We had just read “The Transcendent Power of Walking” before heading out so we were primed for automaticity. We entered the park on the short path at the end of the longest street in our neighborhood of dead ends. A music stand was set about ten feet away from an array of percussion instruments as if it was awaiting a conductor.
The Eastman Wind Ensemble had set up their instruments in a dozen clusters all within earshot of one another. The students, all dressed in black, had gathered on the picnic tables after finishing their sound check. We asked one of them what was going on and he told us they were performing the premier of a Robert Morris piece commissioned by the Eastman School of Music in celebration of their centennial.
There were two performances, one at 1:30 and another at 3:30. We missed them both but we thoroughly enjoyed the setup.
The four page handout from “Echoes of the Ether,” Jenn Libby‘s new show at Mercer Gallery, is an essential part of her show. We took one with us and it connected the dots, between Icarus and climate change. The wall of 45s with ambrotypes mounted in the center hole of each was her “letter to Mother Earth” and the sound installation by Joe Tunis, was a composite of the runout grooves from those 45s. The acoustics in the crowded gallery were so lively we were unable to hear the sound installation. When we mentioned this to a friend they told us when they were there the sound installation was so loud they had to leave.
I particularly liked the set of tintypes, “Seeing is Forgetting” (like the one shown above), camera-less images that reveal aspects of objects not normally seen. A return visit is in order.
Andrew Cloninger contacted us about playing a gig with his band, Wren Cove, at Joy Gallery on West Main. We didn’t know him or his band but of course we said yes. Galleries are a good place for our band. The floors are usually bare and the acoustics are clear and lively. The people in the room are unusually quiet and that gives us the space to bring it down to a whisper.
Luvon Sheppard is the curator of this space and he was showing work by someone from Alaska. I’m quite sure we parked behind his car because the plates caught our attention. Margaret Explosion has played every gallery in town, a few times. RoCo, Visual Studies, RIT’s Dyer Arts Center, Mercer Gallery at MCC, the Eastman, Memorial Art Gallery and Colleen Buzzard’s space just last week.
I looked at my watch before we started and it was 88 degrees downtown and hotter inside but the door was open to the street. Wren Cove, an improvisational duo with guitar and cello, sounded so beautiful it was startling. We had a cello player sitting in with us years ago and it works so well we couldn’t resist asking Melissa to sit in with us. She fit like a glove.
I had the best seat in the house last night, surrounded by my favorite musicians as Margaret Explosion performed in the long hallway of the fourth floor in the Anderson Art Gallery. The ultra-short throw projector, mounted in the ceiling, threw a crisp twenty foot wide image on the white wall well in front of where Peggi was standing.
The band was ready to go anywhere and we managed to sculpt a multi-layered soundtrack for the show. The acoustics were perfect and unlike at the Little the crowd was silent while we played. It would have made a sensational recording if the recorder hadn’t been unplugged before the file was written to disc. But that fact only made the experience more special.
I stopped by the Bop Shop yesterday for the annual sidewalk sale. There was nothing on the sidewalk so I masked up and went in. I worked my way through a few racks of one dollar 45s (Tom said he would sell them for 50 cents if I bought a bunch) and I found a clean copy of Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger.”
A couple of young girls with colored hair were combing through the 80’s lps. And a guy with white hair and a black t-shirt was talking to another customer about his band. I overheard him say they played the Irondequoit town Hall last week. We can hear stray echos of those Thursday evening show’s from where we live. There is one happening as I write this.
Tom introduced me to a new employee. He said we should know one another. They put a Margaret Explosion cd on stores sound system. The guy (I can’t remember his name) asked where he could hear the band live and I told him we have two art gallery gigs coming up -Friday 7pm in the gallery where my show is hanging and next Saturday afternoon, 1pm at Joy Gallery on West Main Street.
We do a monthly shop at the Co-Op, taking advantage one of our 10% member discount and stocking the shelves We usually combine that errand with a walk around downtown or along the river and then a stop at Pete and Gloria’s place. This week we walked along South Avenue to where it collides with 490, a most inhospitable exchange, and Peggi pointed out that this is where we took the Hi-Techs photo that was used on the cover of our first single.
I guess Hi-Techs were on our mind because we had a meeting scheduled with Joe Massaro from Paperface Magazine. He is doing a feature on Personal Effects in the next issue. He had done quite a bit of research, had all of the records and wanted to discuss the transition from Hi-Techs to Personal Effects to Margaret Explosion. He started by asking me why I left New Math. He called our “Die Trying” single “power pop royalty.”
He seemed to know all the answers to his questions beforehand but he was so much fun to talk to the conversation took long detours. He recorded the the whole thing and will have a lot to sift through but he is young. He told us he didn’t have the picture sleeve for “Screamin’ You Head” so I found one in the basement.
We were sitting with the drummer’s family in the front row at the Little Theatre Café. Pete’s wife was holding their granddaughter in her arms while the baby parents ate. Another grandson, Jacob, was sitting next to us drinking a Different Animal IPA while he was hunched over his phone. Peggi asked me what I thought of the paintings. There is a different show here every month. I said “I’ve been trying to find one I like. They all look a mess.” Peggi said, “I hope the artist isn’t nearby.” And Jacob quietly said, “I’m the artist.” We were startled at first but then laughed. We spent the rest of the evening chatting between songs. He was playing chess with someone online while the band played.
