Friday, February 17, 2006

Utenzil's 'Wondering' #1 on Alt/Gothic chart

Musikliga is a fun independent music chart that presents music from all over the world. They mix abbreviated samples of major releases (like the samples you'd hear on Amazon or the like)in their chart contests along with independents, and listeners vote, moving the various tracks up or down in the overall chart list. A track I posted many months ago, 'Wondering', has moved up to #1 in the weekly and daily Alt/Gothic charts, and is in the top 50 weekly chart over all genres, which is some surprise recognition, particularly because of a largely German language listenership. If you visit there, you'll see it's kind of a fun webside :).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

1/29 detailed recap

This is maybe more detailed than necessary, and as such may be boring, but because he blog purports to be a chronicle, I chronicle this somewhat watermark night at the Black Cat in DC, 1/29/06, where I am playing in connection with other laptop musicians and even Ableton users (as opposed to solo or in a mixed offering venue).

I will attempt to provide as detailed a chronicle of this night as possible:
it was so much fun, with some minor harrowing moments-- perfect to include in the Adventure blog.

The load-in for the gig was scheduled at 8pm. Performance to start 9-ish. A dinner invite went out, for 6pm. I knew I probably would not be able to make that.

If there is no traffic, I live about 50 mins from downtown DC. Sunday night, should be minimal traffic. I have a rough idea of where I'm going, so I want to allow 1.5 hrs.

My wife makes a nice dinner, it really was very good, kids are happy, we had a full day, they went ice skating. I was afraid I'd be late, time to drive cut shorter than I'd planned, I leave about 7:09. But traffic is not a problem.

I earilier had planned to bring a bunch of stuff: guitar, pedals, novation controller... the night before, I had pretty much decided I would bring a laptop and my P5 glove. Been fighting a cold, not feeling like lugging stuff, and this turned out to be a pivotal decision.

Dash out of the house, some pre-performance giddiness (shameful, as old as I am to be giddy)-- have to run back into the house to get the bag with the P5 and some cabling, then I'm on my way.

I take Wisconsin Ave into the city from the Beltway, don't know if it is the fastest but I'm familiar with this route. The gig is at the Black Cat, 1800 block NW of 14th Street in the Garden District.

Making pretty good time. I'm on Mass Ave at just a couple of minutes before 8.

D K, from Ableton forum, is organizing the event. I give his cell a call to let him know I'm running late. I'm a little bummed because he had said DON'T BE LATE but here I am.

Cut east across the city on 15th Street, lights are in my favor, cut down a small sidestreet to 14th, a bit of hunting for street parking, find a close spot just two doors up from the Black Cat.

An older brick building with a storefront more about it here. It reminds me of an experimental theatre where a theatre group I was in put on a show, waaaay back long ago in high school.

I tell the guy at the door that I'm here to perform, he is cool, obliged to card me, hand stamp, I'm directed to knock at the door at the left towards the far end of the bar: the 'Red Room', bare brick walls, a large room, brick heavily coated in a kind of comfortable red paint, sparse decor, 'underground'feel.

The door at the back goes to the Backstage room. It is very sparse, a cinderblock cube, walls painted a more industrial drab. In the corner, white sheets, for the vj's projections. In the other corner, there is an L-shaped bar, about 10X8, where the house PA equipment sits.

It's about eleven minutes after eight, but already they are mostly set up for the
first acts. I'm scheduled to be next to last, so I will be setting up while the
6th act is playing.

I meet Doug (D K), he's playing under the name D.A.R.K..

He is quite possibly the most personable extremely busy person I've ever met, and later on he demonstrates he is freaking talented along with all of that. He asks if I'll be able to set up indicating a small square area on the table: with just the scaled back set up, it's plenty of space. The others are cool too, all mid 20s/early 30s, seems like.

Ray (Phatso Brown) comes in, he's got turntables: he'll kick it off, and is also the backup in case somebody locks up-- he did not have to.

Some changes in the lineup, Suburban Bather has cancelled. Also, an unscheduled participant, Elena, who is a French Ableton user, is added. She has a more elaborate setup, keyboard, effects rack, laptop. Some quick adjustments to the batting order of the first acts were agreed upon.

DK has to get someone to turn on the house PA. Some preliminary soundcheck occurs, it's all working. Visuals appear on the white screens hung at right angles on the two walls in the back corner behind the stage. In all, this is not a small feat: out of seven electronic acts six are set up, the DJ and VJ are set up, in the space of an hour. With the one cancellation, I am the seventh.

Everyone is busy, I will be busy later, but I feel like doing something. I pull out my laptop and turn off the sound themes. I put together my final plan for what I'll be doing. I will play two sets, I will use two simultaneous instances of Live. I will stop the first one, which will trail, and I will start the second. The first will have a bit of some P5 glove, the second will have a lot.

I have tried running two Live instances at once at home, it worked as long as I pre-loaded the two Live sets.

It strikes me that I have not run two Live instances and Rejoice, that I use as HID to MIDI mapping software for the P5 glove, at the same time.

Will it work? I guess I'll find out.

