Monday, September 21, 2015

Project updates - since that seems to be the main purpose of this blog right now ...

Jerome Newton is, indeed, in "maintenance mode" now. Brent has worked out wonderfully. We debuted with him recently and it was one of our best shows yet. I am a little frustrated with how hard it seems to be to find gigs for us. But that's a gripe I'd rather not go into at the moment.

Zentropy is essentially in "maintenance mode" as well. We've (or maybe it's just me) have come to the realization that our best work happens in front of an audience, and the nature of what we do is a bit lost when it's just us in the studio. So consequentially, we almost never rehearse. We have a had a couple of shows recently, both of which went quite well, so maybe this is the right approach? We have a few other things in the works, which is a good thing. 

I did spend some time reviewing many many hours of old Zentropy recordings. I've edited, mastered and curated over 24 hours of music (!) and one idea I thinking about is to set up a streaming site with all of that music on rotation. Based on our earlier experience with the defunct Georgia Podcast Network (Thousands of listeners. Thousand of downloads), I think such a site might get a lot of visitors. We didn't make this music to live on a hard drive. We made it to be heard. This seems like an excellent way to make that happen. Now *I* have to make that happen. It's on my to-do list…

Last post, I was ruminating over whether or not revisiting Sisyphus was a good idea. I realized that it was not. I have to accept that it's over and done with. However, the initial impetus for revisiting Sisyphus - the encouragement of some of those who were involved prior - has now transmogrified into the resurrection of Z-Axis as a performing band. In other words, the core band from Jerome Newton, who would have been the core band for Sisyphus, are now the resurrected Z-Axis. We have begun learning some old repertoire material with an eye towards doing some shows. Jim is a very different drummer from Phillip, and that's something I'm having to adapt to (the chemistry I've had with Phillip for many, many years was one of the cornerstones of Z-Axis in the first place). Brian is a very different guitarist from Mark as well. So we'll see …

I am intending on finishing out the third Z-Axis CD (featuring Phillip and Mark) since several tracks are complete, and most of the tracking for the rest of it is complete as well. 

So the way it plays out is this - Z-Axis reboot learns set of earlier material - to do shows and tighten up. This will sharpen up our sound and define our working relationship. Then we start developing new material, that will reflect the style and input of the new guys. Meanwhile, I finalize the third Z-Axis CD and release as soon as feasible. Then Z-Axis moves onward in its new direction, eventually recording more CDs, etc. - basically doing the "real band" thing…

The idea of a "duo" has led me in some unexpected directions. I did meet with Molly Harvey and we discussed some ideas. It' seemed promising. I even sent some tracks for her to toy around with. But alas, she was too busy - mostly with life-stuff - to get rolling with anything. I think I may have been more into the idea than she was, but we did leave the door open to some future collaboration. What I realized is that I can't just get together with her in the studio and hope something emerges. If we're going to work together, I'll need to bring her a more specific idea. So if/when the muse strikes, and an idea emerges that calls out for Molly's involvement, I will bring it to her and, if her life has opened up a bit, then perhaps we'll do something?

The other potential partner was Kris Nelson. While I still believe that the two of us could make some great music, he is pretty committed to another project right now, and anything that might happen with me would most likely be a one-off. Thats ok though. Our one meeting on about the idea revealed more than a few logistical hurdles that would need to be overcome, so on the shelf it goes.

I have been getting together occasionally with a wonderful British singer - Kim Ribbans - exploring some ideas. I have been pushing for a more ambient electronic approach, and she comes from a bluesy/pop aesthetic, so there's an interesting synergy emerging. Where this will lead remains to be seen - we've got seeds planted for some strong material, but both of us are pretty over-committed already. Nevertheless, we get together when we can. At some point, we'll certainly record some of our jointly developed pieces, and perhaps do a low key performance somewhere (I'm thinking "house concert").

I still haven't found the "Viet -Zen" duo synergy that I had with Stan. There are others I am interested in getting together with - available time being the only constrain. And there's a chance that Stan himself may return. If that happened, I don't quite know where that will lead. His life is very much in a fluid state now, and I'd be reluctant to invest much energy into something that may fall apart once it's getting interesting …

… and then there are solo projects, pick-up gigs (e.g. Bloody Valentines, 3BQ House Band) and work with dance companies ( at the moment) ...

Sometimes I wonder what it is that makes me overextend myself the way I do. I think it all comes back to my inability/unwillingness to focus on just one thing. I guess it's because I still haven't found THE one thing that will completely satisfy me musically. And perhaps it's because no single project that I'm involved in has reached the potential I think we're capable of. And I'm reluctant to let any of them go until that happens.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Mind's Eye interview

Recently, I connected with a gentleman named Tony Youngblood, a writer who working on a piece about the history of the experiemental art scene in Nashville. Here are my answers to some questions he asked for apiece he is doing about Mind's Eye:
1. In your own words, can you tell me about the Mind's Eye Group? How did it get started?

