Improvizone

M3M with Cellistica

Andrew Booker 2007-11-25 23:01:53

50 minutes! Woh!

That was approximately the time I spent playing at yesterday's Music for the 3rd Millennium gig. There was the final improvisation bit that must have gone on for about 20 minutes. There was a five minute section where I snuck in alongside some incredible vocals by Anthar Kharana, and there was the main cello and synths bit for about 10 minutes.

That adds up tp 35. The rest? Brace yourselves... a 15 minute solo spot. My first ever solo gig. Yes, yes, I've done a few drum solos before, but those have all been in the middle of a full band set, with everyone else slouching around holding their instruments and trying to stay awake. Or not. This was a real solo slot, with a five-minute pause before and after.

On 07 July 2005, long before even thinking about doing Improvizone, I sat down with my Roland TD6, Korg 05R/W, Alesis delay box and homemade distortion/auto-wah, and sorted out 10 or so arrangements of drum sounds, MIDI notes and sound patches, delay times and tempos. I recorded several of the ideas onto minidisc (the label on it is how I know the date), and which I've just found and am listening to while typing. It's not that I saw a future in solo electronic drumming, or that I thought the pieces I came up with worked well enough as viable standalone music, I just wanted to be prepared.

It suddenly occurred to me the day before yesterday's M3M gig that a small quantity of those ambient drums/effects/soundscapes would fit the gig quite well. I knew the Cellistica set wasn't more than an hour, and that the Open Channel slots had been overlooked for this gig because of the complexity of the Cellistica lineup. But I was already taking part, so I asked Mark if he wanted me to do a short set.

I've not used the Korg much for about two years. Took it to a couple of early Improvizone gigs but then shoved it in the attic. But all the patches were still there, and still on the TD6, just plug in the MIDI lead and improvise. Out of the list of ten or so, I used only two last night. One of them I used in the join the dot album with Michael Bearpark, which you can hear in one of its outtakes, although by that time I was using the laptop, not the Korg. The other is a really old one I first used in a HiD gig in June 2005, more recently live at Improvizone in a duo with Tim Williams, and is nice to have an excuse to dig out now and again. I also took a transistor radio and a headset microphone for extra noise sources, but didn't need them.

If you've read my previous comments on one of the M3M gigs I've been to, a word might be forming in your head. Hypocrite. I had to look up how to spell it. It has an e on the end. Well of course. Anyway, you might be wondering, why is it OK for me to do a solo performance when I don't like solo performances? If I don't like solo gigs, it's because of how and why people do them, which is to say, in ways that almost guarantee the music would sound better if they added more people. For example, someone takes a guitar and an iPod to a gig and sings and strums along to a backing track. If the stuff on the backing track is playable by people, and this is a live performance where the whole idea is to watch people play, then have people. Don't have something you can fit in your pocket because it's too expensive to get a band together. Your job as a performer is to win me over, which means your act needs to sound as good as possible, and to me, your music sounds better with people playing. If it doesn't sound as good when people play it, then either you've got the wrong people, or they're playing the wrong thing. Or it just is not playable by humans, so it belongs in a club or somewhere where people mainly want to dance or watch visuals, not watch and listen.

Would I come and see you again if I was impressed by you but not your backing track? Yes. Provided at some point there is the real thing for me to see. If all you ever do is play to backing tracks, then I've seen all there is to see.

Many solo performers should not be upset by my thoughts on this. It is perfectly possible for a solo performance to be the best possible rendition of that music, such that it could not sound better any other way. When I say I don't like solo performers, I'm saying that most do not fall into that category, though I've seen many that do.

Do I? Oh, I dunno, I can't look at it objectively, but it think it matters what I'm trying to do. I have no place headlining at the Proms. I'm trying to make stuff that sounds nice, and that surprises you when you look into it and find it's all done completely live with an electronic drum kit and a few bits of electronics. Seven minutes into my set last night I got my first ever round of applause for a solo piece, at a reasonably well-attended gig, as if to validate my drums/effects/soundscapes approach. The main reason I think I got away with it was because I'm trying to make up music, rather than just do flashy drumming which I'm no good at, and because the smallish dose of a quarter of an hour was about right. Too much more would have been really boring. I told the audience I'd never done this before, normally I play with other people in Improvizone... go and pick up one of those free CDs on the table outside. I now have about ten left... do I need to make more?

You know, a small part of me is thinking I should do little solo slots in similar kinds of gigs more often!

NOOOOOOO! Only if I'm already playing in the big group later on.

11th gig: Wednesday 28 November 2007 at Ember, EC1 << | >> Numbers up