Doug introduces the manager, Arnold, who asks everyone not performing to leave the room. He asks me if I'm performing, I say yes, Arnold says "give this guy a band stamp" to the doorman, a black stamp goes on top of my red stamp: 3rd degree-burn looking splotch on the back of my right hand.

At the clearing of the room, people get a little more quiet, intent on completing their piece of the setup. The doors open, a trickle of people, a bit of buzz, anticipation begins.

Lights go down, the DJ starts to spin, he's into it. Beats, sorta techno but not quite, fast but not too fast.

The visuals are going: freaky stuff, weird, funny. Patchwork animation, mixed video tracks, some color, some black and white. The DJ simply shuts down one of the tables wrrRRRrrrrhuuurbubmmmmm ... ha, that's funny! and starts the second.

The DJ fades down, the first act starts up: 'The Last of Us'.

There is a bit of volume adjustment, not much.

He's using a small wireless qwerty eyboard, with the keys blanked out, seems like some are mapped to notes, others to MIDI CCs. Its cool, he does well.

At this point, there has been no dancing, but definite applause, some head bobbing, more people coming in. There are a few chairs and tables, and a bench along one wall, but mostly floorspace. Most people are standing, some people sit on the floor. I'm counting about fifty people at the start of the first act, it's about 30 minutes after the 9pm showtime, and now more people are coming.

The second act is Elijah B. Torn. He's using Live to loop bass guitar using a Behringer MIDI footpedal, mixing it over beats, reversing some of the phrases. The bass starts out sort of 'regular' sounding, then starts to morph into this liquid sound.

Visuals are intense, a person being swarmed over by sort of electrical worms, and reformed into some cyber-collage of humanoid parts and machined extrusions. It is also clear that my 'smoke-free venue' preference is being seriously mangled.

Third act is Cedric. He's using a small M-Audio controller, and a Mac. He starts off with some distant chords, like the ghost of an old fashioned calliope.Then, he unleashes beats, beats upon beats, ratchets hard on a filter or two, his set has a really nice build, to a torrent of drums, then smoothing out to return to the friendly calliope chords.

During Cedric's set, DK tells me I should set up while he is playing, he'll let Cedric know, he prepares to take the stage to follow Cedric. The crowd is moving closer to the stage and there is some dancing. DK leans over his kit and Cedric starts to wind down, there is strong applause. Ced smiles and thanks the crowd: he's a class act. And then DK begins his transformation into D.A.R.K. ...

Airy chords and a quick pulsing beat, he's leaning way over his kit, leering mad scientist style. His set is intense, layers of beats, huge kicks. Almost all of the acts have started off a little tentatively, but he dives right into it.

A few people have started dancing, it's hard not to. It's funny, but with all these driving beats, the flashing video mayhem, you'd think the room would be more frantic, but it's actually very laid back, mellow, comfortable.

One pair of dancers, moving just like the proverbial 'tigers on vaseline', really good.

Minutes are flying by... I go up to Cedric to tell him his set was good,and then I see that he hasn't cleared off yet. I mention this, he smiles 'oh yeh, Doug told me to break down, I guess he meant right then... "

The equipment is set up on square restaurant tables laid end to end forming a continuous flat surface about 15 feet long and at the edge of the stage. Sheets draped over the tables, down to the floor in front, provide a barrier behind which one can crouch and carefully set up/tear down. Cedric crouches and makes his way up behind D.A.R.K., behind this barrier, and pulls down his MIDI controller and Mac.

Elena then creeps up, moving her gear (setup on a keyboard stand) into place behind and to the right of D.A.R.K., who has unleashed a massive bassdrum sample that is filling the room.

I'm a little worried that there will be room, but it's then my turn to set up. I slide my notebook out of my backpack, and insert the Echo Indigo IO card into the PCI slot. I grin, getting excited now...

DK motions me to come around, indicating a clear spot. I creep up, staying down below the tables, notebook under one arm and bag with P5 tower and glove in the other. I set the notebook into the area, plug up the power supply and boot up. I load up Live, two instances, selecting the set for each. This gives me two ready sets back to back. Looking good...

DK's set is done, Elena has started playing: smashbang industrial-techno backing her French semi-sung vocals. Each performer has been similar enough to sustain a feel, but definitely different enough to generate interest.

I plug in the P5 to the USB port. There is something not quite right, the power indicator light comes on, but the glove movements are not recognized (the power light flickers when movement is detected, but no flicker).

DK is now crouching next to me, I hand him the 1/4" outs from the Indigo card, and he's finding inputs on the board.

I reboot, hoping this will get the glove to come online. It does. I grin at DK, I'm set.

At this point, Elena is is done, her two-song set was relatively short. Slopes has stepped up: his set up was in place and is well thought out, his Dell laptop on a stand slightly higher than the MIDI controller at waist level. He's also got a video camera pointed at his screen, which he's dropped over to the VJ to mix in images from the app on his screen. A sparse beat becomes more complex, and soon he's off to the races. He's got a fair number of people dancing halfway through his set.

