Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sage Sage Derby Derby

I found out that there is a cheese called 'Sage Derby' which has this crazy green marbled look. I don't know if I'd like to eat it, but I did realize that the two words are also things unto themselves. What if you could make a sage-colored derby hat whose structure was made out of sage derby cheese? It would be a sage sage derby derby, of course. Here's a quick prototype. I'm sure it's gonna make millions, like the Cheeseheads of the 21st century.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Music of North Side Spaces Recap

It's over! Music of North Side Spaces was a great success, and a personal triumph. If you missed it, here's a play-by-play of what happened, with some pho-toes to accompa-knee your reading. Tee hee.

New Hazlett Theater
The tour began at the New Hazlett Theater, with a ‘tour guide’ presentation by Danny Bracken, a coworker at Mattress Factory. The first piece of the tour was inspired by the New Hazlett building itself, which was built as Andrew Carnegie’s first library of Pittsburgh. All words in the piece came directly from Andrew Carnegie's writings, spoken/sung by four singers up on the balcony of the lobby. Three percussionists were stationed at typewriters, books, and rhythmically tearing papers. Much to the tour’s delight, a passing thunderstorm ended just as the tour headed outside.

Children’s Museum
At the Children's Museum/old Buhl Planetarium, we moved portable sound equipment outside for a performance inspired by old historical exhibit titles from the Planetarium and texts carved on the side of the building. For there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars/For one star differeth from another start in glory. Beautiful! Three singers (also known as the band Wungsten, I don't know if you know them but you should, they're huge in Japan) played glockenspiels and electric bass while singing. One additional percussionist was placed about 50 feet away, playing antiphonal chimes, like distant stars and galaxies.

Aviary/Allegheny Commons
Two instrumentalists played birdsong-inspired improvisations near the Aviary. The audience walked along the trail through the park and was delighted to find the musicians located not on the ground but nestled up in the trees! I think this was a lot of people's favorite piece, short but very effective in presentation. It was not easy trying to stay up on those tree limbs, or so I heard from B and K playing soprano sax and flute. Sorry 'bout that. Thank goodness I didn't write the piece for instruments any bigger.

Lake Elizabeth

A brass quintet played at Lake Elizabeth, complete with frolicking kayakers in conjunction with Venture Outdoors' free kayaking program.The quintet began their music near the War Memorial, but marched while playing to the island of the lake, with one musician entering the water to play! I really wanted all the musicians to trudge down into the water, but wouldn't you know, over the course of the last couple months, all this algae grew on the stones in the "lake" (more like a man-made pond) that wasn't there when I tested out the space. Luckily one player had enough time in his music to hop down, and his two sons were kayaking right by him. It was a pretty great sight. The music was inspired by a music pavilion in North Park, torn down after the early 1900's. I also borrowed an idea from Pittsburgh ethnic groups who used to form small bands and would play Eastern European folk music in the park. The brass quintet had melodies of Czech folk songs and polkas as well as a snippet of chords from Billy Strayhorn's jazz songs. (We're missing our second trumpeter in this photo, but we do get more kayaks in the frame).

Mattress Factory
The final performance at Mattress Factory was constructed like one of the museum’s multimedia installations, and the music was an abstract tour of the collection. MF staff helped me create a small stage with colored lighting and amazing textured fabric, and I placed several ladders and musical instruments around the floor to interact with. I sang the vocal part of the work, but two singers and four improvisers also played found instruments and enthusiastically recited lists of art objects in the museum (One thousand bars of pink soap! Liquid gardenia scent! Medieval battle reenactors! Salt!). This piece finally let me make my dream of singing quasi-pop music (with an experimental twist) with a backing string quartet...pretty glamorous. 'Course, I also got to run up ladders, play a music box, a melodica, and dance around. By the time the tour reached Mattress Factory, we had a hundred people in the audience, much more than I ever anticipated! It was also about 90 degrees that day and I sweated through several shirts...but the audience seemed content, even through the heat.

I certainly learned a lot from Music of North Side Spaces, especially about grant-writing, budget-planning, rehearsal planning, and logistics. A Memo to Me: always hire anyone you want to document the work, it will be totally worth shelling out the cash and not having to worry about getting good photos or video. It was a great project, and I should have a CD release of some of the music at some point. Now I can't wait for working in Iceland, where culture is so intertwined with nature that you can't possibly walk outside without being affected by the landscape, right in your backyard.

(all photo credits: Magali Duzant.)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Wistful summer nights

It's the one-month marker ‘til I leave Pittsburgh, and the two-month marker to Iceland. After a swelteringly hot concert of Music of North Side Spaces, which went totally well (more to come in a post will include pictures!) despite the 90-degree heat, the weather has now cooled for a couple days. That means I can use an actual blanket at night, and sleep soundly for more than 4 hours, not having to wake up in a humid, sticky sweat.

There’s something funny about this weather that always makes me feel wistful. Do others feel like that small lonely-like sensation, as if summer has come and gone too soon, even though you know that's not the case? The night feels like a sneak preview to Autumn without the impending doom of frost. The pleasantly introspective summer-feeling began right after I left Vassar and I had a little apartment to myself in Millbrook, New York. It was a second-floor of a farm-house, with colorfully painted rooms and rickety windows, my own front porch to sweep. I didn't think it would stand the winter, though it must have been more resilient than it looked. That summer I finally felt my first independent living, and the solitude that comes from single life in a small town. The nights would be cool enough for long sleeves, perfect for walks up to the little park on top of the hill with its expertly manicured rock garden and bourgeois playsets. I spied once on some very out-of-place car hotboxing it up with some teenagers inside trying not to get caught. This was Millbrook after all, home of wealthy Manhattanites with summer homes, and celebrities getting away from it all.

One cool summer night I decided to take a drive and ended up in nearby Rhinebeck at the Upstate movie theatre, and I saw 'The Door in the Floor'.
The very next day, I checked out the book it was based on, John Irving's 'A Widow for One Year'. An excellent book. ‘Door’ only covers the first hundred pages of an epic novel, but something about the film latched on to my wistful mindset and I was hooked. It has become one of my favorite movies over the last six years, and hasn't let up its top ranking. ‘The Door in the Floor’ showcases themes I'm very much interested in, which is the Teen Angst/Coming of Age/Identity Crisis Trifecta. Eddie, the cute boy character in this book, doesn't have much crisis of identity other than he doesn't know what he wants to do for a summer job. He know how sexy Kim Basinger's character is. Then, cue the angst about having an affair with a married woman who can't get over the deaths of her two sons; difficulties dealing with a strange, nonsensical children’s-book writer who's separating from Basinger's character, and Eddie definitely grows wiser over the course of the film. The film also stays almost constantly in a neutral color palette; the beaches are so beige and the skies so grey; the whole film could be in black and white if it weren't for the sudden bursts of color from smart wardrobe decisions. Misty beach scenes, lugubrious string orchestra writing and sparse dialogue; it's been the perfect setting to house my wistful summer nostalgia.