Different Skies 2003 Daily Media Log
MUSICHear samples from the artists of Different Skies 2003
When I first visited Arcosanti ten years ago, I immediately concluded that this would be a great place for electronic music. The setting, architecture, and creative ambience are perfect! Also, there is a nice amphitheater. So, when Mike Metlay mentioned on beyond_em that he would like to have a gathering of musicians here, I jumped at the opportunity. There is a large community of artists making electronic music, but they are mostly connected through the internet, and rarely get a chance to play together. There are very few concerts or festivals for this type of music, especially in the United States.
In the months leading up to the event, we discussed various possibilities for how the music would be performed. Eventually we settled on 2 days of concerts: Friday being a chance for each of the artists to perform their own material, and Saturday being a presentation of music that was developed in collaborations during the course of the week. I was a little disappointed that some of the excellent musicians who originally expressed interest were unable to attend (including Nick Rothwell, AirSculpture, Paul Ellis, Craig Padilla, T-Bass UK, Tony Gerber, Howard Moscovitz, and JEM). But I was very excited about the prospect of meeting, socializing, and creating new music with a great bunch of artists. The final list of participants was GIles Reaves, Otso Pakarinen, Dweller at the Threshold (Dave Fulton, John DuVal, and Clark Salisbury), Tim Walters, Paul Vnuk, Bill Fox, Dave Brewer, Brian Good, Mike Metlay, James Lacey and myself. Doug Wellington would be doing the sound, and Dave Tristram and Duane Ford agreed to provide video. 16 turned out to be a manageable number. James Lacey and I would be performing as Mutation Vector, and I also planned to appear with Bill Fox as 2/3 of Xeroid Entity.
On the Friday before, after much planning and preparation, I loaded up my Subaru with all of the Mutation Vector gear, plus a small PA for rehearsals. James and Bill flew to Phoenix, while I drove out to Ohio to pick up Brian Good. Brian had a roof rack and a big pile of equipment. We managed to fit it all into the car, which was now completely crammed! I had never met Brian before, but discovered in the course of our journey that we had a lot of equipment and musical philosophies in common. We spent 2.5 days driving out to Arizona, and arrived before noon on Monday Sept 8.
We met some of the Arcosanti people and the other musicians as they arrived throughout the day. Most of the day was spent unloading and setting up equipment. We quickly realized that the rehearsal space next to the amphitheater was not going to be large enough for everyone and all of the equipment. But we found another space, the "library," close by, so we decided to split up. It was a good compromise between giving all of the groups a chance to practice and having enough people together in one place so that creative collaborations could form. Certain combinations had already planned to work together e.g. Otso had enlisted Dave Brewer, Mike Metlay and Nick Rothwell to perform his Ozone Player compositions. Nick had to cancel, so Tim Walters was recruited to fill in. Also I had asked Dave Brewer (Deibu) to sit in on a couple of Mutation Vector tunes. Bill Fox and Brian Good had played together before, and they wanted to work on something. As it turned out, the split of people into the two practice spaces largely determined what new collaborations would take place. The theater music room was occupied by Dweller at the Threshold, Giles Reaves, Paul Vnuk and Mike Metlay. Everyone else moved into the library. Meanwhile Dave Tristram started to set up his video equipment in the amphitheater. We were warned that there had been monsoons recently, so equipment in the amphitheater had to be covered by tarps. In fact we did have some heavy rains over the next few days. After dinner a few of us climbed up on top of the vaults and watched a spectacular sunset, with a full 360 degree view and intense color everywhere. I guess this happens here all the time, but to those of us from distant lands, it was simply incredible. On Monday night we had a nice jam session (Mutation Vector with Bill Fox, Dave Brewer and Brian Good). Things were starting to gel and I knew this was going to be a good week.
On Tuesday we started to work out the various combinations and practice the prepared material. With only two rooms however, we had to take turns on the PA, so practice time was limited. We decided that myself, Bill and James would support Brian in performing two of his pieces as "Sundagger." Otso had printed out multi-color bar charts of some of his compositions, and Deibu, Tim and Mike were working hard with him to learn them. I wandered over to the other room a few times and heard some great music being produced by Dweller, Giles and Paul. Essentially improvs, I guess, but starting to establish some structure.
