Monday, May 31, 2010

Prayers & Penance, 2003

This project was the result of my working with George Earth in Shards.  George introduced me to Celeste, another friend of his. Celeste is a very talented multi-genre artist.
She mentioned that she was looking for musical collaborators for a dance piece she'd been developing.  The piece was her condemnation of the Second Gulf War, which was unfolding before our eyes on the television.  I can't recall if we had any rehearsals for the performance, but I do have these notes:

We ultimately performed the piece two times in public, once at the Brainwash Cafe in SF, and once at an art gallery in Sacramento.  The great tenor saxophone player David Boyce played with us at Brainwash.  In the video, you can kind of hear him.  He told me afterward that he'd had a rag stuffed in the bell of his sax, and had forgotten to take it out!  After the Sacramento performance, this guy in a black trench with a Black Flag "bars" pin walked up to me, gave me a bear hug, and exclaimed "I UNDERSTAND IT!!!!!".  That pretty much made drive up there worth it, for me. 
At that time, I was very much interested in playing improvised music in public, and Celeste provided an opportunity for me to do this.  I remain grateful to her for that, and have very fond memories from this experience.
This flyer was designed by Celeste:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Feelin' the rhythm in the heat of Oakley

Me with Barney Cauldron, playing Tanveer Ahmed's birthday party, July, 2008.  Tanveer played percussion with Barney Cauldron during that year.  Thanks, Mr. Ahmed.  
That's my pal Scarp Home's hat in the foreground.  Scarp is a unique guy.  I'm glad we're playing together, still.   Thanks, Mr. Home. 
Much more on Barney Cauldron to come. 

Wadaiko Newark pt. 4

Wadaiko Newark, 2004.  Marie is the woman at the end of the back row
As 2004 turned into 2005, more changes beset us.  Dr. Clark began his steady withdrawal from the troupe, as foretold.  Along with his absence, we began to experience the presence of several new members.  Throughout the year, the beginning taiko classes has provided promising new talent.  We were eager to expand our ranks.
Early in the  new year, we received word from Newark Unified School District that the building in which our dojo was housed was to be sold.  Terry and Sue worked out a deal for us to use a different building within the district, which came as a great relief for all of us.  Still, the change added to my growing sense of malaise.
That spring, most of the troupe traveled to Japan to study taiko with an acknowledged master, in an intensive 1 1/2 week-long workshop.  They would also spend a few days in Tokyo.
As I was not making much money at my job, and had racked up a lot of credit debt during the previous  few years' employment troubles, I decided not to go.  I used the three week break from practice that the trip provided to really think hard about my misgivings.  I knew it would soon be time for me to move on, but was not sure how go about extricating myself.  The previous autumn I had moved into an apartment with Melissa, in Oakland.  This made my Saturday morning commute to practice much longer.  Could I use that as an excuse?  It felt shallow, so I ruled it out as a key reason. 
That summer's gig's were a bit more spread out; we'd not gotten the same amount of bookings as the previous summer.   This seemed alright, as the adjustment away from Dr. Clark's leadership was proving to  be a tough one.  The tightness and esprit de corps of the previous  year had vanished.  I felt that the leadership vacuum allowed for certain ego clashes that had been subsumed for the good of the group to rise up anew.  We also struggled to integrate the new blood.   As various members vied for control of our direction, our music suffered.  I'd seen it a lot over the years.  "Same old same old" was a thought that crossed my mind a lot over those months. 
I also noticed that Marie was struggling to keep up physically during our routines.  He pallor was a constant white, too.  She just did not look right.  By September, she'd decided to take a break from the group, for physical reasons.
That October, during a particularly frustrating practice session, I quarreled openly with two other members of the group.  Nasty words were exchanged.  Real grievances were aired.  I left practice very angry, but more so, sad.  I realized that I had to quit.  Now.  I'd delayed for too long. 
A few days later, I composed my resignation letter.   The day after that, I drove to the dojo after work and slide the letter under the door.  I was done.  It felt great to be moving on.
Marie passed away in 2007.  I regret that I did not get to say goodbye to her.  I still have the last email that  she sent to me, in which she expressed sadness that I'd left the troupe.  I was honored to attend her memorial service that spring.   
 I remain grateful for the skills I learned from the troupe.  Taiko drumming still informs my kit playing a lot.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ovipositor recording session

