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Empty Words album coming soon!

August 20, 2018

Dear Loyal Varispeed Readers –

In the 7+ years we’ve been a collective, our work has existed as live performances and a handful of videos of Perfect Lives performances. This fall, for the first time, we’re releasing a Varispeed album!

In a couple months, highlights from Part I of our 2012 performance of John Cage’s Empty Words, recorded live at Roulette, will be released on Gold Bolus Recordings. The whole of Part I was 2.5 hours, but this album documents the beginning of the process of turning language into sound. In addition to the five of us performing with our voices and on electronics, we were joined by some amazing guests.

More thoughts to come on this release, but for now, you can listen to the first released track, “and we fs”.



July 18, 2018

If you haven’t heard, Aliza, Gelsey, and I will be performing some music of Robert Ashley’s this Friday at Issue Project Room as part of a two night tribute to the Sonic Arts Union.

Back in 2014, Brian, Aliza, & Gelsey performed a version of Love is a Good Example at Roulette, in a trio arrangement by Gelsey, you can hear it here at 2:33:30 or thereabouts. LIAGE is an early 90’s that Bob performed a lot in the last two decades of his life as a solo piece with a simple set up – two microphones, one with generous reverb, the other more dry. Like a lot of Bob’s pieces that are part monologue, part lecture, part musing, part poem, part song, the thread comes in and out of direct address. This is my first time performing, unlike the other four ‘speeders (Gelsey & Paul have done solo versions in the past), and while I’ve been listening to it for years and saw Bob perform it, it’s striking to get inside of it.

The thoughts in the piece about communication and society operating at different levels of impedance, and the speaker’s openness to models of society other than the current one, are speaking to me a lot right now. I don’t propose to know exactly what Bob’s getting at with some of the metaphors in the piece, but working through it can be a way to remind yourself that what we think as high functioning, as productive, as successful, is far from the only way to operate. I think the past two years, like the years at the end of the Cold War when it was written, daily raise the idea that society could be on the brink of a massive change in almost any direction. I’m finding this piece a useful world to sit in for 15 minutes at a time when I run through it to allay some anxiety, to have passing moments of clarity and not feel distressed when they fade into relative chaos. If you’re in NYC, come hear what we’re doing with the piece, or if you’re not, give it a fresh listen, I think you’ll be happy you did.

– Dave

Maledetto v2

April 26, 2018

Hi Varispeed lovers!  Dave here.

We’ve got a performance coming up in just about a month.  We’re once again teaming with thingNY [of course, Gelsey, Paul, & I are in thingNY…] to do our second take of Kenneth Gaburo’s LINGUA II: Maledetto, a piece for seven virtuoso speakers.  Maybe you were lucky enough to catch it in 2016 at Soft Series when we did version 1.  If not, it’s a piece that’s nominally about screws, and has a throughline of talking straightforwardly about their history and use, but all the while Gaburo plays with the basic building blocks of the word screw and all kind of associations (especially sexual ones) to cloud this informative presentation.  It’s part of his series of late 60s pieces that articulated his practice of Compositional Linguistics – using phonetic building blocks as raw material for all manner of avant-garde compositions, often with a theatrical component.  We’ll be performing it sitting around a table in an intimate setting.

We have a notion that we’d love to get to some day to do all the pieces in Gaburo’s LINGUA series together.  These are rarely performed, very difficult to execute, and in some cases not well documented as scores, recordings, or both.  No date on when that might happen, but for now, we strongly recommend you check out our version of Maledetto, which attempts to play with gender roles in a way that diverges with Gaburo (but makes it palatable to us to pick up 50 years after it was written), and shows off our robust skills as vocalists in all kinds of contexts.  This go round the team is the five of us plus Erin & Andrew from thingNY (replacing Esther Neff & Jeff Young in our previous version).

Last night, some of us got together to talk through the piece, and Aliza snapped a few photos.

glamour + what’s next

April 13, 2018

Sure, we’ve been called the best looking band in New Music before.  We don’t want to boast.  You can judge for yourself with these photos from Crash.