Wednesday we decided to move all of the gear on to the main stage, so we could test the sound system, monitoring and video setup. It was an interesting logistical problem to get everyone set up on the stage so that they would be visible and also close to anyone they would be playing with. The stage looked very impressive with all those electronic devices, keyboards, and blinking lights! I was starting to feel that we're doing something unique and unprecedented here. We did some testing of the sound system, but were having trouble with one of the digital mixers. To give everyone a chance to practice at the same time, we used headphone mixes. It was still difficult to hear ourselves, with acoustic instruments and various other sounds bleeding through the headphones.
On Thursday it was becoming obvious that Doug Wellington was the true hero of this event. Without him there would have been no music. He kept the sound system working, handled mixing, recording, and many other tasks. And kept everyone laughing with his infectious good humor, never showing frustration with technical setbacks. Thursday afternoon and evening we had each of the acts planned for Friday on stage to run through their set. This allowed everyone to check the sound system and gave Dave Tristram a chance to prepare his visualizations to be customized for each artist. We started off with the Mutation Vector set, and immediately realized there were some problems with the monitoring situation. The concrete amphitheater is highly reverberant, and the bass response of the PA was much heavier than we're used to. This resulted in a very muddy sound that was impossible to play along with. Side-fill monitors were added later, which improved things. But we decided to play with headphones on, since the distance to the side-fills was still long enough to throw off the timing on tight sequences.
Xeroid Entity went next, and had some similar problems with not being able to hear clearly. Bill didn't want to wear headphones when playing guitar. But I turned up the volume on the rhythmic elements and he was ok with the side-fills. After that, Sundagger played a couple of ambient pieces, one tonal which we named Arcosanti Moonrise, and an ominous brooding one called Negative Horizon. Mike suggested that we orient the Friday afternoon concert toward the more upbeat material, and move the spacey stuff to the evening. So Sundagger was moved to Friday night. I was happy about this, because it gave me a chance to play in both afternoon and evening shows. Mike Metlay followed with a solo set. It sounded good to me, but immediately after finishing, he declared that he wasn't happy with it and wouldn't perform. But after he calmed down and talked to a few people, he decided to go on with it, after some modifications, including enlisting Deibu to play drums. Ozone Player ran through their set, which came together remarkably well, considering the short time they had to learn the complex pieces. During dinner everyone was whistling one of the recorder riffs that Tim had been playing. It became a kind of running joke for the rest of the week. Dweller, Giles and Paul worked on their set after dinner, which some of us listened to while lying on top of the vaults, staring up at the stars. They had a really good vibe going, and sounded very polished.
Friday we continued to have problems with one of the mixers, so we ended up using just a single mixer, which meant that some cables had to be repatched between sets. Because of that we didn't get to do sound checks until after lunch. The afternoon concert started at 2:30. A group of fine arts students had come from a local school. With some of the Arcosanti residents and other visitors, it was a pretty good crowd for a Friday afternoon. Mutation Vector started with Arpology, a fast pace number with many layered arpeggios. Within a few seconds, I realized there was something wrong with the setup and it sounded terrible, so we had to restart. I imagine Mike just about had a heart attack at that point! But once we got going, everything went as intended. We played Ancient Path, a melodic piece with Deibu doing a nice guitar-like solo on synth. Then Pillagers (also with Dave), and Technoid, both wild and wooly demented numbers, finishing up with Krill. The applause was good and people told us afterwards that they liked it.
James left the stage and Bill came on to join me as Xeroid Entity. We did Modus, a Tangerine Dream - like piece with Bill on guitar, then Lost Particles, a subdued meandering tune used a looped phrase. Then Sphagnum, with alternating E minor / G major keys and Bill and I trading solos. That one seemed popular. We ended with Volcano, a sequenced number in 7 and a C minor blues scale. Unlike Mutation Vector, Xeroid Entity segued all of the tunes together, so there was only one applause break at the end. We took a break and let the students come up to look at the gear and ask questions. Most of them wanted to pound on the Roland Handsonic. I think the music teacher with them decided to get one for the school! Mike came on and did his solo set, with some cool rhythms and nicely demented melodies. He clearly enjoys himself while playing. We were looking forward to hearing Ozone Player, since they had been working so hard on their material. It came off very nicely, and even had some choreography with Otso and others dancing around. Deibu was visibly relieved when they finished Transport! It struck me how much good music is being played here, all of it different, but in styles that I like. That has never happened to me at other shows or festivals.
