A glimpse of my parallel life as a free-improviser and video artist:
Last week I performed at a benefit concert for Eugene Storefront Art Project. Don Haugen curated the evening’s roster of performers and I was glad to be among them. Don is a quiet, steadfast mover and shaker on the local avante-audio scene. His talents have been behind many of the best concerts of sound art, noise and audio experimentation in Eugene over the last few years. Eugene Storefront Art Project has given local artists innovative venues for exhibition and installation over the last few years and this event took place in their new brick and mortar location. I was happy to be a part of it all.
The event title was Shattered Glass: a tribute to the music of Philip Glass. The performers were to present their responses to, interpretations of or versions of the music of Philip Glass. My response was to Music in Fifths, a piece from the 70s. This is a piece for multiple electric keyboards that consists of relentless, rhythmically additive/subtractive melodic lines in parallel fifths. I took the idea of 5ths and structured my improvisation on the circle of 5ths. For 12 minutes (1 min. per key) I would pick single strings in additive/subtractive patterns of 2-3-4-5. The signal from my electric guitar would be routed through a Line6 reverb modeler into a vintage twin 8 tube amp. This amp breaks-up beautifully when pushed to the limit of its output. During practice for the piece I was pleased with the way shifting from one key to the next was blurred by feedback and how suspensions were created by delay. The setup gave me ample room for improvisatory manipulation of the sound.
However, at the performance, the size of the room and the dampening effect of dozens of bodies smothered the feedback and threatened to weaken the sound. I made a quick revision to my performance plan and went from single string picking to multi-string strumming to create a thicker sound and to increase the feedback response. The result was a more rhythmically defined, cleaner sound that still had elements of the blurring and suspensions mentioned above though not as much of the feedback as I would have liked. I screened a video piece of mine, Distance, that contained images of geese and airplanes over the West Eugene Wetlands. The camera was pushed to its limits of focus and color reproduction by extreme digital zoom. The result being barely identifiable, undulating patterns of images and familiar visual icons that flickered in and out of focus and frame all against the monochromatic grey/blue of the sky. I felt the pairing was appropriate. I have done a similar performance with this video that consisted of a 3 chord progression played out very slowly with lush feedback and expansive reverb through the same amplifier. Perhaps that performance was more successful. However, given the dominant function of rhythm in Glass’ music, the Shattered Glass performance was not without relevance.