Today we recorded at New, Improved Studios, with Eli Wise engineering.  Things went really well.  I think we managed to get an entire recording's worth of usable drum tracks, at minimum.  Hooray for preparation!
One thing that strikes me about the recording process is just how important it is to have a great engineer.  Eli is a masterful one, thankfully.  He knows his mics, mixer, and outboard gear very well.
As for Ovipositor, I feel like we were pretty much a model of objective efficiency.  Whenever we record, I wonder what it's like to have more time to commit to the process, but that's just not the case for me.  Oh, well.  It can be fun to see how smart and efficient one can be, too.
Next, we listen and prepare to mix.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

For z'ev and Milford

This track was recorded at Sound Wave Studios in April of 2009.  As the title suggests, I was trying to emulate two of my drumming heroes, z'ev and Milford Graves.   I love the originality of both of these master drummers.  Humbly submitted here in tribute.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wadaiko Newark pt. 3

As winter turned into spring in 2004, we continued to work out our performance routine.  We had five or six confirmed bookings for the spring and summer months, and were duly excited and inspired.  There was an electricity in our rehearsals.  It was refreshing, as I was used to the petty ego trips and forced nonchalance of the musicians I'd spent the last several years around.  Here was a group of people, doing something that they loved, simply for the love of doing it.
The hard work paid off.  Our performances were inspired and well received.  The group felt tight, physically and emotionally.  I was especially happy with Ka Ga Ra; Marie and I seemed to play it with more precision every time.  We were clicking.
For me, the most interesting gigs occurred at Buddhist temples in towns such as Turlock, Morgan Hill, and Fremont.  I felt as though I was being given a privileged insider's look into a somewhat reclusive aspect of California culture.  Primarily run by Japanese-descended Americans, these outwardly austere buildings contained many riches, aesthetically and spiritually.  The Morgan Hill temple experience was particularly moving, as there was mention (I believe it was a plaque) of the WWII era internment policy imposed upon the Japanese American population of California.  I thought of Herbie Lewis, a music professor at New College of California, who had had friends in his Los Angeles neighborhood shipped off to Manzanar, and remained affected by it fifty years later.
At some point in late summer, Dr. Clark dropped a bombshell on the group.  After one of our Saturday practice sessions, he informed us that he would be selling his house in Newark and moving to Alabama. He also told us that he would begin distancing himself from Wadaiko Newark, gradually handing the reigns of the group to us.  As he explained that his plan involved using the proceeds from his home sale to buy property Alabama for use as a taiko drum manufacturing shop, my emotions went quickly from feelings of abandonment to acceptance.  He would net a huge profit from the sale.  It just made a lot of sense for him to make the move when he did.  With six years' hindsight, I also realize the Dr. Clark, with all of his natural intelligence and astuteness, could probably see the writing on the wall, as far as California's immediate future was looking.  He cashed out at the right time!
As I drove home from that practice, I wondered about the future of the group.  Dr. Clark was the unquestioned leader.  Bands of any sort require a leader, and we would be losing ours.  I wondered who would step up and fulfill the role.  It gave me pause for concern.
Along with being concerned about Dr. Clark's immanent departure, I was beginning to question my own dedication to taiko drumming.  There is a slogan, "Eat, Sleep, Taiko", and it sums up the way most taiko drumming practitioners feel about the pursuit.  Most Saturdays, the members of Wadaiko Newark would stay at the dojo after practice, buildings drums.  Although I was in some ways interested in that, I had other irons in the fire.  Ovipositor was starting to build up its own peculiar head of steam, and I was in the early stages of my relationship with my wife Melissa.  My job at the time was also very stressful.  By Saturdays, I was generally burnt out and tired.  These factors made it hard for me to feel compelled to stay on after morning practice. I suspect that other members of the group were a bit alienated by my lack of desire to put in more than the minimum amount of time at Wadaiko Newark's dojo.  I never had a conversation with any of the group about the issue, so probably will never know for sure.  I do know that I began to see some of the same dynamics within the taiko drumming world that I saw in other areas of music production: weird ego clashes, long-running political grudges, spirit-draining star systems, etc.  Seeing these all-too familiar  types of dynamics was a bit disheartening to me, and they effected my outlook on the pursuit pretty profoundly.   It was clear that I would have to decide: commit or be done.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The wit and wisdom of Matt Carter

