Stet Lab is, and has been for some time, on indefinite hiatus. [More info…]

Lab report June 8th 2009: play different

I’ve said previously that “I’d be lying if I said I did not have allegiances—in idiom, in tradition, and in practice—I do, but I want to stress the possibility of trans-cultural meetings and creative (mis)understandings.”

I don’t subscribe to a silly ideology of some impossibly impartial, neutral, transcendental performance, free of tradition, history, identity. I’m not necessarily saying any one performance is going to be better than another (although I won’t strongly dispute such a claim), but some are, for me, more (for lack of better word) worthwhile than others; they were worth doing, and worth participating in, for reasons of demonstrating promising avenues of future research, or for putting into motion the results of such research. And I hope that the worthwhile performances / tactics / relationships / modes-of-interaction outweigh the others, or that the others lead, eventually, to worthwhile performances / tactics / relationships / modes-of-interaction.

I don’t want to confuse this sense of lack-of-‘worth’ with misfires that nonetheless do point to avenues of future research. Sometimes the less than satisfactory improvisations bring into relief approaches or contexts that you are not able (yet) to deal with (e.g. my playing with Franziska Schroeder at November ’08 Lab [read my report…]), or a performer highlights your relative lack of inventiveness or skill (e.g. Paul Dunmall blowing just about all of us off stage in February [read my report…]). Even if these are musically less than successful (whatever that means), all these are valuable and are worth participating in as a performer and as a listener. (An example of a performance that I wouldn’t have been entirely happy with as a listener would perhaps be the the duet with Bruce Coates in November ’07.)

Does that make any sense?

Okay, what does this have to do with the June Lab? As much as audience feedback was to the contrary, from my POV at least, my playing at that Lab felt like a retread. As much as the Stet Lab audience, prior to June, may not have heard Han-earl Park, the modal player, Han-earl Park, the practitioner of prepared guitar, or Han-earl Park, the deployer of imitative tactics, these all had a sense of, for me, been-there-done-that.

Also it didn’t offer (again, for me) enough in terms of complex relationships. As I wrote in regards to the previous month’s Lab:

I want the listening experience to be rich and interesting. If you’re sharp, you’d have caught it, made connections, and patted yourself on the back for being a clever listener; if not, well, no biggie, hopefully there’s enough complexity to provide ear-candy and (unintended) connections.

verbatim imitation

One thing I did during the June Lab that I haven’t been doing in a long time was (more or less) verbatim imitation.

I did have fun, but I think I also realized (remembered?) why I’d been avoiding this particular mode of interaction. It’s too easy; the choices are the most obvious. It’s like movies that, uncertain of the intelligence of their audience, get loaded with too much exposition. Hey, didn’tcha catch that? No problem, pal, I’ll tell ya again….

And again, as much as the post-performance feedback was positive, I would have liked the performance (the world onstage) to ask more of the audience. I would prefer to have the audience work to make connections and construct, I don’t care what you call it, ‘significance’ / ‘meaning’ / (projected) ‘intent.’ If I were a member of the audience, I’d want the connections to be more… oblique.

the prepared guitar

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the guitarist / banjo player sticks a couple of chop-sticks into the strings, woo-hoo. Yeah? boring. What’s the point?

I’m not dissing Frith or Rowe, but, seriously, who do I think I am. Am I able to get anything interesting out of this (beyond simple-minded novelty)? Who am I kidding?

And isn’t appealing to “simple-minded novelty” again like that movie that pitches at a less-than-intelligent audience?

audience participation

This was something that I’d wanted to see more of. I’d attempted to stage audience participation at the Lab with mixed results in the past, but it was great to have Juniper Hill’s more direct approach.

…but perhaps the chamber music vibe of the evening (established by Piaras Hoban, Veronica Tadman, et al.) conspired against a riotous on/off-stage engagement from really taking off.

…and I can’t play the banjo

Now that may have been the single most striking impulse to deploying a single tactic. Not having much of a repertoire on the banjo meant that, well, I had a pretty narrow line to walk. Do this, then that, uh, what do I have left, okay, that, that, and, finally, this. Not sure there’s much milage available for Han-earl Park, the banjo player, and necessity ain’t always the mother of invention, but that was, in terms of my playing, the most interesting tactic for the evening.


  1. Veronica Tadman
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    “…but perhaps the chamber music vibe of the evening (established by Piaras Hoban, Veronica Tadman, et al.) conspired against a riotous on/off-stage engagement from really taking off. ”
    Do you believe that maybe if you had gone on first that the Audience may have reacted differently to the Audience Participation. In retrospect I wonder if the Chamber music vibe would have established itself if indeed we had been last, surely we’d have been an anti-climax.

    One question I must ask is: Did you have fun? I think that all pther issues aside, if you had fun then that’s a successful sign no?

  2. Posted July 7, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink


    Do you believe that maybe if you had gone on first that the Audience may have reacted differently to the Audience Participation.

    There’s be no way to know without giving it a shot one of these days.

    But take that post-Stet Lab performance from March ’08 [recording…], and the opening to the March ’09 Stet Lab. The former worked better (in terms of audience participation than the latter. I’m not about to make some sweeping generalization from a few sample points, but I’m no longer sure whether the running order has much to do with it… or that there’s a lot of factors that come to play, and I don’t yet have a good grasp of what affects the overall behavior of the audience.

    Did you have fun?

    I did, but…

    …If you had fun then that’s a successful sign no?

    …I don’t think my personal enjoyment is a good enough reason to ask an audience to spend their time listening.

    As an audience member or listener, I seek a certain (high) quality of music performance (I don’t want to waste my time), and I’m not about to use a separate barometer to gauge my own performances. I can enjoy myself just fine at home, but if I take something to the stage, It’d had better be something that works (however you define that) outside the performer’s little bubble.

    Thoughts? Do you have a different take on this?

    Thanks for reading!