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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Here and now...

Haven't attempted to blog in a couple of years - but things are in more of a state of flux than they have been in sometime, and I'm feeling like the discipline of blogging (or more specifically, online public journaling) might help me stay centered, and enable me to make sense of it all...

So I guess I'll just write a brief update on some of the many things that I've got going on -

Zentropy - after our original drummer unceremoniously jumped ship last week, I find myself both extremely aggravated and strangely relieved. Aggravated, because he clearly KNEW he was going to bail for a few months, nevertheless he went along with my not-inconsequential efforts at generating professional promo materials (incl. a labor-intensive multi-camera video shoot) so we could pursue the kind of bookings that actually *paid* (and he had made it abundantly clear that if it DIDN'T pay, he wasn't interested). Now we're stuck with a bunch of footage and a bunch of photos that, while great for documentation, are essentially useless as promo material. Now time to find a new drummer and start again. Sigh...

BUT - also relieved - because it had become excruciating stressful to deal with the negative energy that had begun to surround almost every interaction. We already have three drummers set to try out with us over the next few days, and I'm excited about the idea of new, positive energy and what that will mean for our music. I'm so grateful that Gabe is such a laid back guy. When the success or failure of our improvised music hinges on the chemistry between the players, it helps to actually *like* each other and feel good about your relationships with your bandmates.

(note to self - if any future band mate ever mentions having taken "anger management classes" at some point, ditch him/her then and there!)

Z-Axis - After over ten years, we've been essentially running on inertia for awhile now. Not that there's anything wrong with that. We still make strong and satisfying music, albeit at a pace slower than molasses. Phillip's geographic departure has prompted a serious rethink to our way of doing things. One recent revelation is that the interminable weeknight edit/tweak/mix sessions that have become the norm lately, are increasingly counterproductive. The mental energy required for our close-quarter sessions have become fatiguing and "too much like work" so the idea is to devote our weeknights to actually playing music, and for me to do some of the editing/tweaking/mixing on my own time (whenever THAT is), and the rest during occasional weekEND sessions (which will likely be attended from time to time by Phillip, who has recently relocated to within four hours of Atlanta).

As far as the weeknight "playing" sessions, Mark, Jeff & I are toying with the idea of finding and bringing in a drummer and forming a "covers only" side project, just for the sheer fun of it. We're thinking about limiting ourselves to Eno & Eno-related songs - partly because that's a rich body of work to mine, and partly because it might be a cool concept for getting some just-for-fun gigs.

Other music-notes - the long delayed Sisyphus soundtrack recording is calling for attention at some point. My own solo electronica is a satisfying-yet-oft-neglected outlet deserving a bit more energy on my part. Prospecting for dance & theater scoring work remains in the realm of good-intentions-yet-to-be-actively-pursued. A planned solo-recording - "Icons and Archetypes" - keeps beckoning me...

And yeah, I'd still like to make art-films at some point...

The common thread with all of these, as is usually the case, is a decidedly limited allocation of time. Between the need for income-producing activities, the desire to spend downtime with family, the needs of maintaining a home, and the reluctance to let go of some seriously-taxing-yet-highly-rewarding volunteer commitments - bottom line - some shuffling of priorities is called for.

Hopefully the discipline of journaling will help me gain clarity -hopefully it won't become just another time-suck.

I'll write about work/income stuff later...

PS - I hope I'm not leaving the impression that the original drummer was some sort of monster. In fact, he is a hell of a drummer, and can be a very nice guy. We made a lot of amazing music together over the past 2 1/2 years - and for most of that time, the chemistry was ON. My sense is that he has been undergoing his own transitions and has allowed his stress to sabotage some otherwise productive relationships. Or maybe he just got sick of me!