danwinckler.com/improv


May
25

It’s Fleet Week, apparently. Partying sailors abound. I was to see two shows tonight but the first one was so enthralling that I missed the second. So it goes. Adam Kendall did visuals for Roger Eno and Plumbline at Tonic: lovely music paired with absolutely brilliant visuals. Adam’s approach is very painterly and moving on a gut level. Since I saw his work for the first time two years ago, his craft has gotten better and better. Misty, melting, mnemonic melanges of powerful, personal films — see? Words don’t do it justice. Watch his Case Studies, which are fairly close to what he did tonight.

It was really cool to see a great pianist like Roger Eno play. He had a delicate touch and phrasing, well-placing his lines in Plumbline’s laptop work. He showed how you could improvise just outside the tonal structure of a (seemingly) fixed set of tracks, which is something that had stumped my imagination a bit when thinking about how to play piano in a Share jam with similar laptop musicians. And he watched Adam’s visuals closely. Thumbs up.

Aside to Adam: are you putting out 320 x 240? I’d love to see your stuff in higher res. Good reason to start incorporating those GPU shaders… 🙂

The show I missed was my friend Eli’s, which I wrote about earlier. Ah, well — next time (which is just what Eli said). He’s going on a solo tour this summer, hitting LA, Vancouver, Buffalo, and other places I can’t recall. If you like the tracks on his myspace and you know someone with a venue in the lower 48, drop Eli a line — he’ll probably be interested.

Challenges

Adam and Anton’s approaches seem similar and complementary to me. I hastily scribbled an idea that came to me during the show: challenges. I’d like to give collaborative challenges to my fellow/favorite visualists, e.g., swap: Adam and Anton doing a duo show with their current setups (god’s eye and vade, respectively). Both of them predominantly use a library of video clips that are both personally meaningful and formally interesting, which they know and have practiced well. Now swap their libraries and let each other decide which clip the other will use next. Connect them with an Ethernet cable and a very simple Max patch to streamline the process. The patch notifies them when a video’s been selected and previews it so they can prepare to slip it in.

Regardless of whether A and A would dig this idea, it’s the kind of collaborative ‘game’ (or structure or form) I’d like to explore more. Rather than focus on the technical aspects of current and future video mixers, which seems to snag us all up when we talk about visual jams, I’d like to see my fellow visualists play games with each other like this. And I’d like to build simple Max patches — and potentially KeyWorx plugins, in the new version of KeyWorx that’s on the table for the 2nd phase of Kids Connect — to aid these games. Thoughts?

Kids Connect dev

Speaking of Kids Connect, we had a really good meeting today that cleared up a lot of the questions Josephine and I had, e.g., the level of supervision needed, if/how many student teachers we’d have to help teach, when we’d get funds released to start work in Second Life, and more. Plus we were joined by Dr. Garey Ellis, who heads the Promise Fund’s Inner Force program. Not only did he have valuable insights and suggestions for KC, he reminded us how new this kind of work (online collaboration, visual performance, creative uses of consumer technology) is, and how exciting it will be for the workshop students and parents. It feels really good to be sharing my knowledge outside of the relatively narrow improv comedy world.

May
15

I bumped into Matt Moses last night, a very funny and genial improviser and playwright. Our groups Gunshow and Stockholm Syndrome used to do a lot of shows together and we had the same coach, the venerable Dan Goldstein, improv teacher, decision studies psychologist and marketing genius. Matt’s moving to Yale for a 3 year stint in their graduate playwright program. Yay, Matt! I hope you’ll find grad school as much of a growing experience as I have.

And speaking of great playwrights, I got an email from the UCB Theater, telling me that Anthony King’s funny, charming, ridiculous musical comedy spoof GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! will have a free show tomorrow night. You can hear some songs from the show on its very own myspace and read the show’s very! enthusiastic! website!. Anthony (book) and Scott Brown (music), play the parts of the show’s chipper, clueless creators, Bud Davenport and Doug Simon, who did all their research about Johann Gutenberg using Microsoft Encarta. My favorite part of the show was the hats: Bud and Doug have dozens of cheap mesh hats with the names of the show’s characters painstakingly spelled out in serif Sharpie. At any given moment in the show, each of them will have 6 hats in his hands, doffing and donning them again and again. It’s deadpan, dead-on musical satire from end to end and joyfully silly. UCB’s site says it’s sold out already but there’ll be some tickets at the door.

