Wednesday, December 29, 2010

AWD Guitar-and-Voice Improv

Grunge-Wear Revival (1.3 megs)
Numb Fingers (1.9 megs)

Here are a couple of quick edits of some solo guitar-and-voice improv. The first clip takes place in the bathroom, as I warm up for the very first session of an as-yet-unannounced recording project with some free-association around my recent near-full-time habit of wearing a knit cap to mute the damp Seattle winter chill. The second clip is from this afternoon in my "basement" (glorified crawlspace) during my final capture session of the project. Here, clumsy noodling gives way to an extended unison guitar/voice lament on the circumstances that have numbed my fingers.

So yeah, I'm working on a possible thing. If the editing of the intended (composed) material for the recording yields anything interesting, you'll be hearing more soon!

(photo also from today, from inside of a temporary sleeping-bag-hut capture space)

Monday, December 13, 2010

WEGO: Justice Rocks!

Mono MP3 (uber-crap sound fidelity) (16 megs)
Short Video Clip (14 megs)

Here's some material from our short set kicking off a night of music to raise awareness and funds for a group called "Justice Works". This particular event ("Justice Rocks") was focused on reforming Washington State's 3-strikes sentencing law, a great cause in my book!

The orchestra for the evening was an acoustic quartet of Woody Frank (guitar and voice), Ian McKagen (guitar and voice), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe and voice), and Me Woods (bassbox, trumpet, and voice). At our 6:00 sound-check -- even before Ian had arrived -- it was obvious that the sound was going to be rich and responsive on stage. We did have a few technical difficulties getting Ian's guitar amplified later on, but I think for the rest of us the mix was unusually warm and balanced, and the easy visual and sonic communication immediately inspired cascading waves of relaxed but energetic improvised groove.

I had forgotten to transfer my portable recorder back into my gear bag after my recent trip to Hawaii, so the thin, weirdly compressed, and often distorted mono documentation posted above was captured through the built-in mic in my laptop. It's not the cleanest or highest-fidelity of our mp3s by a long shot, but I think the performance warrants a listen anyway. Tina also managed to capture a brief video clip before Lucy got creatively involved in the filming, so I've posted that as well.

For me, this was a very satisfying kickoff to our upcoming acoustic phase! (As always, please add your own thoughts and editorializationifications in the comments below.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

WEGO Acoustic Session #2

Clip 1 (24 megs)
Clip 2 (25 megs)

Here are the recordings from our second acoustic get-together (our first after deciding to try shifting to an acoustic format for a while). Dennis was unavailable for this one, so it was just Ian (guitar), Jesse (djembe), Woody (guitar), and me (bass-box and trumpet). As expected, the vocal interaction was fantastic in the new space between the shorter-sustaining acoustic events. And to my ear, there was at least as much dance in the sound.

(There was a third and even longer set with plenty of really interesting movements and probably more experimental playing, but since this was Woody and Ian's second back-to-back rehearsal of the day, and I was fighting a pretty bad chest-cold (which will be obvious if you try to listen for my voice and realize that the only one left unaccounted for is the wheezing falsetto that sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and a female soul singer who's spent the past week passed-out in the gutter), we also ran out of steam in places, and again I'm too busy/lazy to mine out the good bits, so I've just the final set out for now.)

So, enjoy! Minus the missing players -- Dennis, Jenny, TQ, and whoever we else we manage to rope in…? (Drop us a line if you know somebody who would be a good fit!) -- this is the basic sound we'll probably be working with for a while. I'm looking forward to exploring and expanding from here. And as always, whether you were there at the time or have downloaded these mp3s onto your phone and are listening on the subway in the other Washington, don't hesitate to add your own comments here below!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

WEGO: Shipwreck #2 (Nov 20th, 2010)

Woody's Set (42 megs)
WEGO Set 1 (51 megs)
WEGO Set 2 (56 megs)

Here are the recordings from WEGO's November 20th show at the Shipwreck Tavern in West Seattle. The evening started off with a super strong opening set of guitar and voice by Woody. I don't think I had heard him play solo-acoustic in at least 2 years, and it felt like he had shockingly come into his own in the meantime! This tradition of opening sets by a different WEGO member each time is turning out to be a damn-good idea. I'm already looking forward to a Ian's set next time we get to play a full night.

After that it was two full sets of the Woodland Experimental Groove Orchestra. This was the show that convinced us that we needed to try switching to a more acoustic format for a while. We *almost* followed our new amp-aiming rule (see previous post) and it *almost* worked. (As testament to its potential effectiveness, notice how the one amp that wasn't tipped up monitor-style is much louder than the surrounding rumble.) However, by the end of this show, it felt like we might have a bigger problem than just balancing the volumes. After some thought, it seems that there's just an inherent expectation-problem when you've got 3 or 4 instruments all running through 12-inch cabinets. Generally, that sound works pretty well for really loud volumes. A full drum-kit and a large bass-amp can keep up with that and make it sound appropriate, but with hand drums and just another 12" cabinet for the bass, it ends up feeling like you've got two completely incompatible bands playing on the same stage because they were double-booked and are trying to get along. Because the sound has a "rock" timbre, but is under-supported, the guitars tend to try to play more to fill things in, which only makes the sound more unbalanced. It's a vicious cycle. On the other hand, acoustic instruments and hand-drums marry quite well, with no reduction in the ability to dance.

