Phillip Glass on Sesame Street

The always intriguing Tiny Mix Tapes doing a segment on the always odd Phillip Glass (click on picture for link):

Very reminiscent of one of my favorite artists ever, Oskar Fischinger.

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Reflections on PULSE

My band The Wiitles were fortunate enough to perform alongside some truly amazing artists in Savannah Georgia this past weekend. The annual PULSE Art and Technology Festival held at the Telfair Museum has come a long way since I first attended three years ago. Although always intriguing, this year, all stops were pulled and some big time technology artists such as Shih Chieh Huang, “fashion geek” Diana Eng, musical performances by the League of Electronic Musical Robots (L.E.M.U.R), and many others whose M.O. is combining art with electronics and technology.

Upon arrival at the museum, my immediate thought was that we were in over our heads. The lobby of the was taken over by a gigantic sculpture by Shih Chieh Huang which had breathtaking looks and size.

Even better, to my surprise, was the fact that attendants encouraged the attendees to get inside of the sculpture and play around. I think that there is not enough art that allows for play and touch, so I was extremely pleased with this experience. Below is myself and the newest addition to The Wiitles, Matt Gilbert, playing in the plastic:

Also by Shih Chieh Huang, my favorite exhibit from the festival was Counterillumination, which consisted of “kinetic, glowing, “breathing,” environments of low tech electronic creatures inspired by the evolutionary adaptations of life forms that reside in inhospitable environments, for example the deep ocean. The artist states “I create analogous ecosystems in my installations and populate them with organic living things made from common, everyday objects…household appliances, zip ties, water tubes, lights, computer parts, cheap motorized toys and the like.” In Huang’s work “computer cooling fans are repurposed for locomotion, Tupperware serves as a skeletal framework, guitar tuners are rewired to detect sound, and automatic night lights become a sensory input.” Huang’s almost hallucinatory environments have been featured at 01SJ Biennial at the San Jose Museum of Art, the Taiwan pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennalle and in numerous other solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. Huang was also an artist in residence at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where he studied bioluminescence in sea creatures and insects.” (taken from http://telfair.org/current-exhibitions/shih-chieh-huang/). One of the coolest things I have ever seen. Watch this video for more: http://messymix.com/showvideo/twilight.php

Most of the trip was devoted to really hard work, however, and so I missed some things that sound mind-blowing, including a musical performance by a league of robots (L.E.M.U.R), Zemi 17, who combines traditional Indonesian music and storytelling with a modern DJ sensibility. Another that I regret missing is Diana Eng “Fashion Geek”, whose worn technology I thought would be perfect for some future Wiitles shows.

The Wiitles now live in separate towns (in fact are considering becoming separate franchises in the vein of Blue Man Group) so preparing for this show was no easy task. Matt Gilbert and I basically came up with a set and a skeleton for programming and running the set. And, I think, mainly to avoid the problem of too many chefs, the rest of the group went along with it.

But even with those time and stress savers, there was still enough work to keep us busy 16 hours a day from Thursday til Saturday. We had redesigned The Wiitles set and sound from scratch basically. Whereas other shows have relied entirely on Max/MSP, we used Ableton Live on every song in this set, with Max primarily used a way to allow for more flexibility in the way that the Wii remotes communicated with Ableton. Also different was the way in which we brought the Bluetooth data in from the Wii remotes. We had been using a Max patch called aka.wiiremote to convert our Bluetooth data into MIDI, but recently had started using Osculator, which seems to lend much more control and sensitivity when operating the Wii remotes. These devices have already changed the sound and scope of The Wiitles for the better. However, getting them together and introducing all this stuff to the rest of the band over the course of two days was quite a chore.

In all honesty, I thought that we were doomed several times throughout rehearsals. Tensions were running high for a group that plays Wii remotes and mockumentaries. But this gig felt special, especially after seeing the amazing art we were performing alongside. We were lucky enough to be able to rehearse in the enormous Studio A at The Wiitles’s alma mater, the Savannah College of Art and Design. We were also lucky enough to be friends, and to have done this enough times to where now we can ignore or at least accept the stress and get our work done.