I've always been drawn to the synergy between music and image. To that I end I was always working towards making my band performances more and more theatrical. Learning about the work of Laurie Anderson, and seeing Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel, with David Byrne's music, clinched it for me. This was to be my new direction. Around that time, I saw a call put out by The John Galt Theater for independent directors to create new works for their upcoming season. I approached them with an idea for an evening of performance art and they said sure. I had no idea what I would do, but I had a date, and a place to do it. 

One idea that I had been thinking about was a dance/theater piece which came to be called "In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King". It dealt with a person obsessed with TV, and how was was sucked into an alternate TV universe. This piece would serve as the centerpiece. I did was approached the Tennessee Dance Theater, for whom I had done a score for a children's dance. They were on board. I also approached Jason Litchford to be the central character. Jason was a mime/magician I had worked with several years before. I had seen him perform a few times and thought he would be the ideal person for this piece. As it happened, he had just moved back to Atlanta after spending time studying mime in Colorado and doing street theater in San Francisco. My surreal little performance art piece intrigued him, so we connected and started pulling everything together. 

As we started working, we soon found a unique chemistry, and the seeds for Mind's Eye were sown. The John Galt shows, including Country of the Blind.. and a number of other jointly conceived experiments, came together quite well. While looking back, I'm almost appalled at my own cringe-worthy naivety and unprofessionalism, but two packed house gave us standing ovations and we knew we were on to something.

Don Evans was in the audience that night, and approached afterward offering his resources to help us do our work. This proved a godsend. Not only did we have access to tools and techniques we wouldn't have otherwise, we were also deeply inspired by Don's work. Soon after, we were working regularly at his studio at Vanderbilt's Cohen Art Building, and we even produced a series of works in the Cohen Bldg, working with some of Don's students.

Mind's Eye's work was essentially image-theater. We would explore various technologies and techniques, discovering what sorts of images and ideas that could be conveyed with these technologies and techniques. Sometimes the resulting images were purely aesthetic experiments, while other times they were used to convey a narrative or other conceptual theme. The name we coined for our eventual touring show was "Realizations for Movement, Music, and Media" - which rather concisely summed up our work. Each of those three components - movement - in the form of dance or pantomime, music - in the form of my own original compositions, and media - in the form of film, slides, video, stage effects, lighting, etc. - were equally and inextricably melded into a common aesthetic.

2. What were some of your favorite moments in Mind's Eye? Are there any techniques, ideas, or innovations that you can point to that Mind's Eye introduced?

My favorite moments were the touring. Though at first, I would perform the music live (and call all of the lighting and projection cues over headset), it soon ended up that the music was prerecorded and I was running the lighting and projections myself, often from in the house. I got to witness each of our shows from the audience's viewpoint, and experiencing their reactions from that perspective was a real treat. It also helped us really tighten the timing and pacing of the shows.

Since much of what we were trying to do had no real precedent (at least that we were aware of), we often had to make it up as we go. Some of the unorthodox tricks we developed were things like a pressurized system to pump fluorescent paint through a costume, so the performer would change colors under blacklight. We devised all sorts of tricks with slides - things like small circles of light that would spotlight Jason's face, or geometric patterns that would interact with costume elements. We explored other uses for fluorescent materials such as attaching them to dancer's costume, and having her perform in a pitch-black environment, or painting the entire backdrop of a stage with fluorescent paint so it would "capture" a dancer's shadows in a flash of light.

We spend a lot of time a resources exploring techniques for the performer to directly create music from their choregraphy. This series of experiments, called "Body Language" ranged from simple triggers attached to Jason's body that would interface with a computer to generate musical tones or sound effects, to an invisible grid of infrared sensors that would control or create musical passages as a performer (or audience member) moved through them.

3. What was the Nashville experimental scenes like in the late 80s and early 90s?

Other than what Don Evan's was doing with his Little Marrowbone crew, there really wasn't much of one!  Tony Gerber was active with his Space for Music concepts, which focused mostly on music, but often included some performative elements. I did come across some theater people who were interested in pushing boundaries. Some of these people went on to start the Darkhorse Theater (which is still around I think). In fact, one of Mind's Eye's last performances as in fact the first public performance IN the Darkhorse space, at that time still rough and raw (we put the first coat of black paint on those walls!)

4. Can you tell me about some of your other projects, both then in Nashville and now in Atlanta?

After Mind's Eye ran its course, I moved to Atlanta and started working with some of the people I had met during our hopping around the region. There were in fact a couple of Atlanta-based people who had been a part of our touring team. One in particular, dancer L.E. Udaykee (now Elle Trapkin) and I had a particular affinty. We started producing work under the name Gnosis - most of it with much more of a dance focus than Mind's Eye. We did some limited touring, and would include certain selections from the Mind's Eye repertoire, recast with different performers. Gnosis produced a wide range of work from 1993 thru 2004, when Elle retired from the stage. Our final event was a particularly grueling aerial dance piece, The Crossing, that convinced Elle that she had gone about as far as she could go in dance, given her age and her unwillingness to give anything less than 110% onstage. Today she is concentrating on film and television acting (in fact, you can see her in the upcoming pilot for the supernatural drama series "Outcast"). A Gnosis archival website is currently under development.