So, I'll definitely miss the sounds of my new synth rig (perhaps it'll return eventually, even in the acoustic format), but last night's all-acoustic rehearsal was perhaps the best WEGO yet, and really has me convinced that acoustic is the way to go. Plus, it'll give me a chance to focus on the possibilities of the newly-improved acoustic bass-box and even dabble in some sporadic trumpet action.

But back to the Shipwreck show! In addition to the paradigm problems touched on above, we also had some pure physical musician-placement problems (and possibly some beer-problems ;) that exacerbated the effect of some sloppy signaling. If you listen carefully, you'll definitely hear us trying to verbally work out the intended meaning of a signal several times throughout the night. But these kinds of train-wrecks are all part of the potential of the group and from what I can tell from the audience's perspective are far outweighed by the fun of watching us try to program the music on the fly. There were a couple of previously-unknown guys in particular who showed up near the end of the night and for whatever reason immediately understood and enjoyed what we were doing. It was a nice synchronicity when one of them shouted out "Tom Sawyer" -- one of our regular Lyrical Standards until quite recently. So Tom Sawyer it was!

(text from sometime last week during the winter storm in Seattle ... image from Kona, Hawaii this morning ... nut-stick-and-leaf boat sculpture by Ketil Jonsson ... sand castle by Tina and Lucy and Ketil (and here's how Ketil wanted the colors to look))

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WEGO: Sock

MP3 (77 megs)

Here's the single set from what I consider a real breakthrough WEGO rehearsal on at least one dimension. The orchestra for the evening was Woody Frank (guitar and voice), Ian McKagen (guitar and voice), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe, piano, and voice) and Me Woods (key-bass, keys, and voice).

It's not so much that this features the best versions of several of the regular lyrical standards or any particularly zany energetic peaks (though it has plenty of great examples of each), but this was the rehearsal where I feel like we may have finally grokked a particular mix problem that would occasionally spring up with frustrating results. And I think we've hit upon a simple fix that should be able to consistently prevent it!

Since I went on about it so much last week -- and since I know you all come here first and foremost for in-depth mix-analysis ;)) -- I'll go into a bit more detail. I'll call this problem the "Unintentional Volume War". That is, it takes place in a group of competent listeners who aren't idealistically committed to ear-splitting volumes for their own sake (and is above and beyond the general tendency for people to want the music louder as their ears warm up). In this case, it's obvious that nobody is *trying* to bury the other players, and yet each player's volume keeps rising until it reaches the point that the old-folks in the room (me) stop turning up and start begging for everybody to turn down.

The solution might sound obvious, but I seem to keep forgetting it in spite of the fact that I know I've fixed this same problem in previous bands with similar solution, so it seems like it's worth laying out fully here. Most portable guitar-cabinets (and my keyboard-speaker) are low to the ground. Each player tends to set up so that they're standing directly in front of their own instrument speaker so they can adjust amp-settings, etc… These types of speakers throw a pretty narrow cone of sound. It's not like you won't hear it from off-angle, but it's about 4 times as loud if you're directly in front of the speaker. So, hopefully by now you can picture the problem: Since most players' heads are several feet above the ground, each player's sound is louder to everybody else in the room than it is to them, unless they're born with the exceedingly rare extra pair of ears in their calf-muscles. It's quite common for a player's sound to seem obnoxiously loud to everyone else in the group but still feel like they can't hear themselves well enough. So they turn up even more! The solution is to make sure that each player's amp is louder to that player than it is to everybody else in the room -- to treat the amps more like stage-monitors. In a small space, this usually means tipping the amps up at a 45-degree angle so that they're aimed closer to the head. I've blathered on long enough about this, and I'm sure you can all work out the implications, but suffice it to say that this simple change makes a huge difference.

Anyway, as I ramp up on other bus-projects again, I've got less time for cutting these recordings down, so you're getting another behind-the-scenes view here. Perhaps partially as a result of the new sonic and cognitive spaciousness, we were able to pull off some pretty adventurous uses (and hybrid usages) of the signaling language. A number of times, you'll hear us discussing the implications of what we're trying on the fly. And sadly, the best of the "sock"-themed freestyling happened before I started recording, so apologies for what is left here! ;))

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Happy HalloWEGO!

Set 1 (79 megs)
Set 2 (68 megs)

Here are the recordings of the Woodland Experimental Groove Orchestra at my fine friend Rusty's Halloween party. Rusty always throws a great party -- mingling groups of friends from diverse parts of his historical and current life -- and this was no exception! Rusty and his roommates Kim, Kyle, and John boldly opened their space at 8pm, and the costumed crowd of (I'm guessing) about a hundred people came and went until well into the morning of Halloween. Meanwhile, WEGO set up in the upstairs living room and played two roughly-hour-plus sets between 9pm and midnight. The Orchestra for the evening consisted of Woody Frank (guitar and voice), Jenny Freeling (occasional djembe during the second set I think), Dennis Jolin (uke, mandolin, and timbales), Ian McKagen (guitar and voice), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe and voice), and Me Woods (keys, misc, and voice).

This was a huge loose sprawling show with some high points and plenty of rough patches. I'm tempted to try to condense these recordings down to the most appealing sections, but I'm pretty busy on my commutes at the moment, and I'm afraid that the sonic quality of the mix (balance, clipping, etc…) just doesn't warrant the effort.

