Busking in NY

A couple of nights ago, I decided to go busking at a couple of NYC subway stations on a Friday evening. Rob had a megaphone that we used as a low-quality amplifier that seem to work perfectly for the occasion. Contrary to the PA systems I use for multimedia shows, the megaphone amplification made the toy piano sound tinnier than usual. We started out at the Grand Central stop and then moved to Union Square. This was my first time taking the NYC subway with the intention of spending time in the station. It is an entirely different experience once you are trying to stay there and listen/observe what other music is going on underground. Some people make eye contact, others seem to just play for themselves. Underground, I shared a “venue” with a jazz fusion guitarist, an African xylophone duo and a classical violinist.

How much are people really listening anyways? Even during concert? We hope that people are coming with open ears but most likely they walk into concerts with their days’ thoughts, worries and varied energy levels. What really makes people stop and listen?

I made my way into the subway system for a video piece that Rob has been making. It’s been really interesting to follow him around with his camera looking for buskers. This piece will be made into a video installation at the Baby Grand opening in mid-April. I will write with more details!

Disaster at the 11th hour…

I am now back in New York after a really great trip to London. Our last gig was part of the Limelight series that happens at the 100 Club in London. It was a really busy and bustling area right on Oxford Street. We knew that we were sharing the concert with Jacaranda, an ensemble of principals from the Brandenburg Symphony Orchestra, who sport a range of unusual instruments such as the alpenhorn and the didgeridoo. (They were a really fun group!)

After getting all of our gear in place, setting up instruments and electronics, I needed to re-start my computer to open ableton/live software program. Well…basically my computer never was able to find it’s hard drive again right then and there. I kept re-starting my computer and getting an empty grey screen with a question mark on it. It was basically one hour until show time and Jacaranda hadn’t even sound checked yet. I was using my computer in the hotel just minutes before, why was this happening??? I knew that my computer was getting old and it had survived all sorts of odd technical problems for me, but I had a feeling this was its last breath of life.

The people from Limelight told me that there was an apple store a few blocks away so I walked there hoping that one of the people at the Genius Bar could find some sort of solution for me. Like all apple stores, there is a lot of attention to service but I knew that if this store was anything like the one in New York, there would be long lines. And I was right–I got to the genius bar (where someone in a blue shirt sent me) and I was #24 in line. There was no chance of getting this figured out. Finally, I found a young guy working on the floor and told him my situation. He said even though he’s not one of the geniuses , he would try to take a look. When I told him what happened and showed him the empty grey screen he basically said that my computer was unsalvageable. (I have everything backed up on a hard drive at home, but no chance of getting it in such short notice.)

He was a very punky kid with really positive energy, so he started cracking me up by giving me a ridiculous pep talk. I guess that was my therapy for the moment for losing my computer (essentially my brain.) I was reminded of how much information we keep on our computer. It made me feel like I was about to start over again.

I walked back to the venue and Johannes and I made some adjustments to make some portions of our performance possible by running things off of his computer as well. It was unfortunately additional last-minute work for Johannes to cover my sorry situation, but I’m glad that it was more or less OK.

The venue was really great and the turn out was also very friendly. Johannes and I wrapped it up and went our separate ways afterwards. I’m glad that Johannes and I still managed to have a good time given the situation. It was a last-minute surprise but we still pulled through!

King’s Place and Limelight

Johannes and I played at King’s Place last night and will be leaving for our last Sounding Off concert  in a few minutes at Limelight.  The space at King’s Place was  more like a concert setting. We are told that the Limelight venue should be a little bit more like a bar/club performance. Yesterday evening was the first time I was also handling the images/video for our performance. I am relieved that the technical aspects of the show went relatively smoothly, considering how much we had prepared.

One thing Johannes and I have had to get use to is a lot of last-minute changes. The Stockhausen Tierkreis invites so much exploration from us and I feel that we have continually changed our arrangements in performance. It has been a really rewarding experience for me because each performance really is different. There is less sense of “execution” that might be involved in some other more traditional pieces. Instead, we really have a chance to sculpt the sound to each performance space and I feel more of a heightened sensitivity knowing that many of these “performative” aspects can only be determined on stage. I am looking forward to our last performance of it tonight!

Pollock’s Toy Museum in London

I just spent the morning at the Pollock Toy Museum in London, named after  Benjamin Pollock who was a renowned maker of toy theaters in the late 19th century to 20th century. The museum houses a bunch of puppets, dolls, toy theater sets, tin toys, mechanical toys  from different eras and countries. The museum opened in 1956 and each little room/exhibit is threaded together by narrow winding stairs. To my knowledge, there really isn’t anything like this in the US.

There were no toy instruments in the museum, unfortunately, but many old-styled science toys like a praxinoscope, magic lanterns and other precursors to television and animation. Some of the earlier board games from around the world are  a representation of the culture that invented them. For example, there were a variety of “Snakes and ladders” games that are from the Hindu tradition. You can get ahead on a ladder by doing good deeds while you might also slide down the snake and start at a lower level in your next life.   I particularly loved the toy theater sets. So many of these things are made from paper cut-outs and recycled materials. Another really interesting toy “set” idea was made from small match boxes. Some of these matchboxes would pull out and be a miniature two-story house. I saw a Pop-eye board game that was essentially one of those old-fashioned projectors with 35 mm slides that could be hand-held through the projector, kind of like a flip book. It made me think how some of the vintage toys were so much more clever without the use of modern technology because we could still see and experience the mechanical nature of the toy.

It occurred to me that the idea of “toy” is more about “make-believe.” In a way, it is a just a miniature version of life with a completely “imagined” set of rules to follow. There are toys for everything…toy food, toy tea sets, toy weapons(slingshots,beebee guns), toy science instruments, toy people (dolls/puppets) , toy societies (board games)and I play a toy instrument. When viewed by an adult, all of these things are a representation of what we experience in a more symbolic world.  It was interesting–I had trouble finding the museum, so I asked a man who owned a street vendor in that area. He said that he took his kids there and they really didn’t enjoy it. He said it was a waste of my time. To the contrary, I really loved the museum and while wandering through it, I thought the experience would be more poignant for adults than children. I think toys have a really different meaning to us when revisiting them!

Off to London!!

In just a couple of hours, I will be hopping on a plane to London for two more Sounding Off gigs at King’s Place and Limelight. I am excited to spend some time in London and to have two more shots at our program. I am happy that we will be adding  one of the 3rd UnCaged Toy Piano Competition selections, Ananta by Ryan Manchester on our program at King’s Place. The piece is written for toy piano, cello and tibetan bowl.

I am also bringing my mixing bowls to play Double Helix and Hallucinate. We also use the tibetan bowl in one of our arrangement of Virgo from Stockhausen’s Tierkreis. I am realizing that playing mixing bowls is just as essential to my musical voice as the toy piano. I am looking forward to writing more works with it, particularly in an upcoming collaboration I have in April. Keep posted and I’ll write in London!