After Gnosis, I shifted my focus primarily to music. I've played, or am playing, in a range of ensembles, from free-improv electronic music, to prog rock, to David Bowie cover songs. In 2005, I joined the board of an Atlanta arts venue, Eyedrum, where I presented, or helped present, well over 100 experimental music and performance events from local and national artists. My tenure at Eyedrum is well beyond the scope of this interview, but suffice to say it was one of the most rewarding things I have had the honor of being involved with. Last year I moved out of active board status with Eyedrum and I have my eye on some exciting new collaborations - but nothing I'm ready to go public with at the moment.

5. Who are some of the up and comers in the Nashville and/or Atlanta experimental art scenes that you admire?

I really don't know much about Nashville's scene these days, but Atlanta has a whole slew of aspiring young artists doing amazing things. I really can't single anyone out because there are so many. Some names to watch for (dance/music/theater/etc): Dance Track, Lucky Penny, Faun and a Pan Flute, Shitty Bedford, Wade Tilton, Molly Harvey, Ex Somnium, Timothy Hand, Crossover, many more. Or just check the calendars of venues such as Eyedrum, The Goat Farm, The Mammal Gallery. Atlanta's experimental art scene is thriving - perhaps stronger than ever.

6. Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

Only that I've recently come to the revelation that if I'd known then what I know now, Minds Eye likely would not have happened. When Jason and I started doing our work, we had no rules, no expectations, and the only limits were our available resources. Today, there would be too many inner voices saying "you can't do that!" or "that will never work!". I've learned a lot, and experienced a lot, which is a good thing - but there is something to be said for inexperience and naivety, especially in art.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

So - here we are -

So - here we are - almost two years down the road -

Lots of evolution in AWG-land. In my last post, I had just gotten canned from big-corpo-agency, and was (somewhat unrealistically as it turned out) optimistic about my prospects. I did a couple of short freelance stints (and one rather extended 5-month stint) at a few random businesses up until the summer of 2013 when it all came to grinding halt. So I drew unemployment, did whatever pick-up projects I could find, and settled in for what turned out to be a year-and-a-half long all-out job search. 

Over the course of that year-and-a-half, I …

• used up my unemployment,
• ran head-on into overt ageism,
• tweaked and revised various résumés, profiles, portfolios countless times
• drove a van for a friend's after-school music program;

And two other things than warrant more than a bullet point:

First - I  signed on with the Lyft - and later Uber - app-based "ride share" services and did that pretty much full-time from October thru July. 
As a result, I …

• kept the bills paid,
• put insane amounts of wear-&-tear on "The Silver Surfer" (my Honda Element),
• gave approx 1300 rides to thousands of (mostly drunk) strangers, 
• learned more about the people and places that constitute Atlanta-after-dark than I ever imagined,
• made some friends,
• gave up almost every weekend night,
• had an insider's view of the birth and growing pains of a surprisingly cut-throat new industry,
• likely saved a young man's life (he was OD'ing and I made a detour to the emergency room),
• had two people puke in my car (fortunately they each kept it in the barf bag!).

This adventure more or less ended when I started work at my new corpo-gig last summer, though I still drive from time to time, for extra $$ and, frankly, because it's kinda fun.

The other big thing is rather BIG indeed. I decided to go the college and get a Masters in Social Work degree with the goal of becoming a therapist. Note that I didn't say "back to college" because I am essentially starting from scratch. I have always felt called to therapy and counseling work. It's something I feel I have a natural ability for. However I never pursued it because that type of work requires a college degree. 

Way back "in the day", I never even considered going to college - mainly because I was a pretty bad high school student - barely squeaking by. It's doubtful I would have even been accepted had I chosen to go. I know now that much of this was due to my relatively severe ADD, and not a reflection of my own intelligence or abilities. 40-some-odd years of finding my way since those days have taught me much about myself. With technological solutions that didn't exist before, and with the level of self-awareness I now posses

Another part of this is I realize that, at 56, I'm staring at retirement in the not-too-distant future. I know that, other than Social Security, I don't have any sort of retirement funds and will likely continue working. I'm mostly OK with this. But not in the graphics industry. I enjoy the work, and I'm good at it, but I simply can't see myself in this industry once at 65. Likewise, I can't see myself on the self-employed roller-coaster either. 

And even though my new job seems like it could work for me for the long-term, the fact is that things change, and just because it's a good gig right now, doesn't mean it will be next year, or in five years, or whatever. And I really don't want to find myself back in the job-hunting vortex - at least not in this field.

But - seeing clients that need help and helping them sort through their problems. That's work I could do. And I believe I'll be good at it. AND I believe there will be a lot of open doors for me once I get through the process. Interestingly, this is one field where my age will be an asset. I have been on the periphery of the mental health field for some time through Jenny. Elle has been most helpful as well. She, too, went down a similar path a number of years ago and she has helped me map out my strategy.

So far, I'm straight "A" in the courses I've taken, and I've been able to get credit for some course work baked on testing and/or life experience. But I still have a ways to go. 