Matt Carter played bass in Ovipositor from late 2003 until early 2006.  He's the kind of guy who doesn't say a lot, but put a stringed instrument in his hands, and you'll get an ear full.  His style in Ovipositor was a kind of lead bass; he'd play crazy melodic runs all over Colin's block chord structures.  It was great fun to play drums with him.
Ovipositor did a short tour up the West Coast in 2005, playing in Portland, Seattle, and Bellingham.  The last show we did was at the Funhouse, in the shadow of the Space Needle in Seattle.  I guess the Funhouse's claim to fame is it's facade.
On the bill that evening were four bands.  In order, Ovipositor, Speaker Speaker, Part Man Part Horse, and So So Many White White Tigers. 
The show was kind of odd, as it was almost divided into two separate shows.  Show "number one" featured Ovipositor and Speaker Speaker.  Both bands consisted of guys, playing Rock music.  Guitar, bass, drums. 
Show "number two" featured Part Man Part Horse and So So Many White White Tigers.  Both of these bands featured an artier, more "2005" approach.  Both bands also drew what appeared to be a more "hipster" crowd.  At that time, the mode consisted of pegged blue jeans that were worn very tight, big sneakers, Chairman Mao caps, and greasy, unkempt hair.  A standard urban bohemian look, I guess.
Us mooks from the bands in show "number one" could only watch and squirm in the icy waters of our lack of 2005 hip.
So So Many White White Tigers were at that time building up quite a reputation in their hometown of San Francisco as a kind of next big thing.  They featured guitar, drums, and a singer.  The singer, Eliza I believe, approached her craft from the school of "yelling urban crazy woman".  This persona seemed to be in place both on and off of the stage.  While talking with her before the show, I was regaled with her story of the wild night they'd had in Olympia, with drugs and booze and cops.  I guess I could have countered with the nice time I had talking with Dave Crider and his his wife the night before, but soon realized that the conversation was to be one way, so ended up doing a lot of nodding "yes" and wondering how her band would sound.
Her band sounded pretty great, actually, and I could see what the buzz was about.  Their guitarist, Ned, had mastered a shattered, ripping, LOUD sound, and sprayed it all over the club.  Eliza's schtick grated after a short while, though.  It gets a little bit trying to see a woman trying to be confrontational and crazed in the face of people who clearly are in on the joke.  It also gets a bit trying to hear a woman screaming over and over again in a monotone, with lyrics rendered unintelligible by bad mics and feedback.   
The show ended, as shows do, and as we drove down I-5 towards Portland, Matt, Colin and I talked about the bands we'd seen and heard.  When So So Many White White Tigers came up as a subject of conversation, Matt quietly muttered, "...look, I'm not the guy who molested you when you were thirteen" in his no-nonsense Michigan drawl.  We got a great laugh out of that one.  It was probably the best one-liner of the tour. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ovipositor pre-production, session #2

Today the entire band recorded.  It was odd, as we don't have sound baffles, so the amps have be pushed into opposite sides of Colin's basement.   Max had some problems with his amp head, but other than that, things seemed to go pretty smoothly.
This process makes it so that you really have to know the material.  In a few days, the tracks will be chopped up and ready for listening.  We shall see.
Recording in Colin's basement always makes me think of Link Wray.  There are so many recordings of Link and his gang, wailing away inside of their rural "chicken coop" studio.  They all sound so good to me, especially Doug Wray, Link's drum playing brother.  He's a real drumming hero to me.  His down and dirty, big beat Rock-n-Roll playing inspires the hell out of me.
But I digress.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ovipositor pre-production, session #1

