Jams, clicks and Ember

Andrew Booker 2007-10-15 21:14:11

Saturday I made jam. Just over a kilo of fresh figs, just under a kilo of granulated sugar. Heat slowly until the sugar has completely dissolved, then boil for about 15 minutes. That's it.

Saturday afternoon was also a jam session. Much as I may chuckle for several minutes at that pun, really I am loathe to dismiss fruitful music-making sessions by implying the kind of freewheeling accidentalism that the word jamming (spit) suggests to me. That's because I'm an impro-snob. The location was studio Bearpark in Hertfordshire, the occasion being a Darkroom rehearsal, in which I joined Mike and Os for a technical working process sort-out for Andy Butler's International Festival of Live Looping in Norwich on 17 November 2007. Unlike the Improvizone gigs that have so far all been played backline, at this one we're going to boil down to a stereo pair and send that through a PA.

More importantly, being a looping event, Mike and Os are going to be doing... looping. This is a pursuit not well known for its drummer-friendliness. So for this gig I'm going to be listening to a click supplied by Os from Ableton running on his laptop.

Playing to a click is great for practising, but is normally something I like to avoid in a band, mainly because if I have to listen to a click, I can't hear or enjoy the rest of what's going on. But the more I do it, the more playing with a click seems like a pleasant and comfortable experience. Oddly, it takes away a lot more worry than you would expect it to create. Everything will always be in time and at the correct tempo. And we're almost always recording these days, so I'll get to enjoy listening later. Normally I would play to a click if the band needs to use a backing track in a pre-written song. Using a click for improvising is subtly harder, because all the time I can hear it, it makes me think I should be playing. I would normally be deciding whether to play by listening more closely to the music. But, once you get comfortable playing to a click, you soon tune it out, only noticing every now and then that it's still there.

Having a click through headphones also means Os can give me a nice monitor mix. And I must say, Os being the master controller on this gig is big reason why it's a pleasure to be involved. All I have to do is turn up and play! All I needed for this rehearsal was my sampler pad unit, on which I have yet to do any sampling, and an external effects setup comprising a home-made distortion and auto-wah, and an Alesis delay box, mixed together in a positive feedback loop through a small Yamaha mixer. Os gets a clean signal too, so he can chuck my effects if he wants to. The swelling weirdness you get from my bizarre effects arrangements is all very well for adding interest and encouraging creativity during the live playing, but doesn't necessarily sound any good when you mix it all down. Os has already added a 10-minute section of the recording to the Darkroom podcast, shorn of crunchy drum effects (if I was using them, I've already forgotten), and well worth checking out!

You can see Mike's effects spread out in a small arc on his floor in the picture below. The signal path is from right to left, and on the extreme left is a passive DI unit. This is surplus to the Norwich gig requirements, but will serve another purpose before then.

The three of us, with Jim Lampi, will be at the Plough on 30 October 2007. This was to be our warmup gig for the Norwich looping gig, but is an Improvizone gig that I will be recording in the normal way. So Mike's DI box will mean that I can get a copy of his signal for the hard disk while Os takes another copy, sends it (and me) to the PA via his external audio interface, and does looping and signal processing on it (and me) in Ableton on his laptop.

And as of last Friday afternoon, it's not the only warmup gig. On 14 November and 28 November we're going to do two pilot gigs at bar Ember in Farringdon. These are experiments to see how we get on in the place, whether we can drag any people along to it, etc. More details of those gigs to follow in the next few weeks, but I can confirm now that Michael Peters will be joining us for the first gig, it being a few days before Andy Butler's Norwich gig at which he is also playing. Very much looking forward to both events.

9th gig: Tuesday 30 October 2007 at The Plough, E17 << | >> Gigs, birds and listings