There were a couple of key problems that -- at least in my mind -- made it tough for this show to ever get off the ground musically (if this is your first visit here, or your first listen to WEGO, I'd recommend skipping down to one of the previous show-entries). First, the mix was way out of balance where I was. I can't speak for what anybody else heard that night, but where I was it sounded about like it does on the recording, but ear-splittingly loud. (Actually, the recording is also improved a bit with some EQ and compression, but you get the idea.) I tried a slightly different approach to the keyboard-amplification for this show, running it direct through the board to the stereo vocal-spearkers and using my bass amp as an extra low-frequency amplifier for the whole PA. However, even with a PA speaker aimed directly at me, I couldn't hear the treble (right hand) half of my keyboard unless almost everyone else had stopped playing. Furthermore, since I was the only one with the vocal mic, we chose an uncomfortable split between a range that would keep up with the guitar and timbales and one where the open-air vocalists could be heard a bit. The result was a treble-heavy din, leveled just under mandatory ear-plug volume, requiring any vocals besides my own to be shouted at the top of one's lungs (some impressive use of this style in places here, but of course, you only get so much range with this approach). Jesse didn't show up until about a half hour after we started and I forgot to put on my leg-shakers until only a few minutes before that, so of course it was difficult to resist over-playing to fill in the rhythm. For whatever reason (maybe to draw attention away from the mix…?) we also sang a bit more than usual and so we had to start repeating Lyrical Standards. Though really, is there a limit to the number of ways that you can sing the theme from Cheers? I think not. Still, we'll probably still want to get a few more in the hopper for longer shows like this.

In spite of all of that and within the confines of what was possible, the playing is really solid from everyone. There are some cool sections in the middle of the second set where we really surrender to the limitations and it breaks down into a full-blown percussion-jam. And near the end of the night, there's a weirdly fun section where a guy wearing a really long fake-beard (I assume it was fake! … or perhaps he's of muppet descent) got ahold of one of the mics and started gently and musically exhorting the crowd to take off their pants and "put some honey on". Another nice thing: the police didn't show up until right *after* we'd finished playing.

So, overall: not really up to the potential for warm dynamic multilayered groove that the group usually manifests, but perhaps a bit like a best-case drunken party jam. And at several points during the night, a thin line of costumed freaks materialized in the narrow space between us and the couch, grinning and dancing hypnotically to the lurching grooves … mission accomplished!! :))

Special thanks to Rusty, Kim, Kyle, and John for puttin' this thing on! (Feel free to share your own memories here below in the comments.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

WEGO: Folklife Demo

Clip 1 (Crazy Train --> Billy Jean) 18megs
Clip 2 (Safety Dance --> Beyonce) 18megs
Clip 3 (Djiln in Seven) 0.5 megs
Clip 4 (Blue Sugar) 13 megs
Clip 5 (2 of 8 to 2 of 4) 4 megs

Here's the majority of an October 19th acoustic session with Woody Frank (guitar and voice), Dennis Jolin (mandolin, ukelele, etc…), Ian McKagen (guitar and voice), Jesse Silvertrees (piano, djembe, and voice) and Me Woods (bassbox and voice). (Everybody played some percussion at one point or another too.)

I tuned the bassbox up to EADG (from its usual C#F#BE), which definitely seemed to improve its responsiveness and dynamic range while cutting out some of the clickety string-flopping. While this was all captured open-air direct to stereo, we spent a bit of time trying to place the mics for a good mix and the results are quite nice. Couple that with the increased delicacy of the acoustic format and some extra strong vocal-interaction, and I think this might be one of my favorite WEGO recordings yet!

Use the track titles as a quick guide to the Lyrical Standards covered. The highlight of the evening has to be clip 2's sea-shanty version of Beyonce!  (If anything else stands out for you, call it out below in the comments.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

WEGO: Return to the Gypsy Cafe!

Jesse's Opening Set (41 megs)
WEGO Set 1 (56 megs)
WEGO Set 2 (55 megs)

Here are both sets from last Saturday's Woodland Experimental Groove Orchestra show at the Gypsy Cafe, featuring the first public additions of Woody Frank and Ian McKagen (both on guitar and vocals), and the second-set addition of Jenny Freeling on djembe. (Also in the Orchestra for the evening were Dennis Jolin (guitar and keys), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe, keys, and voice), and Me Woods (keyboard-bass, miscellaneous, and voice).

Jesse's stellar homoerotic baths-of-Star-Trek themed invite eventually went out to something like 400 people and set a wild-but-sensual mood for the sizeable crowd that responded. The show opened at around 9:30 with a fantastic 35-minute solo set of piano and voice by Jesse himself (first link above). WEGO went on a little after 10pm, and managed to stuff in two 45-minute sets before midnight.

It may not have been our tightest or "groovinest" show yet, but 4-part cycling vocals and a densely interlocked guitar-heavy sound drove us to new levels of energy and abandon. Chaotic, sprawling versions of everything from Def Leppard to Beyonce collapsed into and returned from psychedelic free-space as the revelers shouted and filled the Gypsy Cafe with bubbles and the crackle of bubble-wrap. I even saw a couple of people dancing! At a coffee house!! Mission accomplished. :))

Oh yeah, one other thing: In addition to his guitar, Dennis set up a keyboard that he'd never brought out before. He had carefully selected some weights to lock down various keys to create adjustable droning chords. At the time, I was in a really noisy spot in the mix, so I didn't notice it consciously, but I'm looking forward to a second listen to see what he ended up doing with the rig!

And finally, whether you were there at the time or are just listening to the downloaded sets at home or on the road, I'd like to invite you to call out your own highlights and/or add any other thoughts in the comments below.

