Musical Odyssey, with a Side of Mealworms
[Please ignore the following characters: MPQHD5QU2W3W - They made me do it]
Some gigs are a little stranger than others. This would be one of those.
In a building in downtown Los Angeles with no access to cell phones or watches/clocks, improvise music for 8 hours with two other musicians I've never met before, for a project called Biotechnology by NEUROSAPIEN.
What gear should I bring?
I have no idea what to expect from this day, and I don't even know what musical styles will be played. I decide to bring my Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler. I know I can get a wide variety of head-turningly great sounds from it, and I can loop with it and also control parameters with an expression pedal. I also pack my DL-4 Delay Modeler that's been with me forever - with my sounds dialed in to be controlled with an expression pedal. I also bring a bass, and having no bass amp at my disposal, I dial in a bass tone on a POD® to run through a 15" powered monitor.
Now I'm in the performance space. It's indoors, but feels like I'm in the woods. Our seats are tree stumps brought in from the Mojave Desert. The walls are covered with live plants and circuitry. There is live grass on the ground. I meet the other musicians (a drummer and a vocalist), as well as an artist who will be drawing and creating art while we play, and a writer who will be writing poetry on a blank white wall while we play. There is also a videographer and a still photographer. There are microphones everywhere for recording the event. There are still cameras (whose insides have been replaced with surveillance cameras) at different angles all over the space. There are red footswitches around the room, so that any time during the session when someone is enjoying a moment, they can step on a footswitch and all the cameras will fire in sequence and document that moment in time.
There are large blocks of ice on the floor, with drinking-cup-sized hollows filled with different colored punch and boba (with big boba straws) - our first bit of sustenance. There is an experimental chef on hand to bring us food and drink throughout the day. Food is served on DirectTV satellite dishes (one for each participant) and a bed of banana leaves, with bent silverware. Tea is served in cups made from tin cans with c-clamps. The first dish is a large whole octopus with ceviche (one for each of our DirectTV dishes). We eat, enjoy some tea with fresh fruit, and go back to playing music. As we play, people bring different non-musical objects for the drummer to beat on. The vocalist sings tones or improvised lyrics. There is also a toy keyboard, and some other re-purposed electronic devices brought by the drummer. I switch off between guitar, bass, flutes, and percussion. We are all very relaxed and comfortable with each other. (We are sober for this entire experience, by the way.)
After a while the second course arrives. Served in emptied pomegranate shells are cooked snails and mealworms in a delicious Caribbean jerk sauce. I'm actually fine with the mealworms, probably thanks to the jerk sauce. More tea. Back to musicians playing, artist drawing, writer writing, videographer video-ing, engineer recording, cameras shooting. All my favorite Line 6 gear is serving me well, feeling as connected to me as my own guitar. I effortlessly get all the sounds I want, and all I have to concentrate on is the music that is being spontaneously created.
The Fluffy Bunny
Eyes closed in a music-induced trance during the most blissfully gentle and beautiful vibe of the day, I suddenly hear laughter spreading through the room. In our midst is now a soft baby bunny, hopping around and sniffing the headstock of my bass which is lying in the grass. It occurs to me that this environment is designed to put the artists into a non-normal headspace.
From the description of this day thus far, you may be imagining that the music was avant garde or strange, but actually it was generally accessible and often quite lovely. We all traded instruments at times, and the musicians I played with were great. In addition to her excellent singing, the vocalist also made effective use of the little toy keyboard, somehow making it sound quite moody, and even played one of my Indian bamboo flutes rather well. The drummer played my bass at times (in addition to his own electronic gadgets), and I played a garbage can lid hanging from a rafter along with other pieces of his found-object percussion kit. Everyone played very sensitively, tuned into each other and playing without ego, just trying to groove and serve the music as a whole.
Although fatigue over the course of an 8 hour session could have been an issue, I think we switched up our instruments enough (as well as our seating arrangements), so that even though my body may have protested a bit, the memory I am left with is the good feeling of connecting with my fellow artists. There was an arc to the music throughout the session. I think we started out a little mellow and spacey as we reached out for each other. At some point during the middle of the day we built to a rocking crescendo which culminated with the drummer beating a Styrofoam cooler to shreds while emitting primal screams, and then we rocked some more with me playing the most raw and aggressive guitar of the day. After that, the session ebbed and flowed in intensity, with plenty of rock throughout.
The Final Course
The final course arrives: Some kind of meat - a leg, bit of breast and rib all connected. Is it a bird, or is it... A bunny!!! (I guessed correctly. It's rabbit with pomegranate. Don't worry, it's not THE rabbit. He's fine. His name is Knology.) Also on the plate is the stinkiest fruit known to man: the durian fruit. That is the only item I could not get through during the day. Imagine a large tropical fruit filled with stinky scrambled eggs. That's the second time in my life that durian fruit has been served to me. Some people love it. I'll keep trying. Maybe.
Once the creation process was completed, all photos had to be developed, music mixed and edited and video edited within 24 hours. Then all week, the exhibit was open to the public. (The exhibit had to be watered daily, by the way.) People could see photos of us in the places in the room where we played our music, made our art, and wrote our thoughts. On the writing wall was projected video of our day, along with a 40-minute music loop of what we played together. Hundreds of tiny photos from the still cameras were on display, and people could step on the footswitches and see new arrays of photos appear on a video screen.
The theme was Biotechnology (thus the circuitry mingling with plants). The goal was to narrow the space between the experimental creation process and the viewing audience. There is so much more to tell about that day of creation, but the last thing I will mention is that people who participated are now friends and still keep in touch with each other.
One thing I learned: When you have to make music in crazy situations where anything might happen, bring your Line 6 gear, and you'll be ready for anything!
- Matt Piper
Biotechnology by NEUROSAPIEN powered by SPACE
Featured Musicians: Matt Piper, Zach D'Agostino, Caitlin Mackenzie Smith // Featured Artists: Sarah Bearse, Sam Hart & Sherry Youssef // Experimental Chef: David McConnell // Documentary Team: Sarah Bearse, William Van Beckum, Jacob Snider // Production Team: Gabriel Bello Diaz, Farida Amar, Carmella Amar
Photos by William Van Beckum