“Please Excuse the Mess”

Last night was a special treat for me.  My friend Brian Robison did a Theremin recital at Middlebury College (the program of which was rather eclectic – spanning from the Baroque period to Yes).  I was part of a quartet at the end of the program that did an improvisation we dubbed “Please Excuse the Mess”.  The quartet was Brian on Theremin (one of the first electronic instruments that is played by moving your hands in proximity to the instrument instead of actually touching it), me on Stick and electronics, Tristan Axelrod on electric bass and Kareem Khalifa on electric upright bass.  We had improvised as a group last Fall at the first of Kareem’s monthly improv jams and it all seemed to click then so we decided it was worth a try again.

The improv was divided into movements with each of us stringed-instrument guys taking the lead and setting the tone for one of the movements, first as a solosit and then the group would join in.  After an inital catterwauling intro Tristan began his section by bowing his Fender Precision bass and getting some really interesting overtones and harmonics out of it.  We then slowly joined in and I set up a loop in the background, which came to the foreground as the rest of the band backed off.  This lead into my solo “The Nyquil-Ritalin Cocktail”.  It was mostly just me solong over the loop with Brian and eventually the other two joining in.  When Kareem’s solo came around he exploited the sesitivity of the piezo pickup on his electric upright bass by tapping, scratching and eventually vocalizing into various parts of the instrument.  I think my favourite sound he got was by exagerating the creaking of the hinge on it’s tripod stand which sounded remarkably like a sax player overblowwing.

Did it push some musical boundries?  Gently.  Was it music?  Mostly.  Was it fun?  Hell yeah!

Current Listening #2: Rick Peckham’s “Left End”

I’ve been spinning this disc a lot since I got it a couple weeks ago.  Rick is a phenomenal guitarist who teaches at Berklee (actually, he’s Assistant Chair of the Guitar Dept at Berklee).  The album is Rick (using a Telecaster) plus Jim Black on Drums and Tony Scherr on bass.  His sound is somewhere between Jeff Beck and Marc Ribot.  Check out the mp3 sample of “Left End” at Rick Peckham.com.

* Though their hairlines might indicate otherwise, Rick is no relation to my sometime collaborator Kevin Peckham.


andre and murkie.jpg 

My friend André Cholmondeley cruised through town with one of his many musical projects, the band Delicious (http://www.myspace.com/delicious).  His other gigs include the Zappa tribute band Project/Object and Don Preston’s Akashic Ensemble.  I’ve known André for years now (he once remarked that it’s been so long we have cassette tapes of each other’s works).  He’s the guy that can talk Zappa and keep up, speaks fluent guitar gear nerdspeak and is the first person I call when Dick Cheney shoots somebody. 

Delicious were great, loud and fun.  Whatever happened to all the fun in the world?

Current Listening #1: Phil Kline’s “Zippo Songs”

So the inaugural piece of music for this section is Phil Kline’s Zippo Songs, a song cycle based on verses inscribed on the Zippo lighters of soldiers in the Vietnam war.  The recording is performed by Theo Bleckmann, baritone voice; Todd Reynolds, violin; Ha-Yang Kim , cello; Andrew Russo, piano; John Hadfield , percussion; Phil Kline, guitar.

There is so much here to digest I can’t yet adequately describe this.  Though the compositions make ample use of technology (including realtime looping) it never obscures the organic elements of the voice/instruments.  And one of the final pieces “The Funeral Of Jan Palach” is one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever heard.  For a taster check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NNOptKW_Uk

The piece also includes 3 “Rumsfeld Songs” that are settings of some of the former Secretary of Defense’s unintentionally hilarious Pentagon briefing quotes.  Example:

“As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.”

 Be sure to check out http://www.philkline.com

Here we go!

So the begining of the end is also transitioning into the beginning of… well, a beginning.

Up next is a performance with my friend Brian Robison, a composer and Theremin player.  He is giving a concert next week and he and I and our friends Kareem Kalifa and Tristan Axelrod will be performing a couple of improvistaions at the end of the concert.  We will follow a wide variety of composed pieces on the program.  The instrumentation is Theremin (Brian), Grand Stick (me), electric bass (Tristan) and electric upright bass (Kareem).  I think it will be a blast – imrovising with these boys usually is.

Then at the end of the week I am scheduled to appear on Tristan and Kareem’s radio show on WRMC.  More details on that to follow.

Of Lighters and Loathing

This weekend my friend Todd Reynolds was up here in Burlington performing with Phil Kline and his ensemble.  Todd is a violinist extrordinaire and fully embraces techology in his composition and performance.  His credits include the string quartet Ethel, Steve Reich’s ensemble and Bang on a Can.  Check out ToddReynolds.com.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The ensemble was performing 2 of Phil’s pieces, Zippo Songs (more on that in a minute) and Fear and Loathing (a song cycle based on the writings of Hunter S. Thompson).  I couldn’t get to the performance because of work commitments but Phil was speaking earlier in the day in Burlington at the Flynnspace so I decided to schlepp up and check it out.  Phil was very interesting and engaging to listen to and speak with.  I was glad I got to meet him.  And it’s always wonderful to see Todd who is an inspiration both musically and because he’s out there doing it and doing it well.  Plus he’s just an all around nice guy who speaks the music gear dialect of nerdspeak fluently.