(Bubbles in the image above from a photo I found on Flickr by Glenn Loos-Austin ... and adapted under the terms of a Creative Commons license 2.0 )

Monday, September 13, 2010

WEGO at the Shipwreck

Set 1 (39 megs)
Set 2 (68 megs)

Here are the recordings from the (2nd ever!) Woodland Experimental Groove Orchestra show at the Shipwreck Tavern in West Seattle. The Quartorchestra for the evening consisted of TQ Berg (guitar and voice), Dennis Jolin (guitar and voice), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe and voice), and Me Woods (keyboard-bass, keys (first performance with the new soft-synth rig) occasional percussion and voice).

It was my turn to do the opening set for this one, so I did my usual Guitar-and-Voice-with-shakers thing (a short 6-song set of originals, including an arrangement of my latest long-distance-collaboration with 5-track, "Under the Tent"). After that, it was two sets of WEGO.

The first set was fairly traditional WEGO -- well realized as I recall … with inspired mid-tempo grooves and a suite of our core lyrical standards.

The second set was just a touch more open, with a few less changes (longer sections of modal jamming), more odd-time overlapping measures, and even a 20-ish-minute section where I was working from a short sheet of clever lyrical inspirations provided by a lady we'd never seen before (thanks for those!).

All in all, it was a great high-energy night (thanks to everyone who made the trip to see us!), which really re-affirmed the power of the format for me and seemed to kick up the momentum looking ahead to October's Gypsy show.

(Finally, whether you were in the group that night, listening from the house, or just grabbing the recordings over the net, please add your thoughts/highlights/etc… in the comments below!)

Keyboard Circle

Clip 1 (22 megs)

Here is the first half of our Sept 1st WEGO rehearsal with Jesse and me and two brand new recruits: Jenny Freeling (on Djembe) and Aaron Sarnat (Piano and percussion) ... both fantastic contributors who I hope will join us again! Nothing but hand-drums and keyboards this time. Damn hippies and their keyboards!! I've edited around a bit of the obvious learning and reviewing here, but even with half the group consisting of brand-new players, the evening was chock-full of sensitive counterpoint and inspired wackiness, and so the remaining material is quite good.

Nevertheless, if you're tight on time, the clear highlight so far is the last 4 minutes of Clip 1 (starting at the 14-minute mark) : "Piggy Toe".

(more soon!)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WEGO First Ever Public Performance! (Gypsy Cafe)

Set 1 (53 megs)
Set 2 (71 megs)

Thanks to everyone who came out to the first 'Woodland Experimental Groove Orchestra' show!! In spite of the fantastic weather, a few of our core members being unavailable for the date, and the unfortunate coincidence with the 'Tool' show at Key arena, we managed to mostly fill the Gypsy Cafe with generous listeners. (This was my first ever show at the Gypsy. Man, what a sweet space! Feels great, sounds great. I really hope they'll have us back again.)

All in all, it was a super-solid, and occasionally awesome first-show for the project, featuring a well-seasoned quintet of Michael Chapman (horns, percussion, and vocals), Dennis Jolin (ukelele and vocals), Abraham Neuwelt (electric and acoustic percussion and vocals), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe, keyboards, and vocals), and Me Woods (keyboard-bass, treble, and vocals).  The 'Lyrical Standards' were hitting pretty hard throughout, including a first-ever version of a rather-well-known song by Queen.  In talking with friends at set-break and closing, I was psyched that long-time listeners seemed to genuinely appreciate both the sound and the concept, and felt that the group already showed great potential beyond some of my previous all-improv experiments. I fully agree! And the fact that most everybody in the group is actually offering constructive criticism and helping plot our next-steps makes it feel like we might be onto something good here.

Check out the recordings and let me know what you think!

(Photo stolen from Dennis' FB page -- which explains why he's not in it … another friend was taking photos as well, so I'll probably post a couple of those when I can get them.)


Update (August 29th) ... finally found the other photos from David and Naoko in my inbox!  (...still no sign of Dennis, but some closer looks at Abraham and Michael here)

Friday, July 9, 2010

WEGO Rehearsal #7

June 30th Set 1 (64 megs)
June 30th Set 2 (33 megs)

Here are the recordings from our last get-together (on June 30th) before our first show (at the Gypsy Cafe on July 10th). The lineup for this recording is Chapman, Jolin, Kristmann, Silvertrees, and Woods.

There are a couple of slow patches near the top here, so I've done a tiny bit of pruning right at the beginning of the first set -- removing a tad of the opening build-up and the first half of Crazy Train (which, with the exception of the remaining chorus, is better represented in our earlier recordings). I did, however, decide to leave in the brief call from Tina right after we started up. The background banter, which I hardly noticed at the time, cracked me up on first playback. Beyond that, and some solid versions of several of our established lyrical standards, this rehearsal also features our first ever "Light My Fire" (lifted from the radio on my way over), and our first inclusion of the 7/4 motif in Tom Sawyer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

WEGO Rehearsal #6

WEGO Rehearsal 6, Set 1 (27 megs)
WEGO Rehearsal 6, Set 2 (39 megs)

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to put any more clips of the new group up until after our first show, but these are just too good! (And there are some even better ones from last week's rehearsal, that I'll probably have bundled up by the middle of next week.) Besides, nobody but the band is really following this blog right now… right?

These are from our June 6th get-together, our first with Daniel (need to look up his last name) on guitar and voice -- mostly sitting out as he absorbs the general concept (you'll hear quite a bit more of him in the next post). Players for the evening were Dennis, Ian, Michael, Abraham, Daniel, Jesse, and me. After our usual rehash of the basics for newcomers and a special presentation of the Gestural Signaling Language (…near the end of the previous get-together, we had decided to convert most of our pre-codified verbal signals to hand-signals and I had written up a rough pass at them in the interim), we started the night still missing Michael (who showed up mid first-set) and Ian (who arrived just as we were wrapping up the first set).