The downside? Less time and energy for artistic and musical endeavors. This prompted me to resign from the Eyedrum board just as they are entering a new phase and I do miss my active involvement there. I am "ex-officio" - still in the loop peripherally and in a limited way - but it's not the same.

As far as my own projects? I've had to accept the fact that there is no "big break" around the corner. There are two major reasons for this - which I recently wrote about in a Facebook status:

"The two reasons I am not a commercially successful musician, and why I'm OK with it: 

The first reason is a pretty common story amongst most musicians I know. In order to achieve success as musician, you really have to be willing to put the rest of your life on hold for a while. Marriages are hard. Kids are out of the question. Buying a house? Job security? Nada. Your only social life is amongst other musicians. You have to be flexible and available for anything that might come along. You can't let anything tie you down. I wasn't willing to make those sacrifices. I wanted a family. I wanted a home, and kids. And I have been immeasurably rewarded for making this choice, even though I've never been able to find commercial success as musician.

The second reason is more about me. I simply have too many musical aspirations. I have never been able to focus on a specific speciality. I am a keyboard player. I am a composer. I write musical theater pieces. I compose dance scores. Film scores. Prog Rock opuses. Multimedia events. I improvise. Jazz. Ambient. I produce other artists. I play cover songs. The musicians I know who are making a living stick to their main specialty - Bass player. Sax player. Teacher. Dance composer. Film composer. I just can't let myself settle in and focus on ONE aspect of all of this. I want it ALL. And I have been artistically successful in all of these to varying degrees. Perhaps if I had been able to narrow my focus a bit more, I'd be telling a different story."

All that being said, I am actually a better "musician" than I ever have been. Kinda odd, actually ...

So - music - 

I still have way more aspirations than I have resources. The projects that get the attention are the projects that involve other people. i.e. the stuff that is just me tends to get ignored. Which is kind of a shame…. 


• Most of my music time these days goes into Jerome Newton. We are pretty set with our material, and by all rights should be in "maintenance" mode with occasional gigs. BUT sax-man Stan has moved out of the country, so we're having to work in a new sax guy - Brent. He is coming along well, but it's kind of a drag for us to be having to spend so much time working in the new guy instead having that time available for other projects. So it goes, but he is just about up to speed - and Meredith, our backing singer, has mostly learned the songs that Stan used to sing. Now it's time to once again try and find shows (which is more challenging that I expected - mainly because the available time and energy I have to seek them out is decidedly in short supply.

• My other ongoing project is Zentropy. I must admit approach this group with a bit of melancholy, because in its earliest incarnations, it had the most potential for "breaking on through" and becoming a pro act. But alas, personnel issues (some of which are documented elsewhere on my blog), and failure (on my part mostly) to make the necessary connections have consigned Zentropy to, essentially a hobby act. My bandmates in the current incarnation, while both quite good, aren't quite on the same page re. commitment, availability, etc. So, yeah, we get together every 3-4 weeks and make some good improvised music. We do a few shows a year at select (small) venues, and have fun. But I can't see it ever being anything more than it is. Heck, I haven't' even felt inspired enough to pull together a CD of some of our better sessions, even though they all have (more or less) been recorded.

I do have this idea of hooking up a video camera, and signing up with a streaming service and starting a series of monthly live-streamed events (later released as podcasts and Youtube ids), but with school, work, etc., I haven't made it happen yet. 

• While Z-Axis - perhaps the best band I've ever been in - ceased to exist a few years ago, there are a couple of completed tracks, and various other partially-completed tracks (awaiting ME to put the final touches on them). My aspiration, and (perhaps) my next project is to finally finish them up and release a posthumous third Z-Axis CD. Maybe by writing it down here, it will happen.

• Over the past few years, Stan and I would do some occasional duet improv gigs under the name Viet-Zen (Vietnam being his former band, and Zentropy my current one). These were actually some of the more artistically satisfying things I have done in recent years. There's a certain dynamic I find in a duo setting that seems to bring out some good stuff - and Stan was a great person to bounce sounds off of. I think the word is simpatico. But just as I was toying with the idea of making it a regular project, Australia called and Viet-Zen was gone with the wind. 

So now, I'm beginning the process of perhaps finding another duo-partner. I have approached Molly Harvey - local singer/performance artist formerly with the Residents. I've heard and seen what she can do and I really like her energy and aesthetic. And who knows? Maybe a little of the Residents mojo will rub off? But she's is busy, and in-demand, and I'm not sure she would be as into the idea as I am. But I've put it out there - planted the seeds - so maybe something will grow some day?

I've also approached Kris Nelson, a guy I've come to know through a combination of mutual friends and Facebook, he, too, seems like he may be "simpatico'. We had a meeting recently to discuss possibilities, and once Fall semester ends, I'm going to get together and make some sounds with him and see where it might go.