DK and myself sit crosslegged behind the tables as Slope's polyrhythms bounce up and around, we chat a little bit. He has some calming words... "ever been to the Bahamas? Remember how the air smelled, how warm and relaxing it was..." this was appreciated, because I was a little tense.

I fasten on the P5-- I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

Then we sit up to give things a go. But...

there is something wrong, no signal coming through to the board, although I'm seeing output on my master. I check my audio driver prefs, switch these from ASIO4ALL to the Echo-supplied ASIO WDM driver (shouldn't matter). Still no signal. Slopes is winding down... Agh! will there be some lag? We had said we were shooting for no 'dead air', Elena has already had a brief pause between her songs (not a big deal, and she wasn't part of the email discussion anyway).

Also, Phatso can fill if need be... but, yow! Ray is not at the 'tables!

Slopes ends his set, gets applause, hoots: his supporters are well represented. I can slide in at the end but... still no signal...

argh, some unwanted silence, enough for someone to yell "Hey, c'mon, rock the hits!" It's a second or two, but seemed longer.

DK tries another set of inputs... audio ensues, the crowd relaxes. He says "Alright, Mike, we've got you now." The mellow mood in the room resumes, and now Utenzil has got to... do stuff.

My mind is a little off focus, so I wrestle it back 'inside the set'... I grin a bit: I've forgotten half of what I've planned...

DK hops up "Ok, I've just got to crank this sh*t up"... and goes off to adjust the P.A..

When we were mucking with the sound, I had activated a MIDI clip that I had intended not to start with, just to get a sustained signal: an arpeggiated 16th note up-down riff. It didn't really matter. I'd just do what I had roughly conceived as the 'B' section first, then the 'A'. So I xfade into a simple drums with hihat, then start layering: claves, agogo bells detuned down, guiro, congas-- a kind of carribean feel that I'm going to layer the arp'ed riff along with more textures/ambient chords over.

Using Session view, running a mixture of audio and MIDI. Synths are Operator and some other freeware VSTs.

The 'experimental' part of what I'm doing, I guess, is that I've got my MIDI riff clip running through randomization, chords and scales, being fed into several synths which in turn have the input transposed or limited to a smaller range of notes, as well as having different amplitude envelopes, where turning off and on any or the other of the effects has an interactive but not entirely predictable effect on the overall sound.

I've got the beats going through ping pong delay, also, to give it that much more 'bounce'.

There is some more general dancing going on, I let the beat ride for a bit. I'm using a beatslicing VST, and it's getting some nice variations coming out. I throw the ambient chords in, and then modify the arp and scale settings to vary the 16th riff. I am using the touchpad as well as the P5 glove to control things.

I flip to an empty scene for a couple of bars, let the ping pong delay carry the beat through, dwindle almost to silence... and the retrigger the 'A' section scene. Various adjustments, arp: note value, hold on and off; drop in a beat repeat; adjust beatslicer mode...

The set has gone through a few different sections, I get the feeling it's time to move on (in retrospect, this was really not the case: I had gone for maybe 6 minutes-- someone captured an MP3 'bootleg' from their PC mic that revealed this). I stop the clips on the beat, and I pull the other Live instance to the foreground and trigger the first scene.

WOOAAAMMMAMMa! A paralyzing blast of sound, the master fader was cranked on that second instance... yeesh. I adjust, cursing myself-- I let a couple of things get me rattled. I set my mind to redeeming myself, c'mon get steely eyed... this set will make more use of the P5, it's mapped to notes: load up the Rejoice parameters that are associated with this set.

Locking in a little better, feeling it... I check the MIDI input track, feeding MIDI to multiple tracks this time also, but this time not from a clip but straight from the glove.

The glove is righthanded, I'm working the touchpad a bit with my left hand. Each finger of the glove is mapped to notes, running through MIDI effects and controlling several synths at once. I was feeling this more, I know I activated chords at one point but mostly was just allowing my hand to float with the sound, and then to boost it a little when I felt it needed it, floating the melody over the beat, not really trying to 'play a tune' but to juxtapose the notes and beat.

At one point I noticed one track was not armed, it housed a synth, so I armed it, and then remembered why I thought this set would be a good one: a sort of distant airy sound from that track, a kind of 'harkening echo': this was the audio Yves Tanguy effect, the dimly recognizable things looming in the sea mist.

I ended the melody on the tonic note of the chord that I had mapped, not that it mattered much-- I realize that I could have gone on for much longer and maybe should have.

Audience response/applause was strong, generous I thought given what I saw as slip ups on my part. Somebody (DK? couldn't see, stage lights in my eyes) thanked everyone for coming out, Ray started up the tables and played us out.

A younger guy that reminded me a lot of someone I knew in junior high came up and wanted to know all about the glove-- he was intent, I was more tired than I realized and answered the best I could: he brainsponged up the answers I gave him and said thanks.

Some conversation with a few of the other artists, and someone who had heard I was playing and had come out to see me (!!). Very pleasant all around. Wanted to take a little time to stay, but work the next day and all, was kind of tired: that plus the nagging snuffles/cold thing urged me off into the night, to the sidestreet parking place and onward home.

It was a great night.