But boy. It turned out basically how I expected it too. Can't say I'm disappointed.
So lets back up.
OUR SINGER IS 2HRs LATE
A MuTECH performance is never without a whole range of technical difficulties. First it was the USB hub crashing due to overload. Our course techie saved us by retrieving a powered USB hub for us. Then we had the crazy delay running through our system for no apparent reason. Simone managed to fix this too, and we continued on. And while these challenges were tedious, they didn't make us stop and go 'we may have a serious problem-- we can't perform'.
Our singer being two hours late made us do that though. Jake was in Brisbane all day for his internship, but when it struck 2.30PM when he was supposed to arrive at 1PM we started to get concerned. This singer, according to Simone, was always punctual and this was out of character.
Luckily we managed to get contact from him at the two hour mark and he arrived. While this wasted potential practice time (act two was set up first for tests, and we were in act one) it did mean he didn't have to wait around so much. And we did manage a brief practice, which illuminated some more deep rooted problems in our approach to the singer, but again, more on that later.
Our official sound check and rehearsal then went fairly well with the only thing being majorly detrimental being the soft foldback, which sadly wasn't really fixed for the performance despite us notifying it. But ah well. It happens.
ATTACK OF ZOMBIE MODE
Performing is a funny thing. From my last post, you know I had my concerns and was quite anxious about how we would go. But when I was on the bus heading into uni earlier that morning, I managed to put things in perspective and calm down, helped greatly by the fantastic overcast weather. This was it, after all. This was the end of my course. After this, we came into the home stretch. So I shouldn't have been scared. Couldn't. No, no matter how it went. Because this was the last chance I had to play with friends in this kind of environment. And I loved performing. I do love it. So I had to give it everything I had. And when the performance came, something strange happened.
I go into something called zombie mode when I'm put under stress. It's like the ultimate get shit done activation in my mind, where I can block everything out and focus on the task at hand. And I felt it come upon me while I waited in the audience for the first group to end, knowing I was up next even though that fact hadn't exactly clicked yet. And it was like my mind split in two.
There was part containing my thoughts like:
Then there was the part controlling my body.
That was the part that had me standing once my friends finished their performance, and had me walking down to the piano. I remember thinking, while I sat on the bench waiting for Simone to look back at me for confirmation to start, "what the hell am I doing?" I had no idea. But my body did. All my practice of this piece, and performing in general, was engrained in my muscle memory. All I had to do was hit play-- or for Simone to look back at me and start-- and I would begin. And I did, and no one knows how proud I am at that opening and my ability to match Simone's suspended chords that she brought in fairly irregularly as she mixed at the same time. We weren't supposed to match (never practiced to, really), but I made it work. Hey! It's the small things.
AH, THE SINGER!
Remember how I was talking about my sins yesterday? Well, this was another one. Jake, the fantastic man, needs direction. He needs someone to say 'this is how it goes' and drill it into him. Sadly this fact wasn't taken on board when practising. Instead my group wanted to let him 'do his thing' (which he was not sure of), saying 'just do what you want, we will follow you!" Dangerous words.
Jake may be a great singer, constantly performing, and in the last year of his Popular Music bachelor, but that doesn't mean we could just rely on him 'getting it'. No, we needed to have sat down at the piano with him and drilled in his notes, instead of relying on his ability to just follow along and pick it up. He needed those notes locked in.
I guess we were too busy worrying about ourselves, that we didn't fully put ourselves in his shoes.
It wasn't until that last practice before our sound check that it fully clicked in my mind what we had to do, and didn't do. Unfortunately. By then it was too late.
Also, because of this approach, I was never given explicit time-- and realised too late that it was something I really needed-- to teach everyone my 'tells'.
When I compose/play, I embed heaps of little tidbits alerting other performers, and the audience, that we are leading into something new. For an example, in the opening, before I switch from one broken chord to a more complex one, I don't play the last eighth note. It's small, but noticeable. You feel it. There are other things little motifs, and rhythms, and of course general crescendoing, or decrescendoing. It's a way of conducting without visual signals, and something I've been attuned too due to years of band work for all kind of positions and instruments. Maybe, like everyone expecting Jake to 'pick it up', I expected people just to notice these things-- or atleast feel it. But I'm getting side tracked.
OOOH - I MEAN FIRST VERSE
We were going so well, until our 8 bars of ooohs became 4 and we suddenly launched into the first verse. Luckily the high hit (which I use in the oohs) led well into the first verse. But when I looked back on the recording, you can see Jake look at Simone and I for direction and us heads down focussed. My bad.