No one knew what to expect as far as the type and number of crowd that would show up. The Wiitles have had success in getting press. We’ve been written about in Mix magazine, in South Magazine, in Connect Savannah, oddly, in VSD from France. And the few performances we’ve done have been well attended. But we were usually on riding someone else’s back. We had a lot of people at the GDX conference, but they were there for other reasons besides The Wiitles. But, right at our 3 o’clock start time, the masses started piling in. All in all, the show was a resounding success. The people in charge at the Telfair informed us that we brought the largest crowd ever to their auditorium. The 225 seat auditorium was standing room only, and they eventually had to turn some poor families away at the door.

The thing that surprised me the most was the number of kids that showed up and, even more surprising, the number of kids who stayed through the whole show, and asked questions after the show. And good, encouraging questions like, “Where can we buy songs”. Our soon to be remedied answer, “Nowhere yet”. So stay tuned for announcements about The Wiitles children’s album.

Birds Cover Sonic Youth

Just got a kick out of this:

“French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, in a soon-to-open commissioned installation for the Barbican gallery in London, has set up perches of guitars and other auditory objects for a flock of very cute zebra finches to pluck at with their orange beaks and tiny talons. The coincidental result of their improvised strumming sounds akin to early Sonic Youth. Apparently, the light dissonance of Thurston Moore attacking his guitar with a screwdriver didn’t die out in 1984 (actually, he still plays like that), it just transferred to some canary cousins.”

Read more: http://www.thefader.com/2010/01/21/actual-birds-cover-sonic-youth-in-spirit/#ixzz0djB6K4SX

Interview Posted

Below is a link to the full interview I did with Connect Savannah concerning all things Wiitles. The Wiitles welcome any and all comparisons to Devo:

Connect Savannah

Connect Savannah Interview

On January 30th, The Wiitles have been asked to play the PULSE Art and Technology Festival (click for further details) at the Telfair Museum in Savannah Georgia. I conducted an email interview with Jim Morekis, the editor of Connect Savannah, to discuss The Wiitles and promote the event. Below are his questions and my answers where I tried to briefly sum up Wiitles philosophy and performance techniques:

1. Is the Wii hardware itself actually vital, or could you theoretically have built open-source trigger mechanisms for the audio?

I should begin by pointing out that the actual Wii console does not come into play forThe Wiitles. I think that is often the assumption. We only use the Wii controllers, and we use them to manipulate other software (and hardware) outside of the Wii. The way that the controllers are used has evolved along with the band. At first we used the controllers to trigger samples and synthesis inside of a program called Max/MSP, a graphical development environment for creating music and manipulating video. More recently we have implemented other programs such as Ableton Live, Osculator, and several drum and sound samplers, and control all of them with the Wii remotes.

2. My understanding is that WAV files are triggered by the Wii. Do I understand this to mean that you have a limited number of chords/notes/sounds available at any given time through the remotes? Or are you capable of modulating tone/pitch during performance?

Triggering WAV files is just one of the things we can do with the Wii controllers. We

also trigger loops and can control the way that the samples and loops are modulated in an infinite number of ways. It may be that when the only function of the Wii controllers was to trigger samples, The Wiitles were a bit of a gimic. These days, however, with the ability to modulate our audio with the accelerometer (the device inside the Wii controller that measures acceleration that can be used to sense orientation, vibration and shock), the way we perform is totally unique. The Wii controllers allow us to manipulate audio in ways that could not be done with more traditional MIDI controllers. They also allow us to move around during a performance, anywhere within fifty feet of the computer running our programs. Not being tied to cables or a keyboard is another example of how the Wii Remotes allow for a different kind of performance.

3. Is it wrong of me to say that the chief musical skill involved would actually be percussive in nature, because of the rhythmic triggers of the remotes?

On some songs you would be absolutely correct. We play the Wii remotes just like any

other band would play their instruments… every note is played in real-time by triggering the samples. For other numbers, where modulation becomes the primary mode of performance, that would be incorrect to say. The songs we play are often times a combination of triggering loops and samples, and manipulating those loops and samples. Maybe one person will do the triggering and the other three will perform modulations or vice versa.

4. Is each band member evolving a musical persona, i.e., is the one who takes most of the “leads” beginning to mimic the persona of a lead guitarist, etc?

