If you missed it, we performed The Bank from Perfect Lives, live on WFMU this afternoon on Kurt Gottschalk’s show. It was great! You can hear it here: http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/shows/57367. Just open the pop up player and go to ~16 minutes in. You’ll get the episode and then Brian giving great interview with Mr Gottschalk afterwards.
Lemme tell you, it was really different but really great. This is the first time we’ve spun off a single episode rather doing all seven in a day. We only had two rehearsals to get things back up to speed, and we were doing a kind of hybrid arrangement. Brian did the lead part like he did in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Catskills. Aliza did the lead for the Bank this May in Pittsburgh, and we kept her excellent brass parts, here played by her on euphonium and the great Jen Baker on trombone. I think this was a wonderful combination of elements.
The other huge difference was that we were in a controlled environment, not exactly site-specific. The WFMU tech guys were great. We had clear monitors, clear sight lines, plenty of mics, etc. Gelsey could actually hear her keyboard, a rarity in this episode. Brian’s performance of this episode usually involves a lot him throwing himself all around the place, turning the page while holding the book precariously, and working up a huge sweat. Today he stood still, and he took it a little faster. Listening back, you can hear everything! You get all the words! Not that Brian’s a slouch, but it’s just hard to exert as much as he normally does and get it all into the mic intelligibly. So if you take a listen, you’ll get it all, and damn it sounds good. The instruments and voices are all well-balanced and it’s a treat. Kudos WFMU!
Looks like the five of us are gonna be rocking the airwaves pretty soon with a little Perfect Lives. The wise & wonderful Kurt Gottschalk of WFMU has asked us to come in to that station’s brand new Jersey City studio (Paul, JC resident, is particularly happy about this). We’re gonna hit the airwaves on Friday 9/19 at 3pm and we’ll bring to you a hybrid arrangement of The Bank. Brian’s gonna be on lead again, but we’ll be using brass like we did in Aliza’s arrangement in Pittsburgh. We’ll be joined by the amazing Jen Baker on trombone. Also on the air that afternoon with be pianist Dante Boon. There is a small studio there, so if you have interest in attending, let us know and we’ll see if we have any pull in the matter. You can always listen on a radio to 91.1 FM, listen online if you’re not in the area, or listen later because WFMU archives everything (like when Kurt played our arrangement of Love is a Good Example a few months back).
In the mean time, there’s some investigation we’re doing into the wonderful work of Mr Kenneth Gaburo. Just so you know.
Varispeed proper is quiet at the moment, nearly two months post-Perfect Lives Pittsburgh. But look at what we’ve done since! Aliza & Dave finished making the album they’ve been working on for two years, and you can now hear Why Lie?’s Osoitos in the comfort of your own home or wherever you choose. It doesn’t sound too much like what we do as Varispeed, but you’ll get a fuller sense of where we’re coming from as sometimes-durational-avant-gardists and sometimes-art-pop-whatevers.
Just the past week, Brian pulled together the finishing touches on Panoply Performance Laboratory’s Institute_Institut, a recording of the 2011 opera of the same name. This album features not only Brian as composer, arranger, producer, keyboard player, and pitch-shifted-Mommy, it also features Gelsey as the soaring soprano Mommy #1, Paul as the puckish George #1, and Dave on clarinet, guitar, and a little voice. Brian & Esther Neff have made a whole world of operas that exist alongside and in conversation with the sort of work we do as Varispeed, and if you’ve never checked it out, now’s a great time to catch up before the premiere of PPL’s Any Size Mirror is a Dictator in September.
Thanks to tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, aka tENT, the remarkable Pittsburgh artistic entity and man of many talents, for putting together this video of our performance of The Living Room from Perfect Lives Pittsburgh. I had the pleasure of playing with tENT (as well as Anthony Braxton, Michael Pestel, Ben Opie, and others) at the aviary in PGH a few years back, he was playing a sampler and wearing a bird-like garment, he left a big impression. You can learn more about him here. You can watch the video here:
On the long car ride back from Pittsburgh, Varispeed (sans Paul) passed the time doing specially constructed Perfect Lives mad libs Gelsey put together. Along with a lot of uncontrollable laughter, these gave birth to such phrases as:
“No one was naked in the monsoon fingerless glove”
“Right off my mud room is my boiler room. I handle saints, week-old cinnamon rolls, bombshell blonde 90210 life-guards, and the like”
“my fop aces my rap battle / my fop roller skates my rap battle / my fop aces and roller skates my rap battle”
“instead, i said: get-away-from-me-you-beast boy, i am obtrusively, dangerously, wantingly ‘n only into – as they say – yoga-pants-wearing-park-slope moms”
“The word dingo is a mystery to Paul Pinto. Paul Pinto doesn’t understand that word.”
And a great many other things that are perhaps too raunchy for this here blog.
Try out the mad libs for yourself.
Suggested use: while operating a motor vehicle with other Perfect Lives diehards. John Cage Empty Words mad libs also available on request.
