I was collapsing my increasingly minimal drum kit after our last gig at the Plough on 20 May 2009, coiling up XLR cables and noticing that the wiring and setup for these gigs is different every time. Every time. Is that right? Shouldn't everything be falling into an easy routine?
Nah, I say.
If we start setting up the same every time, there's a danger we will start sounding the same every time. However, right now, that would not massively trouble me. For the second time in a row we had the very happy lineup of Mike Bearpark, Os, Simon Laffy, Nick Cottam and the Booker Boy (moi). I'm very comfortable with this lineup, and as I totally forget what we did last week, I can still start mixing recordings from our previous gig at the beginning of April (two done already here and here) and not feel at a loss while I wait for Os to send me the raw audio.
If I forget (completely) what we played, I can at least remember how this one went and what we got up to. First and least, the drums.
For the second time in a row, I brought only the SPD-S to the gig, which is a block of nine triggers I usually just use for tinkly percussion noises and MIDI notes. It can also do samples, but because of the requisite thousands of button presses, I've never really bothered using it for that. For these two gigs, I used the SPD-S as my entire kit. It has a couple of extra trigger inputs for both feet. It also has a stash of reasonable effects that will really muck up a sound. Just what I want. Basically, I got temporarily fed up with carrying so much stuff to such a low key gig as the Plough. Plus, I suspected our increasing noisiness and non-chillout direction at the Plough gigs was caused in no small part by me clattering around on too many drums. If I just took a small pad of lighter sounds, I thought, I would do a better job as a drummer in ambient chillout music. I also reckoned it was going to be the only thing I would take to Antwerp with Darkroom at the end of the month.
For the first gig with just the SPD-S, I had great fun. I'd spent about an hour beforehad preparing three of four patches and getting to know the effects. I arrived at the gig and saw, for the first time, that Os had brought more stuff than me. Tick. There was room on the stage for the three rhythm players to sit in a line at the back. Plus, I managed to amuse myself for the whole evening with just the pads. Success.
Last week I was pretty much able to repeat that, except by now I was using up all the effects and all the good sounds. And I was getting a bit stuck sometimes. It has been good for two gigs, but I think I've got all I can out of it without spending a lot more time gathering samples. The nice thing about having the separate e-drum kit as well as the pads is that I can move from one to the other and completely change the dynamic of what's going on. With just the SPD-S, we can be in the middle of a section that I think would go somewhere really nice if I could just make a sounds like... and I realise I have nothing suitable, and can't change the patch without stopping playing completely.
One more drummy thing before everyone dies a death of boredom, last week I tried out, for the first time, my drum software. It was, I confess, an unremarkable and anticlimactic beginning. In the six or seven months of intermittently poking at the project, I have progressed as far as sine-based waveforms, sweeping the frequency linearly downwards. I can set a nominal frequency for each midi drum pad, the final frequency of the beat depends on the velocity, ie how hard I hit it. I can also set the duration, which might be 1ms for a percussive noise, and I can use this for some bassy synth drum sounds that are quite good for ambient music, I guess. Also sometimes it's fun to set the duration to five or ten seconds for gradually descending swoops that go down well with Mr Bearpark. The trouble with those is that I quickly run out of laptop resources if I leave the thing triggering during my normal busy playing. I'm assuming that's what was causing the software to crash every time after playing for about five minutes. Apart from that, as a first gig, I'm (very) quietly pleased with the fact that I have managed to get anything working at all.
It was a pleasure again to sit between Simon and Nick on rhythm guitar and bass. Simon usually joins us as a bassist, but is honing is guitar skills for Skylinerz next month. We didn't quite knuckle down to as many serious grooves as last time, and I mainly blame myself for having run out of interesting stuff to do on the drum pad. At the end of the gig Nick admitted he preferred it when I brought the whole lot.
Comfortably established in the back row for the evening, I got Mike and Os to give out the free CDs. I was very happy to delegate this task to them, seeing as they have now sold more of their latest Darkroom CD than I have given out copies of the current free Improvizone product.
For the third gig in a row Os brought his new addition to his gear, an EWI (pronounced ee-wee). Possibly hardly anyone knows that Os is a clarinet player. I tried only once, and failed, to get him to bring his clarinet to an Improvizone gig, but the EWI would definitely have been worth waiting for, if I knew I was waiting for it. He turned up with it at our gig at the end of March and has been doing really cool stuff with it since then. Basically it can simulate any wind instrument, and couples up with all his other software to produce some really lovely textures. Also noticeable is that Os definitely plays it more expressively than he does the keyboard. And unlike virtually all keyboard players in a live environment, you can see what he's doing with it.
As usual Os videoed the whole thing, and you can watch it all here. Although you can see us a bit better this time with the house lights on (a few 60W coloured spots on the ceiling), I think it spoiled the atmosphere. So although I guess it meant people watching could see us a bit better, I'm going to make sure I turn those off next time.
There may come a day when we actually start to get an audience at the Plough. We had the usual handful of people (it's a different handful every time), but they were not random walk-ins this time. One had read our listing in West Essex Life (our first attendee through that publication, I believe), one through Last FM, which is a really nice surprise, and three from a recommendation from someone who saw us a few months ago. On Os's video you can hear them applauding us at the end. We are more enthusiastic than three people can express, was their remark that made us all chuckle. If we got everyone in the room who has ever walked into and found themselves glued to an Improvizone gig, we would have a really wonderful audience at the Plough. Obviously only a small percentage of the world is actually enthusiastic enough to leave their houses of an evening and go and watch stuff they like, and that, I confess, does not include me.
I think the only thing we can do is keep going. And so keep going we will.