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Final day finishing up an extraordinarily productive time at the Headlands Center for the Arts …. sun, wind, rain, rodents, coyotes, bobcats, charts, 3 rolls of scotch tape, a couple of reams of paper, 15 1/2″ binders, two exhausting and exhilarating rehearsals in Berkeley and SF last week, and lots of espresso…. add up to a premiere this weekend.

Here’s an interview with Cisco Bradley, great writer, booster and documenter of the improvised music scene, for his blog Jazz Right Now.

 

 

2015-08-26 14.13.23A visit today to Kathleen Quillian’s studio, where she’s prepping her materials for an animation based on the writings and travels of Mary Kingsley. Kingsley is one of my favorites of these Victorian women – she had an insatiable hunger for 2015-08-26 14.15.06knowledge, and besides discovering a bunch2015-08-26 14.15.15 of new West African fish species (yeah, I’m actually a lapsed ichthyologist), she was a self-styled ethnographer (and also a lapsed ethnomusicologist), and wrote eloquently of the need for Westerners to learn about and understand the customs of native people on their own terms.

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From Kathleen Quillian’s tribute to botanist Marianne North…..yes, psychedelic animated stalagtites!

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From Konrad Steiner’s video for Glorious Ravage … filmed near Pyramid Lake.

11872079_10153546679419723_7030874285017375345_oWow, what a night that was. After a strenuous rehearsal where we tore through a LOT of new material at breakneck pace, my stellar mini ensemble of winds and strings set up shop in the tower at the de Young Museum for our second work-in-progress event there this month.  I was a little apprehensive because this was the smallest iteration of the band I’d tried performing with in public – 6 people sounds bare to me now! – and we had no films projected this time, so the onus was really on the music to hold everyone’s attention and create something for the people in attendance to hold onto. We played completely acoustic, and that can also make you feel vulnerable in an uncontrolled environment.

We set up in a circle, and were quickly surrounded by dozens and dozens of people, leaning against the glass walls, the stairwell, just hovering over us. What an incredible experience it turned out to be, to talk about all the ideas, stories, research behind this project for the first time, to a group of really curious, interested people.  And then play the music, as it was that night – no drums or guitar or electronics, no amps or films or vocals.  The ensemble really had to connect and gel to deliver this music as such a small group, and it was very good for us I think to have to be in that slightly uncomfortable, exposed zone.  As the night progressed, and the sun set through the windows, it felt more like all these people were visiting us in our rehearsal space or living room, rather than us having this division that we were performing, they were listening in this very public space. And that lack of formality created a connection that was very powerful for me.  I knew I’d learn a lot about the music, and where I wanted it to go, how I wanted to revise it, in holding these preview events–but I didn’t realize that these events were also little focus groups, a chance to interact with listeners and share some of my excitement about where all this work is coming from, with some new people.  Kind of unbelievable.

{Photo by Dina Maccabee)

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This Friday, six of us will hold court in the very panoramic and sonically interesting tower at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park – more experiments and explorations with the music that will become Glorious Ravage, this time just strings and winds.

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Friday’s event at the de Young Museum – four sets of shiny new music and film, on two stages – was pretty far out. Fay flew out from New York to join the San Francisco musicians in the 19785400603_344438a463_oband, and we tried some brand-new music for two pieces with Alfonso Alvarez’ video, and two different versions of a long meditative piece with Konrad Steiner. Konrad also brought some very short clips that we used for duo and trio improvisations – these were a lot of fun and I think will make it into the final Glorious Ravage as transitional material between the longer, more epic songs.

The audience members I spoke with seemed intrigued and compelled by20219705829_1256677fc2_o watching the work unfold over the course of the night – the same film with slightly different music and improvisations, a different cut of a film screened earlier, with the same musical material … I felt like I could have talked for an hour before or after each set to prepare peoples’ eyes and ears and involve them in all the decisions we were making, struggling with, experimenting with –  but it wasn’t a lecture, so hopefully they were able to figure some of that out on their own.

The biggest thing I’m wresting with, given this new information of trying some of the music live with projection (and only 8 of the 15 musicians), is the need to rein in some of the freedom I want to instinctively give to the 19785404533_1d1d2c3b30_omusicians, so these pieces can be constrained by the length of the films. My impulse is to let things go where they need to musically, when a section is meant to be open-ended and things are cooking. But I have to always keep an eye on time passing… so that balance is something I’ll be grappling with … the music needs to breathe, but also needs to fill a pretty specific container.

header photo: Charles Smith / subsequent photos: Michael Zelner

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This Friday from 6:30-8:30pm, I”ll be joined by Konrad, Alfonso and seven Glorious Ravage musicians for a work-in-progress event at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. This is part of the museum’s weekly Friday Nights series–admission is free–and we will open up our process of connecting with these brand-new films and also pretty new music, to the public, with people milling about and hanging out in the galleries.  We’ll play four 20-minute sets, workshopping new material as we go, combining improvisations inspired by the museum’s spaces with excerpts of musical compositions that will be part of Glorious Ravage.