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Blurring Test video

March 15, 2023

We had a great week last week getting The Blurring Test together. If you didn’t catch us at Roulette, or if you did, we wanted to share the great documentation Roulette did of the evening. Enjoy!

Next up is Perfect Lives in Knoxville on 3/31, hopefully see you there!

getting fit

January 22, 2023

We are doing it! We are getting ready for Perfect Lives Knoxville in 2 months! Aliza & Brian & Dave met upstate this weekend and worked on The Park, The Supermarket, & The Bank (which they are respectively leading). New flavors and old flavors are in the recipes this time – probably more accordion throughout, and Aliza gets to play guitar in PLives for the first time. Look at how pretty we are!

see them up there?

December 16, 2022

Hi! Dave here. Since we’re gearing up to do Perfect Lives (at Big Ears in March ’23) again, and I’m digging back into the libretto, I figure I might as well share some thoughts on the material as I’ve done in this space for the past decade+.

We have switched up a few episodes so I’m going to do the lead part on “the Bank” this time. This is new for me! “The Bank” was my first favorite episode back in the mid 00s, probably because of the “coo coo” song. I’ve always played guitar and done back up vocals when we’ve performed it.

As we’ve said before, there’s something amazing about going over Bob’s text again and again when preparing each of these episodes/pieces. Phrases that have been in my head for years like “they ask me to come along and I know the reasons why, I am the captain of the football team, I listen”… etc feel like they have so much more context for me now. I can’t easily explain this, it’s not that I was ignoring the words before, but all the little quizzical asides, the shifts in perspective or narrator, the words that on my first listen aren’t that notable just get richer and deeper as I go through this process.

One thing that feels pretty clear to me now: in the “introducing Eleanor” section, the text goes into first person in a different way (“I don’t come in here all that often”) than in other parts of the piece, it feels like a different I (look at me being a biblical scholar here). There’s a wonderful separation of this “I”, presumably a particular cypher for Bob, from the narrator and the oft told story from other operas of how everyone thought Eleanor and Bob/D/The Captain of the Football team slept together, a story here told in the third person. In the whole first section, the narrator is the Captain of the Football team (which seems pretty clearly based on his life experience), but when talking about the bank tellers, there’s some distance.

Also I feel like the center of the whole episode is the exchange of light that Ed points to, the thing that lets him know he’s on the right track/in the right place. Ed & Gwyn go through a change in the opera, namely marriage, and remember in “the Church” we are told that Change is God! In “the Park” it ponders change in the sense of “how does it come to you that the light has changed?”. In “the Bar” change happens in the frame of “the click”.

“The Bank” is the place where we see a kind of close up of what it looks like when the change is happening, it’s sort of danced around in “The Church” but really examined more in “the Bank”. We know what Gwyn looks like before the change of marriage, and we know what she will look like after, and how we can talk to her now and later, and it’s kind of the demonstration of the ideas of so much of the rest of the opera.

Anyway, we’re figuring out how we can bring all these thoughts & details to the audience in March! Stay tuned.

– DR

coming your way in March 2023

November 3, 2022

Hi! It’s Varispeed here! We are most excited to tell you that we’ll be performing Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives for the first time since 2015! It’s gonna happen in Knoxville, TN as part of Big Ears 2023, in late March/early April. More details TBA but it’s just an incredible line up of performers and we hope to see you then & there!!!

almost but not quite

March 7, 2022

Hi all. This channel has been quiet for a while, but we’ve been busy. We were supposed to be playing our first show in a couple years at Roulette in NYC this Wednesday. Unfortunately we have to postpone it due to COVID concerns. We hope to reschedule and bring you the latest version of The Blurring Test later this year. We’ll keep you posted.

Hope you are staying healthy out there, and we are excited to share all of our latest with you soon!


August 18, 2020

I’m planning on heading out of NYC for a few days starting this weekend. It’ll be the first time staying somewhere other than my apartment since COVID hit. I’ve take two trips of a few hours outside of city limits in Zipcars, but for the most part, for 5+ months, my world has been limited to what I can walk to.