What happened after that was an interesting improvised version of our piece as choruses were suddenly added, and sections suddenly changed. And I was having the time of my life! Where's the fun in just hitting play and going through the usual motions? Yes, it was a bitch to be suddenly thrown in the deep end. But it wasn't that bad, and seeming I'm not that bad either, it really wasn't anything to blink at. You just went with it, and had fun bullshitting your way through. Which I really did. It was great to make this a challenge, and actually have to perform.
I do have to own up for nearly bringing my solo that Simone created in too early, then rushing it a little when I got to it (poor Simone). Jake then brought the chorus in when the instrumental was supposed to happen, but it kind of worked so that wasn't a matter. After that, I improvised the heck out of the ending, and it was over, and I was walking back to my seat not sure that had actually happened, or having any idea about how it went. But it was over, and my mind was yet to catch up.
ABOUT THE VISUALS
From watching that video, I'm sure you've noticed the lack of visuals which we seemed to have spent so much time on earlier-- another sin. Turns out, another group took our idea and actually did something with it. Turned out pretty awesome, too, to be honest.
But by the end, we had to cut visuals. It had to be something set from day one that grew with the project, except we just didn't get to that point. We never did. And we couldn't have something detracting from the performance. So bye bye to that. Ah, well. C'est lavie.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT
We've come to the end. This is it. We're done. And boy it's been fun. Do I have regrets? Naturally. Have I learnt things? Of course. But that's all part of the experience. And out of all of it, I guess the fact I miss performing is the most notable. I don't compose near enough, let alone perform. I guess that is why we did this in the first place. A final time to perform with the MuTECH gang. I'm sad to see it end.
The final week has passed. Tomorrow is the performance, and boy it's been a ride. But lets jump back to where I left you last Thursday.
Last Group Practice minus Nathan
Due to Jake's busy schedule we were unable to meet up with him until Tuesday. So off to the coast we went again, only to find out an hour later that Nathan couldn't come due to a family emergency regarding their cat and fair bit of money. This was unfortunate, as we had hoped to implement the effects he had been working on over the weekend for his horn. Instead we spent the time cleaning up the composition and running through it as many times as we could to make sure Jake was comfortable with it, and we had it as bulletproof as possible.
Turns out no Horn Effects. Or Wii.
As you know, through my blog posts my main experimental idea was using the Wii for effects. I had managed to get this working on my computer and those at school, but for some reason Simone's computer fritz'd when I try to sync the Wii remote to OSC (a program Nathan and I bought for this performance). We have tried numerous times to get it working, and only succeeded in crashing her computer. The internet provided no answers, and time was of essence-- so it was scrapped.
Nathan's effects also turned out redundant though I can't remember the exact reason. Instead we hooked up some parameter controls for his sustained chords on his midi keyboard, similar to Simone's set up for the introduction which is replacing the Wii. She also managed to get her launchpad working, which helped a lot with her drums.
In truth I am quite disappointed with this turn out, though it's only one of many regrets I have.
Performance and more Practice
Come Thursday we performed for the class, without a singer. We were not the best, and while I wouldn't call us the worst due the fact worst implies we didn't do well, our level of achievement fell quite below of others. This came from the fact they had a lot more experience and tools at their disposal to achieve quite avant garde stuff in some cases; or maybe just more willing team members to go in that direction. There are a million excuses to why we weren't and aren't that level. But excuses do nothing, so all I can do is practice more and do the best with what we have.
These experiences are all about learning, and if I'm to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, I have to take on board the sins I did in this project and one of them was noticing warning signs, and dismissing them. If some one says 'don't worry, I have this'-- they don't always do. If an element of your piece-- no matter how big or how beloved by a member-- is tied to your feet like a cement block, then you have to cut it loose. If members are scared to try something new, sometimes you have to push them by presenting work in a manageable way, even if it means taking on more of the load yourself.
If you're in a situation that's dragging you down, you need to be stronger and better. You have to find a way to make it all work. And though I tried, I put that much needed extra effort in far too late when the noose was already dropping over our heads.
Next time, I have to act faster and learn to push the members of the team in an efficient way (a far more practical thing then taking it all upon myself) that may antagonise my self in their mind, but bring out the best in them in our work.
It's tomorrow night, and I am scared. I know my part front and back, but that is only one variable out of hundreds that implicate the success of our performance. I worry for our singer, who I know can be great, but is yet to demonstrate in practice something concrete and moving. I worry for my health, as this night falls on the worst night in the month for me-- if you catch my drift. If you don't. Just know, I am in a fair bit of pain. And if the panadol wears off moments before I walk on stage...
But there's other things too that are so unpredictable that all you can do is hope for the best, and prepare for the worst just like with anything else.
While this piece may not be at the standard I hoped for, it is something I created with friends, and I do want to do justice to what we have made. This may be our final performance for our university, but it is a far cry from the closing night of our lives. And if everything is to go wrong, at least one good comes out of it -- I get to play on an awesome grand piano!