I have played drums in Ovipositor since late summer of 2003.  Colin Frangos started the band in the early 2000's.  I believe that I am the second drummer in the band.  Expect much more writing on Ovipositor in the future.  For now, I'd like to begin documenting the work we're putting in on our as yet to be titled fourth official recording.
Colin, Max Sidman (bass), and I began working on the current batch of songs earlier this year.  We have 9-10 to be recorded.  The main recording will be done by Eli Wise at New, Improved! Studio here in Oakland, CA. 
Today, Colin and I set up my beloved "Frankenstein's Monster Kit", an amalgamation of Ludwig, Gretsch, and Cannon drums, mic'ed it up, and got what I believe to be really great tones from his pretty damn good collection of mics and outboard gear. 
The great thing about working with Colin is that we've become collaborators.  I've come to believe that this is pretty much all I ever really desired from my musical pursuits: cool,  interesting, and nice people to work and collaborate with.  Colin has all of said qualities in spades, and it remains great fun to produce music with him. We still talk about a lot of the same bands, ideas, concepts, etc.  I think it's really cool to have seven years of continuous conversation about these things.  Some folks would get bored with the low key, catch as catch can nature of Ovipositor's process, but I still love it.  We make the music we want to hear, as best as we can do it.  That's really enough for me, as I suspect it is for Colin and Max.
As we set up and began the demo process today, I felt happy to be there, and enthusiastic about the up-coming recording process.
Tomorrow, we'll start the actual recording. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Wadaiko Newark Pt. 2

"Terry tells me you're a ringer!"
I took his statement as a compliment, and liked Dr. Greg Clark instantly.   I stood in Wadaiko Newark's dojo not as a student, but as a potential troupe member.  Dr. Clark struck me as someone smart and interesting, with a personality and outlook diametrically opposite to most of those I'd become accustomed to in music production.  He'd been a chiropractor, worked in military intelligence, and had a character that showed great inquisitiveness.  "This is someone I can believe in" was my thought.  It seemed as though I'd found some kind of new mentor.
The Wadaiko Newark performing troupe consisted of  eight full time members.  In order to become the ninth, I would have to attend their Saturday morning practice sessions, learn their performance routine, and perform a solo audition.  After the audition, the troupe would decide whether or not to accept or reject me.
Practices continued apace throughout the end of summer, and in early autumn I decided to perform my formal audition and ask the performing troupe to accept me as a member.  I had decided to take one of the basic taiko drum pieces  from the beginner class and integrate it into an improvisation on the trap kit.  The piece was to be used as a Jazz-style "head", and after playing this, I would improvise, thereafter returning to the piece in conclusion.  The improvisational style was inspired by Milford Graves, whose amazing drumming had been leaving me speechless for years.   Graves's drumming pulls from holistic medicine, musical systems from every corner of the world, and his own form of martial art.  It is pretty much god-head for a certain style of kit playing, and I tried my humble best in an imitation of it.  Upon completion of the audition, permission was granted to me to join Wadaiko Newark as a performing member.  I was in!
Throughout that fall and winter, we rehearsed our performance routine.  We were looking forward to the spring, which would afford smaller ensembles such as ours many chances to play at street festivals, fairs, and Buddhist temples.  I very much enjoyed getting to know Dr. Clark and the various personalities of Wadaiko Newark.
I was particularly happy to be assigned to do a duet with Marie.  The piece, Ka Ga Ra, featured the two of us playing in unison on shime daiko (a small, piccolo pitched drum) and uchi daiko (a large, tenor pitched drum).  Ka Ga Ra was to be played in between two group features, while the rest of the group did a quick set change.  It seemed as though Marie enjoyed playing the piece as much as I did.  We'd smile, count it off, and just go for it.
Before we knew it, spring had arrived, but along with the sun and scheduled concerts, it brought with it a hint of storms to come.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wadaiko Newark pt. 1