I never learned how to ride a bike, don’t own a car, and I haven’t been taking public transit (well, I’ve been on the subway 3 times since mid-March). I don’t have much of anywhere to be, though it’s very tough not being able to see friend, to go to the water, to experience all the parts of my city. So I live as I live, inside a world bounded by Myrtle Ave to the north, Eastern Parkway to the south, Tompkins Ave to the East, and the East River to the West. That’s my zone.

I’m writing about this here because last night I was thinking about how we’ve planned our various Perfect Lives maps. We’ve got seven locations to get to throughout the day, and we’ve always wanted it to be set up for maximum walkability. We want everyone to be able to flow from one location to the next, so it feels like a small town. In Manhattan & Brooklyn, we had dozens of potential places to choose from, but the closer to the center of the map, the better. That wasn’t possible in the Catskills & Pittsburgh as much, but Jersey City was pretty walkable.

If… when we get to do Perfect Lives again, I think that walkability quality is something I’d like to keep in mind in light of what so many of us are experiencing these days. I like to hold onto the idea that wherever we live, we live somewhere where seemingly mundane locations can be revealed to be rich with culture and creativity, to be the site of the perfect crime, which is also art.

– Dave

all bots (but not us) are liars

January 21, 2020

First public performance of The Blurring Test has happened! Apologies for the radio silence here in advance but we’re busy people! We’ve got a ~75 min piece that we’ve collectively made and it’s feeling strong. Next chance you’ll get to see it will be in June at Roulette, more details on that when they announce their spring season.

In principle, we’ve worked in this way before, where each of us takes a portion of the source material and arranges it to our aesthetic, but in this case we’re starting from scratch musically and there’s more flexibility with how we situate things within the larger work. It’s a nice reminder when we’re changing things on the fly that we’ve been working together for nine years and know each other very well.

We’ll have some documentation to share soon, but in the meantime, some slaying lewks of the most attractive band in New Music from this weekend at the Brick.

News x2

November 21, 2019

Hey Vspeed enjoyers. It’s been a minute. But there’s news! Two newses in fact!

1.) Out this week on Lovely Music is a recording of the version of Improvement the five of us took part in back in February. Tom Hamilton made it sound spiffy live and on the album and it’ll be a great thing to listen to alongside the original recording. You can order it here. If you missed it, there’s video here as well.

2.) The word is out that we’ll be doing our first public performance of The Blurring Test, our collaboration with Peggy Weil that draws on her work with the chatbot MrMind, as part of the Exponential Festival in January. We’re at the Brick Theater (a site important in the history of Varispeed as it’s where four of us performed TIME in 2011 and cooked up Perfect Lives Brooklyn) on Sun 1/19. More info on that one is here, and stay tuned for more!

And if you’re looking for more content from us, here’s a new album featuring Gelsey, and Paul’s got some big stuff coming up this weekend in Jersey City.

New Banks, Investigations, Reaction Shots

April 19, 2019

We got into the space to rehearse “The Bank” yesterday and it’s gonna be a nice one. Windows out onto Ave A and everything. No vault, but nice exposed structural elements.

Mostly this post is an excuse to share these three photos with you.

And the main reason to share them all is Aliza’s three separate reactions to Brian exploring what goes on inside a euphonium. She did work on film shoots for years, so it’s not a huge surprise that she gives such cogent looks as second nature.

Come visit us in the bank! April 26th & 27th!

Bank & beyond

April 6, 2019

Hullo! Varispeed! We’re still here!

Last we checked in, the five of us had taken part in the wonderfully successful run of shows at the Kitchen of Improvement and, as Varispeed, released our first album, Empty Words. It was a busy first two months of the year. Things were quieter in March but they’re ramping up again in April and May.

The next thing on the calendar is two performances of our arrangement of “The Bank” from Perfect Lives. “The Bank” is the section we’ve tackled as a solo section a couple times, like here on video from WFMU or last year up at Wesleyan University. We’ll be doing it in an old bank, most appropriate of all places, in the East Village. It’s part of some programming from Qubit, and the performances will be on April 26th and 27th. You can find info on a Facebook event page here.

On top of that, we spent the past week working together on some new material. Full details will roll out soon, but what we’ll say for now is that we’re working on a multi-year project with Peggy Weil, a wonderful artist out of LA, in which she is providing a text as a starting point and the five of us are mapping a musical course through that material. We’re going to be doing a small private performance of some of that material in May. If you’re reading this, you may hear more from us…