Music for a Gallery Opening
The Forge Space, San Francisco, CA
11 February 2006
Mika Pontecorvo, Steinberger guitar, laptop, samples and processing
Arthur Durkee, Chapman Stick, loops, laptop
Some Thoughts on the Process:
We played a gallery opening at the Forge Space, a gallery on Post St. in SF, tonight. It was just Stick and guitar,
with myself on Stick and Mika Pontecorvo on guitar. Mika got the gig, so it was mostly his show, but I was pleased
to be part of it.
It ended up being a really good gig, even though the PA was less than originally advertised. Both folks from the
gallery crowd, and the gallery owner, came up to us more than once to say nice things about how good it sounded.
I recorded the whole thing direct from my Mackie mixer to laptop, so it's a nice clean recording; I just gave the PA
a stereo pair from the mixer. We played two sets, the first about an hour and a quarter long starting at 7pm, then
another shorter set at 9pm. The second set basically ended up being one long piece, number 6 of 6, of those I
Someday, I want to show up at a gig with just my Stick and my laptop. This was close to that. We set up at a table
in the gallery's second room, and both had our laptops open, with my mixer, and SE50 and VF1 (I ran these two
through the Aux sends and returns, and mixed them in with my dry Stick sound). Mika is writing an effects
processor software package on his laptop, and was using that tonight, for most of his sounds. I also used my
Line 6 Delay Modeler floor box as a looper unit on three pieces. It was nice not to have to bring the full rack to this
venue; it was also good, in that there really wasn't space for it anywhere. The PA was actually in the next room,
and we had almost no monitoring where we were; at times it was very hard to hear what we were doing. But
several people said it sounded great in the main room, which is a resonant white wooden box, like you might
expect a lot of galleries to have as their front rooms. We also had headphones off my mixer, but I actually needed
to use them only once.
A long day, though, as I had already been to a long silent film rehearsal for the upcoming Al-i Nahfs gig later this
week in SF, which involved looping down to Palo Alto for the afternoon before coming into the City per se. It's okay,
though: I picked up more free firewood while I was there, at this house remodeling site near where we rehearsed.
What sort of music do you play for a gallery opening?
It can run the gamut from loud rock to ambient spaces. This was a tad more active than ambient, a wee bit
less in-your-face than prog fusion. Some bits that were space-noisey, others that were bittersweet and melancholy,
and more purely melodic. You're basically doing furniture music at these sorts of shows; people are there to see the
art, mostly. People are engaged with the musicians, when there's live music, but they're also there firstly for the art,
and the social gathering. It's a case study in Satie's and Eno's ideas of ambient music: nothing TOO interesting to
listen to, or people will listen, but nothing as bland and boring as what one usually hears, and ignores, and background
music. Live players can always affect a crowd's mood, through feedback, in ways canned music doesn't address.
What really pleased me was the larger-than-usual number of people who introduced themselves and said they really
liked it; in snootier gallery settings than these, sometimes you get treated like a jukebox, and mostly ignored. One
guy introduced himself as someone who years ago had had a roommate who had a Stick at that time, which was fun.
Listening back as I edit the files, I note number 4 where Mika is mostly doing heavy software processing and sample
distortion; it almost sounds as if it's a live recording of a soloist in front of a cafe crowd at a coffeeshop, which is
funny because we were a live duo in front of a gallery crowd. The music imitating the space imitating the music.
A little recursive fun.
Personally, I think number 6, which was the whole second set, is the best piece of the lot. It's over 20 minutes long,
but I might, when I get a chance, be able to edit it down to a very good 7 or 8 minute piece. I just wanted to point
out the "special" Stick technique used on the bass side. Hardly an innovation, technically, but it worked very well
tonight, in the context of a guitar and Stick duo.
The rhythmic backbeat is all made on the Stick, by tapping the strings against the frets non-melodically: more of a
loose slap-and-bounce than the usual play-the-note technique. The upbeat is made by slapping the lowest bass
string onto a high fret while already moving your hand downfret, so you get a noise-slap and downward pitch glide
in one motion. Since this is basically a two-handed bass technique (pretty sure I recall seeing Tony Levin do this
once), I then grab a note on-pitch with the left hand, at the end of the swoop. Harmonically, I built this bass-groove
and Stick-tap backbeat on G, even though the piece is basically in e-minor; gives it a nice tension, which sustains
because the groove never resolves or changes.
Anyway, just thought I'd write this down while it was still fresh in my mind. Sorry, though, there were no donuts
available at this gig .... some nice microbrew, but I didn't sample any, as I was driving.