The summer of 2003 was a time of great transition for me.  Birdsaw had ended, Shards was starting to reveal itself as a bust (at least as far as any kind of Industry marketability goes), and I found myself spending more time sitting in my rented room in Union City, wondering if I was just going to have to stop drumming altogether. 
In July, my mother called me and told me about a taiko drumming organization in Newark (her home town) that was giving classes. She suggested I attend one.  With hindsight, I think that she sensed my frustration at having so many of my projects fall apart, and wanted perhaps to push me on to some new situations. 
I dutifully began attending their Tuesday "Beginning Taiko Drumming" class, happy to be involved in some activity that involved drumming, and even happier to have it happen within a situation that involved no one I'd come to know in any kind of music scene previously.  
The student body was made up of a nice mixture of adults and kids, taught by a friendly team of instructors: Terry, Sue, and Marie.  These three were performers in Newark's very own Wadaiko Newark Taiko Group. 
As part of a deal with the Newark Unified School District, Wadaiko gave classes within the town's Continuing Education Department, and in exchange were able to use a municipal facility as their class room and dojo.   The instructors taught the students basic taiko drumming stances, sticking patterns, and beats.  After a few classes, they realized that I'd been drumming for a while, and could keep up with them in terms of rhythm and beat memorization.   I'd also begun to strike up an easy friendship with Marie.  Her late ex-husband had been a Jazz saxophone player.  We'd talk about Sun Ra's eccentricity and Lee Konitz's having had to work in insurance when his gigs dried up.  We liked each other.
Towards the end of that summer, Terry suggested to me that I come to one of the performing group's Saturday practices and meet their leader and the other members of the group.   I was happy to do so.  It seemed as though I was stumbling upon a new gig, and however humble it's outward appearance was, at least I was going to be hitting drums with regularity.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dream about a band reunion that is impossible

Last night I dreamed that my band Lithium Milkshake was playing a reunion show.  LM was initially made up of Justin Martin (guitar, vocals), Hans Stahl (bass) and myself on drums.  This band played around the SF Bay Area from 1990-1996.  It ended when Justin died on 10/19/1996 in SF.
In the dream, we were playing on a pretty big stage, and I remember being particularly happy to be playing music that involved Han's very cool fretless bass.
More about Lithium Milkshake, with sounds, at a later date.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spirals (Dumb as a Box of Rocks)-copyright 2009, Mark Pino

Spirals (Dumb as a Box of Rocks)
For Two Drummers, Horn Player, Guitar Player, and Bass Player, all of whom have a box filled with rocks

1. Big Bang: From Silence, Complete Noise
This part goes on for some time: keep its energy up and get into it
2. Rocks: Players shake their rock boxes (musically) in this order of succession:
a. Drummers
b. Horn player
c. Guitar player
d. Bass player
This part must be played until the energy of it is felt to have run out; players must be patient
3.Road to Water: This part is driven by the bass; players must play a part in relation to what the bass is playing; this part is played until the bass player feels that it has gone on enough, and at that point must signal the rest of the band that it is to end (players can either stop quickly or fade out, depending on how their part dictates this action)
4. Build the Jetty: This part is free improvisation; players must, however, focus on what is being played around them.  Bass is no longer (necessarily) the lead instrument.  This part must build organically, and have the feel of a work project (tedium or elation are equally valid here, as are all points in between)
5. SPIRALS!: This part could be infinite; all players lock into the same groove, played with precision and repetition, but also must make it grooving and fun

