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State of the ‘Speed, Fall 2016

September 26, 2016

All’s been quiet on the Varispeed front of late, but not totally quiet.  We met up a little bit ago to continue digging into Kenneth Gaburo’s LINGUA pieces.  After performing Maledetto (LINGUA II) earlier this year, we’ve now looked at In the Can (LINGUA III) and the pieces that constitute LINGUA I.  It’s all pretty exciting stuff that both nicely fits our past projects and introduces some new areas of focus for us.

However, these explorations aren’t likely to be public for a while.  Paul & Gelsey are about to start their run as featured players in Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway.  Both have been involved in the show in its various earlier incarnations.  Even if you saw it at Ars Nova or Kazino, check it out again in the big time!

Paul, Gelsey, & Dave (collectively as 1/2 of thingNY) just released an album this past week on Dave’s label Gold Bolus Recordings.  minis/Trajectories features music by Paul as well as Erin Rogers and performances by the group and some guest talking chamber players.  If you like what Varispeed does, you’ll like this album!

Next month at JACK, Dave’s restaging his piece The Gentleman Rests, last seen at Roulette in 2015.  Featuring Brian along with a bunch of amazing performers, the piece depicts the Congressional Black Caucus trying to raise objections to the vote count from Florida after the 2000 and Al Gore, acting as president of the Senate, turning their requests away.  Again, if you enjoy, say, the way we’ve been doing The Living Room in our Perfect Lives performances, this ought to be up your alley.  More info is here.

Brian, for his part, is working with his partner Esther Neff toward realizing the final version of their multi-year, multi-part investigation Embarrassed of the Whole.  That’s looking to crest in February, so stay tuned for more on that front and check out the documentation of the project so far.

And Aliza has been had busy hands over the past few months, opening a ceramics studio and producing a great many things therein.  If you’re interested in peeping what she’s working on, or obtaining some for your home, you can check out Henry Street Studio.

So we’ll be quietly progressing behind the scenes for a bit.  Stay tuned!

Is it the past or whatever? Who cares.

April 30, 2016

Dave here.  Please pardon the stray thought. This thought starts with the amazing abundance of Prince clips that have arrived on YouTube, and as of this writing are still there, since his passing on April 21st. There’s the 1983 gig where they premiered much of Purple Rain. “Erotic City” (with a dash of “Sex Shooter”) live in 1988. I’ve watched the Sign o the Times movie on Georgian YouTube (it got taken down). Some clips of “Party Up” from 1981. Damn.

First you should know about me that Prince is probably the person who’s music I listen to the most, or second most. It’s a close race with Robert Ashley. Both of their work merits relistening after relistening. Also there’s a lot of both of their work out there. Ashley is bigger to me in inspiring how I want to use language. Prince is bigger in how I want to deal with sound. A powerful 1-2 combination of stunningly original Midwestern musical minds.

I can’t stop watching these clips. I intend to just dip into one for a minute to see who’s in the band and what their rep was in that era, but soon I’ve wasted an hour. Just gone. Not so much thinking about Prince’s passing and mourning the absence of his driving energy, but totally captivated at how fucking good he was at everything, and how good his music still sounds.

This is supposed to be a common experience in this day and age. One click leads you down a hole. Whether it’s music, animal videos, people opening boxes, whatever, I think this is maybe how video culture works in 2016. I feel pretty outside of that. Anyway, it’s a strange juxtaposition for me to be finding this with Prince videos. I’ve been looking for Prince videos on the internet for years now. Once in a while you’d find “Private Joy” live in ’81 and hold onto the link like a squirrel with a nut, watching it once a day for two weeks til it was removed. Just a month or two ago I was watching the “Glam Slam” video, with its improbable string orchestra, when I got home from work (love that polka dot suit).

I have a lot of respect for Prince for choosing to control, and then successfully controlling, his output in this way. It preserved the departed feeling of searching for a cultural object, something that was one of the singular joys of my youth. Finding a Prince video online in the first decade of YouTube has been emotionally akin to requesting the Atalanta VHS through the CUNY library system when I was in grad school and making a trip to my folks’ place just to watch it. Or better yet, I think of my pilgrimages through the East Village ending up on Carmine Street in the late 90s, one of two suburban Davids on a quest to educate myself about obscurities housed at Kim’s, Rocket Science, Norman’s, etc, etc. It was a slower process in person – it might take a few visits of seeing (and this is a mildly embarrassing actual example) the 1974 Steely Dan bootleg (c’mon, they barely played live then, and SO MUCH MICHAEL McDONALD harmony!) before I worked up the cash and the nerve to pull the trigger. But when you obtained such an item and took it home, you wanted nothing more than to sit inside of it and soak it up when you got home.

These Prince clips are having the same effect on me, but in 2016, in one week, there have been more clips uploaded than I could hope to digest in a couple years. My listening has settled into a pattern (which I associate with Anthony Braxton) of drilling yourself on a single recording, not all at once, but over weeks or months. I want to take each one of these Prince clips and treat it like I have with 1999 or Act I of Now Eleanor’s Idea. I imagine many these clips will start disappearing shortly, and that feels okay. I’m game to pursue this beloved music.