Well, we did it. Then was the time, it was ours. Perfect Lives Pittsburgh went off on Thursday as a great creative success in my book. I think of the four Varispeed has done, this was our most artistically ambitious one yet, and we really hit our mark with execution. We’ve been getting more ambitious each time.
Only downside – it was hard to draw a crowd on Thursday, particular for the work-time episodes, and folks didn’t stay out too late at the end given it was a work night. Lesson learned. Do it on a weekend if you want a crowd! It was nice to have passers-by for the Park & Bank though. Special thanks go to Mimi, Beth, Jim, & Eddie for following us ALL DAY! Beth, no less, did this on her birthday! I’m going to use some photographic aides to recap the week we spent in Pittsburgh.
Paul standing outside of James Simon’s studio in Uptown. James is a wonderful sculptor who opened his home/studio up to us for hours of rehearsal. He also hosted the Backyard & Living Room and brought out a nice crowd for us. James was the MVP of the week if you ask me, he made things really nice for us.
Rehearsing the Bar at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Gelsey, Aliza, & I gave each other vaguely Chinese tattoos that said Rodney. We rehearsed a few episodes there, very loudly, an nobody said a thing to us. Which amazes & delights me.
Same place, rehearsing the Bank. Cool gal shades. Gelsey Bell.
Rehearsing The Living Room at James’s, featuring our fine & dandy string section of Cara, Joey, Hilary, Ryan, and Jeff. Personally, I feel like arranging or co-arranging the Living Room three times in a row, this one finally got it. In Manhattan & Catskills, the interaction between band & vocalists had been too complicated, that was streamlined, the writing was improved, and most of all, the vocal performances really took a step forward. Gelsey had an idea last year about the unreliability of the narrator in this episode as being like a noir detective. She had some cool lighting ideas to boot. Aliza got the costumes right (trench coats, fedoras, noir lady garb). We all knew the band’s part better too so playing with the melody of the he says/shes says and the emphasis & phrasing of all the responses made things just nice. Add to that a chorus made of ideas from the lot of us & Brian’s great bandleading, and you had a really special Living Room performance.
Rehearsing the Bar where we performed the Church. The Church itself was crazy echo-y and frankly too big for what we were going for. On the night before the whole shebang, that was the space we had. So we had Rodney vs. Buddy move into the little ante-room, where things were more sonically manageable. L to R – Brian R, Paul, Jonghee, Matt A, Gelsey.
The pleasantly spaceship-like tent in Market Square underneath which we performed the Park. Brian did a stellar lead on this. Pictured is David Matthews, our sound guy for the deal and a fine fellow. There was some excellent people-watching to be done from inside here, there’s a bustling farmers’ market behind where the photo was taken. 10 pierogis for $5. Two Irish wolfhounds were wondering about. Mimi was circling us with a camera, which was interesting.
…complete with wigs. Aliza’s costumes & props added a real extra oomph on this one. Really cool space, echo-y but not too echo-y. Aliza’s trombone parts really brought it to the next level too, not to mention Brian’s bass playing.
At Marty’s Market, our supermarket, there were not many shoppers, but the sound was terrific. Mimi generously stepped in as a moving music stand for Shani on violin (Paul did the same for Cara). The horns – Mark, Naoko, Matt, & Aliza – nailed it, and I felt like our version of the Supermarket really lets you look all the folks there in the eye and talk about the indignity of food and how there could have been robes of our tribe, priceless things, for Helen & John. This was a ton of fun for me.
Even if Marty’s Market didn’t know what to call us.
Paul Pinto is Noel Givens in The Church. Paul scored out the whole thing into 4 beat cycles. Made some beautiful melodies, wrote some really nice keyboard parts, and got a nice little SATB choir to round things out. The section after Dwayne’s interruption of the ceremony was particularly epic in Paul’s performance (starting around “I can’t figure out how they got together…”). Energy energy energy from Mr P.
Aliza sets up the transmitter for the Backyard…
And then straps on Brian’s accordion to rotate around Gelsey & the band. Very lovely stuff. Gelsey’s arrangement ended with Aliza one floor up from the audience, playing out the window. It got windy in this episode, but it was darn lovely. Props to Michael, our great tabla player, for really getting what we were going for.
The Bar – I didn’t have any photos, but we were after a blues band that went long and didn’t get to start til after 11. Matt Aelmore’s bass playing was a particular delight. Brian & Paul nailed the delivery. There was some unspoken touchiness between the regulars and the out of town interlopers, but that’s probably how it should be. What were we doing carrying a keyboard in a blanket and a bunch of music stands in to Howlers? Who knows.
That’s the first wave of a wrap. More details to come. As always, if you have photos, recordings, whatever, send them our way! firstname.lastname@example.org
We are lucky people. We get to perform Perfect Lives again starting in just a few hours. We’ll keep you posted. We’ll see some of you there. When we get back from this one… etc etc
Varispeed, in their AirBnB Pittsburgh HQ