The first set seemed to start a bit slow, and I made quite a few edits for its presentation here, but it's still chock-full of interesting movements, including a surprisingly emotional version of 'Crazy Train' right near the top and a pleasantly loose and lively 'Pour Some Sugar' later on. At the break, we set up Ian's rig and launched into a solid (and here unedited) second set that ran the gamut before closing with our first ever version of 'Tom Sawyer'.

Sadly, this jam marked Ian's departure for 2 months to fish in Alaska for the Summer, so he won't be there for the show on the 10th. But I'm greatly looking forward to roping him (and hopefully his fishing partner -- and fantastic guitarist/vocalist -- Woody) back into the lineup when August returns him to Seattle.

Man am I looking forward to the Gypsy Cafe show! Here's a flyer:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Split Key Soup with Elephant

SplitKeySoupWithElephant (16 megs)

Before I tell you about the recording for this post, I wanted to say that the new group-project is sounding great and growing well! (If you haven't been back to the blog here in a while, I've been silently updating the previous post with new recordings of each rehearsal, so you can just scroll down there to hear a bit of where it's been headed.) In fact, just this past week, we booked our first show for Saturday, July 10th at the Gypsy Cafe on Stone Way between Wallingford and Fremont. The group is going to be called the "Woodland Experimental Groove Orchestra". And for now, I'll just say that it's an all-improv dance band with -- as you might expect -- a couple of key twists. In order not to reveal too much more of what we're up to, I'll probably keep the next couple of rehearsal recordings off of the blog here, but if for some tragic reason you can't make it to the show on the 10th, check back here in mid July for the recordings from our first show!

In the groove orchestra, I've dropped my traditional role as a player of stringed-instruments and am instead holding down the bass (and a bit of harmonic counterpoint) with an old Yamaha keyboard run through a Boss wah/leslie modeling pedal, the overdriven channel of my Carvin tube guitar head, and out through the ported Aguilar 12"-with-horn bass cabinet that I used with Neon Brown. By splitting the keyboard (bass for the left hand and some form of "keys" for the right) and using a couple of simple effects (the wah and the tube-fuzz) to warm up the diverse (often cheesy) built-in voices, I think I'm getting a surprisingly versatile and pleasantly classic sound.

Which brings us to this week's recording. I haven't really touched a keyboard more than once or twice a year since finally leaving the cover-band business (1993?), so it seemed like maybe I should practice a bit. Keys (as opposed to all but my most electric stringed instruments) have the added bonus of being quiet enough to play in the next room while Lucy is asleep, so I've been spending 15-30 minutes noodling around each evening at around 10pm, and have even started recording these sessions for the last couple of weeks.

The clip above is from the first one that I recorded -- some time last week. Here, as with all of my evening noodling, I'm not running through the amp-configuration that I use with the group. …just through a simple solid-state fuzz-box that's part of the wah-modeler and then straight into the board (which I monitor with headphones). The clip drifts through some mellow improvised changes which occasionally showcase one of the polymeters I've been playing with. Listening back, I'm happy with how easy it is to generate relaxed momentum and spontaneous counterpoint with no looping or delays. It seems I'm playing more like my two-hand 'plank' technique than how I used to play the piano those many years ago, and I'm liking the effect. The vocals are another story… :)) While I sort of like the secretive-sounding hushed tones of the 10pm hour, it doesn't feel like my best lyrical dexterity. So, In spite of the evidence of the last 3rd of this recording, I want to assure you all that I haven't turned to late night solo-drinking. I was just a bit sleepy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

New Project Teaser and Rehearsal Log

Here are some selections from the exploratory "rehearsals" for a new project. I won't reveal too many details yet. For now, I'll just say it attempts to build on the tools, energy, and personnel of the later Chai House years. These selections aren't necessarily representative of what we'll be doing (the numbers -- of players -- are often wrong and I've tried to obscure the process a bit in the edits here, since we're still more learning the tools than employing them in their intended context), but Iiked the sound quality and the energy of these recordings enough that I wanted to share some of them. They're mostly intended as a log for the group itself, and perhaps as a hint to the curious NBP-fan of things to come. Until we start playing shows, I won't add new posts for this material, but will just continue to add tracks to the list below.

R1_TwoOutOfFour (1.5 megs): From the first get-together. We spent most of our time in a productive discussion of the concept and tools this night, but still managed to play for close to an hour. I'll probably add more clips from here eventually ... just wanted to post this one as a good example of what it is (wink wink)

R2_LookinForAGirl (14 megs): Lots of tools built during this get-together, but my bass tone was so tiny and distant that most of the recording is a bit harsh ... that is until this clip from the end of the night where I drastically re-adjusted my sound and we did one last series of movements. (may still post some other condensed clips eventually)

R3 (43 megs): lost the best vocal chorus and some really great jamming when I mistakenly thought I was recording our second movement, but still plenty of great ideas in this condensed version of what was left. Personally, I think the key-bass tone is finally working on this one ... and the tools of the project feel pretty solid now!  Looking forward to at least one more to try it all out with a larger group. Then, hopefully shows!!  (and I'll stop being so secretive about what we're up to :))

