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Friday, October 1, 2010

Epic Activities

OK, so I'm sitting in a Ramada Inn in Kearney, NE - obviously it must be time to recount my Spark Experience for the week...

As I mentioned on my personal blog, I needed to blitz up to Minneapolis in order to soundcheck and play a gig at the Spark Festival's Ambient Showcase on Thursday night, September 30. I ended up getting into MPLS at about 1pm, and was shuttled directly into the nearest sleep chamber by my friend and co-conspirator Gregory Taylor. I was able to get in a 3-hour nap before it was time to meet the rest of the band...

First up was Mark Hendrickson, an old mate of Gregory's and the guy that was going to do our visuals. After a hardy discussion about Ben Frost, minimal techno and NATO, we descended into the streets for dinner. Ate, then grabbed the modulars and laptops and headed across the street to the gig-site at the LovePower church:

Up two flight of stairs, we could do little but stash our stuff to the side while everything was getting arranged. Soon we were given the go-ahead, and setup began. Since I don't do any setup ahead of time, I spent time fiddling with some patching ideas while the others did their wiring. This is when the first epic bit took place: Tom Hamer, the table-top percussionist, plugged his mixer/pedal rig into a power strip, then saw an immediate flash of light as everything powered up - then powered down. It turns out that the person performing right before us had a Euro-rig of some sort, and a 220 Volt transformer was connected to that power supply. Immediate and complete burnout of Tom's rig.

This gave us a harsh sour note to begin with, and we were all horrified for Tom's plight. In addition to doing some unique foot-controlled miking of his percussion, he was also going to be the central point for recording our set - meaning that this one was going to be "You Had To Be There".

Once we were set up (with my beautiful modular blinking in the background), we needed to get out of the way for the first player (So/On) to set up and begin his set. The four of us (Gregory Taylor, Tom Hamer, Mark Hendrickson and me) went down to street level to hang out in the fresh air. After some smart talk and a couple of smokie treats, Tom and Mark wandered off to take care of whatever business they had. Gregory and I stood around talking when all of a sudden there was a BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM sound right across the street, matched with a spectacular fireworks of sparks.

Except it wasn't fireworks. It was all of the pole-mounted electrical transformers for the neighborhood. There was a second BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM and lightshow, then the area (maybe eight blocks or so) was plunged into darkness. No electricity? Sort of a problem for an electronic arts festival...

It was pretty clear that this was the end of the evening for us, so we wandered upstair (bathed in candlelight) to begin collecting our gear. While moaning about our luck, Ali Momeni stopped by and asked us how much power our rigs would use. We did some quickie calculations, then were floored by his next statement:

"I've got a generator that I'm going to wire up. We'll drop a wire from the 2nd floor, and I can have you guys playing in 10 minutes. Sound OK?"

OK? Are you kidding? So we helped get things settled while Ali, JP and the other staffers quickly got the generator going, hit the PA power then got our stuff lit up. After a short finish for So/On, we were up.

Since we didn't want to overtax the generator, we were set up with candles for our stage lighting (along with Mark's projector throw). We were a little shaken by the whole thing, and I was worried that it might be a little, um, off. But with a candlelit modular rig, Gregory's laptop, Tom's percussion and Mark's single-projector visual rig, we jumped in to a total improv set.

Tom started with a gentle rattle, while I came in with a low pitch-drifting moan. Gregory captured that and started warping it slightly while I jumped up an octave. All of a sudden, it became crystal clear: despite whatever schizo experiences we'd taken on leading into this, we were going to click, and to click hard.

Nobody knows how long we were playing - it could have been 20 minutes, or it could have been an hour. I don't know. At various times, one or the other of us would burst out laughing, or fall back in awe of Mark's visuals. Mark and Tom started riffing with each other, Gregory rode the dynamic wave up and down throughout the set, and I was patching furiously to first match the feel of the others, then to lead them into new territory. All of a sudden, it was clear that it was time to stop. I dropped an LFO into a quantizer with a four-note scale, then faded in randomly to provide a gentle, tiny melody as Tom provided a simple ambient counterpoint. When we stopped, there was a moment of silence, then the crowd roared it approval.

By then, the city had come to the rescue, lights were restored and all was good again. We spent over an hour talking to people that were curious about the gear, curious about the process and curious about "what was pre-recorded" (a common problem when things sound this good). After that, it was a retreat to a hidey-hole, where we recounted everything from our gig-euphoria to our favorite 80's tunes, then bed.

This morning, I woke up with a glow. Gregory and I went out for breakfast, then wandered over to see some of the installations on display. The best, by far, was Mark Dave Hosale's work "An Uncommon Affair At Tooting Bee Common", a four screen non-linear film installation that was enhanced by a visit from the artist. I could have spent hours...

Left at noon, here (in Kearney) at 9pm. Home tomorrow. Much work to be done, many kids to be seen...