We’re all pretty nerdy guys. I’m not sure that any of us have any stereotypical “rock star” traits in us… although Ian Vargo (drummer) certainly tries.

5. How do you decide who plays what when?

We always had roles before: I did the vocals, Ian did the drums, Stephen LeGrand played the bass sounds, and Nick Kneece played guitar sounds. This is no longer so straight forward, since often times one of us will modulate several sounds or loops in one song. These days we’ll have discussions during rehearsals and discuss who will play what.

6. Tell me how the Wiitles advance the concept of sound design through their performance art.

I’m not sure The Wiitles are doing anything groundbreaking as far as designing sounds, but the use of the Wii remote allows for motions during a performance that are different for live musicians. Whether or not the way the Wii remotes interact with sound will lead to new sonic discoveries remains to be seen, but I do believe that potential for these types of breakthroughs exist in using the Wii remotes.

Savannah International Animation Festival

I just learned that an animation I worked on in 2009 (now known as last year) was submitted to the Savannah International Animation Festival on Feb. 5-6.  Along with The Wiitles museum gig on January 30, it seems that I just can’t quite leave Savannah. I love this animation though and so I’m posting it here. Please excuse the annoying “Flip 4 Mac Demo” crap, but no matter how much that line of text irks me, I am not going to pay the 30 bucks to get rid of them. The animation has also been submitted it to festivals in Barcelona, Bucharest, and Hong Kong and although the animation team hasn’t heard back yet, I’m pretty confident we’ll be showing in those places too. Enjoy!

Reflections on Happenstance

Happenstance 2009

Last Saturday night I had the good fortune of performing music for The Happenstance at The Earl in East Atlanta. The Happenstance is an annual event held in Atlanta where 30 local musicians are chosen to perform in 6 randomly selected bands. The musicians meet at The Earl (the hippest venue in town) at 10:00AM. Six band leaders are chosen and each of them randomly pick musicians from a hat: a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer, and a grab bag player. The spirit of randomness is taken seriously, and no two musicians who have played together prior to the proceedings are allowed to play together for The Happenstance. After the bands divide up, each go their separate ways to their respective drummers’ practice spaces where they are required to come up with a set of four songs, three originals and one cover. The set is to be performed the very same night at 9:00PM. Any songwriters reading this, of course, know that this is a ridiculous amount of material to come up with in such a short amount of time. The creative pacing and stamina is brutal. The idea is simple enough but brilliant.

The following is a loose recount of events and my reflections on these events:

10:30 – My group quickly assembled, made a few minutes of small talk, and then disassembled to pick up the equipment we planned on using. We met back up about an hour later and started writing. My greatest fear going into Happenstance was not being able to find the common ground between the five strangers that were just forced into a 14’x14′ practice suite. Even though this group was composed entirely of late twenties-early thirties white boys, the diversity quickly became palpable. Prog rock, Electronica, Indie-flavored rock and the undefined genre of a band called Tone Deaf Pig Dogs were mentioned in our first thirty minutes of conversation.

11:30 – We started down two dead end paths. First, the cover song of choice was Outkast’s Bombs Over Baghdad, a local favorite that would have been sure to bring the house down… if only any of us could rap half as fast as Andre 3000. The song choice was a bust, and so in order to keep momentum going, we scrapped that cover and moved on to originals. I have always thought of soul as the great unifier. Who doesn’t like soul? But liking soul and playing soul are two separate things, and so our soul song was cast away along with our Outkast. Two up and two down.

The next path probably should have been our first. The Earl, white boys who were 1990s kids, Tone Deaf Pig Dogs… clearly, rock was our unifier. I was reluctant to go too punk, knowing that every Happenstance band was more than likely to go this route, but there I was starting off with an uptempo E drone. And before too long a melody was written. After that, we thought of dynamics, and an arrangement happened really quickly, despite the democratic nature of the thing. One down and the mood lightened considerably. The next song came out in the same vein and rather quickly.

2:00PM – We got a bit cocky. Time signature changes and an A Capella vocal riff with three part harmony somehow made it into our second song—even though one singer had never sung harmony with a band in his life. It was an unwise move, and we were clearly getting ahead of ourselves. But nonetheless, a couple of exhausting hours later we had two songs completed with chord changes, time signature switches, dynamic swells, melodies, and harmonies (sans actual lyrics). Time for lunch.