R4Awarmup (6 megs)
R4BamoreKeytastrophe (23 megs)
R4Csalsaritaville (53 megs)
Here's the material from April's get-together, featuring the first-time addition of Abraham Neuwelt on percussion. It just keeps getting better! The grooves are consistently strong (and interesting!!) here, and get even stronger in the third clip, where I begin to focus more on bass. At the time, I thought the second clip -- in spite of some solid playing by the others -- was mostly crap (It seemed the solidity and interest of my bass grooves were suffering as I tried to join TQ with my right hand in the upper melodo-harmonic area of the mix). But in listening back with my ear on the full mix, even the second clip is full of good moments -- even after my keyboard gets stuck in 'dual'-mode and loses all "bass". It's nice to have Jesse alternating back and forth between the djembe and the piano here! Maybe he could bring his keyboard out to shows? It feels like we just need to reach that critical 6+ person mass and we can start playing out!  (I know I said I was going to edit these down to hide the process and remove the rough-spots, but I'm really low on time at the moment, so these are unedited.)

R5_1 (25 megs)
R5_2 (56 megs)
Finally, 'Critical Mass' achieved!!  :))  We had a couple of cancellations and *still* managed to make it to 6.  Great density, momentum, and groove.  Further innovations to be integrated into the tools, but mostly, this was the meeting that proved to me that we're ready to play some shows.

Just realized I hadn't been listing who was playing with me on these until the R4 session (though the metadata on the files will have the last names) ... think I'll continue to avoid outing everyone here for now, but hopefully it'll become clear enough soon when we find a live venue for this stuff.

(iPod-touch doodles courtesy of my long bus-commute to work)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Neon Brown Presents: "The End of Neon Brown Presents"

Aphid Tea (13 megs)
Under the Tent (3 megs)

(WARNING: This post was either going to be super short and sweet or embarrassingly epic ... I think it'll quickly become obvious where it went.)

As it was actually happening, it was hard to get much perspective on the closing of the venue that was my every-other-weekly gig from Summer Solstice of 2002 to January of 2010, Mr. Spot's Chai House. Over time, I've learned to run less from these sorts of things, but I still tend to look at these types of events with my eye mostly on the doors that they open up (and here, as always, I see many new opportunities) ... only later getting much sense of the losses involved.

Lodged at a jaunty angle into the aorta of Ballard, the Chai House was not only the original home of the now-wildly-popular Morning Glory Chai, but became the root venue for 'neon brown'. Adrian and I (neon brown) played at the Chai House's new-location-opening-party on that June evening of 2002 ... and before that, under other band-names at their previous location just down the road. In addition to hosting and/or launching countless other unique musical projects, the Chai House was employment and/or social-center for a large, passionate, witty, diverse, and open-hearted clan of baristas, artists, students, and other assorted freaks and luminaries.

As an audience, the crowd there regularly applied perhaps the broadest ears I've seen in my playing so far, embracing our wildest lunatic moments and then asking for more. For instance, on the 4th Thursday of May, 2003 ("heenD for dummies"), we invited all of the guest musicians who had joined us over the first year and sang hEEnd lyrics over huge walls of improvised-madness. It was actually somewhat frightening at times, but the recordings from that evening -- and throughout our run there -- proved surprisingly listenable -- if you were into that kind of thing... ;)) The results were a continual reminder that risk/vulnerability are vital to getting to a meaningful place with improv. This recurring realization eventually resulted in the generation of structured-improv tools that were specifically designed to maximize not safety but risk. These tools, as we continue to refine them at other venues in the future, will owe their specific shapes in large part to the formative processes of the Chai House ... just as our lineups will owe their constituents to musical connections forged there.

Starting very near the beginning with Victor Trey, a tradition developed: We were never quite organized enough to get the Chai House our list of guest-musicians or a theme in time for the printing of the monthly schedule, so someone there would just invent a title for each show. As Adrian and I eventually phased out our opening set of written material, these short morsels were often so ripe with layered potential, that for many years most of my singing on any given evening focused solely on unpacking various interpretations and free-associations from the show's title. For instance, Neon Brown Presents:

"Kung Fu Biter"
"Chili Cheesecake"
"Can't Brain Today"
"Felonious Monkey"
"The Metal Years"
"Burning the Man"
"Mo, the Barking Arachnid"
"Gnawing on Kneecaps for 200, Chuck"
"Czech is in the Male"
"Vampy the Dental Wizard"
"Elmo and Grover Attack"
"A Wii for Fido"
"Neon Brown Beats the Rainbows out of Kittens in a Burlap Sack"
"A Pandemic of Extra-Firm Tofu"
"Killer Gerbil Wheels"
"Pretty Boys in Outer Space"
"An Evening with Butter"
"Unilateral Carp Tarp"

...just to name a few.

So I guess perspective on the closing of the Chai House is coming in small waves. Certainly more now as I've begun to notice and really mourn the hole in my creative flow and my social life. Especially in recent years, as Adrian left for Portland and I took over sole responsibility for our slot there (eventually introducing and attempting to evolve two distinct improv formats each month -- the Woodland Acoustic Orchestra and the Juggler's Challenge Revival Series), planning, booking, and anylizing/documenting our work there was a substantial and often emotional piece of my creative life. And it was a piece of such unique flavor that despite working in a fairly creative profession and living in an amazingly creative family, the scene there stimulated specific artistic aspects of me that probably don't get enough stimulation.

