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Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Gig report: Edgetone Summit

This is highly overdue, alas.

So, officially, my reason for my last visit home was to play in this concert. Alas, a travel budget was illusory, so it was more like a working holiday. I spend a lot of time practicing with Polly and pulling the piece together. It's really hard to practice for something when you don't really know what's going to happen.

I arrived in California with working hardware, a vague idea of some structure, a working visualizer and one drone sound. While there, Polly and I hashed out a slightly less vague structure and got the 'working' hardware to actually function. I added another texture/drone and recorded some samples. We also talked about what we thought might happen. Polly envisioned something intense and serious.

We showed up to the venue and did a sound check, which took forever because of the wonkiness of my hardware setup. Also, processing.org, the video language that i used, plays everything in a window with a top window bar. I hadn't thought to research how to get rid of the top bar, so the 'solution' was to point the projector such that the top bar mssed the screen and went up towards the rafters. This was suboptimal. I also had to do some code changes to make the window bigger, which, fortunately, didn't cause side fx. (I wonder if i can embrace a top bar as part of my lo-fi asthetic, or if that's too lazy.)

There was a pre-concert talk, which had more attendees than i expected. It turns out that many or most of them were working at the festival, but there were as many folks present for the talk as there were for my last edgetone gig, so i was a trifle intimidated.

The theme for the evening was 'sonic light,' which meant anything with a video projection. Technically, that fit us, but my projection was just, literally, a moving graph of the data. I think our piece needs the graph or else the tie to biometric data is just way too unclear, but it's not like great art or anything. One of the other groups had a real-time changing holographic projection. The other had a really high-seeming hippie filmmaker who was so brilliant that he could barely form a coherent sentence. (Note: not snark.) I felt outclassed. Thank god we were opening.

Our video was more of an aside, an adjunct. Worse, only the third one i'd ever let into the wild. I'm a beginner. I kind of expect all my videos to be asides. We live in a really visually dominant culture, on the one hand, so if there's a video, it tends to dominate. But some folks think that laptop music has too little of a performance aspect. So the challenge is to come up with a video that functions as a perofrmance aspect. The visuals must not dominate, but just augment the piece. That's my aim, but these guys were much more visually oriented.

Polly explained, during the q&a, that she had this idea because she felt separated from the audience when she improvised and performed. There was always some artifice between her and them. She hoped that by being wired to a truth-decting device and questioned that they could really get at her inner self. Pretence and division would be stripped away.

This was really interesting. I had never thought to ask why Polly had the idea for the piece. Also, it's an interesting idea. I mean, sometimes what's interesting about a piece is the peek into the mind and heart of the creator. Certainly, as a creator, i expose myself in certain ways. As a listener, do i listen for the art - the artifice, notes, spaces, sounds? Or do i listen to what i must presume to be the heart of the creator? Or some combination? Also interesting is how one-way this exposure would be. Actually, there's quite a lot there that's intersting, but moving along .  . ..

Our audience 'ringer' was justifiably miffed by being caught in a trans-continental miscommunication (one of many, alas. Colaborating via email is challenging.) and so did not show up. I hastily recruited my girlfriend, who is shy and was displeased to be asked to be the first to speak.

We came on stage and i got everything started and began reading the pre-arranged 'control questions.' "Is your name Polly?" "Are you on a stage?" Etc. After she answered in the affirmative, i pressed the 'true' button. Then, still as control questions, "Have you ever told a lie?" Polly said no. I pressed the 'lie' button and the word 'lie' flashed on the projection. The audience burst into laughter. So much for revealing her inner soul.

Casual listeners didn't know what to ask, being somewhat limitted by the yes/no format. So most participants already knew Polly. They were all game too, which is nice because if they'd left us questionless, we would have floundered. People sort of struggled to come up with questions. Most didn't stick in my mind. One person asked Polly if she had any intention of ever returning some equipment that she'd borrowed. She said yes. I hit the lie button. Lughter ensued. A co-worker asked if she had been the one to allow a soda can to explode in the break room freezer. She said no. I hit the lie button. Matt Davignon asked if I was just hitting true or lie buttons on a whim. Towards the end, in a dramatic moment, Pamela Z asked if Polly wanted a cracker. Despite owning a pet parrot, Polly is sensitive to this taunt from her youth. Her heart rate sped up, her palm became sweaty, her temperature rose. I don't know if anybody noticed, but it was the least-faked moment of the evening.

Then, at the end, Polly rose and began asking questions of the audience. She asked them en-masse and so they shouted back their answers. "Should I quit my day job?" got mixed replies. This section made me uncomfortable. There's a sadistic streak to american humor, which has always been present, but has risen greatly in prominence since i've bewen gone as the dark and mean mood of the ruling party penetrates even san francisco. I couldn't tell how friendly things were. When Polly ad-libbed "Are you fantisizing about Les right now?" I ended the piece. Earlier than I was supposed to.

Peolpe talking about the piece later were generally positive. Ellen Fullman said it was 'weird.' Was it music? Was it theatre? (Was it comedy?) It is weird. I still really don't know what to think about. I put the musical bit kind of in the background, to enable the question and answer to flow as smoothly as possible. I haven't heard a recording yet, but i suspect that's it's not a piece friendly to that medium. Was it carried by the novelty? Would anybody ever want to see it twice? If you allowed more than yes/no questions, could it work with strangers? Would they be interested? Was it more a sort of elaborate party game?

As a final thought: lately, i've had the problem of people asking me too many questions. Alas, this is a side effect of transitioning. I've been trying to discourage folks from asking me stuff. So its weird putting my friend in a situation that i would not consent to occupy. I mean, except for PZ, nobody pushed any boundaries and she had me moderating and it was all very polite, but I wouldn't do it. How many people would?

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