Speaks for Itself

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A Friendly Reminder

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Press

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From the Franklin Lakes Journal, a description of the Sept. 13 Stone Document gig:

“The sound(s) soar to the sublime, skronk through the ridiculous, and send the listener on an aural trip.”

 


Lightbulb Moment – I

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Ya know how in a cartoon, when someone has a brilliant idea, flash of inspiration or epiphany a lightbulb appears above their head? That’s what I call a “lightbulb moment”.

I was listening to the recording of the improv gig at 51 Main and I realized – I very clearly sound like me. I am constantly juggling gear and trying new set ups, but it always sounds like me (at least, well, to me). I have a singular voice that is my own. This simple realisation gently pushed me forward from the static position I’ve been holding on finishing tracking on the solo disc. What am I waiting for? The perfect signal chain to appear in a dream?!?

Tomorrow, I begin again. Again.

 


Words of Wisdom – I

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“Composition is like a pub crawl: You just have to take it one bar at a time.” – Brian Robison, composer/thereminist

 


51 Main Improvisational Frenzy

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The loose collective of improvisers I play with occasionally (which is dutifully herded by my friend Kareem Khalifa) did a brief set (well, actually 2 very brief sets) at 51 Main in Middlebury last Saturday. Kareem is on the short list of my favorite people on the planet and the even shorter list of folks I play with that actually know how to improvise. The purpose of the event was to highlight/celebrate the visit of his friend percussionist Mario Schambon who was visiting. The line up was me (guitar & realtime looping), Kareem (electric upright bass), Mario (drums & percussion), Karl Haas (percussion), Brian Robison (theremin & guitar) and Marty Fieldman (guitar).

The plan was to get together during the day on Saturday, play a little at Casa Khalifa to get musically acquainted and run through one of Marty’s pieces and then do the set that night. The afternoon was great, with lunch (Mario made soup) and a lot of laughter. I always find that if musicians laugh together it’s an indication they will connect musically. This turned out to be the case. So we ran through some things to get comfortable, including introducing the format we used for “Please Excuse the Mess” and then packed up.

The gig began with what was supposed to be the soundcheck but evolved into a mini-set. It started with yours truly doing a small solo improv that built up some ambient loops that the others played over (each musician joining in in their own time). I let my loops continue and sat down in the audience to listen. It’s a rare treat to step aside and get to listen to the group you’re playing with.

Then Kareem and Mario did a quick set with Arthur Brooks (trumpet), Michael Chorney (barritone sax) and Peter Hamlin (keys). They did a couple of free improvisations that were really nice. It was also a treat to hear Michael playing the barri sax. We had worked together in another project of his called The Seven Deadly Sins – a band that did arrangements of Kurt Weill’s music (mostly from Threepenny Opera). In that context Michael played accoustic upright bass.

Then it was our turn again. We did Marty’s piece, Please Excuse the Mess and an improv based around all of us playing repeating 8th notes (of our choosing) together and then taking turns soloing over it. Kinda like Steve Reich with ADHD.

All in all it was fun, intermittently listenable and pretty much ignored by the assembled crowd. Business as usual for improvisers in this neighborhood.

 


Gallery Gig

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Well, sorta…

Did a Stone Doc gig this last weekend at what has to be the most unique venue I’ve ever played in. It was in a 5 car garage (that incidentally looked like it had never housed a single auto) that had been converted into a makeshift art gallery. SD did 2 sets with a set by Mike’s friend Rick Norman in between.

Never have I had a gig plagued with as many gremlins. Firstly, I was unclear on our starting time (entirely my own fault) and in a phone conversation with Doc on the way down realized I was going to get there at the time we were supposed to begin. The traffic gods smiled down on me and I actually got there just before we were to load in (and I beat Doc there). We got set up and had a wicked hum running through the p.a. that we were unable to fully track down and eradicate. We did some creative repatching, abandoned recording and got rid of some of it but not all of it. Doc also had all of his preprogrammed sounds go wonky on him. Added to this we were set up in the corner of the afforementioned garage which was far from being a forgiving sonic environment. And so we began the set with a feeling of forboding. As usual the end of the set came around and I awakened from the trance completely unaware if what we just did was good/listenable or if it was unbearable/meandering/flailing. The applause was a surprise. What feedback we got was very enthusiastic (encouragingly a lot of this came from Rick – the guy who booked us).

Set #2 was more of the same although a little more relaxed given the response to the first set. There was, of course the occasional art enthusiast (of a certain age) with their hands placed as firmly over their ears as the look of disdain on their face. This I found encouraging as well.

Afterwards we got a tour of the house the gallery/garage was attatched to and it was without a doubt the most spectacular house I have ever seen. Jaws were hitting the floor left and right. And the floor so highly polished you could clearly see your jaw as it approached it.

 


Evolution

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Almost every band I’ve been an active participant in over the years has existed in a state of constant development and evolution. Example: the Stone Document you would hear today sounds different in many ways to the Stone Document that you would have heard at the beginning of the year and is vastly different than the Stone Document on the Anemnesis disc. Of course this has a lot to do with the improvisational foundation of the band but it still makes promoting the CD a bit tricky. “Here’s recording of what my band used to sound like” isn’t the best tag line for marketing it. The upside is you’ll never hear the same show twice.