We told Jacob that the bass player in Margaret Explosion was a chess master. He asked, “What’s his name.” Apparently there is a database of chess players online with a ranking system that Jacob tried to explain to us but we didn’t follow. Our bass player, Ken, is right up there. We gave Jacob Ken’s contact and they plan to play in person.
Debbie had a friend sitting in on background vocals. The band was pretty relaxed, a quality that is right up there in my book. Debbie and her friend were singing the lyrics to the 1968 Delfonics song, “La-La (Means I Love You).” Sean was trying to find the chords. It lasted for five minutes or so and then they announced they would be taking a break. We loved it.
Years ago Duane Sherwood won 1st prize in an LA video festival sponsored by the American Film Institute and Sony with his entry of a song by our band, Personal Effects. Laurie Anderson was one of the judges. His prize included a trip to Hollywood for the awards ceremony and a brand new Sony 8mm video camera. A later video, for a Personal Effects song called “Heroes,” was played in rotation on MTV’s “120 Minutes.”
Duane’s video for an early Margaret Explosion song, “4AM,” was featured in the Brooklyn Film Festival and exactly ten years ago today Duane posted Margaret Explosion’s “Juggler” to YouTube. His Coney Island footage is a perfect fit with the music from our only 45.
“Clouds to Part” was recorded in April at the Little Theatre. It is particularly dark but just part of the Margaret Explosion palette. Duane picks up on that and you would have to be deaf and blind not to feel it in the air today. But clouds do part.
Peggi Fournier plays soprano sax, Phil Marshall plays guitar, Ken Frank plays the double bass and Paul Dodd plays drums.
We had our jazz passes by the door so we wouldn’t forget them. This was the first night of the first Jazz Fest, the first Festival in three years. We were preparing dinner when we heard a loud crash, a familiar sound to anyone who lives in our neighborhood. This one sounded close and it was.
A large limb, large as in about two feet in diameter, broke off an oak on the hill behind our house. It fell downhill of course but that limb was heavy enough to snap the tree standing next to it in half. Both fell right on the power lines putting so much pressure on them that they pulled two utility poles down. The wires were lying in the middle of the road. We called 911.
The street down below is a dead end so anyone who lived down there was trapped on a Friday night. And they were all without power. Our internet went out. We went out front to talk to the neighbors and saw Michael Burritt and his wife coming up the hill with a picnic basket. They had made dinner for some friends and couldn’t get by our tree so they called an Uber and planned to pick it up out on Culver.
A small army of Birchcrest men and women with chainsaws cleaned up before the sun went down and RG&E showed up with huge spotlights just as we were going to bed.
It was a thrill to play music while surrounded by recent paintings by Gail and Jim Thomas. We bought one of Jim’s large scale abstract figure drawings about twenty years ago and have stayed in touch. Peggi and I helped hang this show just the day before and Jim and Gail were sitting at the table closest to the band while we played.
Peggi told the crowd that the artists were in the house and the crowd cheered when she introduced them. They told us they had “never received applause for their work in 60 years.” Jim took this photo and sent us a nice note the day after expressing wonder at how our two worlds came together for this moment in time.
I married some photos I took in Spain with a track from last week’s gig at the Little Theatre Café. Jack Schaefer plays guitar. An original member, he filled in last week for Phil Marshall. Peggi plays soprano sax, Ken Frank plays the double bass and I played drums. We went to Spain for a few minutes with this improvisation.
“Music starting at 9:15” sure sounds like an early show but then there were three bands and Nod was probably third in line at Abilene. We watched Mexico play the US Men’s team to a 0-0 draw and then had a hard time leaving the house. We watched a Nod video this morning instead.
We walked up to Wegman’s with our back packs and then over to Aman’s for apples and Cuba cheese. The produce lady was packing bags of mixed greens in the back corner of the store and we asked if she could bag us a peck of 20 Ouncers for applesauce. Last season’s apples are near the end of their life span but she hand picked a peck for us and still charged us half price. We shop early and she is usually there when we are so we always chat about something. She keeps a small radio on the shelf tuned to the country station. While she was in the back room I heard a song that was irresistible. I moved closer to the speaker and quickly Shazamed it. We played the video when got home.
It wasn’t until I brought this photo home that I realized the legs on Mike Patric’s stool are white. Margaret Explosion has played the Café for twenty years and I have never seen a white stool there. I’m guessing Mike brings his own, one with a padded seat. That gets at why we like this band so much. They feel so comfortable.
Mike has been a key part of Joe Beard and John Cole’s bands for as long as I can remember. He is a seasoned player. You’ll notice the lead singer, Debbie, is comfortably seated. All the more energy she can devote to heartfelt renditions of classic R&B songs. She can make Kansas City, a song whose form is so fixed it threatens to and most cases does swallow up the song, sound fresh. She is actually able to do it when she sings “I’ll Take You There.” Pete Monacelli, is nestled in the corner on his uncle’s drum kit, a kit that is older than his eighty years. Like pros the band plays a few intro numbers without Debbie and in those sublime minutes you hear every swish of the cymbals, the chick of the hi-hit and the dance of Pete’s brushes.