I have mixed feelings about feeling this way, but I’m okay with music being hard to obtain. I’m also okay with all music ever being totally free. Who can even wrap their head around these things. This topic is ultimately not that interesting, I mean, what I think about it isn’t.

Recently a song lodged itself in my brain at work. A more accurate way of saying how I felt about it is that I was graced by a visit, in this case by Canned Travolta’s cover of “When It’s Time to Change”, a punk update of a song from the Brady Bunch. I walked around for hours singing it to myself, assuming it was only on a 45 in the poorly-kept filing cabinet of WESU Middletown, along with Tex Rabinowitz’s “Hot Rod Man”, which was the crux of some flirtation the first time Lynn and I ever hung out 15 years ago. Only after a day of this resignation did I bother to check, and of course it’s on YouTube.

I’m resisting having a point here. I don’t think things are bad, or that they were better before. It seems like on most levels things are pretty good on these fronts right now, but there’s some tension at the bottom of that feeling. I’m noticing how formative this constellation of ideas were for me. This is the sideways compartmentalization I’ve done in dealing with being sad about Prince’s passing and my own feelings about needing to step up creatively with one less brilliant person on the planet.

I’ll just say that if that outdoor market just south of Tower Records on Broadway were still there, the one where you could buy bootleg videos of say Earth, Wind, & Fire in 1978 or Pearl Jam in 1991, I would totally go there and just stare at things for a while. That’s where I’m at.


March 18, 2016

Hi!  Just a quick thought.  We’re going to be doing something special on Aliza’s next birthday.  In this case, that would be our first step towards performing pieces from Kenneth Gaburo’s Lingua series.  First thing we’ll do, we’re gonna tackle Lingua 2: Maledetto.  It’s gonna be a very informal setting, but at an invite only sort of affair.  We’re mostly looking for some direction with this one.  Not a final polish, just a first coat.  It seemed like the right time to let the world know that we’re officially at work on this very cool piece for seven voices.

We’ll likely be digging deep into this material in 2017, but for now, the five of us, along with Esther Neff from Panoply Lab and Jeffrey Young from thingNY, are gonna kick around some vocal ideas of Gaburo’s about screws.  We’ll keep you posted!  For now, please enjoy this Willie Nelson song (IMHO better than the Roy Orbison version).

Crash is available

January 16, 2016

Hello all!  We’ve been working on our various non-Vspeed projects of late.  Gelsey & Paul were in Boston for a few months (and Paul is now on tour out west).  Aliza was knee deep in ceramics.  Brian was knee deep in PPL.  Dave was knee deep in Gold Bolus.  So life goes.

But there are things afoot!  Stay tuned for future info on a very exciting potential project north of the border, as well as a promising possible reprise of a familiar project in the Keystone State.

But really what we’re here to tell you is that Crash, Robert Ashley’s final opera, has been released by Lovely Music, and you can obtain your own copy here.  Crash features the five of us along with Amirtha Kidambi performing, and was recorded, mixed, mastered, and music-directed by Tom Hamilton.  The CD come with some beautiful photographs by Phil Makanna, and Mimi Johnson of Lovely Music has also put together a gorgeous book with Phil with more photographs and more text.  The CD also has some really illuminating correspondences between Bob & Melody Sumner Carnahan.  So check it out!


October 2, 2015

Friends –

Apologies that it’s taken us 13 days, but here’s a recap of the wonderful success that was Perfect Lives Jersey City.


We started the day just off of Newark Ave, the main stretch of a lot of JC.  Brian held down the lead of the Park wonderfully, bringing back his arrangement from Pittsburgh (this was a common theme – at least four episodes this go round were more or less identical to how they were set up in PGH, we just got more time to hone & rehearse them).  One difference, from my perspective, was that I stopped being grumpy as I often can and played the clarinet parts all generally high up, where they sounded much better, as Brian had designed them.  We were followed by some school kids singing songs from the Lion King, which unfortunately we missed most of.

Next us was the Bank.  This was the first time we ever got to do it INSIDE an actual bank!  We started a little late so they could properly close up the bank, so it was 1:40 or so by the time we started.  The more we do this, the looser we are about start times.  Gelsey took the lead but kept Aliza’s trombone parts from PGH, and redid the Wolf section, with some additional props.  This was a very spirited performance, as per uzh, and the incomparable Jen Baker took it up a notch.

Next up was the Supermarket, at Key Food (we also used a Key Food in Perfect Lives Brooklyn).  This was another PGH duplicate – last year we used a spacious & fancy market in the Strip District and had few people there to hear us.  This time, we packed the house!  The aisles were already pretty narrow, but man, did we stop things up!  The staff was generally entertained and people seemed to really dig it.  We were joined by Jen again, as well as violinists Jenny & Sean, and the great Zach Herchen on bari sax.  Zach was not only our producer and our sound guy all day (which meant working in some rushed & less than optimal conditions), but Zach held it down in this episode on bari!  He’s a miracle worker.  You can see him in the photo on the right trying to get the wireless mic hooked up to the house PA.

