In January 2012, I played live improvised music for two consecutive evenings for the opening of an art gallery retrospective show by my artist friend John Steines. The retrospective show in Madison was called Languages, Acquired and Intuitive, featuring mostly oils painted over a period of some years. In his artist statement, John writes, in part:
Art, the language of images, is both necessary and crippling. Images can and do speak, but experiencing art means that we must participate: We need to create anchors into understanding. The individual experience of life as art and created into art evolves out of intense personal process.
The work in this show communicates that which is unwritten and un-writable for me. The pieces amplify my experience and the way I have lived. I want to give life to the universal within the vernacular, all of it situated in a large common public space—to open public conversation of my own understanding of meaning and experience.
This speaks to me of the sometimes pre-verbal, inarticulate nature of art, even of poetry which often fails to contain life's experiences in mere words. Art can communicate, and does, but indeed we must participate: we complete the meaning of art by finding within it hooks into our own lives, our own experience. One core aspect of the haiku aesthetic is the idea that the reader completes the poem, out of his own life's experience. The spareness of the haiku form, and its reliance on imagery rather than didactic telling, leaves the door open for readers to bring their own experience to the poem, to find within it echoes from their own lives and emotions. Some of the mystery and beauty of haiku is that we do in fact share with the poet the experience of the poem.
That kind of connecting is what good art does, sometimes seemingly effortlessly. I have often felt that connection, when deeply involved with playing music for an audience, or when writing a poem at white heat. I don't seek out these moments as the purpose of my art-making, but I thoroughly immerse myself in them when they do occur.
I sat in a corner of the gallery for two cold nights in early winter, playing whatever music I was moved to create on the spot. This isn't my first improvised solo gig, nor my first gallery gig. I enjoy playing gallery gigs, actually, as I like to be able to create ambient soundscapes that can take a long time to develop and change. It's inspiring to being sitting in a room surrounded by beauty, by art, by the feelings that the art evokes, and that can be fed into the music-making as a direct response. When I was taking a break from live playing, I played pre-existing tracks of my own recorded music. I had been asked to do this gallery opening a few months prior; the very next day, I left on my roadtrip to the Southwest and California.
For this gig, I played Chapman Stick with some simple effects processors, and two or three softsynths on my iPad, including the AniMoog app, an excellent synth app developed by the people who make the Moog Synthesizer. This is truly a great instrument, a professional-quality electronic music instrument—on your iPad! I ran the Stick through a looping device as well, although it's perfectly possible to play iPad and Stick at the same time, one hand each. I recorded both evening-long performances onto my laptop. I ran both iPad and Stick through my portable Mackie mixer, mixing them live to speakers in the room, and a stereo mix directly to the laptop. This was a great gig in which to try out the iPad as a concert instrument, and it performed wonderfully. For some future gigs, I fantasize showing up with my Stick and a backpack with my iPad and laptop, and maybe a foot-operated controller pedal or two—and that's all. A truly portable musician's performance rig.
After these gallery opening shows, I was on the road for over a month. Now that I'm back home, I finally had time to listen through the raw live recordings, to audition the musicscapes that I had made live. I've spent the last week or so going through the recordings from both nights. I've winnowed down several hours of live recordings to pick out some of the best moments, trimmed and edited them into individual tracks, and assembled them now into a short album. Just over 40 minutes of reasonably good performances. Remember that for a live gig there are almost always a few glitches or minor problems, and nothing is ever as perfectly-recorded as a studio album. That's also the joy of live music, its spontaneity and exploration.
I love playing completely improvised music, not knowing what will happen next, following my feelings, playing suspended in the air like a trapeze artist without a safety net. Things can go wrong, certainly, but when they go right, special moments are created.
I will eventually release this material as a live album, titled Opening Languages, probably when I get myself set up with the new music/composition website I am building at the moment. I intend to make the album available for sale on iTunes, and other venues. Meanwhile here is one track from this live improvised music, which you can audition here via streaming.
Opening Languages: i will not be sad in this world