In looking on this experience with gratitude, I first need to thank Adrian. In addition to growing up (truly as friends) together, Adrian and I played music somewhat religiously together from 1993-2005. At the time, even though it's occasionally discussed, it's hard to fully appreciate the musical telepathy that develops over all of those years. This telepathy, now established, seems to defy decay, as every rare opportunity that we find to play together is marked throughout by surprising discoveries that bubble up from an inevitable chemistry. Nonetheless, it is indeed a sad situation that I don't get to play with him more often these days, and it's not clear how the demise of the Chai House will help this situation.

One of the audio-clips way back up there at the top of this post is "Aphid Tea", a track from our 2004 CD, "Nice Feathers". Aphid Tea (and several other tracks on that CD) was recorded live at the Chai House in December of 2003. We spent a couple of hours before the show setting up all of our recording gear and then played some of the tunes we wanted on the CD with full abandon -- repeating sections when they became too loose rather than holding back for the recording. We had a great crowd that night. You can hear them joining in on the chanted "Chai" refrain at the end. This particular track was recorded in one take and then condensed (still pretty hefty ... I should go back and look at the un-cut length one of these days). As with the other tracks recorded that night, the sound is pristine, with hardly a clue that we were playing to a room full of people and an espresso machine. least until the "Chai's". The written structure of this tune consisted of a bass-line and a short vocal-chorus, so hopefully lots of room to explore that telepathy that I was talking about.

The second clip is a partial mix of a tune I'm calling "Under the Tent". Not only is this a long-distance collaboration with L.A.'s 5-Track, who sat in with Adrian and I for the first time during that very same Solstice-of-2002 show, but I realized the other day that I may have been subconsciously writing the lyrics about the "Neon Brown Presents" experience. More info on this piece will probably be added HERE, when I put together a final mix.

But back to the present: I want to sincerely thank all of the musicians who sat in with us over the years -- both those we knew from before and the far greater number who I met and learned to love in the heat of the music. There's no way I could possibly list them all here, but you know who you are! Thank you for your particular voice, and the bravery and humility required to share it in the context of 'Neon Brown Presents'.

Sincere love and thanks also to all the super-baristas (Erin, Chloe, Sarah, (Tom from the old days!), and all the rest!) -- genuinely warm and vibrant souls one and all. You guys really set the tone ... Even on occasions where I would arrive in Ballard disheartened from some frustration at my day-job or zombified by the Bellevue-to-Ballard commute, your infectious presence would always dislodge the cruft and set my mind right for play. And it made the ongoing series immeasurably more gratifying that you all seemed to actually enjoy listening to and interacting with our music!

Sincere thanks to both the original (Jessica) and the new owners (Chris) of Mr. Spot's for embracing the clan that lived there. I think many of us were a little worried that something would be lost when the new owners came in, but I think we were all very pleasantly surprised with the respect that was shown for the unique organic character of the place.

Thanks to all of the listeners (and -- in later years -- explicit participants). The Mr. Spot's crowd was certainly one of the most interactive around. But even when you weren't directly messing with us, it really isn't bullshit when I say that your energy often drives the music as much as that of the guys with the guitars around their necks! If the music is to be open, it has to be open to all of that, and the listeners there often brought the magic.

And while on the topic of listeners, a special thanks is certainly due to Jim Varnum, probably our most loyal fan, unofficial benefactor of the project, genuinely great guy, and -- I gradually discovered -- builder of quite a few strange and beautiful instruments (the latest of which I need to bug him for details on, as it was just getting underway when we played our last show in January).

I don't know what else to say. (...not that this isn't already long and incomprehensible enough for any newcomers to this blog! ;) Maybe this will be the last of it. Or maybe I'll be still be adding comments with newly recalled memories to this posting mid-century. Or maybe the Chai House will miraculously spring up again in a new even-more amazing location and I'll look back on this attempt to create some sense of closure and chuckle... who knows.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Atomic Lead Release Party 2010

Set 1 (60 megs) -- the wandering and highly inconsistent set
Set 2 (50 megs) -- the more coherent and recommended starter set

I just haven't been pulled to experiment with my various loopers as much recently, but when the chance to play the yearly-ish Atomic Lead comic-release party came up again, I couldn't resist dusting them off. Well over 3/4 of the measly practice time I had set aside evaporated just trying to decide how I was going to configure my sound. Most of my recent playing has been at least semi-acoustic and has oscillated between the extremes of just-me-and-my-acoustic and freejamming-with-5-other-musicians, which probably explains why I put together the sonic-palette that I did. After all of that open music, the usual dense hypnotic polymetric wall of overlapping micro-grooves just seemed a little too ... well ... dense, hypnotic and wall-like. And maybe a little too safe/obscured. So most of this year's show was just simple textural or minimalist groove-loops on one of the line-6s, spilling whatever crossed my mind out on top through the other channel. A little more space ... a little less urgency and agitation perhaps. More room for surprises. But as always, not too attention grabbing, so as to work as background for the event (perhaps this isn't a situation in which one expects to have a break-through performance, but I just try to play to the room and see what happens...).

It had been so long since I'd worked much with loops at all that it wasn't until the 2nd set that much ease and flow developed. Factoring in the tasty morsels from the first set and the overall length and exploratory vibe, I'd sortof rather be presenting a super-condensed highlights-only recording, but no time no time! So this is everything after the very earliest lopped-off noodlings from the top of the night. (I'm hoping you'll forgive me in the retrospective light of the better things coming around the corner soon. :)) Actually, the whole thing might work better if you listen to the 2nd set first and then decide if you want to dive into the somewhat-less-consistent-but-idea-rich 1st set.

