Thanks to all who came to and played at the first Improvizone gig on Tuesday 27 Feb 2007 at Imbibe, London SE1. The response from everyone was very positive and made the whole thing well worthwhile. This is very encouraging, at a time when I could quite happily be sitting at home with my feet up in front of the TV.
It could have been a complete disaster. But in the back of my mind I knew we would be OK. Having assembled the right people, I knew the music would take care of itself somehow. On this occasion, the right people were Michael Bearpark (guitar), Tibo Remy (guitar), Tim Williams (guitar) and Nick Cottam (bass). Scott Davitt was also due to play, but a few feet of snow got in the way in Minnesota, USA.
The plan was to start playing by 8pm. We eventually started maybe 8.15pm, and got the four duos of Mike, Nick, Tibo and Tim over by about 9.30pm. So far about right, but most of the duos lasted less than 10 minutes. Each changeover then took another 10 minutes. We did the last of three planned drumless slots (with everyone except me), and then the full lineup, both playing for about 20 minutes, wrapping up at about 10.30pm.
The first gig was bound to be a learning experience, so with future Improvizone gigs in mind, here are my mental notes on how it went.
- Setting up
- I realise now that the setup time in a situation like this equals the sum of the setup times of each individual player. I asked everyone to get there by 7.30pm, allowing half an hour between five people. In other words, having myself arrived just after 4pm and taken a leisurely three hours to get up and running, I was basically allowing the others six minutes setup time each. How thoughtful.
- Start time
- By 7pm there were plenty of people in the bar. We had a ripe audience sitting there for well over an hour before we started playing. Maybe next time we should aim to start playing earlier, like about 7.30pm. On the other hand, by about 10.30pm on a midweek night people are sloping off home to bed, so it was definitely good that we stopped around that time.
- I didn't make any. I had nowhere left to plug in a microphone. There were different opinions on whether we should or shouldn't have some kind of announcements. I think I'm happy with doing this kind of gig without them, playing semi-ambient music in a bar, drifting into each section as we did. I think it's nice to talk to an audience that has paid to come to a theatre and watch you. Here, it doesn't make as much sense, not at the beginning anyway.
- Even the five changeovers required for the this gig took too long. Had we stuck to the original plan there would have been eight, which at ten minutes each would have been nearly an hour and a half down the sink. It would be tempting to deduce that changeovers need to be shorter, but trying to change over too quickly is a false economy. Something will just go wrong. In truth, what took most time at the first gig was probably me swapping my patches around. I'm hoping to use some more helpful software to cut that down. Rather than shorten them, we should cut down on the number of changeovers, and try and get the most out of each one.
- Much as I love the idea of doing duos with the electronic drums, and they went very well on the night, I think we can probably cut down on this stuff. Conceptually it's interesting, and it ensures variety in the set, but it's a huge effort for me to get a load of note patches set up, half of which inexplicably didn't work on the night. And all the while there are real musicians sitting idle in the venue. I'm trying to cover cleverly on the kit parts that they could be playing for me!
- I attempted to record everything. The end result was not great, mainly spoilt by glitches in the recording, a problem with me trying to run music software on Windows XP with a whole load of other crap on my computer like web servers and VPN software. I've got rid of it once before, now the problem is back and I'll have to solve it again. More than that, not everyone's signal quality was optimal for recording. I will mention no names, but the following pattern is abundantly clear. Time devoted to helping someone set up is time taken away from checking that same individual goes down onto disk OK. There will soon be an addendum to my post on how to take part with reference to this subject. A good recording is the responsibility of everyone on it, and if you don't know your gear, or your gear doesn't work properly, you will compromise the result. Reading this, I know a lot of players will think, obviously Andrew, you need a sound engineer. We do? The laptop is part of my drum setup. Right now, the difference between recording and not recording is a DI, and pressing little red buttons. What would the unlucky sound engineer spend most of his/her time doing? Trying to sort out other people's problems for them. Anyway, apart from not noticing that one or two signals were rubbish, I think I managed the recording OK, saving all the different pieces separately so as not to overwite all my note settings, and not devoting tons of disk space to needlessly recording silence.
- Coming up with good stuff to play
- For all my wafflery up until now, this is the only really important process of the gig. We have to all make up an evening of really good music. I assumed, if I could find the right musicians, that they could do the job. This is why Improvizone is not just an open jam session. I had described Improvizone music on the site and directly to people using words like chillout, ambient, electronic, industrial, beats and grooves. I had made references everywhere to the audio on the site as a guide to what to expect to hear at a gig. I had mixed these mini-products down to items I deemed presentable, but had done so according to my own taste. In posting them, I was offering only my opinion of what I would like to hear. There could be no guarantees that this is how we would sound on the night.
What's more, of everything I had recorded, I was presenting only a small fraction on the site. A lot of it I didn't think was quite good enough and had edited out. Yet I was relying on us somehow to consolidate our potential and put together a live set that worked from start to finish. Could we do it?
Yes. Throughout the whole evening, everyone did an excellent job of coming up with interesting and presentable ideas out of nowhere. Mike began with some terrific lead-guitar-soundscapes to go over my squelchy and sometimes ambiguous beats. It felt natural to take our time with this and we went on for well over 20 minutes, much longer than scheduled but it was the right thing to do in hindsight. And then, when we stopped, I was blown away. Applause. I had completely forgotten that people ever applauded in this kind of gig. I had subconsciously assumed we would plug away with no reaction. Nick followed with some excellent bass/drum tight grooves, then Tibo with his jazzy guitar and incongrous chair-load of effects, then finally Tim, swelling truly luscious chords over a spacey slow ambient thing. I especially enjoyed the drumless bit, the four of them delivering spot-on ambient grooves with Tibo even playing flute. None of us knew he'd brought one. We wrapped up with a lovely group jam, then briefly considered following it up with another one, but wisely opted to quit while we were ahead.
I'll wrap this article up now as it's taken me far longer to write than it did to pack the gear into the car, drive to the venue, set up, play the gig, pack up and drive home again. In conclusion, a lot of uncertainties gave way to a great gig, from which there is plenty to learn. The next gig is less than a month away and I'm putting together the next lineup now, to be announced soon. Meanwhile, I have a different idea for the structure of the next gig. Here it is.
Electronic drums duo #1
With someone who has an easy or reliable setup. The idea is to open with a set in which I can play without having to concentrate much on the recording. 20-30 mins.
Drumless section #1
Excluding me and whoever I've just done the duo with. This means I can soundcheck and record everyone else, some of whom will have more complicated setups, without having to concentrate on playing at the same time. 20-30 mins.
Electronic drums duo #2
Second and last duo, with another player. By this point, everyone has set up and played and, hopefully, been successfully recorded. This second duo can showcase a player with a more challenging setup. 20 mins.
Drumless section #2
Second and last drumless section featuring everybody except me. The guys did it so well at the first gig, it seems like a formula for success. 20 mins.
All after only four changeovers. 40 mins.