Saturday, June 28, 2008

A crazy day

The month of June has been very busy and very good music-wise, culminating with the IJO playing a fab show at the Jazz Festival on Monday night, and a double-bill with the quartet for Canada Day. In fact, life has been more or less non-stop since re-Cycles moved into its new shop back in early April, as it seems there's always something that needs doing there, and now the shop is way too close to my place (3.5 blocks). But last Thursday was a special nutso day...

I have my regular gig with Steve and Tom at the restaurant each Thursday from 5-8, but Tom called me for another gig that was scheduled from 2-5. Now, we take these gigs because the restaurant one is not guaranteed - if the gig is called off due to the weather we do not get paid, so obviously one takes the gig with guaranteed money. But in the interest of not wanting to strand Steve by subbing out 2/3s of his trio, and also because we're mercenary bastards that want to make as much money as we can (wink), we came up with a plan.

We said we could do the restaurant gig if it was bumped to 5:30, because the 2pm gig was about ten blocks away in the downtown core. Steve said OK, but we made a hassle for ourselves, because there's no way to tear down from one gig, travel during rush hour, and set up for the next in that space of time! So we had to take gear for the later gig and stash it at the restaurant ahead of time, so Steve could pull the stuff out and have it waiting for us.

The 2pm gig was a quiet one in an office, so Tom had minimal gear and I just used two drums and cymbals, and then that stuff could be combined into the other gear for the second gig. But since we'd be moving it all during rush hour we knew we'd just be sitting in traffic forever, whether in Tom's van or with my cargo trike. So... we were going to move it on foot, using a dolly and a handcart. Why not, as it's certainly faster than driving at that time of day!

Here's how it went:

Noon: Tom and his partner pick me up and we proceeded to the restaurant to stash the gear.

12:20: Drove to the office building for the 1pm set-up.

1:30: Our sax player shows up and we do the gig from 2-5, and then the day turned rainy so we figured the 5-8 gig was off.

5:00: Packing up we had not yet heard from Steve via Tom's cell phone canceling the gig, but presumed it to be off since it was still spitting. So Tom calls his wife and she will pick us up and we'll just take our time through traffic to get back to the restaurant to collect the gear we didn't end up needing.

Or not...

5:30: Inching our way along Wellington St. and passing the restaurant (have to approach it from behind) and we see Steve standing on the opposite sidewalk obviously looking for Tom and I, since we're supposedly walking our gear down that sidewalk.

5:33: Make it to the back of the space and I run and tell Steve we're here and why we took so long. No worries, as the patio was just starting to fill up and we couldn't have started earlier anyway, but now that we're here let's go!

Turns out the restaurant had said to Steve that might as well wait on the weather until we showed up to decide if the gig was on, since they all knew we had to return. But Steve forgot Tom's cell number and so could not tell us this. So we were off the hook in terms of being behind schedule, we got the gig started at 6:00, and were able to play two sets until the rain started up again at 8:00.

So it was nice to finish early, because THEN Steve and I had an orchestra rehearsal from 9:00 til 11:30, and it allowed us time to grab some food along the way (oh, and also stop at our individual residences to pick up the sheet music we had both forgotten in all the hectic-ness), and then out to St. Laurent and Smythe.

So that was three music events pressed into just over eleven hours. I was very happy to finally fall into bed that night...

Oh, and today's Canada Day gigs? The first one was for the Mayor's Breakfast with a 7:15am load-in, so I was up at 6:00am. We did that gig, I came home and had a nap, then off to the second one at External Affairs because it had a 2:30 load-in. Then went and had dinner, then back to play from 6:00 till the fireworks.

And with that, it'll be a 19-hour day by the time I get to bed...

What a maroon... (to quote Bugs Bunny)

Our mayor continues on his path of dopiness, this time posting ill-advised comments about various City councilors on his blog. Read all about it at this Ottawa Citizen page.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Propeller Dance Fundraiser follow-up

I had a fabulous time last week at this event! The dance class that I work with performed at the Tuesday night show, and everything went well. Propeller Dance president Dave Scrimshaw has a pile of photos at his Flickr page. Ours is the group dressed in black and using pieces of fabric as props (above photo).

When I was at the official media launch of Propeller Dance the previous week, a profound thing was said. Both Renata and Shara (co-founders) said they are often told "it's wonderful what you do for these people", and Renata said (paraphrasing) "they also do something wonderful for us - they show us how to move in ways that our professional dance training never gave. So we all learn from each other."

And it's very true. People with disabilities, whether developmental or physical, have to work and play around certain "limitations". But those limitations just make a person find their own, very personal way of expressing themselves. Yes, you can indeed dance in a wheelchair! And these classes are for people of all abilities, so we indeed all help each other to transcend physical, mental, and emotional barriers.

