I have been thinking about recording methods from the past as we set up our new Scarlett 2i4 interface. The first records we made were well rehearsed songs, banged out live in a studio. The early eighties brought in all this technology – electronic keyboards, midi and the ability to trigger prerecorded samples for a so-called “big sound.” Then in reaction to that we got caught up in the DIY movement. In 1986, with a gig playing three months of weekends in the Rochester Planetarium, we were tasked with syncing our music to a laser light show. We bought an Atari ST at Leon’s Typewriter on Clinton Avenue (there were no Best Buy’s or Apple Stores at the time) and an EMU SP12. We collectively wrote (Fournier, Dodd, Martin, Edic) songs based on improvisations, sequenced the basic tracks and then performed live, playing additional instruments and singing on top of those tracks. We put two of the songs from the Planetarium Show on the Personal Effects cd compilation released in 2008.
At the Colorblind show this weekend Chris Schepp told us he played a song of ours on his WAYO show and someone Shazamed it but didn’t get any result so they called the station. The song, “Melting Pot,” was one of those Planetarium songs that were only released on cassette. I put it online this morning.
In Netflix’s extras for the new Pinocchio, Guillermo del Toro’s shows us some of the puppets used in the making of his retelling. Many are at different scales to suit the character that Pinocchio is being stop-motion-filmed with, but there are dozens at the same scale, each with a different facial expression. Del Toro says the models were printed so I assume they are plastic. I had a Pinocchio mask when I was young that I wore on Halloween. I loved the Disney version, the trip to the bad boy island especially, and I am almost afraid to watch it again. I’m quite certain del Toro’s is much richer, no matter what your age.
The Colorblind James band, the classic lineup without its leader, performed again at Abilene. There are no new songs in these performances as there was in the heyday, when Chuck was consistently churning out classics, but these songs have a whole lot of life left. They transcend Chuck’s self-described “circus rock” genre. I took that as classic, old world aspirations. Chuck was a troubadour and his poetic lyrics transcend time. His songs, performed by his band, sturdy musicians who have only gotten better over time, continue to touch your soul. Chuck’s songbook is in the most capable hands of his son, Mark. Mark is a better singer than his father. Chuck would love that! He handles the material respectfully and the same sly, wry humor shines. Long live Colorblind!
I’m quite sure that early on the shutters on either side of a window could be closed and latched to protect the inside of the home from the elements. But a some point in the relatively recent past shutters on windows became entirely decorative. Without hinges or latches, they were just nailed to the wall. Furthermore, if they did swing shut they would not be big enough to cover the window. We still see examples of functional shutters on old houses and it is always a treat.
Peggi and I finally got our Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 set up. It allows us to record two tracks of instruments or vocals, one for each of us. Of course we could layer to our hearts’ content. The red box had been sitting next to my computer for the past two years. It has been easier to just catch the whole band in one live take.
I predict the future will be really exciting. This morning’s paper had an article about Deep Fakes that included this nugget. “Some experts predict that as much as 90 per cent of online content could be synthetically generated within a few years.” Critical Thinking will be more important than ever and that is where the fun comes in.
We helped Jeff and Mary Kaye clear a path along the river for cross country skiing (if we ever get snow again.) It started snowing on our way back but it quickly turned to rain.
I saw the drummer for Sadistic Mika Band and Yellow Magic Orchestra died. That set us off on rabbit hole dive that ended with this mash-up gem, their version of Archie Bell’s “Tighten Up” performed on “Soul Train.”
We stopped by Aman’s on our way out to Brad’s house yesterday. It was raining when we stepped out of the car and the parking lot was electric with a mix of oil and water. I bought a clean copy of “Clear Spot” at the House of Guitars on Record Store Day and we were saving it to play at Brad’s, on the giant speakers he inherited from Gary Bennett. It was like the old days, sitting in comfortable chairs with our eyes closed, while Beefheart’s voice filled the room. Brilliant lyrics, phenomenal playing and a voice that makes all others sound small and lacking in expression, there are easily five Top 40 tracks on this album for small parallel universe.
