Minh and I performed a few pieces for members and friends of Arashi Daiko in Montreal. We played,
3v5 feat. Patrick Graham
Drum/dance improvisation feat. Patrick Graham and Chieko Kojima
It was an honor to end our tour performances with this pre-Covid performance. The space sounded great, we had Patrick and Chieko to help, and the audience was wonderful. Arashi Daiko and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Montreal were amazing hosts.
Here are my thoughts on each piece.
Good ideas, not yet fully realized.
The kawatsura/brushes stuff I've been practicing for a few years is starting to take shape, but it needs direction. ("Kawatsura" is what I call the bodiless shime heads I play.) For example, if I were in a jazz ensemble, my role as the drummer would be clearly defined, the structure and development of the piece dictated largely by the other instruments; i.e. "head in AB, solos, head out ABA". My first attempt to create a similarly clear structure for my solo playing was Play 4/4, where voiceover from a sampler provides narrative direction. The sampler also plays synth and metallic instruments and changes effects on mics from the kawatsura. The playing still sounds amateur but I like the piece's sonic texture. With more practice and revision of the various grooves (with the help of drumset teachers, I imagine), I think it has the potential to feel good.
However, I am always stressed to perform it. The technical logistics are a bit more than I can handle. I have to contend with feedback issues and balancing the various signals, all while I can't actually hear what the audience is hearing.
So for this performance I simply created a delay effect on the sampler and improvised on top of it. (Thanks to Patrick for pushing me to be brave!) I made my way through the grooves from Play 4/4 that came to me in the moment. It was better than a badly-mixed version of Play 4/4, and I appreciated the freedom of total improvisation. Improv provided risk and concentration, and that translates as energy. As an audience member, however, I think I would have preferred a well-mixed version of Play 4/4. What the song needs is a proper mixing engineer, and rearrangement so that I can trigger the section changes live. This would regain a bit of the improv energy while keeping the structural benfits of the voiceover and backing tracks.
A good first collaboration but both music and dance need more polish.
The Prairie backing track is written on the Octatrack with flute samples sent to me by Leanna Keith. I like the music but it needs to be better mixed. It sounds "muddy" to me. It's also too long... perhaps cutting the third loop of the main melodies would help. It also needs another musical idea at the end to pull everything together. Hopefully, future collaborations with Leanna will provide more ideas. (We were supposed to perform at New Music Gathering in June but it's been canceled due to coronavirus.)
Watching on video, the Prairie dance feels "spread thin". There seem to be lots of transition moments which are not themselves choreographic. I want the dance to feel jam packed with movement richness. This seems easy enough to me: just condense and/or add details. Minh considers Prairie a first attempt and is ready to move on to new next choreography (rather than continue to revise and improve). I think it has potential, but I too am okay to just keep moving forward.
A good run... maybe this piece is done?
This performance of Radiddlepa felt good. I survived the risky moments and loved the reverberant sound of the performance space. Maybe I should just call Radiddlepa "done".
For a long time I've felt like Radiddlepa is missing something. Maybe it's that the complicated, flashy techniques are outweighing the substance. Not enough noodles for the broth. I played it for Chris Lamb and he thought the limitation I'm feeling comes from the simple fact it's a solo piece for single instrument, and that limitation is also its strength. Patrick concurred. I've been thinking about adding a looping synth sound or a boombox with a synth pad, but maybe they're right. An illustrative example; Dave Matthews' pared-down version of So Damn Lucky is more moving for me than the large-ensemble album version.
So for now I'll keep it as-is. The playing can get better, though. I should practice outside the song structure, improvising with each section's groove and bachi combinations. The piece shouldn't feel like I'm tight-rope walking, just barely surviving.
The seed of an idea, not yet ready.
What are all the ways we might use takebachi? I started using the bamboo sticks because I wanted to incorporate the swooshing sound in my naname choreography. It's been half-successful. I love the swooshes, the slappy hits, the quiet rim strikes, and the fact their length makes me move around the drum more dramatically. But I feel limited tonally -- I miss the warm, low "don" of a regular bachi.
Minh is trying everything with takebachi too; walking on them, stepping over them, putting them in her hair, using them like bull-roarers. There is something amazing in all of this but we haven't quite figured out the right combination. This particular performance was fun for us but it appears pretty sloppy in the video. Minh's risky movements need to be more grounded in technique and I need choreographic, beautiful ways to crawl around as well. Playing with Patrick was a treat, with his wide-ranging tonality and sensitivity.
We haven't decided if this piece should be revised or dropped. I imagine bits and pieces of it will wind up in our current composition for Grand Vision Foundation.
Improvisation feat. Patrick Graham and Chieko Kojima
Chieko brought a lot to this spur-of-the-moment collaboration. She danced without her usual costume; a reaction to her feeling like she was hiding behind it in a previous performance. Chieko rolled out a strip of fabric at the beginning of the improvisation and that proved fruitful for both her and Minh. The piece came and went pretty quickly and we didn't reach any great heights in any of the sections, but it was a joy to do and the audience enjoyed it.