For me, I've spent most of my life sitting behind a drumset and playing fairly straightforward music. Yes, I can of course improvise (and love to!) and am often looking for ways of putting my stamp on the music, but both with the Grasshoppa dance group and Propeller I often have to make music and sounds on the spot, and not always just melodic ideas or themes. And it took me a little while to feel comfortable with the idea that some of the more "interesting" ideas were musically valid. But the more I do this the more I know I'm doing the right thing.

But back to the event...

I not only get to provide music for this inspiring group, but as often happens when the various classes get together (both at shows like this and also our Community Days) the different accompanying musicians help each other out when musically suitable.

At all of these events the Sunday performing group is the main feature, and they were ably accompanied by Dominique St. Pierre (synth, effects, African flute, darabuka, and electronic effects) and Mike Essoudry (drum set, clarinet, and kalimba). I joined them where appropriate (as they also did with me), which makes things interesting because we do not rehearse this ahead of time. Dom and Mike have of course worked out the structure of their music, and so having me add my little bits won't throw them off. I have just have to keep my ears wide open and stay out of their way and watch for any cues.

Here's our collective set-up, with my gear on the left:

For my group, this is only the second time we've performed together, and I had to create sound for about 25 straight minutes with no delays or dead air between sections. And each of the seven sections had its own theme, so I needed to create different moods or textures throughout.

In order to do this I decided to add some more hardware to my usual set-up. So in addition to my trusty Kawai K4 synth, alto recorder, djembe, and percussion toys I included my 1990-vintage Roland SPD8 drum pad, a very new Boss RC-2 looping pedal, and ran it all through an equally new Behringer K1800FX keyboard amp (the little amp I use for classes is not powerful enough for most live gigs).

While the amp is great (having four channels, 7-band EQ, and built-in effects), it's that cool little looping pedal that made things interesting. I programmed the loops ahead of time with the synth and drum pad, and ran the pedal into its own channel, with the synth bypassing it into another channel so I could separate the effects. So I could fade the loops in and out and let one run while calling up another synth sound, or hold a synth chord or play the drum pad or djembe one-handed while quickly changing pedal programs.

Here are two views of my set-up:

The only tricky part was that I got both the amp and pedal about two weeks before the gig and so did not exactly have a ton of time (incl. only two rehearsals) to get familiar with them! And I'm an acoustic drummer before I'm anything else musically, and using electronics and pregramming, while not foreign, is not something I've much of in a live context. But as noted earlier, part of the thing with this experience is taking myself out of my comfort zone of sitting behind the drums and grooving. And I'm loving it!

So much so that I'm also incorporating the amp, drum pad, and pedal into my Thursday night gig at the Met with the Orbiters. Tom is playing his baliset, which has full MIDI capabilities for all sorts of sounds, and Steve is running his trombone and voice through an effects pedal at times, so I thought I might as well join the fun. More on that in another post...

And as usual, during the dance event the cargo trike waited patiently, sporting its new cargo box cover, made in my usual fashion from scavenged sheets of coroplast, held together with duct tape, and tied down with bungee cords. It so far has worked extremely well, keeping all the gear (both acoustic and electronic) as dry as possible.

Swap Box

I had never heard of these things, and a month or so ago found this fastened to a lamp post a few blocks from my place. What a lovely idea!

Fellow HPVOoOer RealGrouchy has more about this at his blog.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The stupidity of Critical Mass

I've been wanting to post my thoughts on CM for a while now, but the Interwebz once again have saved me the typing so I can simply provide links to others that have already said it:

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Propeller Dance

I've been working with Propeller Dance for a few years now, providing musical accompaniment for the classes taught by Renata Soutter, who I met through the Grasshoppa Dance Exchange.

Propeller started out as DanceAbility, which is dance classes for people of all abilities, whether handicapped or in a wheelchair, as well as able-bodied people. It operated under the auspices of The School of Dance, and last year Renata and co-founders Shara Weaver and Alan Shain decided to go on their own and hence Propeller Dance was born (someone else owns the rights to the name DanceAbility, so they could not call it that as a legal entity).

The original class was (and still is) on Sundays, and it's the main performing group. Twice a years we have Community Day performances and once a year a fundraiser at the NAC's Fourth Stage. Our Monday class did well at our last Comm. Day, and is turning into a performing group in its own right, and so this year we will be at the fundraiser as well.

It's taking place over two nights this week, Tuesday June 3rd and Wednesday June 4th, though our group is only performing on Tuesday. I will be playing keyboard, djembe, percussion, and recorder, all during the course of our 20 minute segment. I've got a new Behringer amp for my keyboard, and a Boss RC-2 looping pedal that I'm still getting used to (just got it last week, and it's a neat little tool for making more involved music when one is the only musician). More on this gear in a future post, as I'm also using them on my regular Thursday gig with the Orbiters.

Please check the brand new Propeller website for more info on this week's shows.

Oh, and the Monday classes are out in Vanier, but in my years of doing this I've only used a car three times, with all the other trips done by bike (in the winter, towing a trailer) or via the cargo trike.