Also if you’re in New York City on May 30th*, you’re certainly not gonna want to miss our arrangement of Kenneth Gaburo’s Maledetto on a split bill with thingNY** at Roulette!!! If you missed it back on Aliza’s birthday in 2016, this is your chance to see seven virtuoso speakers navigate Gaburo’s compositional linguistics.  Also on the bill are new pieces from Gelsey Bell and friend of the ‘Speed Rick Burkhardt. Info & tickets here.

And you’ll hear more about this soon, but we’re working on an album version of our arrangement of Cage’s Empty Words from 2012. More soon!

*and if you’re not in NYC, then you should come!

**sure, 60% of us are also in thingNY, but it’s still a split bill, dang it!

Ashley Weekend in Middletown

March 6, 2018

This past weekend in Middletown, CT was an amazing celebration of the life & work of Robert Ashley.  Not only did we perform Crash (with Amirtha Kidambi) and “The Bank” from Perfect Lives, Tom Buckner gave a concert of three pieces of Bob’s and one by Alvin Lucier inspired by Improvement.  Not to mention the lengthy conversations on Saturday that was catnip of the newly coined “Ash-heads” (Aliza’s term), some of whom who’d traveled many miles to talk to and mingle with Varispeed and some other close collaborators of Bob’s.

We don’t have any audio or video, but here’s some photos for context.


Dramatis personae of weekend included (L to R) Paula Matthusen, Gelsey, Tom Buckner, Aliza, Alvin Lucier, Mimi Johnson, Tom Hamilton, Amirtha Kidambi, Paul, Dave, Brian, Alex Waterman (holding a young Waterman).

IMG_3993 Allow us to point out that Mr Paul F Pinto was endeavoring this entire weekend about 48 hours after returning from about three months in Southeast Asia.  If there were awards for endeavoring big performance feats while operating with intense jet lag, Paul would have one locked up.

We had very little time to get “The Bank” together, and Paul hadn’t had a chance to play drums in months, but we’re pros and we made it happen.  Especially Paul!



Brian did the lead for “The Bank” for the first time since we did a one-off at WFMU back in 2014.  Brian’s approach is more based on the breaths in the original version.  So think about THAT.


Aliza & Dave went to Wesleyan.  Aliza had the idea to do “The Bank” for undergrads, who might come under the spell of Perfect Lives like Aliza & Dave did years ago.  Aliza also brilliantly & shamelessly plugged our two shows to any undergrad who would listen.  She makes a hard sell.


Finally, we’ll leave you with the shot Aliza so proudly assembled of the other four of us in the hotel pool.  Not pictured: hot tub nearby.

More Varispeed action is coming your way this spring!  Stay tuned!

Bank bonus

February 7, 2018

Dear lovers of Varispeed and other people who come across this page:

Next month is gonna be great.  Up at Wesleyan University the first weekend of March, there’s gonna be a whole bunch of concerts and events relating to the life and work of Robert Ashley.  Tom Buckner performs a recital of Bob’s work, many of his closest collaborators and friends give talks, and along with Amirtha, we’re performing Crash for the first time in three years.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE.  We’re also gonna put together a single episode of Perfect Lives to cap things off.  On Sunday, March 4th at 1pm sharp, we’ll bring The Bank to 200 High St, aka Movement House, fka Eclectic.  This building is known more for rock shows than financial transactions, but heck, it looks grand and bank-like:


So you can find us out there talking about the bank having no money in it and singing some you coo coos on hopefully a nice crisp New England afternoon.  If you’re keeping score at home, Brian’s gonna do the lead for the first time since we were on WFMU.

And all these events are free if that’s not enough incentive to get you to spend a weekend in the Connecticut River Valley, friends.

Coming in 2018

December 31, 2017

Dear Varispeed readers: we’ve got a lot coming your way in 2018!  First up is in early March in Middletown, CT.  Mimi Johnson and Alvin Lucier have put together a weekend-long celebration of Robert Ashley’s life and work at Wesleyan University, including a performance from us of Crash.  Also on tap that weekend is a concert from Tom Buckner and panels featuring Mimi, Alvin, and other friends and collaborators of Bob’s over the years.  We’re trying to put a cherry on top of this sundae, performance-wise, we’ll keep you posted if it comes to pass.  More soon!