A friend wrote an email and asked me if I could come in a month to play in upstate New York. The time frame was a bit short. I asked another friend if he wanted to put together a band to play there but he suggested perhaps a different timeframe. I agreed. Snowball started rolling and all of a sudden we had a band – a tour and some University lecturing engagements – all lined up.
I set out to create a supergroup with people on the east coast that I knew. I used to play in a band with Liz Meredith called Satellite with Travis Johns also, a long time ago and I wrote a piece for Shayna Dunkelman a long time ago, Jonathan Pfeffer I had known since 2011 and we had met in Iceland and had various correspondances about art and music. They have all done all kinds of projects since the last time I met them all. Shayna even played with Yoko Ono, to name just one from her very impressive list of previous collaborators. Liz has been very active in the improv scene in and around Baltimore and has two solo records on Spleen Coffin under her belt.
We got the gigs lined up and I sent materials along so that rehearsals could go smooth. To my surprise Jonathan volunteered to help a lot with setting up the gigs and such and happened to have enormous experience in setting up shows and lots of other things which came in very handy to say the least. I knew the people and trusted them musically even though we were only going to have limited rehearsal time before our first show I was convinced that this was going to be a good band, and I was right.
I flew to the states on November 5th. I stopped at Shayna’s place in NYC and after a delicious dish of huevos rancheros in a neighbourhood Mexican cafe we headed over to Philadelphia where we met Liz Meredith and Jonathan Pfeffer, rehearsing at the latters apartment.
The first gig came the day after at the Rotunda hosted by The Fire Museum (November 7th). Without realizing it I had performed 14 years earlier in a concert hosted by Steve Tobin of The Fire Museum, and even stayed at his house then. Also I was traveling with Liz Meredith again this time. Strange co-incidence I hadn’t foreseen as I didn’t know about this connection with Steve Tobin. We played after Ben Bennett who did an amazing set of solo percussion improvisation that left everyone in awe.
The following day we took the Amtrak down to D.C. (we traveled light). There we performed at Rhizome along with the Pique collective on November 8th (yes election day in D.C., can you imagine?). This is an amazing venue – a beautiful house, a gallery and all kinds of things at the same time. It’s an old house that feels threatened by all the luxury condos rising up very quickly on either side of it. It is very central in various overlapping experimental music, poetry and art scenes in D.C.. It’s run by very generous and wonderful people and they have very cool T-shirts which we all had to get.
Me and Jonathan stayed with a friend of his who is a serious big time international reporter. He took us for another dosage of some wonderful huevos rancheros in a breakfast place that was beside this club which is pictured below. Those who know the history get the joke.
We took the Amtrak back North up to Baltimore and got ready to perform at the Red Room (on Nov 9th) which, for those that don’t know, is a very well known venue, especially relating to improvised music but also various other experimental forms of music making and is connected with the High Zero Festival. This amazing composer called Samuel Burt was our host so to speak – as they are a collective, and most concerts are from what I understand on some one persons responsibility. Good system I think.
Our opener was improvising singar Bao Nguyen who is an incredible vocal improviser. Incredible performer overall with a great stage presence. It was a great honor to do a collective improvisation in the end of the concert. This apparently is a tradition in the Red Room, that all the performers that played that evening, regardless of style or background, do one collective improvisation. What great times.
The Big Apple
I’ve traveled enough in the States to understand that as far as gigs in New York go – always expect the worst (sorry). I don’t mean the crowd but . . . for example, when scouting out for gigs we got a lot of stange offers, pay to play, something seemed to be working then canceled and one very interesting reply that was like “I don’t like it – but if you can come up with a convincing strategy to bring in a minimum of 50 people you’re in”. Didn’t sound fun.
But Jessica Hallock with NYC-Noise was open to it and offered us to perform at the Ridgewood Presbytarian Church. I envisioned a deconsencrated old church or perhaps one of those small storefront churches you see people screaming and falling into oblivion – all of which I’ve seen and even attended in America. This was not the case.
We entered a “just renovated” super clean and nice church – splendorous, in fact, despite the Calvinist modesty. The church people were very nice (yes some were present) and the host/promoter, NYC-noise, had lots of volunteers running around to make sure that we were sounding good and feeling good. Pizza and club soda catering. Very nice. Not what I expected in New York.
The crowd was great, the opening acts were great – Madison Greenstone filling the space with circular breathy huge multiphonicky extravaganza that sounded like some of Hendrix’s finer moments on pause/hold/freeze – but all with one acoustic clarinet (if acoustic clarinet was not a term, it is now, just for emphasis). Kwami Winfield also did a splendid – microphone stuffed into a trumpet crazy noises extravaganza that came out wonderfully in that space.
Usually I prefer dryer spaces for my own music – but the resonance was good – sound didn’t disappear into a clouded muffledness but had a clarity and precision it seemed despite the reverbaration.