The Friday evening concert started at 7:30. The students had left, but some new people were there. The projector was turned on for the large screen to show Dave Tristram's visuals. That hadn't been possible in the afternoon due to the sunlight. The visuals were excellent - artistic and complex, following the music. On occasions they were totally absorbing. An order of magnitude better than the lame projections you usually see at EM shows. Tim Walters led off as Shalmaneser, which is the name he uses for his more rhythmic projects. He played only a laptop, on which he created various evolving algorithmic textures, both ambient and rhythmic. It flowed together well and the sounds and interesting rhythms were superb. Next Sundagger played the two ambient pieces, Arcosanti Moonrise and Negative Horizon. It seemed to go well from what I could tell, though I was focused on just getting my parts to blend with the others. Dweller, Giles, and Paul came on and played the high quality space music I had come to expect. Overall it was more ambient than what I had heard from them in practice. Again I went up to the top of the vaults and watched the stars. About an hour into their set the circuit breaker tripped and the PA went off. Most of the audience had drifted off by then, so that became the end of the show. When power was restored, those who remained were treated with an encore.
All of the acts planned for Saturday were groupings that had never played together before coming to Different Skies. James, Bill, Brian, Deibu, and myself formed a group we called Surface Tension. We had worked out a couple of numbers, but I was worried that we hadn't had much time to practice. Saturday morning and afternoon was scheduled as 1-hour practice slots for each of the Saturday night acts. Unfortunately most of our slot was used up messing with monitors and headphone mixes. People who came to see the evening show also got treated to a tour of Arcosanti and an excellent dinner. A crowd of over 100 was there for the concert, which started at 7:30. After a humorous intro by Doug, Mike talked about the concept of Different Skies, and introduced the musicians.
Surface tension was the first set, so we got to play to a full house (It gradually thinned out over the evening). My fears about insufficient practice were quickly dispelled as the initial drones faded in and I could tell that we were all in "the zone". We did two sequencer pieces in E minor, with an ambient bridge (Sequant and Cilantro). Then we did two more connected in A minor, the first based on a sequence and chord progression by Deibu, finishing with a speeded up version of Procession. I felt that everyone was playing great and we nailed all four pieces. At the end of the half-hour set, we received a resounding applause. I was ecstatic! We congratulated each other and left the stage for the next set. Afterward, lots of people (including the other musicians) told me they loved our set, which made me very happy.
Some people came up to buy CDs, and we had to explain that there were no CDs from the groups they were watching, since they were all newly formed for this show. But we sold a good number of CDs from the musicians involved, plus some Different Skies samplers. I was still in an exhilarated daze after the performance, so I don't remember much about the next few acts. Traktori played next, with Otso, Deibu, Giles, Paul and Clark. They played a conceptual piece by Otso based on a photo of the horizon viewed from Arcosanti. Third was A Pail of Air, led by Tim Walters, with Brian, Dave Fulton, Clark, John, and Paul. And the other musicians took a short turn as well. The instructions for this piece were to play "as little as you can stand, for as long as you can stand." No notes were to be played, only sounds, and each sound had to completely decay before the next one could be introduced. The result was very minimal, perhaps not very exciting to the audience, but we all found it interesting.
The fourth act was Wire and Impact - an ensemble of 3 guitars and 2 drummers (Mike, Clark, Bill, Paul, and Deibu). It's rare to find a guitarist who can play well with electronic music, but we had three of them! It didn't sound like guitar music at all, and had a very nice vibe. Next was Muumimamma (named after a Finnish doll that Otso gave Mike's daughter). This was Tim, Otso, Deibu, Mike, Giles, and Paul. They played a composed piece from Tim that I recognized and liked from when I had heard them practicing. And a modified version of Otso's Transport. The intermission was highlighted by a short melodic piano-flute piece featuring Deibu and Mike. After the break, Fragment of a Dream finished out the night (Dave Fulton, John, Clark, Giles and Paul). It's hard to believe these 5 had never played all together before this week, as Giles' keyboard playing and Paul's percussion seemed the perfect complement to Dweller's spacey sequences and guitar. We all hope to hear more from this combo!
After the show we were all exhausted, but still had to spend a few hours packing up the gear. We also traded CDs, and told each other how much we had enjoyed the week. I think every one of us was looking forward to coming back next year. On Sunday, after saying our good-byes, Brian and I loaded up the car and headed back East (with a quick stop at the Grand Canyon). I was feeling peacefully exhilarated and knowing that I had been part of something truly special. I had lived for a week in a friendly, open community at a magical place in harmony with nature. The many new friendships I made will remain with me. And to top it off we created some fantastic music!
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