• A more controversial project that's brewing: revisiting Sisyphus. This was perhaps my "magnum opus" - my first foray into narrative musical theater and it dates back to my Nashville days (in fact, some of the material goes back as far as the 70s). It was in limbo for many years - existing only in cassette demos and a few rough notes. Then several years ago, I worked with a director to mount a staged workshop performance. The production was rough but relatively successful. Unfortunately, the whole thing had some major fallout in my personal life which I won't go into here except to say that I've been reluctant to revisit it since then. Fast forward to today - I have received continual encouragement TO revisit it from folks who were involved, and it IS some of the best stuff I've written - BUT - I have no time, energy, funds, or indeed inclination to try and mount it as a theatrical production again. I'm also VERY reluctant to risk reopening old wounds. The last time has some painful associations. Maybe it's time to reclaim it? 

Should I pursue Sisyphus again (and the jury's still out), it would be a very different process. I had an inspiration awhile back while watching "deleted scenes" from Pixar movies. These scenes had never actually been fully animated, so they used the hand-drawn storyboards as the visual elements. These images were semi-animated - by panning, zooming, etc. on the still images. So my idea is to find a visual artist to help create a graphic novel-style treatment to the story, then "pan & zoom" animate the images onscreen with a live soundtrack. The Jerome Newton rhythm section is down for it, so once JN finally moves into to "maintenance mode", it will be time to start working on the music - and recording it all. If I decide to pursue it, that is.

There are many more things I want to say, but I'm going to stop after this last bit. One thing that I've been drawn to lately is my "legacy". I guess this is part of aging process, but I've been experience this strong need to make sure my children, and grandchildren (PS - I've got a grandson now!!! But that's a whole different topic!) and whomever might be interested, has a way of knowing just what I've done in my life. So I've been spending random chunks of time digitizing old photos and videos, compiling dates, etc. So far, I've partially gone through this process with a number of my old bands, and I went through it on a big way with The Mind's Eye Group (my most successful - in every way - project). I've digitized and edited all of the Mind'S Eye video and photos, scanned all of our press clippings, etc., created an exhaustive chronology of all of the performances we did, etc. and put it all online here and I will soon be doing the same with Gnosis, and my more recent bands. I've also been slightly obsessing over a spreadsheet that lays out a timeline for virtually every significant thing in my life - marriage, children, places lived/worked/etc., bands, etc. What I realized is how little I know about my own parent's life (especially my dad's), and I don't want my kids to be as in-the-dark about my life. 

So, yeah, legacy. And the future. And the present. Onward ...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Transitions r us...

Back to the blog. Seems like my journaling corresponds to my life's transitions. The last time I posted, I had just left one job. Shortly after that, I managed to land on my feet at a corporate graphic gig - which lasted almost 2 1/2 years - until two weeks ago in fact, when corporate bean-counters decided the "contingent freelance" budget needed to be slashed. Bam! You're outta here AWG!

Not too worried yet. I've been in high gear with my networking, and applying right and left. I do have mad skills with Adobe CS, and an decent enough resumé - so I should be OK. And this time, I'll be able to draw unemployment, which, while not very much, will certainly keep the sting to a minimum.

Meanwhile, I've been keeping busy sprucing up my online presence. Graphic portfolio site? Check. Composer/artistic self-promo site (first time ever!)? Check. Band sites? Check. New business cards (not exactly online, but so what?)? Check. LinkedIn profile spruced up? Check. Facebook profile current? Well actually THAT hasn't been a problem!

Over the past couple of years, I've played more music (in bands) than maybe at any other time in my life. A quick recap:

Band Number 1:

Zentropy found a drummer in Spring 2011 - Mr. Corey Williams. Good player. But very unreliable. No phone. Terrible about answering emails. Nevertheless a good player and nice guy. Did a number of gigs. Recorded the third Zentropy CD - Zentangled. Shot some video. Launched an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the NACA market. Then, as we were announcing our CD release party a few weeks ago, he backed out on us for another gig with 2 weeks to go. The last straw. Fired him. Once again drummer-less. But there are at least two candidates ready to step in should we (I) decide to go that route. 

Why the hesitation? Gabe, Mr. Bass, is now Mr. Popular - playing symphony gigs almost every weekend, playing with at least 3 or 4 other bands when he's not symphonizing, etc. So about the only Zentropy gigs he can do are the ones that can be booked well in advance, have a lot of wiggle room on dates, and hopefully pay at least SOMETHING. So that pretty much means the only Zentropy gigs will be college or festival gigs, both of which haven't' been very forthcoming lately.

Gabe and I are meeting soon to discuss Zentropy's future. Is it a part time project that comes together for select gigs? Or does it need to be something more? Can it exist with a floating cast of fill-in players? I have some ideas, but none are very clear right now. I should know more after we talk next week.

Band Number 2:

With Phillip gone, Z-Axis just ain't happening. We tried out a couple of drummers, but the magic just wasn't' there. Z-Axis was more than the sum of the four of us, and simply can't be recaptured. We have all pretty much come to the conclusion that it should "cease to exist" - as soon as we release our third CD, which has been in progress for a few years now. There is enough strong material - in various stages of completion. All that has to be done is to finish it! We've set a goal to finish it by September 2013 - and do a final CD release blowout. It's Phillip's slow time at work, so he'll be able to come into town and play. I've been disciplining myself to work of Z-Axis tracks on a regular basis, since really, it's almost all on me to get it done at this point!