It not just because this band is so seasoned (old) that they are able to pull this off so easily. Sean Pfeifer, in his mid thirties, plays soulful acoustic guitar with his fingers and effortlessly transports the room.
I know it’s not over but for one night it almost felt that way. This gig already happened, I’m not trying to promote the show I just wanted to to talk about it. How surprised we were that people came out, enough to fill the place and secure the double bonus. And for the first set at least the crowd was quiet, attentive and appreciative. It was strange.
We did our thing but I wasn’t aware of any songs that stood out as jewels, the ones where a melody comes forward and orientates the playing. Pat Moschiano added spoken work to a couple of songs in the second set, singing through a Fender amp that was sitting on the floor. I couldn’t make out a word he said but the crowd seemed to eat it up. I plan to listen the recording when I get a little free time and I will report back. Aaron Winters took the photo.
I keep reminding myself, “If Sun Ra can die, anyone can.”
Bruce Anderson, barber, fine artist and guitar player for MX-80 Sound has left the planet. His work, with Screaming Gypsy Bandits, Caroline Peyton and MX-80 Sound, was proof of higher life forms in Indiana, where Peggi and I spent out college age years. It is so sad to think we’ll never again hear Angel Corpus Christi at live MX shows screaming with delight during one of Bruce’s amazing solos.
Four days into 2022 and we had our first proper ski of the season. Skied up to the lake and around the golf course. The few inches we got will be gone tomorrow when the temperature reaches into the forties.
Peggi spent a good bit of the remainder of the day trying to find a power cord for her Yamaha digital Sax, the YDS-150. The plastic horn comes with 4 double A batteries and sounds beautiful on its own, with no amplification. In Peggi’s hands it has a warm almost primitive sound like something older than a real saxophone. It isn’t a wind controller although it can be used that way via midi. House of Guitars and Sound Source didn’t have what she was looking for so she ordered a 6 foot USB A male to Micro USB B at Amazon.
Nothing much happens in this Margaret Explosion song. The band just sits comfortably with these textured patterns. And nothing happens in the video either so they work well together. Most of it was shot out the back window of Duane’s car in New York. I love it back there, Peggi and Duane talking up front, music on the car’s sound system, watching the world go by. The footage is just like what I imagine people bring home on their phones after cruising through midtown in one of those open air double decker, red buses. There are times when you just don’t want anything to happen.
But then the movie footage sits around for a few years and you realize how much has happened. Gowanus’s Kentile sign is gone but I read it might be coming back. The toll takers and their booths on the NYS Thruway entrance are gone! And you hardly ever see turquoise Chevy Imapala convertibles anymore.
I posted a cropped version of this photo to IG and Mitch Rasor asked if this is an esker. I had to look the word up. It probably is but I read that the two big lakes in Durand Eastman Park were sculpted. Eastman is down the hill to the right of this trail. They damned up the creeks that ran through the the park and created lakes with controlled outflows under Lakeshore Boulevard and out to Ontario.
When we played the Little last we had two guitars. On Wednesday Phil Marshall was on Covid alert after holiday exposure to family so we did the gig without any guitars. Feel free to play along with the trio.
I posted a cropped version of this photo on IG and Jim Mott asked, “Did she just happen to show up on a lightly-frosted day….or have you been putting out corn for months waiting for this shot?” It looks like the latter but as with most situations it is the former. Being there.
We learned Record Archive has paused their back room bar performances because of the current outbreak and the Little Theatre Café is probably not far behind. As it stands, Margaret Explosion will be there tonight. It would be fine with me if no one showed up and they just turned out the lights and let us play our two sets and then we go home and listen to the recordings. I wonder if anyone has even noticed that we deliberately turn the stage lights off before playing. We’ve been doing that for twenty years now. We really aren’t there for anyone else. We close our eyes and listen to each other. The rest is ambience.
This sounds especially selfish. But it wouldn’t work if we were not playing in front of a live audience. They force us to focus and shape the sound into something resembling a song. And I am delighted that enough people like the sound to get us our next gig. We usually come away with eleven or so of these pieces of which one will bear repeated listening, “a field recording of the future.”
I managed to utilize movie clips I shot in Niagara Falls, Pemaquid Point Maine, Bilbao Spain, Turning Point Park on the Genesee River, Durand Eastman and downtown during the Fringe Fest, all in this one video. And I threw in a short shot of golf balls I found. The time lapse of the sky was shot at Pete and Shelley’s place up in the Adirondacks. I put my iPad out in their yard for a few hours.
I overlapped the clips in iMovie, crunching them until they fit the length of the song, an improvisation by Margaret Explosion from our last gig. Phil Marshall and Bob Martin play guitars, Peggi Fournier plays soprano sax, Ken Frank plays double bass and I plays drums.