Fat Baby Postscript – “The Recording”

I got the mp3 of the Fat Baby gig and I’m sure I recognize many of the sounds but …

Tony was right – this doesn’t sound like a first gig. I am stuck by just how much of what Dennis played sounds like what I would play. That is if I were playing guitar in addition to my usual tasks of playing both sides of the Stick, looping and remembering to breathe (if only through my mouth). But it’s all clearly Dennis and it’s nice that it is instantly recognizable as him.

Confirmed my belief that the V-Drums + Mike = an integral part of what makes this combo tick (literally and figuratively).

The only thing I can compare the sound of this band to is some of the King Crimson side ProjecKts – notably ProjecKt 2 with the line up of Robert Fripp on guitar and soundscapes, Trey Gunn on Warr (touchstyle) guitar and Adrian Belew on … V-Drums. We could be ProjecKt ADHD maybe.

The other really exciting thing is that the performance is full of moments/grooves/hooks that could be developed further. A lot of bits and pieces that already sound like sections of songs and I think could be developed further. I’m excited by the prospect that there may very well be 2 bands coming together at the some time with the same people: Stone Document with the ambient/prog/improv/muso stuff and another rock/song/potentially vocal song-oriented band that could end up sounding like the offspring of the 80’s version of King Crimson. Maybe we should call that band Stoney Levin. 8^{/} Not that I am officially a member of Stone Document to begin with, but the future will present itself… eventually.

If I find the time and have the blessing of the other 2 I’ll try and post a snippet or three somewhere here on the blog so you can hear for yourself.

Speaking of time, my day job’s busy season is about to rear it’s ugly head so I’ll be taking a quick break from this blog-type-thing. I’ll be back before Christmahaunakawanzadan.

… the Show.

My brain is still trying to gather together the flashes of last night’s gig. 

Got into the city relatively quick and easily. Parking/load-in/soundcheck all went smoothly. We hit the stage promptly (I love starting on time when I’m playing – I loathe the wait beforehand and like to get every second of playing I can).

Dennis had his recent acquisition from Ben Crowe of Crimson Guitars – a gorgeous Les Paul-style guitar with all the bells and whistles (Roland hex pickup, sustainer circuit, Khaler trem, etc.). Ben has made guitars for Robert Fripp and this one bears a striking resemblance to his, which bear a striking resemblance to the Fernandes LPs that were made for Robert and Adrian Belew (one of which is sitting in my studio right now).

As someone who plays improvised music regularly I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with musicians whose taste and abilities are such that I can just walk onstage and feel comfortable that I’m part of a pretty good team – from Regional Science Fair, through the collaboration with Cyrus Chestnut, Su Lian Tan and Keith Watts up to this little trio. When it’s all clicking, the audience vanishes and the only people in the room are the ones communicating to each other with sound. It’s actually pretty difficult for me to suddenly be back in a crowded room at the end of the set. The applause does help smooth the transition, though. 8^{)}

The true revelation of the evening was not how well we worked together – that was almost a given when you consider what brought us together – but the V-Drums.  V-Drums are Roland’s most recent forray into electronic drums but they do so much more.  Not only do the sound great but you can program notes for bass paterns and assign them to different triggers.  For example, you can program it so that every time you hit the high hat the next note in whatever series you program will play.  This was really liberating because suddely the bass part was no longer my sole responsibility as Mike could take over and I could do more complex playing on the trebble side of the stick.  Also when the person playing the kick drum is triggering the bass notes wth the same movement the band sounds pretty darn tight.

I can never tell if what the audience heard was any good (the downside of having supportive friends- they clap when you suck, too). But the general indication was that it was at least palletable if not earth-shaking. Good to see some faces I haven’t seen in a while – Karl Ward, one of my friends from the band Ninth Street Mission, Daniel Reyes Llinas (another participant in the Guitar Craft course I met Dennis at and co-composer of En La Corte Del Rey Hamburgesa) and Tony Geballe (guitarist/composer/teacher extraordinaire). As a Stick player I’m glad I didn’t know Tony was there until after the set – he’s played in several bands with Trey Gunn (a big influence on my playing) and had just finished recording sessions with Tony Levin (a big influence on anyone who plays a Stick). He had some nice things to say, especially that it didn’t sound like a “first gig”. Mike’s response was, “It’s not – I’ve played before.”

I’m extremely curious to hear the recording of the show. More on that soon, I hope.

