No pace like slow

Andrew Booker 2009-12-17 23:58:13

I live in what I think of as London. Very slightly more central to me here in leafy South Woodford is leafless Leytonstone. And yet Leytonstone on a wet December Saturday reminded me a lot of Witham, the dismal industrial/commuter town I grew up near in Essex. Even down to the jammed traffic, everyone trying to make their way through it to somewhere else. A couple of Saturdays ago, on 05 Dec 2009, we played an Improvizone gig there, while the rain spat and the vehicled people-flux passed us by.

For me, the lasting reminder of how well a gig went rests entirely with how well its music turned out. However much I might doctor it in the downloads, it is the hardest evidence that survives. Musically this gig was as good as many others we've done, in fact a lot more chillout than many. After a little essential editing here and there, I have already posted two really nice downloads here and here, with at least two more to follow.

As a strategic tryout of a new venue we were less successful here. We might be back for a regular slot at the Luna Lounge in the new year, and it is very decent of the venue to offer that kind of support and investment in us, but it would be midweek instead of at the weekend. This gig confirmed we're not really a weekend band. We liked Luna Lounge, but the general and surprisingly sparse Saturday nightlife of Leytonstone reminded me yet again that I need to try and expand our venue circuit back into Central London. If I wanted to play in Witham I would have stayed there.

For my first use of the electronics in six months, I spent a casual day setting it up again and remembering how it all worked. After several months in the cold Solar Shed, I was pleasantly surprised that it all worked. I rejigged a few sounds, made sure the expression stuff was all mapped in cubase. Got to the venue in good time to set up before the others arrived. In the past I would have organised the stage seating and bundled up some looms to fit. Neglected all that this time. Didn't even remember to bring multisocket extension power leads. Delinquent, I.

We set up to some overly puissant background pop. At first I made the same joke to newcomer Chas as I always do. So long as we play this, we will go down fine. Well past 8pm, and this blasting crud was starting to wear me down. Finally, at about 8.45pm, I worked out it had being coming from the CD player directly behind me, and I need only have lowered the faders. Arse now in pain, I gently deactivated it and we began.

I did immediately feel the absence of Os. Where we would have been better with lush atmospherics, we tended towards lengthy jamming. Sometimes I can wind these up with a summarial whack before dropping the drums to zero, but that can cause the eternal problem I have playing improvised music, which is that when the drums stop, everyone else stops. One thing to our advantage I did notice was that without any looped backing we sometimes reduced to a really stripped down sound. Unplanned it can feel a bit uncomfortable, listening back it can be beautifully arresting.

One thing that always seems to work, no matter who plays, is that when the pace suddenly drops off, the real magic begins. Fast can be fun, though increasingly less fun for me in my advancing stages of under-practice. But when we drop to half speed, the music suddenly has time and space to breath. All the best bits of this gig fell into that category. The trouble with playing fast is that other players usually to want to link in with the drums, and it just becomes a rhythm jam. Playing slowly means there is much less rhythm to lock into, and everyone has time to pay attention to the space as a whole and do interesting things to embellish it. Fast may be where the action is, but slow is where the magic happens for us, where we really get in the zone.

The winning formula for our music this time seemed to be Nick and me bubbling under the rhythm surface relatively unobtrusively, Mike washing the middle register with un-guitar-like atmospheric sweetness from what sounded like a whole new palette of sounds he has been developing over the past few months, and Chas soloing around us, switching effects in and out to keep his sound interesting. When it worked it could be really special, as I reckon this track demonstrates with its brilliant Mike/Chas/Nick interplay. Plus I like the occasional door-slam drum samples towards the end. Mike and Chas go back a very long way, but Nick and Chas met for the first time that evening. And that is exactly how I like improvisation gigs to be done.

Lastly, and for nobody's benefit but my own, a few technical things I noticed during this gig... if you're bored already with this write-up, best go back to twitter now...

The new samples I loaded onto the SPD-S worked out very well. A couple of oddballs had a kind of implicit tempo at the same time as being uncomfortably truncated. Throwing those in at the wrong time can sound clumsy and deeply unskilled. However the cymbal ones were awesome, dirty rehearsal room clangs with background air conditioning and massive compression. A little additional wacky effect, and nobody knows what's going on.

No variation on laptop controls
Having to record means that am reluctant to go into cubase and fiddle with my drum settings and notemaps for the pads over the evening. That means I can only use them when we sound like we're in the right key. And I used almost no delay this time.

Stuck in 4/4
This has to be my bad. The afternoon before, I resolved that if we couldn't have Os, we could at least move around a bit in other time signatures. Come the evening, I remembered, and yet I felt completely stuck, that if I tried to deviate it would just end up in tried and rusted prog rock 7/8 cruft. Around which we would jam, dully.

Practice vs Live drumming
My practice drumming and gig drumming bear very little resemblance to each other. I practice intricate stuff and swap from pattern to pattern in the space of an hour. Whereas in the gigs, I can sit on a beat for several minutes. Wigouts are for the practice room. The gigs are where I actually to play properly for periods of longer than a few seconds. I cannot decide whether or not this dichotomy is good, or the wrong way round.

I continue to practice an unhealthy diversity of things, and will upload a whole raft of new practice samples from the last few weeks. Other than that, I'll be curling up into a ball and hibernating for the next month or so, as the snow begins to fall, the underground trains freeze to a halt as a consequence, and probably the council give up trying to empty the bins, opting to stay indoors counting the tax they have collected from us instead. Much better to sleep through all that, if you ask me.

27th gig: 05 Dec 2009 at The Luna Lounge << | >> The Improphone