Next up was Paul’s Church, v 2.0.  This is another gem that was not seen by many in Pittsburgh last year, but it got a great hearing at St Paul (appropriate name), closer to Journal Square, up the hill.  Paul scored out the parts to a much greater extent that anyone previously had for the Church, and we had some ace guests to sing/play it with us (Esha, Meredyth, Chris, Marcus, & Mike).  As always, the responsive part of the Church was well received, and Paul really brought it home with the Dwayne section, in my opinion, asshole.

From there, we moved down the hill to the Backyard, held in a historic cemetery.  There were gravestones marked Giordano & Payne, for those of you keeping score.  Aliza took over the lead again after Gelsey did it the previous two times, but we kept the roving accordionist that Gelsey’s arrangements had introduced.  We were reunited with Woody Leslie, who played tabla with us in Brooklyn & Manhattan (we had him flown in special from Chicago for the occasion!).  The sun set in the middle of this one, which was pretty magical.  The sounds of the cemetery were quite wonderful too, and though there were goats & turkeys around, I didn’t hear either during the performance.

From there, we went to historic Barrow Mansion for the Living Room.  This was the same noir + strings arrangement we did in PGH (sans the bass part), and we really got it going this time!  Sean, Jenny, Mike & Meaghan were a kick-ass quartet with Brian leading them from the synth, and the staging was real nice in such a special old house.  I remember the laugh lines all landing really well in this one.  I think the Living Room has been my favorite one to perform the last two times.  Maybe it’s the time of day, the realization that you’re in the home stretch but not at the end.  Something.

For the Bar at Brightside Tavern, the ladies took over the lead parts and the fellas were the back up band.  This was a nice innovation.  Everything was in 7/4, which made it clear & steady, and we also had some hugely uplifting guest solos from Sean on violin & Zach on alto sax.  A funny thing about doing something in JC when most of the audience lives in NYC and it’s a Saturday night – people wanna catch the PATH once it gets to be late.  There wasn’t an all night party like the usually is after we finish.  The Catskills, for instance, was great because where were people gonna go?  Everyone still there at the end was staying at or near Mt Tremper Arts.  A blessing & a curse to do this piece close to home.  A blessing til the party hour, anyway.

I’d like to shout out to some of the folks where spent many hours with us – Mimi, Carlota, Barbara, my folks Ginny & Brian, Aliza’s folks Loren & Josh, Esther, the folks from Arthouse Productions, Ian, Jeff, Jill, Jack, Charles and his friends, and some other folks whose names I’m coming up short on.  HUGE thanks to Amanda Pinto, Zach, Sean, & Mike for technical & practical help on the day of the show.  I’m sure I’m forgetting people, but my cohorts can chime in here.

Anyway, more to come!

– Dave!

working through it

September 16, 2015

We’ve got just a few days to go.  We’ll rehearse three episodes tomorrow and then take Friday off.  It’s kind of funny, it seemed like this one was right on our home turf, but I’ve realized Jersey City is close and not close at the same time (props to Paul, who crosses the Hudson & the East River all the time like it’s no big deal).  Turns out, this is all very hard to do!  And it seemed like we had a good jump on this, but there’s always a million things last minute.  The more we do Perfect Lives, the more elaborate it gets.  In Pittsburgh & the Catskills, we were all under one roof, but here, we’re spread out, and we’re all doing other work at the same time (including thingNY getting ready for another massive piece next week).

I think we’re really getting to new heights artistically though!  I was at a place of very low energy today (and have been all week, trying to work on it & work through it), but hearing the strings & synth play the Living Room, along with my fellow three brilliant narrators, was really inspiring.  And sitting in the middle of the cemetery that will function as a Backyard of sorts for us, surrounded by these stalwarts friends & the great Woody Leslie on tabla, under the shade of a nice tree, was heaven.  There was no place I’d have rather been, no where at all, than playing Bob’s music under that tree on a clear morning in Jersey City.

I also have to use this space to call your attention to the amazingness of Zach Herchen.  Zach is our rep from Con Vivo Music, who do great things in Jersey City.  I first knew him as the baritone sax player in New Thread Quartet (with our thingNY pal Erin Rogers).  Zach is a saxist par excellence, as well as a killer sound guy.  But these past few weeks, he’s been a reassuring, patient, kind, helpful presence at rehearsals, whether he’s on his horn holding together the band  in the Supermarket, manning the board, or being a huge asset in helping think through things.  If you need a wonderful guy in this music scene, look no further than Zach!

– Dave


September 8, 2015

We have some really lovely programs all printed up for 9/19, the centerpiece of which is a sleek map, showing you where all the action takes place.  Unlike in Pittsburgh & the Catskills, everything will be nice & walkable in Jersey City.  Here it is: