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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ponytail Pony's Up

This week I have been listening to Baltimore's Ponytail, a dueling power guitar quartet with punk sensibilities and heavy helpings of abstract screams, yeah's, and whoa's. They were formed in 2005 and have a very interesting story of their origins:

"The band originally consisted of 5 members... all chosen randomly by poet Jeremy Sigler. The five knew nothing of each other, thus starting their relationship as infants (babies born and screaming). Ponytail's first years were musically chaotic, feeding on exhaustion, border-lining on retardation, yet ultimately pop related."

But wait! Ponytail has released the song "Celebrate" from their forthcoming album, "Ice Cream Spiritual" on the We Are Free label. You can check it out here.

This is a fun album, with a lot of nice guitar lines, loosely arranged, plentiful reverb and effects. Vocalist Molly Siegel pretty much free improv's her way through most of the tunes. I think their sound would benefit from more written lyrics--tell us a story!

Monday, May 19, 2008

What's On Tap With Body Tap?

I recently had the opportunity to hear one of the area's newest bands, Raleigh duo Body Tap (MySpace), featuring the electronic and vocal music of Andrea Stroud and Jeff Rehnlund. I asked the questions--they answered!

David: How long have you been playing together?

Since January.

You have quite a bit of music on MySpace. Do you have CDs available?

No releases yet. We record very often. We probably have over forty hours of material, three hours of gems we dole out on CDRs per request. We have a bunch of sifting to do before a proper release.

D: I find your sound very difficult to describe. (My current description is electro-noise-opera) How would you?

Andrea: Kind of noisy, loose. We've been working in a pop music direction lately (possibly even dance music). We like simple, driving bass lines and basic beats. That leaves lots of room for crazy vocals and noise. Sometimes we end up sounding more classical, maybe even church-like. Our general direction, however, is pop.

Jeff: Synth wrapped in noise, dualing delays, 130 beats per minute.

What are your influences?

Cesárea Tinajero
Maurizio Bianchi
Glass Witch
Ivan Chtcheglov
Emil Beaulieau
Giorgio Moroder
Alan Bishop
Luis De Pablo

D: Andrea sounds like she has some classical voice background. Operatic.

Andrea: I started with voice lessons when I was really young. I need to get back to it. I would really like to learn to sing in a coloratura style -- really fast and agile. I feel like my pop music would benefit a lot.

D: How do you approach composition? .. or maybe a better question is: do you approach composition?

Jeff: We plug everything in, sit on the floor, hit record, and play wearing headphones so that we can't hear anything else. We listen to it later, in the car on the way to buy food, and see what happened.

Andrea: New songs are usually generated spontaneously during our practices and then refined. Sometimes they are based off new synth patches or sequencer parts that I've programmed, sometimes they are just based on a keyboard riff. There is a structure to everything we play live, but we always leave room for improvisation.

D: Tell us about your instruments.

Andrea: My main synth is a Mono Evolver by David Smith. Usually I control it with a broken Korg, but I very recently purchased a Yamaha S30. As soon as I figure out how to use it, I will use the Yamaha as a lead synth and as a midi controller for the Evolver. My vocals go through a Line 6 DL-4 delay pedal. Our beats and Jeff's vocal and acoustic effects come from a Roland SP-404 sampler. All of our gear is plugged into a Korg D-888 digital 8-track, which I also use to record.

Jeff: I use my sister's Yamaha keyboard and a Boss Delay pedal that died in November 2005 -- the knobs fell off, it wouldn't do anything but scream and ruin amps. I found it again, somewhat regenerated, this past March -- now it does something between delay and decay whenever you touch the metal. I process it through Andrea's mixer.

Andrea: It's an old mixing board that I purchased for noise. It is a monophonic Yamaha with built-in coil reverb (the reverb is actually generated by springs). It has a really nice sound, especially when you run keyboards through it.

Jeff: I also have a box of acoustic tricks: bells, bowls, drums, a xylophone, a DP vibrator, a zoom mic.

D: Did I see Jeff put the mic in his mouth? Do you know where that thing has been?

Jeff: No. Oops. It came from K-mart, but that was a long time ago. I guess I need to get a headset like Andrea, but I like to be able to shove it into things.

D: You are playing at Slim's on 5/21. Are there more performances ahead?

Andrea: We'll probably be playing at Nightlight in Chapel Hill on June 11. We've been playing pretty frequently the past couple of months -- I hope we can get some more shows booked this summer. I'd like to get out of town to play.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

King Crimson Lives! (Still!)

I was in a local music shop the other day to pick up some trombone grease for my son and the young man assisting me asked me if I play. I told the aspiring bassist of my "ancient history", including a few Guitar Craft courses in the late 80's. He had never heard of Guitar Craft, not surprising around here, but then I mentioned GC founder Robert Fripp and his band, King Crimson. He was unfamiliar. I suppose it's fair enough, with him being not yet out of high school, but seriously, WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING KIDS THESE DAYS!?!? No self-respecting rocker of any age should be unaware of King Crimson!

Simply stated, during several periods of its existence, KC was considered by many to be among the best bands in the world. You may be amazed to hear that the band, first formed in 1969, is STILL AROUND! The latest incarnation, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, and Gavin Harrison (also of Porcupine Tree), will be doing a very limited tour in August (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York). In Chapel Hill, you can catch the Adrian Belew Power Trio at Cat's Cradle on Thursday, June 5th.

Now for your lesson kids, the one your music teacher failed to teach you. Here are the King Crimson albums you must listen to before you die. You will note that these are mainly the older albums, because while the band continues to make great music, KC has not been in the "best band in the world" category since 1982 in my opinion.

In The Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Lark's Tongues in Aspic (1973)
Starless and Bible Black (1974)
Red (1974)
USA (1975) (live)
Discipline (1981)
Thrak (1995)

You can find a nice discography here and visit Fripp's online label Discipline Global Mobile.

On a related note, Fripp collaborator and music icon Brian Eno celebrates his 60th birthday today!

(thanks to Sid Smith @ DGM for posting the Eno link)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Kinetic Union Jazz Orchestra Sails Uncharted Improvisational Waters

Kinetic Union Jazz Orchestra is the new name of the latest incarnation of Durham/Chapel Hill-based improv band Onomata, since drummer Ian Davis moved to Nebraska (that's right, NEBRASKA!). I asked bassist Brian Preston about the band.

What is the new lineup?

Nathan Logan on drums, Marc Medwin on keyboards, Corey Sims on trumpet, accordian, ukelele and stuff, Todd Barbee on saxes and wx7 and Brian Preston on bass.

How did you come up with the new name?

We kicked ideas about for a while and Nathan brought this name up from a past idea he had but had not used and it has stuck with us. The "KUJO" moniker can be implied (as a reference to "Cujo" the book/movie by Stephen King) but it's not meant to be fierce, scary or creepy. We prefer rather more emphasis on the 'kinetic' implying movement and the unity of separate forces in motion.

How does KUJO operate musically? Are there composed pieces as well as improv?

Nothing is truly composed. So far KUJO is developing its improvisational vibe and approach. It is similar to ONOMATA since 4 of the players are the same and our general approach is the same. But when you introduce a new cerebral cortex into the mix you do get difference, and that is good. That is the true joy of improv music; it changes every time and always holds the potential of something exciting. So, to operate musically within KUJO one needs these ingredients: a musical vocabulary to bring to the session (chops/technique), complete absorption into listening and reacting to the other sounds, and the ability to shut off the left temporal lobe's need for reason, language, and analagous thinking. With the right hemisphere opened up in this context, very exciting things can happen.

Glad to hear you have a new rehearsal space now. Are there recording plans and releases in the works?

Uh, yep and yep... we have a good recording from our Fuse gig made by Ted Johnson on his new Zoom mobile digital recorder. Very nice, and you can hear one or 2 tracks from that on our MySpace page.

How has the band's sound changed since Ian left?

Our sound is a mix of those who are playing and even changes within that context. Nathan is bringing in more dynamics in my opinion... more energy in some ways also, so we are all enjoying the places we are going since Nate's in the band. Todd and Corey's playing has really been gelling even more lately with horn harmonies in various complex arrays glistening in my ears. There remains a strong comparison to Miles Davis, late 60's and beyond era.

Will you do a Steven King "Cujo" tribute in keeping with your new name?

So is it spelled with a "C"? I hadn't read that in like 20 years. Wasn't that a weird dog that killed people and was a creepy Steven King supernatural force or something? If so... then, yeah, we'll probably do a whole set of Cujo related pieces...bared fangs dripping blood...or maybe not...

Tell us about your upcoming shows.

We played at Fuse a few weeks ago and we are playing next at Caffe Driade in Chapel Hill on May 9. After that we are planning more gigs at both of those venues plus other area avant garde jazz/art clubs and music festivals. I think our sound can be appreciated by a wide audience; from the jam band scene folks through art rock, indie, alternative, and jazz or "nu-jazz.".

Anything else you would like to tell the world?

Improvisational music is like dancing on the edge of a volcano, balancing on the edge between total safety and total annihilation takes complete concentration with mindfulness and complete relaxation with mindlessness at the same time. It can be a great moment in time and air sculpting. It can also be fun to watch since we never quite know what's coming next!

Thanks to Kinetic Union Jazz Orchestra's Brian Preston for the interview! You can hear their music on their MySpace page. Older Onomata (MySpace) recordings are also available from BitWorks Music.