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Lab report June 12th 2008: being the odd-one-out

There’s a lot to be said for being the odd-one-out: you can be lazy.

There’s also a lot to be said for putting two ‘alikes’ together; be it the same instrumentation, or people who share a name. Okay, AFAIK, tactically, as an improviser, that latter factor doesn’t make an iota of difference, but I can vouch for the former.

Murray Campbell and Marian (that’s Marian Murray) fit that bill, and, as the odd-one-out, I get to play lazy. (And as one of my teachers pointed out recently, improvisers are, to some extent, lazy; we’re often attracted to methods, strategies and practices that get immediate results.)

Here’s one thing that was premeditated on June 12th: the line-up. I figured that by doubling the fiddlers, that they’d be pushing each other to interesting places, or at least out of each other’s way. And all I’d have to do is ride the wave.

So let me talk you through the tactical hits-and-misses of two ditties from the POV of the odd-one-out. Open up the listen page, look-up the recordings entitled ‘nine fifty-nine is divisible by seven’ and ‘toilette bourgeoise’…

nine fifty-nine is divisible by seven

Here’s another premeditation (with the usual improviser’s caveat that given the right circumstances I might change my mind): I decided to walk off stage and let the fiddlers sort themselves out; find their own vibe. Once that vibe was established, I anticipated that it’d be a fairly straightforward task to re-enter the fray, with the added luxury of having plenty of time to think about my (re-)entrance.

Incidentally, Marian, Neil O’Loghlen and I tried something like this in the May Lab with, I think it’s fair to say, mixed results. I thought, however, we might be in a better position to pull it off this time.

I was pushing for an opening with some strong, broad gestures.

Aside: the opening guitar ‘licks’ were a followup to Tony O’Connor’s entrance earlier in the evening (listen to ‘ruined train of thought’). …and, in my case, it’s also a straight Frith rip-off if you’re wondering.

Of course (and I don’t really need to tell you this) it didn’t turn out as expected. The high-energy opening wasn’t, instead becoming a set of semi-autonomous statements.

And this is where things get interesting…

…and all the best laid plans…

As soon as I walk off stage, the vibe changes. Heads to some in-bred sibling of some radiation-poisoned cousin of some Second-Viennese-School-by-numbers. Odd (as in delicately odd), beautiful (beautifully tasteless) and, I think at the time, where the f*ck did this come from? If I was expecting Murray and Marian to push each other to interesting places, I certainly got that.

Secondary problem with this strategy: although “having plenty of time to think about my re-entrance” is indeed a luxury, like a lot of ‘prepared means’, they come with Improviser’s Hazard No. 697: exactly when would be a good time to act?

I’d anticipated that the aforementioned vibe that the fiddlers had setup would remain in place for my re-entrance, but, as it happened, Webern-for-Dummies™ instantaneously evaporated when I sat back in. (Berg-for-Dummies™ would later pop up during ‘what is the avant-garde? (discuss)’.)

Another aside: I thought that the physical orientation of the trio (left-to-right: violin, violin, guitar) would make it hard for me to pick out the individual fiddle players. Murray was playing right into my ear while I couldn’t even see Marian. Turned out, however, not to be a problem, although I found myself interacting with Murray and Marian very differently. All interactions between Murray and myself could be a little more elliptical—the relationship was implicit, almost taken for granted. With Marian, on the other hand, I found myself almost telegraphing a call-and-response; all the gestures were slightly broader, a little more explicit, delivered with almost no overlap. (But I wonder if the audience could catch any of that…)

toilette bourgeoise

You can almost hear the guitarist’s thought processes on this one. Goes something like this:

Given that it’s pointless to compete with violins on timbre, sustain, or (micro-)intervalic stakes, what’s the poor guitarist to do? Since there’s no way that the poor guitarist can keep up with a fiddle player who decides to go the extreme scratchy, droney, slidey route, the poor guitarist should stick with the percussive and the polyphonic.

So the guitar goes tappity – tap – tap – t’thump
and the fiddles go krrr’shhhhhhh – scrrrrreeeeechhhh – scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
(starts at around 0’20”).

Or guitar: t’tap – tap – p’pop – pop’p’p’p
and fiddles: weeeeeeeee – eeeeeeeeeeeeeee – eeeeeeeeeeeee
(at around 1’23”).

I tried for the Oxley-esque meters gear-shifts, but the body-mind-instrument complex was not cooperating (I think I had a better shot at this last month).

…or I may have consumed one drink too many (there’s a cautionary tale here somewhere).

Then the question: now what?

I tried a half-hearted juxtaposition of gesture-types, but that really didn’t go anywhere (interesting). Having said all that, listening to the recording right now, I don’t think that particular failure made any difference to the overall performance.

I think we owe the faux-bluegrass moments that starts and sputters across this ditty (beginning somewhere around the 4’20” mark, and coming to the foreground at about 6’50”) largely to Eoin Callery’s and Barry Twomey’s playing / instrumentation earlier in the evening.

In retrospect, the most interesting thing about these ditties was how easily / clumsily, fluidly / abruptly, imperceptibly / overtly the trio configures and re-configures itself. One moment it’s two fiddles + guitar, another it’s one solo fiddle supported by the guitar-violin duo. One moment the guitar-percussion it met by violin scratches and subtones; a single violin in scratch’n’subtone mode is met by guitar-percussion plus violin-percussion; or the guitar-percussion morphs into pseudo-country-finger-pickin’ which recontextualizes the scratches and subtones.

some random observations

Susan Geaney may have done some of her best (most interesting and oblique) playing at this Lab. Rumor has it that she was hung-over. Whatever the case, her usual reserve seems to have gone out the window. (Hope this state is achievable without constant recourse to alcohol.)

The potential volume discrepancy between Eoin’s and Tony’s instruments (unplugged dulcimer vs. amplified bass guitar) offers some challenges. As it happens, Tony spent the bulk of the evening at very low volume levels, and Eoin was whacking the dulcimer senseless, but given how sensitive a player Tony was being, I wonder if Eoin was ever tempted to play quieter?—bringing the whole ensemble down with him—or was Susan’s new-found boldness going to prevent that from happening?

Although it’s by no stretch of the imagination ‘good music’ (whatever that means), the quartet of Murray, Marian, Tony and Veronica Tadman (filed under ‘kentucky fried music’) may be my favorite for its shear technicolor, psychotic strangeness. No, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

One Comment

  1. Posted July 3, 2008 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    One more thing: since that Lab, I’ve been semi-stuck (and not in an unpleasant way) in the post-Campbell pseudo-bluegrass mode.

    One of the hardest things for a guitarist (in particular, perhaps, former-pianist guitarists) to learn was to tightly synchronized your left and right hands’ motions. There’s no point in articulating a string with your right hand if your left hand’s not in position (stopped, muted or otherwise). Consequently, one of the most interesting exercises was trying to unlearn that—to break that left-right link.

    An interesting side-effect of this is trying to create a kind of Oxley-esque multiple meter feel; something I kinda stumble upon around during ‘toilette bourgeoise’ (fast forward to about 4:20). It’s half-baked in this performance, but I’m working on it; it’ll be something I’ll be looking into…

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  1. By teaching diary 08/10/08: diplomacy « Safety First on October 9, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    […] is actually the first time I play in the 2008–2009 Safety First class. Like I’ve said elsewhere, I’m a little stuck in this post-Campbell pseudo-bluegrass mode. (Doesn’t help that my right […]

  2. […] Han-earl Park, June 26, 2008: ‘Lab report June 12th 2008: being the odd-one-out’ […]