Band Number 3:

A little over a year ago, at an Eyedrum Music Committee meeting, a discussion of cover bands (and why Eyedrum generally doesn't book them) ensued. Present at the table was Toniet Galego, of the inimitable synth-pop band Fader Vixen. I remember commenting that maybe the only cover-type band I would consider might be a band that played old Bowie. She mentioned that her roommate and friend Joe Sikes just happened to be into that stuff and was a great singer. Fast forward to today - Jerome newton and the Band Who Fell to Earth has two full sets of Bowie and glam era material. Joe sings. Jeff from Z-Axis plays bass. Brian King, from the defunct prog band Lord Only (and also the Sisyphus band) plays guitar. Jim Dunn, also from Lord Only, plays drums. And Stan Satin, from local punk legends Vietnam, plays sax. And we have NAILED the sound and style. A couple of gigs under our belt and we're looking to get out there and make a splash. 

This is the most fun I've had playing music in a LONG time. maybe because it IS covers, I don't have as much ego tied up in them? I can just enjoy being a player. And speaking of being a player - I have stretched my abilities in so many ways playing this music. It's been a great surprise how well I've been able to pull off some of those amazing Mike Garson parts.

Other bands of note:

I was an active participant in Spaceseed for the past year or so - had some fun and channeled my inner adolescent playing their chunky riff-rock stuff. Good fun, but we outgrew each other - lots of tales to tell. Maybe someday?

Also still doing occasionally ambient electronic shows - sometime solo, sometimes with others. I did a great set with noisy avant-guitarist and local legend Kevin McFoy Dunn last Spring. Did another great set a few weeks ago with the aforementioned Stan Satin on sax. We called it Viet Zen. Might do some more of those shows! Stan's a great guy and we've developed a rapport.

Onward with my music:

What I've realized recently is that I really want to reboot my work as a composer for dance & theater. My new site should help. It gives me a place to send people who want to know what I do. I expect that over the coming weeks/months, I'll be spending a lot of energy in that direction.

OK - enough for now. More later.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alternate ROOTS

I am at the 2010 Alternate ROOTS meeting at the Lutheridge Center in Arden, NC - lots of stuff stirred up, but first - a disclaimer in the form of a context statement on my blogger profile:
Just so you know - this blog is more like an online diary. I write updates about my professional and artistic life, mostly for my own edification. I don't write for a particular audience, and therefore much of the writing is pretty self-indulgent. That being said, I don't write anything in here that I don't mind being public...
So - I am at the 2010 Alternate ROOTS meeting at the Lutheridge Center in Arden, NC - lots of stuff stirred up.
ROOTS mission:
Alternate ROOTS is an organization based in the Southern USA whose mission is to support the creation and presentation of original art, in all its forms, which is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. As a coalition of cultural workers we strive to be allies in the elimination of all forms of oppression. ROOTS is committed to social and economic justice and the protection of the natural world and addresses these concerns through its programs and services.
In 1987, Don Evans told me that if I wanted to do performance art in the South, I needed to know about ROOTS. It just so happened that ROOTS was about to host a festival in Atlanta, so I made the commitment to spend the entire week in Atlanta. During that week, I saw amazing work by amazing artists and knew I was getting a glimpse of something that would prove to be life-changing.

(sidebar - one of the artists whose work I saw that week was Louise Udaykee aka Elle Trapkin. I was intrigued with what she was doing with dance and made a point to seek her out and give her one of my tapes - thus began a long and gratifying collaboration and friendship that continues to this day)

So in 1988, me & Mind's Eye packed up our costumes, projectors, lighting, sound equipment, etc. and headed to the 1988 Annual Meeting. We were eager to show them what we did and to see what they could do for us (we were in major "marketing mode" at the time). We did our thing and got some helpful, pointed - and occasionally somewhat gratuitous - feedback & criticism, and speaking for myself, made a lot of new friends and contacts.

Jason was less enamored of the ROOTS experience than me, and never went back. His artistic motivations were primarily aesthetic, while I was intrigued by the social-change agenda that fueled (and fuels) ROOTS work, and wanted to bring more of that element into our work.

I have gone to every ROOTS meeting since. I have served more terms than I can count on the ROOTS Executive Committee. My relationship with the organization has ebbed and flowed. At its highest point point I helped co-produce a festival and was doing almost all of ROOTS communication work - printed journal and web (until a new director, now gone, managed to disenfranchise many long term ROOTS members. But that's a another story - extensively documented several years ago), and at other times I was simply a passive observer.

For most of my ROOTS tenure, I was known as "the tech guy". Each year I would bring my lights and sound equipment, and run tech for the various performances. But a few years ago I said "no mas" - it was time to be an artist at ROOTS. So starting with leading a music-improv workshop with Davis 2 years ago, I have reinvented my ROOTS persona as a music maker. It has been most gratifying.