Brad was sitting with us when we saw The Captain at Red Creek in 1977 and you can hear him shouting as the band starts “Low Yo Yo” from the Clear Spot album. Here’s my cassette recording from that show. As a bonus it includes Beefheart’s explanation for why Drumbo left the band.
I guess it was that podcast about Scorgies that planted the seed, the host talking about New Math at the Electric Circus. A couple of years ago Gary Trainer dropped off a cd of old New Math tracks, something labeled April 1977. It was recorded in our rehearsal space above the adult bookstore in the Cox Building, just a block from Scorgies but before he opened his doors. And I knew I had some old Super 8 footage that Peggi shot of the band from back then, dark, live footage from the Orange Monkey without sound, Kevin, Gary and I in front of the first Record Archive store on Monroe Avenue and then some goofy stuff from Mount Hope Cemetery. I put it all together with some crossfades. Duane Sherwood wasn’t doing lights yet so we’re pretty much in the dark.
There weren’t many places to play before Scorgies, the Penny Arcade up at the lake, Electric Circus on Dewey, Big Daddy’s, some place along the river that Howie from Six String Sales booked and the Orange Monkey on Henrietta Town Line Road, down the road from the Red Creek Inn. Pierre ran the Orange Monkey. It was a glam rock palace. Cheap Trick was playing downtown one night when were playing the Monkey and Rick Nielsen joined us on stage after their gig. We did Gloria and something else. He was wearing the hat.
I quit New Math shortly after the first single was released and Peggi and I formed the Hi-Techs. Our first gig was opening for New Math at Scorgies.
Mike Russello contacted me to make us aware of a podcast he did about Scorgies. I would probably recognize him if I saw him because it sounds like he was at many of the same shows we were. He starts this episode before the Scorgies scene with a description of the a New Math show at the Electric Circus on Dewey Avenue. I was playing drums with them at the time and Mike brought me right back there.
He played three Personal Effects songs after that, when he back announced “Fascinating Game,” he said, “I think that song sounds better now than it did back then.” I think he might be right. I love the dreamlike, hypnotic pace and Peggi’s exotic Farfisa organ and snake-charming soprano sax. Martin Edic wrote the lyrics which were based on a dream.
We might try an instrumental version of the song tomorrow night at the Little Café.
Joe from Paperface Magazine brought Wreckless Eric to town last night for a show at Lux. I was surprised to see Steve Grieve there because I remember him getting caught up in a ruckus at Lovin” Cup when Eric and Amy were playing. It was so long ago I can’t remember the details but I think Steve was trying to get a group of people to shut up so he could hear the band when the owner threw him out!
People were loud as hell last night but it didn’t matter because all the crowd by the stage could hear or see was Eric. And the five dollar cover charge that the other ninety per cent of the crowd paid went right in Eric’s pocket. I was standing near the doorman and I could’t believe how many people filed in. It was such a nice night most probably wound up out back on the patio.
We have seen Eric ten times or so now and as much fun as those early shows were he is better than ever now. Not many people can hold the stage at a rock club with only a guitar and his voice. Not many performers let their work mature with them. The sound was perfect last night and Eric’s words are very descriptive, of place, people and emotions. His set was perfectly paced and once he had the crowd he created a ruckus with feedback and noise. He finished with his anthem which deserved the shot in the arm Expedia’s Super Bowl ad gave it.
Eric stayed next door with Rick so Peggi and I stopped by this morning to talk before he left town. We told him how much we liked the set and Peggi asked if he got a recording of the night. He went off on obsessive documentation and virtual experiences verses in person, in the moment, lived ones. It doesn’t take much to get Eric going. He was thrilled with the way the night went. He had a few recent gigs in NYC that went flat and he told us, “Rochester is full of surprises.”
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.