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.