This was a direct-from-the-board recording, so most of the leg-percussion and occasional noodling with the table full of percussion toys is lost here (possibly for the best), but there are some occasional neat effects where the crowd noise bleeds through the main vocal mic with one or another bizarre vocal-fx patch making it sound like the processed field recording of a dinner party. Also lost with the lack of an open-air mic are the justifications for the periodic extended disappearance of any new material over the loops, as people frequently approached me to discuss the gear and/or process mid-set.  (Thanks to Billy Harper for the photo ... and thanks to Edward and the other artists for another inspired issue of Atomic Lead!)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

WAO Presents: "Butane-Bob and the Blue Flames"!

Set 1 (101 megs)

Not only was Tuesday, January 26th (2010) the last 'Woodland Acoustic Orchestra' show (a tradition that I was surprised to look back and discover started all the way back in February of 2007 with the original 4-piece lineup of Philpin, Smith, Strauss, and Woods and "Neon Brown Beats the Rainbows out of Kittens"), but it was also the last 'Neon Brown Presents:' show, (a tradition that's been running twice a month since summer solstice of 2002 ... but more on that in my NBP wrap-up post.)

Befitting just such a momentous finale, we had a huuuuge orchestra, including long-time collaborators TQ Berg (guitar and voice), William Precht (accordion, bass-box-drum, and others), Dave Foley (stick-tambourine) Dennis Jolin (ukelele and voice), Ian McKagen (guitar and voice), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe and voice), Daniel Nelon (voice), Bill Wolford (banjo and iPod), and Me Woods (bass-box, trumpet, percussion, voice), *plus* first-timers Elliot Levin (guitar) and "this guy", whose name I never did learn. Anybody? ...not to mention the spirit of John Foss on 'super-barista'!!!

After a fantastic 6-8pm DJ set by Skoi and a speedy setup, we kicked it off with a "3, 2, 1 Lunch" (what Tina and I say before hoisting Lucy up over our heads) and rolled our bittersweet way to 10pm with a steady cascade of grooves -- shifted periodically by our traditional white-board-based signaling system -- and lyrics -- improvised on the spot either from the evening's theme or some other half-conscious brain-tickle brought to the fore and decorated.

With the late start and the momentum provided by the strong collective vibe, it was really just a single set, with only a brief stall at 9:20-ish as we unplugged Elliot and Bill and added William. But I might break it up there, depending on how it feels on a second listen. (Aw screw it! I'm leaving it all there for posterity. There's a bit of entertaining banter there and the rest is a pretty nice sound-collage-intermission.)

All in all, it was a great glowing musical celebration and a fitting farewell to the series at Mr. Spot's Chai House. (Thanks to Robert and Tina for the photos!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Juggler's Challenge Revival (Episode 25)

Prelude (11 megs)
Set 1 (58 megs)
Set 2 (41 megs)

Here's a Juggler's Challenge Revival show that is noteworthy in so many ways! Just looking at a couple of "set-and-setting" factors, it was the first show on our new Tuesday slot, but then -- with the sudden news of the closure of the Chai House at the end of January -- unexpectedly also became our last JCR show! (...for quite some time, at least) I'll try to talk more about some of the significance of that in February, but for now lets return to the specifics of Episode 25:

The band for the evening was a tight quartet of TQ Berg (guitar), Dennis Jolin (guitar), Jesse Silvertrees (djembe, voice, and piano), and Me Woods (keyboard and voice). Challengers included a few Chai House regulars and several old friends who had come out to help celebrate the last JCR for a while. 

Set 1 warmed up with a deep, melancholy prelude of Def Leppard style guitar-arpeggiations. TQ picked up a variant of Dennis' line so quickly here that I didn't know who had started first and was convinced it must have been a riff that TQ had been playing with at home (Dennis is playing it first on the recording at least, but who knows what happened before I started up the Edirol...?). Then at the beginning of set 2 -- where TQ *did* start off with a riff from one of his old compositions (omitted here in the recording) -- Dennis somehow telepathically hooks up and spontaneously weaves a spot-on 2nd guitar part. Especially in the second case, I was certain they must've been rehearsing these bits, but apparently not! 

Finished challenge-sheets started appearing near the projector during the prelude, starting with a "musical experience in 10 words or less" and continuing through fresh new versions of just about all of the current challenge styles. Highlights appear throughout the evening, but some of my favorite 'juggles' of the night happen towards the end of Set 1, including one of my favorite Abstract Graphical Scores (built entirely of recognizable forms while nonetheless retaining strong abstract (gestural) properties), another highly exploratory and rousing version of "5 Adjectives", and a particularly ridiculous version of "The Key" to close the set.

Set 2 had some fun moments as well, jumping right in with a truncated story about Sasquatch the Labor Negotiator and continuing boozily through to the closing "Style Blender".

So that's about it for this one for me. While we're quickly coming to the end of the NBP (at Mr. Spot's Chai House) recordings, I wouldn't worry about this blog drying up any time soon. I doubt that even this sad situation is going to be able to kick this 'walking-with-spontaneous-music-and-worshipping-the-footprints' monkey off my back. But man, it's gonna be tough both to leave this fantastic ongoing gig at the Chai House behind and to try to decipher some of its significance for me. Luckily there's still one left so I can put that off for now! :) So, if you're reading this before Tuesday, January 26th, 2010, there's still time to come out and celebrate one last time with us as the 'Woodland Acoustic Orchestra'. As always, please add your own liner-notes here in the comments and I hope to see you again soon!