 Zippo Songs is a song cycle based on the inscriptions on the zippo lighters of soldiers in the Vietnam War.  Apparently it was a tradition during that war (and apparently only that war) to have verses inscribed on your Zippo.  An example is “If I had a farm in Vietnam and a home in hell, I’d sell my farm and go home.”  A really amazing work.  This leads me to another point – I’m adding the feature of a weekly “Current Listening” section here on the blog and Zippo Songs is the inagural piece of music. 

Oops! Lost a Month.

Because of my “day job” the Spring is a very busy time (translation: “on the brink of becoming unmanageable and spiralling wildly out of control”).  Generally, as musical pursuits go I usually just write off March and April as being impossible.  This March was a little busier than usual but strangely it’s April and I suddenly have music projects to work on.

The only highlight of March was a trip to California to see the familly, celebrate my Dad’s birthday and participate in my brother’s wedding.  Both my sister and my brother both asked me to perform songs at their weddings and they both made very interesting requests.  A few years ago when my sister got married she (and my brother in law) asked me to play and sing Joe Henry’s song “Scar”.  I really liked the arrangement I came up with and things went as well as could be expected.  I also performed an Ennio Morricone piece on solo guitar that was more like my usual thing.

This time around my brother (and now sister in law) asked my to play and sing Tom Wait’s “Picture in a Frame” (apparently they weren’t as critical as I was of my previous wedding performances).  So again I worked up a solo vocal and gutar arangement and it went about as well as previous efforts.  What amuses me is I am not a singer – at least not a soloist.  Nor am I the “play the acoustic guitar and sing alone” kinda performer.  But I was honored to be asked (both times) and I figured if I’m gonna try on that hat it might as well be in front of a crowd of familly and friends where the main focus was on two other people.  Neither of these wedding happened in a church so I didn’t have the safety net of knowing there would be a safe place to seek sanctuary if I f’ed it up too bad.  Fortunately things went well enough, both occasions turned out to be very special to me (J – “weep” ) and thankfully all my sibblings are now married (all to very cool people).

I’m even planning to record these pieces soon (for private distribution – sorry).  It will probably have the disclaimer: “I am not a singer – at least not a soloist.  Nor am I the “play the acoustic guitar and sing alone” kinda performer.  Of that I am now sure.”

SD @ Amazing Grapes, 02/09/08

Stone Document did a couple sets at Amazing Grapes, a wine bar in Northern New Jersey last night. It was a totally new crowd who responded surprisingly positively. We are finding to our amazement that even when we play sets of what would be considered “challenging” music, sometimes dissonant and aggressive in nature, people still listen attentively and respond with enthusiasm. Even the folks who are calling out for Pink Floyd tunes (having made the logical leap that we are proggers thru and thru) seem to be into the more aggro stuff. There was the usual show and tell session about the Stick which I am finding to be much easier post-show than between sets; it’s hard to me to transition quickly back to a verbal state. Still, if it helps foster interest…

The first set was much more textured and melodic, the result I think of the luxury of having 2 sets in a relaxed environment versus one fast set in a rock club. Also, we had the chance to actually sit in Dennis’ studio earlier in the day and run through some ideas. As we like to say, the band doesn’t usually rehearse but every other musical thing we do somehow prepares us for a SD gig. You can just be ready and availlable when the moment comes.

Of course one of the reasons the first set went as smoothly as it did was the fact that we didn’t record it. A surefire way to ensure magic will happen. Some video was shot by Dennis’ brother John so there is some evidence. Really looking forward to seeing/hearing that.

The second set was when we veered into the Land of Musical Discomfort. This is a land where unicorns are slaughtered and we drink their blood from the skulls of Kenny G fans – metaphoricaly.  This set was much more aggressive, and (often) atonal, completely disintegrating into the aural equivalent of rubble before the dust settled and we found ourselves sliding back into the themes that began the set. This one was much harder work (not a bad thing) and went a lot farther “out” than we have previously gone and the audience stayed with us. Kind of them to do so.

Did some strategizing and discussion as well as signed off on the art for the Anamnesis disc. Production of review copies are now underway.

February Already?!

Time is flying. Stone Document is gearing up for a barrage of publicity-related activities, I’m trying to get my studio/brain/computer cleaned up and organized to go back to tracking my own disc and I just cranked out the theme to an upcoming web series “Julius and Claude in 3D” (the creative brainchild of my bro’-in-law Tomato Stern). I’m also doing a test mastering job on the 9th Street Mission disc and have been invited to play on my buddy Quinn Raymond’s solo album. I guess too many opportunities is the kinda problem to have, though. Better than the other way.

Stone Doc Review – 1/16/08

The duo form of Stone Document got a little press from the last gig (the one I participated in at a distance). The review can be read here:


A torrential e-mail flurry regarding the next steps. There seems to be a lot on the immediate horizon.