3:00PM – On a day this short creatively, even lunch time is work time. While chowing down at Eats on Ponce de Leon Ave., the “grab bag” utility man broke out a piece of paper filled with really great band names…. we christened ourselves Golden Rods. Our new choice of cover song, The Who’s Armenia City in the Sky, was decided on as well. A much better choice for this group. After a delicious and much-too-filling meal and our mini-production meeting, we were back in the practice space—and thoroughly exhausted. While still beaming from our early successes, I started feeling daunted by the second half of practice, not to mention the performance, that lay in front of us.  That lunchtime beer was clearly a mistake.

4:45PM – We tried out The Who, and things quickly took a downward turn. None of our ears seemed to be working properly, and the simple song was giving us all kinds of troubles. Frustration trying to learn the song kept building and building, finally climaxing when our guitarist declared he was “going to sit this one out.”

No one understood at first that not only did the guitarist mean he would be sitting out on our cover but that he would be “just watching from the audience” for the entire show, rendering the first six hours of work that we had put in utterly useless.

It was amazing. My head filled up with curse words right along side thoughts of wondering what the hell I was doing there. I’m not sure how many other people had these sort of crossroad moments during their rehearsals, but I still can’t figure out why anyone who would get so easily flustered would sign up for an event like Happenstance. What’s even more confusing is that this guy kills it on guitar, coming up with raging solos on the spot with a lot of grace and ease.

After twenty minutes of passive-aggressive ranting, we convinced the guitar player to play the simple keys line I was playing, and I would just sing—another first for me; I have always been able to hide behind an instrument while singing on stage. This prospect brought out the fear in me a little, but by this point, I barely cared.

6:30PM – The Who song somewhat learned, we moved on to our last composition. I played a riff on keys that was a straight knock off of a Zeppelin synth line, but I’m too tired to care. It was fun as hell to play.

7:10PM – We ran through the set once all the way through and didn’t screw up too many times. We decided it was time to go get some coffee, or anything else that might cure us of exhaustion, and meet back at 8:00PM for final run-throughs. After getting lost a couple of times on the way to Cabbagetown, two of my band mates and I found ourselves at a bar, and the idea of coffee was scratched for liquor.

8:00PM – Still at the bar, we realized that it was already 8:00PM.

8:30PM – We arrived back at the practice space and decided that we have time for one more run-through even though we clearly don’t. The liquor has helped, and we approached everything with new energy. The set went relatively well.

9:15PM – After arriving at The Earl, we learned that we would go on at 10:55. We’re third in line. Time to sit back and have another drink. The bands were amazing. Some of the material is better than other material, but realizing that all of these musicians had gone through the same grueling day that I had made it all sound amazing. Pulling off the feat is tremendous, and all of the bands were able to do it.

Golden Rods

10:50PM – Our turn was up. The audience and the energy were amazing. The liquored-up crowd had had two bands to warm up to, and our set fed off the leftover vigor. But right before we started playing I had no idea what we were about to play. My brain was overloaded. So, I just started playing an E, and that E triggered it all. “Golden Rods” played. The set overall was pretty good considering. There was some sloppiness and misses (our The Who cover pretty much crashed and burned), but it felt good. And before I knew it, the show was over..

Overall, the experience doing Happenstance was amazing. Before participating, I honestly did not see how it could be done. Writing one song for me has traditionally consisted of endless tweaking, recording, rewriting, doubting, etc., but this format did not allow for any of that. Getting through it was an educational experience.

My other two favorite moments of the show: Matt Jarrard, member of Oryx & Crake and Cousins, playing with the “Arkadelphian Thieves” and the “Edgewood Globetrotters” who found time to hit Target for a costume change.

Matt Jarrard

Edgewood Globetrotters

For anyone who lives in Atlanta and did not come out to Happenstance, shame on ya, you really missed out. For any musician who lives in Atlanta and did not sign up to participate: Why? I can understand being a little bit nervous. I certainly was. But what you take away from the experience made it indispensable to me. Sign up next year! If not for the rule that restricts musicians to only signing up every other year, I’d be playing right along side you in 2010.

Visit The Happenstance for more info.