Improvizone

Pub clearance

Andrew Booker 2008-08-16 15:42:18

Os asked, what's that horrible screaching noise?

Those are my effects, I replied.

A couple of weeks ago we did two Improvizone gigs at The Plough on 30 July and 06 August 2008. For me, these were a good excuse to try out simpler drum setups in preparation for the No-Man gigs later this month. Os was quick to indicate how well it was going.

Let me bore you to granite with the details. Normally I use a 14 channel mixer, laptop, external soundcard and a carload of wires to join them together. For the first of these two gigs, I tried using just a smaller external soundcard (the excellent Edirol FA-66) and the laptop. I managed to set up the similar kinds of delay loops, but it was poor. The only control you have over your sounds like this is through the laptop. Adjusting music software settings with a keypad whilst keeping a beat with a stick in each hand... probably like trying to practice calligraphy on tissue paper with a Mont Blanc pen while running the length of Oxford Street.

For the second gig, and for the first time ever in an Improvizone gig, I summoned the courage to... fanfare... leave the laptop at home! Yes! This is mainly thanks to Os, who does all the recording these days. Instead I used a delay box, my homemade auto-wah distortion and my old trusty Korg 05R/W, all wired up and adjustable through a small mixer, and to be truthful, the gig felt pretty much the same. Better in fact: no remarks from Os.

Enough about my yawnsome technicals, I should tell you how the gigs went. Hereafter I shall usefully and unambiguously refer to them as One and Two respectively. That is to say, One being the first and Two being... the other one.

At One, the regular trio of Mike, Os and me was augmented by sitarist (and maybe part-time satirist, who knows) Chris Cook, who lives in a converted tractor shed with attached greenhouse on the edge of Epping Forest. Where would you expect a sitarist to live? Chris brought his laptop, whose main purpose appeared to be to light up his face for the evening. Probably he brought it to make interesting noises with too, and when I listen back to Os's recordings, I'll know what they were. I did hear that Chris fitted in very well with what we were doing and impressed everyone with his instrument, which is tuned, as I'm sure I don't need to remind you, in C#. Thus, for the whole two hours, I believe we played every piece in C#. That brought a few beads of sweat to the other stringed instrument players.

Those included, on this occasion, the Daniel Craig of the bass, Simon Laffy, who normally hangs out with us in our Central London gigs. The Laffsta helped steer it towards a dub/d-n-b/ethnic/chillout kind of gig, and I'm pleased to say it went down well, because when I got to the venue to set up, I had other expectations.

They were refurbishing the main pub. Everyone, regulars to occasionals, was hanging out in the back room. What would they think? What would they throw? Would we empty the place? No way. Everyone loved us, according to Vitor, the manager, who told me the following week while I was setting up for Two. For Two, the Darkroom-with-drums trio was joined as usual for Plough gigs by Nick Cottam on bass, and newcomer Steve Bingham on electric violin, who recently joined the No-Man rehearsals. Upon his arrival, I immediately set Steve the electrical aptitude test of re-attaching the plug that had been ripped off the bass amp mains lead. Nick survived the gig, so well done Steve.

Since doing the mixes for our second Ember gig last November, I reckon I will forever more carry this in my mind this as the benchmark of a good improvised ambient piece. Not the light funk of the first few minutes, but the climbdown in the second half. If ever we play anything that affects me with a similar sublime feel, I immediately fell great about the gig. We have achieved similar since then but it has taken upwards of an hour. At Two, we hit sublime after about 3 minutes. Which only compounded my horror when I looked up from behind the drums.

We had cleared the pub.

I believe that was a first. The pub has recently acquired the use of a garden, and the weather happened to be good for outdoor drinking... but if that was all, it would have been empty before we started. Occasionally people came back in to buy drinks and sway gently to what we were doing. One guy came in to buy four pints. He left with three in his hand and one in the breast pocket of his shirt. Were we so bad, he couldn't face two journeys? Eventually people started staying indoors, and by the end of the evening, it had turned back into something we could just about describe as a gig.

If you've read my last post, you know I tried a costly little marketing experiment a few weeks ago, having 5000 leaflets distributed door-to-door in the immediate vicinity of the pub, to try and bring an audience to these gigs. You'll probably have gathered by now it didn't do a whole lot. It may have got one or two people in, and there was definitely a surge in site hits, but if I had to spend the cash again, maybe I would do the world more good buying another solar panel. I probably will try leaflets once more, with a different kind of design. More on that later. I definitely should get another round of free CDs made before that.

Meanwhile, one thing I can say from these gigs is that I've now cracked the whole projection malarkey. I make two mp4s of about 1.5GB, which play for about 1h20m. That gives us a natural interval, when I change them over. For the first gig I thought, to hell with changing over, I'll just make one big 3GB mp4. After it took several hours to build (about 3 times as long as the running time), I checked it in QuickTime on my laptop, it played fine. I then spent about an hour and a half copying it onto the chip in my phone. Which couldn't play it. Wouldn't even list it. I knew immediately this was because it was over 2GB, the old signed 32-bit integer used as a file size indicator spam-up. Great. So that's why I'm making two files, and now the generation is more manageable, simply because I can make them over separate days, rather than have to make the video all in one go.

I've now loaded up Os's audio and will begin mixing this week. After that, it will be time No-Man. Improvizone gigs will resume in September some time.

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