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.

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