Apart from going to a Korean late night restaurant with Liz and Tim there was not much time to party afterward. I had to get up early the next morning to go to Ithaca. A lecture in Cornell at 1:30 pm after 4 hours of sleep and a 5 hour bus ride in the morning.
My friend Travis Johns who, as a matter of fact, was the instigator of all this (the guy that wrote the first email), recieved me at the bus stop – all suit and tie very clean and tidy looking – looked like the man I had always known but with a professor Johns aura (I was wearing the same clothes from the gig the night before, T-shirt with potato chips crumbled all over it). I asked him if I cold at least change my clothes somewhere before the lecture. He and his wife Paulina (a great visual artist) took me to the famous Moosewood restaurant, which was right by the bus station.
It slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t Travis’s usual professor look but he was merely putting on a play in order to make me slightly nervous.
Before entering the lecture hall Travis put on Bring the Ruckus by the Wu-Tang Clan and I felt that was fitting. I was ready for the grill, ready to be cooked up or even eaten raw by the Cornell composition students. Turned out the were very friendly. No ruckus needed – no beef – all vegetarian and just very nice and interesting questions and conversations. The “kids” are alright.
Marianthi Pappalexandri-Alexandri, who was my host -formally speaking, also had lots of interesting thoughts and reflections on the various subjects. To my great surprise she was aware of the work of Goodiepal. Why wouldn’t she?
We manage to recruit one of the students for a gig the next day. John Eagle is his name. On Saturday November 12th me, John Eagle, Travis Johns and the animated notation giant Ryan Ross Smith put together a concert of animated notation “cult classics” in the Soil Factory which is an enormously intersting venue.
It is a place where heavy duty academic people from different fields along with heavy duty non academic people meet and host art exhibits, concerts and various get togethers. Most of said get togethers revolve around climate related topics and more specifically often soil related topics. In other words the toilet was very organic – they practice what they preach. This felt like a place where things are actually happening – I felt I was walking into something historical in the making. I encourage anyone to check out this place and the people affiliated with it if people find themselves in Ithaca for whichever reason.
Ryan is an old friend. He has been in Iceland a couple of times. We are part of the world wide animated notation hang but he more then anyone else in that “field” has been very close to the Icelandic scene for a long time. There is a special affinity between his work and the S.L.Á.T.U.R. community and also it helps that we both went to the same school although not at the same time.
On Monday the 14th I went down to Binghamton to give a lecture at SUNY Broome which is where Ryan Ross Smith currently teaches. I lectured on animated notation and related topics – same slides as the Cornell lecture. The students were mostly students in recording technology but we had great discussions and manage to play a part of a score during the lecture.
Binghamton, like Ithaca is located in a beautiful hillside, forested upstate New York area and has a lot of old historical buildings. It has a seemingly different economical situation than Ithaca for instance you see ads in the bus shelters about joining the U.S. Air Force – which I didn’t see anywhere else that I went. Having been in various places in the States, this doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately. Yet it is a very charming town that left a very deep impression on me and the students seemed very nice.
During the end of my stay in Binghamton, me and Ryan discussed some big plans, big big plans. (More on that later).
After a brief stop in NYC eating Dosas in Jackson Heights with Shayna’s boyfriend Sree, I went to Princeton NJ.
My host in Princeton was Jeff Snyder. First I did a brief lecture in his class. The students were there for max/MSP, pd, interactivity and various advanced computer music topics. They were coming from music and/or computer science from what I understand. They seemed to follow quite well despite the seemingly fast pace of the class. I watched a few students present collaborative projects using max/MSP, many of which were quite intruiging and impressive.
In the evening I got to hear the PLORK or Princeton Laptop Orchestra rehearse, including one of my pieces. To my great surprise they didn’t only play laptops which is an element that Jeff Snyder introduced into the group (what, acoustic instruments?) and they did a great job. Also two student pieces were being rehearsed which sounded very good and had complicated technology and some deep conceptual dimensions seemingly. One of the pieces had the stage covered in strings that interacted with the computers and the performers made geometric shapes with them. The other had a bunch of piezoed Ukuleles beefed up and feedbacking intentionally, which was quite up my alley in some way (the ukulele part for sure).
Me and Jeff tried to find places to eat after the rehearsal which had gone over time. He suggested we’d go to his place. It was quite an adventure to see where he lives, he has a small setup there in addition to the very impressive facilities he has on the Princeton campus. In both places he had a studio setup and some instrument building – things in the making. He is a fascinating artist and a human being.
His dog potato greeted us and he made some soup and salad and we sat on his porch overlooking his pedal steel in the living room. We talked about Susan Alcorn and other virtuosi of the pedal steel guitar and the wonders of the instrument. His knowledge of the subject is very impressive.
The last night was the only night I got to stay at a hotel, or more specifically some hotel like facilities in the Princeton Seminary. It was a short night because I had to go all the way to JFK airport and had back home to the land of Ice the next morning. I made it back and now I’m here. I had such a great time on my journeys but oh boy was I tired.
Can’t wait to do it again though!