Right now I am at a nice place with ROOTS. I am not as active in ROOTS governance as I have been - content to be a mere "voting member". Mostly ROOTS meetings are my annual artistic renewal breaks. A week in the mountains, surrounded my creative people doing creative things. Making music late in the night. Engaging in stimulating and inspiring discussions. Witnessing some of the strongest performances I've ever seen (and also some of the weakest!). Spending a lot of "alone" time - working on stuff on the computer (this year that has included some of my non-artistic work, which has been kind of a drag!)

It was people and connections I made thru ROOTS that brought me to Atlanta in 1992. ROOTS has provided venues for my art and music - from the the very first Mind's Eye performance to Zentropy at last year's New Orleans State of the Nation Festival. A 35th Anniversary festival is set for next summer in Baltimore, and I expect that I'll be making music there too.

Tomorrow I go home - but tonight we all go down to the lake and participate in some sort of touchy-feely closing ceremeny (but it's all good!). Then back up the hill to make music and merriment 'til the crack of dawn.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Context - I'm sitting here at the Shell station at Exit 350 on I-75. On my way back from Burning Banjos. The Turk stalled out and wouldn't restart and (praise the deities) I was able to coast down the ramp, make a tight turn into the parking lot, and coast into a parking spot - all with virtually no steering and no brakes at all save for the emergency brake. I'm waiting for Jenny to get here from Atlanta. Avery's watching a DVD in the portable player and I'm composing this note, to be uploaded later. I am a very unhappy camper as I contemplate the prospect of tracking down a trusty mechanic by phone tomorrow, and my mind reels at the potential expense and hassle awaiting me over the next few days.

But Burning Banjos? Ah - 'twas a fine experience. I got to see and hang with so many people from my Nashville days - Jason Litchford, Beat Zenerino, Danny Sulkin, Seth Ritter, Tony Gerber, LeeAnne Allen Carmack, and of course Don Evans. I can't help but feel reflective on the "old days" and perhaps a bit nostalgic.

It was around '85 or so when I made the decision to break up my band, Suburban Baroque, and dive into performance art. I had been experimenting with projections & video (with help from Seth Ritter), props, conceptual sorts of things with Suburban Baroque, and I came to the realization that I was more interested in exploring performative elements than in continuing a band-thing. There were too many inherent compromises and I felt decidedly limited. We were four distinct personalities, with four distinct agendas - not all of which were in sync with my current aspirations.

I also was feeling that we had pretty much taken Suburban Baroque as far as it would go. We were actually at the peak of our game, so maybe from a music-biz standpoint it was foolish to split us up. But I clearly felt that the project had run its course and it was time to move on. (I did, however, take with me some of my more conceptual SB compositions and "repurpose" them into a performance piece a year or so later.)

The catalyst for moving on came in the form of a brief little news item I saw in the arts section of the paper. A local theater, The John Galt West End Theater (the significance of whose name was unknown to be at the time) had issued an open call for independent directors who might want to use their space. So in an act of naive optimism, I contacted them and told them about a nebulous idea I had for an evening of performance art (side note - I had been listening to, and reading about Laurie Anderson's magnum opus, United States 1-4 at the time - and her sheer ambition inspired the hell out of me!).

Well, The Galt found a weekend on their calendar for me 9 months out - and the seeds of "Fringe Dances" were planted. In the ensuing months, I cultivated connections and enlisted collaborators. THe first was the Tennessee Dance Theater - the only professional dance company in Nashville (save for the Ballet) at the time. That relationship proved rewarding. I did music for some of their pieces, and they contributed dancers and choreography for my grand scheme. I enlisted Tony Gerber as a music collaborator, and Curtis McGuirt (C Ra) as a performer. But the most significant collaboration that resulted from Fringe Dances was Jason Litchford...

Rewind a few years - just out of high school I was washing dishes at this goofy concept restaurant - Sailmaker. The wait staff were all costumed as various characters. Jason was a waiter there - dressed as a wizard. I learned later that he was an accomplished magician and his schtick at Sailmaker was doing close up magic for the customers. Anyway, he and I chatted it up in the kitchen and found a bit of a kindred connection. A year or so later I ended up doing some impromptu music for a magic/mime show that he and his friend Steven were doing at Vanderbilt with my brand new Micromoog, and I saw him perform a stunning mime routine as the Buddha, in a fascinating musical theater production of Siddhartha, directed by visionary director Kent Cathcart.

Back to Fringe Dances - as the ideas were coming together, I came up with a concept for a movement theater/video piece, "In the Country of the Blind, the One Eyed Man is King" that dealt with a central character, "The Man", who was so caught up in the TV world, that he was eventually drawn into the TV world himself. The TDT dancers populated the TV world, but as I thought about the role of The Man, I kept seeing Jason, so I called around trying to track him down. Coincidentally he had just moved back to Nashville after a few years doing street theater in San Francisco & Boulder, and studying mime at Samuel Avital's Le Centre du SIlence in Colorado. We talked a bit, and soon he was on board as the primary collaborator for Fringe Dances. He brought his full repertoire of mime, theater, and stage magic into the mix, and though I cringe when I think back on the sheer naiveté of much of the work, Fringe Dances was a success. And in the wake of that success, Jason & I decided to keep it going, and the Mind's Eye Performance Group was on its way.