Spirals was written for one of the two bands I currently play in, Barney Cauldron.  BC is a band that does not write songs per se.  Our stated goal is one of "Spontaneous Musical Composition".  In other words, free improvisation.
As anyone who has done any amount of music making with improvisation knows, there is always the risk of players falling into ruts.  It seems to me that players deal with ruts by trying too hard (constant freak-out, playing everything they know, playing at high volumes, etc.) or simply stopping altogether.   At the time this composition was written, I felt that all of the members of BC were starting to fall into certain ruts, and wanted to give the collective a kick in the pants by way of forcing it to use an actual written composition.  The goal was to get the players to listen a bit more while we were playing together.
While I have rudimentary musical notation reading ability, I did not feel competent enough with that approach to use it for stated purpose.  Thankfully, I've been exposed to composers who have used simple written scores (Stockhausen, Braxton), so I figured I'd give that method a go.
Spirals was attempted one time by Barney Cauldron, at a rented practice room in the Soundwave Studios Facility, Oakland, CA.   One of the drummers was not able to attend the session.
Our attempt was not recorded, so sadly the score, such as it is, is the only documentation.  I will have a hard time forgetting the sight of clouds of dust filling up the rehearsal room, emanating from within the boxes of rocks which had been hastily gathered up by most of the players in the dusty parking lot (right below the MacArthur maze section of highways 580 West and 80 West)!  None of us realized that this would happen, and we all had a good laugh as the dust settled, upon completion of our one attempt at Spirals. I suspect that the other members of Barney Cauldron were not as excited about the piece as I was.  The bass player did comment that the writing reminded him of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which was, obviously, spot on.  Spirals was influenced by reading I'd done in the early 2000's on the earthworks of the late 1960's and early 1970's, along with the music of FM Einheit, whom I've seen do an entire concert with a pile of bricks, an iron rod, and a 10' sheet of metal.
An inspired failure for me, I guess.  Still, I'd try it again if I could find people who'd be so inclined.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shards-God's Little Fingers (2003)[fulltext]=mark-pino-on-drums

Shards was a group that existed very briefly.  Its genesis occurred in Ilan Laks's  basement; he was renting a house in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco.  In December, 2002, George Earth and I began jamming in Ilan's jam room, a space not much larger than a walk-in closet.  It contained a funky, beat up old drum set (my absolute favorite kind of kit, always), a Rhodes, and several vintage guitars and amps.
George had just come off of a several year gig with the band Switchblade Symphony, and I had just quit my job as a modular furniture installer.   I was also sensing that my band Birdsaw was starting to end, and as such had begun casting about for a new musical project.  We'd meet up once or twice a week and work out ideas.  I really wanted to play instrumental music of a more experimental bent, and it seemed like George had a similar vision.
The name Shards had been on my "cool band name" list since 1996 or so, and I was very happy to finally have a chance to use it.  Next time you read a book, please note how many times this cool word comes up in the text.   I have seen it used as a band name once since that time, as "the Shards", a band playing Irish/Rock fusion in Ontario, Canada. 
The song writing for this recording spanned about two months, after which Shards began to play gigs in SF at the Hotel Utah (this will be treated with a longer post), in Santa Cruz at a dive bar right off of Highway 1, a party in the hills near Gilroy, and at an independently produced music festival in rural Mendocino County.
Most of these tunes were recorded over a weekend in June of that year, inside of the beautiful Malibu house of one of George's high school friends from Santa Cruz.  We spent two days tracking, interspersed with copious lounging, beer drinking, and meat grilling.
There was a strange fellow who was also at the house.  I wish that his name had stayed with me, but it's lost from my mind.  I do remember parts of his story.  He told me of his exploits as a semi-successful singer/songwriter in Germany and Scandinavia.  As recalled, he had been touring in those parts of Europe for some time, but had recently retired from music making to raise a child.  Who knows how much of it was jive, but he was a really nice person, and, towards the end of the session, he told me "your drumming has a really joyful feeling to it".  That may have been the best compliment I've ever received.
As I was leaving Malibu at the end of that fun filled weekend, I pulled my trusty Ford Ranger over to the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, ran down to the water, and swam for an hour or so.   Driving north, back up to my rented room in Union City, I felt the sand of Malibu between my toes and the rays of the sun on my left arm.  I also felt like new possibilities were opening up to me.
All songs Copyright George Earth and Mark Pino, 2003
except California Dreamin', copyright John Phillips/the Mama's and the Papa's