Once Upon a Time in New Jersey

Tomorrow night (Nov 21st) is the debut of the collaboration between myself and Stone Document, the duo of Dennis Tirch (guitar and electronics) and Mike Roze (V-drums). The plan is to do a quick set of entirely improvised music at a club on the Lower East Side called “Fat Baby”.

But first – some history:

Dennis and I met in 2005 at a Guitar Craft course (check my links) in New Jersey. We hit it off immediately as we had very similar musical backgrounds and almost identical musical tastes. And so commenced the almost unstoppable stream of prog rock nerd-speak. We played together a lot that course and even collaborated (with Daniel Reyes, Scott English, Adam Handler and I’m a total putz if I forgot anyone) on a piece. We were charged with the task of working in small groups and composing a piece to be performed the next day. Over the course of 2 hours we put together “En la Corte del Rey Hamburgessa” (trans – “In the Court of the Burger King”), the title a tongue-in-cheek homage to King Crimson’s debut album. It turned out to be one of the most effortless and rewarding music-making experiences in my life. We all brought something different to the table and all meshed together really well. And then of course the performance the next day in front of a bunch of Crafties and Robert Fripp (the driving force of the afforementioned King Crimson) was one of the top 5 musical experiences in my life. Oh, and the title did get a laugh.

So since then Dennis and I have kept in touch and did the usual “we gotta do something together one of these days” dance. The distance between us (me in Vermont, him in New Jersey) did seem a bit of a hurdle. Then, after hanging out with him in early October when I was in NYC for the Audio Engineering Society conference an idea presented itself. I was going to be down in the NJ with the family for Thanksgiving so why not do a small informal coffee house type gig of improvising? The wheels were set in motion and in no time Dennis had secured a venue and enlisted his collaborator, drummer Mike Roze. DT and MR were finishing up the work on their Stone Document CD (which I was lucky enough to contribute to) so worlds seemed to be colliding quite nicely.

This then snowballed into a club date that was to be the release party for the Stone Document CD. A club in SoHo. A considerable step up from a coffee house in Northern New Jersey. A challenge and an opportunity. At the same time it transpired that the family was not headed to New Jersey after all and so I was suddenly really traveling just for the gig, though there was the perk of getting to stay and spend a little time with some of the family in New Jersey.

And so I hit the road.

Preparing for the Road

So, after a remarkable amount of time obsessing and waflling over what to reduce my gig rig to, I think I have it.  Those of you who haven’t seen me perform lately may not be aware of the fact that what I do is rather dependent on technology.  I rely heavily on my onstage rig (all my equipment) to create the sounds I do.  Usually this involves a rack with 10 spaces in front and then a pop-up rack that has sveral other items of (or for) electronic delight plus 2 amps (a Trace Elliot for the bass register of the Stick and a Marshall combo for the trebble).  This is all controlled (mostly) via midi from a large pedalboard at my feet.  When I played with jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut a few years ago he dubbed it “Mission Control” although using the word “control” is rather optimistic.

Because the NYC show is at a venue I have never played, in a part of the lower east side I’ve never been to, I need to scale down the gear I bring.  This is for portability as well as reducing the amount of things to grapple with during whatever (if any) soundcheck we get.  Warning: gear-fetishist babble ahead:

This is what I eventually walked out the door with:

  • my Chapman Stick
  • my severely-revisied pedalboard (consisting of my volume pedals, Whammy/Wah pedal, Adrenalinn 2 (with an Adrenalinn 3 label – more on that later), ART TPS preamp, TC Electronics Sustainer/EQ, an Akai Headrush delay and last but not least my Electro Harmonix 2880 looper with footpedal.
  • a backpack with a couple DIs, hum eliminator, minidisc recorder, headphones, misc small cables, etc.

The idea is to plug directly into the house p.a. bypassing the need for onstage amps.  This takes a lot of faith in the sound guy who utlimately is controlling your volume.  We’ll see  how that goes. 

In the beginning…

So, given that I have so much free time, I’ve started this. It’s more an effort to keep everyone who asks “are you playing/recording/producing much these days?” up to speed.

So I’m sure you’re wondering, “Hey, are you playing/recording/producing/blogging much?” Well, yeah. In the past month I’ve watched the dust settle after completing the final mixes for Arty LaVigne’s forthcoming disc (tentatively titled Faraway), I’ve mastered the new Doughboys album (out now I think), recorded a Stick track for the soon-to-be-released disc from the Stone Document project (more on that soon) and now I’m getting ready to play a few dates.

And in my free time I’m figuring out this blog thing.