National Public Viking

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On performing 'Twilight and Ghost Stories'

|current sounds| King Crimson- In the Wake of Poseidon

You know, I think there's a higher per capita of pretty girls in Athens, Georgia (and the south, for that matter) than any other place I've ever been. And it can't possibly have to with what's in the water lately, because Georgia ain't got none.

I drove down to Athens two weekends ago to perform with Chris Schlarb in a live interpretation of his beautiful 40-minute sound collage, Twilight & Ghost Stories, at Next to Last Fest. (The CD's out on Asthmatic Kitty, home to Half-Handed Cloud, Sufjan Stevens and all those related acts.) Chris sent me an e-mail about a month or so ago asking A) what Athens musicians would be capable of handling a composed improvisation, and B) if I'd be willing to play acoustic guitar.

Spent Friday at Wuxtry Records seeking out any CD with John Fernandes' handwriting on it. Dude has never steered me wrong before, and he wasn't in that day, so I found a couple discs with his over-ecstatic blurb-age on 'em: Joyce's Nelson Angelo e Joyce (transcendent Brazilian psychedelic-folk/pop) and Sisa's Orgia (kinda wacky Syd Barrett-inspired Spanish psych). Ran into Phillip on campus (yes, after walking under the arch), and later met up with Chris for the first time at The Grit. Oh, how the Golden Bowl was devoured, the Terrapin sipped and the Raspberry Pinkerton cake consumed with glee.

This happened, too (inexplicably the only photo I took all weekend):

Bummed around mostly on Saturday with lunch at Clocked and a trip to Agora (scored the following vinyl: Neil Young- Decade, Max Roach Quartet- Speak, Brother, Speak!, Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes- Expansion, Black Sabbath- Sabbath Bloody Sabbath to frame).

Twilight & Ghost Stories is an album Chris Schlarb spent four years on, with contributions from 50 people/musicians. I have to admit I was curious how our live interpretation would be structured and how it would be received. Made up of Chris (direction, acoustic guitar), Liz Janes (ukulele, voice), Daedelus (electronics), myself (acoustic guitar, voice), Drew Smith (drums), and Aaron Jollay (trombone), we were cued by a series of lights by Chris with only one rule: No single idea could last more than two minutes.

Chris and I began the piece with a loose melody he'd written and sent via e-mail. Our guitars rang with yearning (my B-string very awesomely buzzing like a sitar, thanks to a botched DIY fix to the nut), with field recordings of rain filling the outdoor venue.

It's difficult to write just how the rest of the performance happened because so much seemed to transpire in just 30 minutes. I specifically remember playing a bluesy slide guitar to accompany Liz Janes' reading of a Robert Browning poem, and some particularly inspired moments from Drew and Aaron, getting a little free-jazz without blowing out the stage. All in all, the piece came together in a very significant, seamless way, which I can't say often of most composed improvisations.

I'd rather not over-romanticize the event, but hope that all the musicians and the audience found something expressive, perhaps personal, in the performance.

Chris is currently mixing together the performance and will send it over in a few weeks. I'm not sure if it's going to be released via like past Next to Last shows, but photos should pop up soon. I'll post a link when that happens.

And a quick sidenote: Daedelus' set was the highlight of the night for me (well, besides of course, my performance). I knew very little of his work beforehand, so it was a total delight to come to his music with new ears. Classic funk and soul, old-timey jazz and grandiose movie soundtracks manipulated, resequenced and given a fresh outlook via laptop and the amazing Monome (watch this video, in particular, for a demonstration).


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