The solution? Your suggestions are welcome. One option is to compose (gasp! shock! horror!), if not entire pieces then at least heads or even a hook or two. This happens very subtly anyway but taking a more active and conscious approach might help stabelize the incline of our development.

I’d like to see maybe two divisions of recorded output from this band: the live gigs (with limited airbrushing) made availlable (possibly as downloads?) shortly after each show and then the occasional studio album with composed pieces developed from our live set. So each show would be the Research and Development Department of Stone Document Enterprises.

 


In the Court of the Reanimated Skeletal Remains of the Crimson King

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Travelled down to NYC to see someone else play (for a change). King Crimson were wrapping up a mini-tour to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band. We (Stone Document plus auxiliary) went to Friday (Aug 15) night’s show at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. The area around Broadway has to be one of my least favourite places given my intense and seething hatred for Musical Theatre (what’s the emoticon for a sneer?) but the Nokia is a pretty nice venue in spite of it’s locale.

Got there in plenty of time, got in line to be searched (for elicit recording gear presumably), got in (Soundscaping was already audible from the theater) , grabbed a Tanq & Tonic and headed for the merch table. Always good to do your shopping early (before liquid refreshments influence your spending restraint). Snagged a couple shirts and headed for my seat. Relatively far-ish from the stage tho’ the Nokia isn’t that big to begin with. Saw a handful of NY-area Crafties floating around including Tony Geballe (composer/guitarist extraordinaire and producer of a couple tracks on the Stone Document CD) and Tom Redmond (the driving force behind the Hellboys – more on them later).

The show was:

- brilliant
- happy
- occasionally sloppy
- the very welcome return of Tony Levin
- poorly mixed (from my vantage point)
- stolen by Gavin Harrison (new drummer and percussive foil for Pat Mastelotto)
- great mix of post ’80 Crimson (with Red and Larks 2 thrown in)

When the new band lineup was announced the 2 things I was most excited about were the return of Tony Levin and the addition of Gavin Harrison. Tony spent the bulk of the evening playing Stick (I’ve since restarted my Stick practice regimen – I’ve been schooled). The material he didn’t originally play on was the most enjoyable (making parts played by Trey Gunn and John Wetton his own). My only complaint was the bass sound on Sleepless. The Funk Fingers were all thwack and no boom.

There were times where the drumming duo of Pat and Gavin sounded like one guy with 4 arms and 5 legs. Remarkable!
Adrian was… Adrian (what can be said?). The perfect frontman for this band. Robert appeared to be enjoying himself and his playing showed it, too. I know I sound like a vapid fanboy but I can’t find words to describe what he can do with a guitar. Maybe I need Adrian’s thesaurus. Ya just gotta listen.

The audience was enthusiastic although there were a couple of guys near me kvetching about not being able to see Robert for the stack of racks and equipment he had downstage between him and the audience. “After all dese years and he’s hidin’ behind dose things!” I think it was more a comfortable (ergonomic) set up for him and less a Roger Waters-style Wall between performer and audience. If that’s what necessary for him to be able to get onstage then that’s what it takes. I was lucky enough to be seated where I could see him pretty well. Kind of a shame I couldn’t hear him some of the time. My comment after the show was “I liked the band best when Robert was in it.”

 Oh and did I mention these guys rock harder than most bands 1/3 their age?

Speaking of post-show, we ran into Crimson biographer and blogmeister Sid Smith. We cracked wise into his video camera and slipped him a Stone Document CD. (He’s one of those folks we won’t have to explain the band to.) Spent the next few hours walking, drinking, carousing, eating and drinking some more. Band-bonding on the streets of New York and there’s no camera. Oh well, it probably would have been confiscated before the show anyway.

 


Return to Amazing Grapes

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Stone Document returned to Amazing Grapes with a slightly revised approach. After listening to Anamnesis I realized what was missing from our live sound – the synths. The album is drenched in atmospheric synth pads. So it was time to revise the rack (as I seem to do before every show). I went back to the Roland GI10 midi interface (with the treble end of the Stick plugged into the mic input) driving a Kutzweil piano module (that I actually use for string patches). I also put my Oberheim Matrix-1000 into the bass signal chain and controlled it using my little M-Audio Oxygen 8 keyboard. This was a beginning…

After the show Mike said, “That’s the rig! You aren’t allowed to play without it, ever.” I guess the Oberheim was a good choice.

The other thing we tried was running the band direct into my Zoom multitrack and then using the monitor section to feed the p.a. (really just a powered speaker sitting between Mike and Doc). This seemed like an easy way to get a multitrack recoding of the gig and with the exception of a little harddrive noise it was. Highlights of the three sets will be mixed down, trimmed and compiled for possible future release. The other advantage of this set up was having all of the band’s sound coming from a singular central location allowed all of us to focus on the sound of the band as a whole and I think we played more cohesively than ever before.

We also made a conscious decision to take our time and let things build. This also payed off. After our first set one of our audience asked us what the name of the last piece we played was. We explained it was all improvised and wasn’t a formal composition. This seemed to surprise the audient. This is always a good thing.

 


 

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