We're hurtling towards the end, and the wheels are careening out of control.
But hey, I have videos for you!
(Remember how I said I did not want to be spongebob?)
What do you mean, you're in Sydney?
Everything seemed to be working out. We were together, practicing, and smoothing out our composition. We had all the midi keyboards, we had the looper pedal, we had the singer! We were finding what parts were strong, and which needed work, and jamming it all out; music is a language after all, and while writing it down does wonders-- performance is all speaking. But.
(It's better not to ask what we're attempting to do with my midi box and Simone's cardigan)
It was half way through this jam session that we learned there had been some kind of miscommunication; our singer, Andy, couldn't make the performance. He would be in Sydney, turns out, for a paid gig that night. We're not sure why he thought this wouldn't collide with our performance (as he returns the day after), but hitting the panic button suddenly looked real tempting.
We didn't. And I have to give Simone kudos. When this tidbit of information hit us, I was expecting shit to hit the fan. I looked at her, and I could see the temptation rising-- I knew it was rising in me. But what good comes from freaking out? Instead, Simone took a deep breath and clarified with her friend. "You sure?" Hopefully someone had the dates wrong-- no such luck. Okay.
We immediately started thinking of other singers who we could call in to replace him. We had spotted the ice-berg, and were going to veer left, dammit. We weren't Spongebob-- yet. And this is the part where I say a miracle hit us. Simone found replacement the next day.
Meet our Angel
A few days later, I found myself travelling to the coast for a two hour session to meet Mr Jake at the nice university studios down there. This was a great opportunity to see what kind of set-up we needed, and start really nailing our song in a 'performance' scenario-- which we discovered is still not there sadly. The more we ran through it, the more we realised the ending was just too weak. We decided this had to be reworked before our next rehearsal.
And I Launch into Action
A few days after this session, it became clear our composition just wasn't hitting it yet. We had other assessment breathing down the back of neck, and while we were putting the time into this subject, we weren't achieving much to show it. We had hit a brick wall. Again.
So far, Simone had been in charge mostly of the composition as I was looking after another project we had together. But as we gained a third active member to that subject, I jumped into Sonic Art to see if I could come up with anything.
I ended up sitting at my piano for hours, staring at pen-filled pages of mush; I was clawing at the brick wall, shredding my fingertips, and not having much to show for it. Or so I thought.
Turned out I had a lot more than I realised in our next session. Simone sat down with me at the piano, and we bashed it out with Nathan improvising on the horn behind us. We implemented my new opening and motifs that I had created the previous day while Simone introduced her new chorus.
However there was something funny, timing wise, with the melody of her new section. I couldn't put my finger on it, until it clicked. I grabbed my phone, and pulled up one of my old experimentation videos. It turned out an old idea of mine had stuck in her head, and she had tried to recreate it with different chords and tempos. Quite amusing. We quickly fixed it up, and continued with the flow.
(Remember that photo? Here's the video.)
By jamming together, we fixed one of the main issues eating at me the last few weeks-- the lack of musical 'quirks'. While Simone's composition was good, it was relying too heavily on drums and synth pads. She was stuck in a 8-bar loop mentality, which was partly her DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)'s fault and partly the expectations of her genre.
I have to admit I'm not a fan of composing in Ableton due to the default work flow; it can become a very dangerous trap if you're not consciously making sure your composition flows as naturally as possible, and that Ableton-- as an instrument-- is being used as organically as possible.
However, by sitting at the piano, all those musical elements came back to Simone that have been hardwired into us since birth, and drilled into us by every song we listen to, and every piece we learn. She was accenting the tension and release my new material brought, and bringing in her own rhythmic ideas and as such.
We finally figured it all out and it was a lot of fun.
Sadly our singer couldn't make it for our test performance which didn't go ahead anyway.
As you can see in the video, our composition has morphed quite a fair bit from our time at the coast. It's still rocky as it hasn't been rehearsed with our singer yet, and we're missing key elements such as the Wii Remote (which wouldn't work), Nathan's Horn manipulation (we didn't have a mic), and you know, the singer (which means the no looping).
Simone's keyboard also stopped working half way through the piece.
I want to work on expanding on these elements now. Introducing all the manipulation, and maybe adding some of my harmonies into another keyboard (such as a bell sound).
I have also organised a grand piano for my use. It is my instrument of choice, and I feel most comfortable sitting at a traditional piano, than a midi keyboard-- which I most likely will still be using.
NEXT WEEK IS IT
The performance. It is here, and oh boy this is going to get interesting. By Wednesday I need to have the composition bulletproof for our practice with our singer which has to go off without a hitch and preparation for Friday. We have one rehearsal with Jake before bump-in and it must be seemless; he must be able to slip into the piece like slipping on a glove made perfectly for him.