We had the honor of working with many talented and amazing people with Mind's Eye. Beat Zenerino worked with us on videos and software, Danny Sulkin worked with us on video, also, and for a time was our on-the-road tech director. LeeAnne Allen was one of our first dancers.

But perhaps the one person who catalyzed me artistically in those days was Don Evans. Don was an art professor at Vanderbilt, and would do eclectic and quirky art projects under the auspices of Little Marrowbone Repair Corporation ("a bunch of friends that get together and do stuff"). I knew of Don by reputation, but had never really met him until Fringe Dances. He was in the audience, and afterwards came up and shook mine & Jason's hands with such energy and genuine effusiveness that we knew we had obviously made a connection. Don invited us to come visit him at the university, and offered up his resources to help us develop our work. One of our subsequent productions took place in the beautiful marbled lobby of the art building at Vanderbilt. Don taught us about slides, video, darkroom techniques, performance art history. We "did stuff" at Little Marrowbone happenings out at his farm just outside of Nashville. He loaned us projection equipment until we could get our own. Most of all he just simply provided inspiration and support. And, not inconsequentially, he introduced us (me) to Alternate ROOTS - a connection that has had major ramifications on all aspects of my life to this day.

He's a quirky, gentle and eclectic soul and I'm a bigger person for having known him, and when I heard about his "Burning Banjos" event (the first Little Marrowbone event in almost ten years!), well I simply had to make a pilgrimage and pay homage to those that got me where I am today. And pay homage I did - making glorious improvised noise to accompany a range of pyrotechnics and dance (thanks to LeeAnne's Blue Moves dance company). I hope this isn't the last time I get to "do stuff" with Don & Little Marrowbone.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fast forward part two...

As of June 1, I am no longer in the employ of A very risky step, but one I had to make. His (owner MB) insistence on tying my pay to the revenues of the company resulted in three straight months of bringing home less that I would working at Starbucks! And I saw no prospect of it improving anytime soon, despite MB's most optimistic assessments. I also came to the realization that I had less and less faith in the viability of his business model, since I became more and more aware of how it all was just a big shell game, based on flawed data and outright theft of intellectual property.

Long story short - I quit.

Now I am back in the throes of Freelance-dom, and so far, the prospects are good. I'm doing all sorts of pick-up work - right now I"m running sound at Kavarna. Wednesday I meet with a poet about recording some of her readings. Thursday I train for additional census work. I've registered with a outfit that refers people for PA work on film sets. Today I spent many hours trying to kickstart mine & Jenny's book business. I am on the roster of a freelance referral agency and I've interviewed with another graphics-biz about being in THEIR freelance pool (though neither of them have exactly been burning up the phone lines).

But the best news is that I've got two artist websites to build this week, plus a I start on a big, industrial Flash project Monday - anyway - paying work is materializing.

I've always been almost naively optimistic that things have a way of coming together, just when you need them most, and in ways I can almost never predict. For most of my life, it has worked out that way, so I tend to "trust the universe". But that doesn't keep me from stressing a bit too much in the middle of the night.

And while Jenny has been supportive of this move, it still has her more than a little on edge. She's not quite as "zen" about this kind of thing - so that helps me avoid the potential complacency that is an occupational hazard of my outlook on life!

Fast forward about five weeks -

Zentropy is still - technically - without a drummer. We've tried several, and even did a gig with one last Thursday. A guy named Rob - a real solid drummer & a nice guy. Could easily imagine him as the next full-time drummer except for one big caveat - his "day job" is as a teacher, plus he's going back to grad school next fall. Both of which mean he simply wouldn't be able to do the kind of travel we hope to do.

We had close brush with the big time. Yonrico Scott, grammy-winning drummer from The Derek Trucks band, was considering maybe hooking up with us for a bit. But in between flying off all over the USA to record with Eric Clapton, Earl Klugh, etc. Plus touring with his own band, and who knows what else - well there simply wasn't time to even MEET, much less make music!

He did refer us to a very good drummer, Elizabeth Tull, who Gabe & I are going to meet on Monday - and after talking to her a bit and checking out some of her clips online, I am VERY optimistic.

In other band news - Z-Axis is now, officially, no longer rehearsing regularly. Phillip came to town recently and when all jammed a bit and it was clear that Z-Axis IS the four of us - and trying to get together and play WITHOUT PH just ain't right. So therefore, it's all about recording and writing, and occasional get-togethers for tracking - and then every month or so, when PH visits Atl - we get together and actually play.

And in yet MORE band news - I am seriously considering joining a Doors tribute band! I'm not ashamed to say I'll be doing it strictly for the (potential good) money - but I think it will also be a blast trying to channel Manzarek! Issue? My left hand is not, and will never be, up to Manzarek's level. I just don't have that kind of hand independence. Possible solutions - continuing using a bass player as they currently do, or sequence the bass lines. Other issue? Are the gigs there? I am, frankly, disinclined to invest any time into something like this just for fun - so when I meet the guy ("Morrison", I presume?) next week, I'll have to see what kind of feel I get from him.