a little bit under critical mass for ideal "Acoustic Orchestra" action. Generally it seems that a minimum of 5 players makes it easier for each player to find a nice sparse approach that allows plenty of room for listening, more-effortless mutation, and greater overall momentum...which means signaled-changes can have huge impact without bringing things to a halt.

Nonetheless, for whatever reason (in spite of my many theories, it really *is* a stubbornly mysterious process) things seemed to magically gel about half-way through the first set and -- for me at least -- floated on various incarnations of this inspiration for the remainder of the night. (And really, even the first half of the first set has plenty of interesting ideas.  Just consider jumping ahead a bit if you if you're not enjoying the really *does* get quite good!) As with many of the best Acoustic Orchestra shows, multiple simultaneous interlocking melodies form a rich grooving tapestry full of new sparkling details on each listen.

Lyrics, as usual, were mostly lifted and twisted from the Ballard News Tribune, although the end of the first set features what I thought was a rather entertaining extended piece of blather.  This bit was inspired by the very cool surrealist art that had been hanging at the Chai House since at least the previous Juggler's Challenge show (thanks to Dennis for the photos here!  
...if this art is still there next time, I'll try to remember to write down the artist's name and post any relevant links here).

Okay, that's it for me on this one. As always, if you were there or have been sampling the recordings, feel free to add your own comments/context here in the comments section!