Tonight, I’ll be performing at Bunker at SubTonic, the 2nd show of a developing performance called Idle in the Saved Night, inspired by the writings of Deborah Levitt. It’s a mixed piece for live visuals and acting. In a nutshell, I’ll be playing video (of mental patients from the 40s) from my laptop to the projector, standing in front of the projection screen …acting funny… and capturing my strange behavior and gestures with a live camera, which’ll then get chopped up and spit back out to the screen on top of me. It will be divine. And since the music at SubTonic is curated separately from the visuals, I’ll be doing it mute. Instead of speaking the texts I’ve gathered for the videos, I’ll run them on the screen as text. ‘Twill be an interesting challenge.

By the way, I highly recommend EyeWash tonight. Most of the visual acts will be getting physical: from performance art to burlesque to unique interfaces. This is good. For did John not say, let’s get into physical/ Let me hear your body talk? Should be swell. I’ll be there if I get my patch ready in time.

This just in, a great show to see Saturday night featuring my Gunshow-mate Ryan Sturt:

Have you ever seen Showgirls? Pretty crappy right? What would make it better you ask? If it were done with sockpuppets! Yup. I’m in a sockpuppet version of Showgirls. It’s been running for a few years in Chicago and played in New York in 2002, and now it’s back in our city with fresh jokes and extra filth. It’s every Saturday night at 8pm until the end of June.

It’s super raunchy. The puppets will dance your face off! I’m playing a couple different characters in it, and the character voice stuff has been a lot of fun.

Come if you can!

For more info, directions, and tickets, here’s the flyer and the ticket link:

http://www.theatermania.com/content/show.cfm/show/115654

vade// will play at the Bunker as well — he has been absolutely tearing it up lately with his visuals — just brilliant work. He played at {R} A K E at Monkeytown with Larry 7 on Wednesday, an unusual pairing that kept them both on their toes. It was gorgeous. The entire evening was, to be precise, ecstatic. Now you know I am often accused of hyperbole and over-enthusiasm and to this I would retort: wake up! The world is full of beauty and interest and commonality if you’re paying attention. I pay attention. Hence, I enjoy things more fully, perhaps, than the next human.

Joyful details of which I speak, of {R} A K E, the evening of electro-acoustic music and visuals run by Satoshi Takeishi, Shoko Nagai and Adam Kendall:

  • the first act was Kato Hideki (solo bass guitar) and Giles Hendrix* (video). Kato was exceptionally sensitive to his instrument and the sound in the room. He drew unusual sounds out of the bass, from the lightest of touches with a bow to heavy slams of his fist against the body, punctuated with long, deliberate silences. Giles’ visuals were equally slow and exploratory. I must admit I went into a trance/fell asleep at some points, which sounds bad but felt great: I drifted lightly in and out of the sound and light. As I suspected, Kato uses a custom tuning system based on prime numbers. I suspected it was different — not that it was prime. 😉
  • How can I describe Vortex’s music? Words fail me. It was an ecstatic experience. Satoshi is a percussionist but not limited to struck instruments — he also played the waterphone with a bow that night. Shoko plays keyboards and (what I can only describe as) Pan pipes. They both do some Max/MSP manipulation and layering of the sound, which seems to run on auto-pilot mostly. Each time I’ve heard them play it’s been a unique performance, an environment of sound created entirely of the moment. Unlike many musicians, they respond to your visuals when you play with them; I feel honored that my first visual gig was with them at {R} A K E. Wednesday they played with visuals by Shimpei Takeda, who used only a video camera, a flashlight and a jar of water to make a truly beautiful light show. Chika whispered to me that it reminded her of my work with live camera, which is quite a flattering comparison. Seeing it gave me a shove to do a similar work with water and bubbles I’ve had in mind for a while.

  • It was an evening of synaesthesia, the visuals and the music combined – to use the oft-abused word — in synergy. The last act was no exception. Anton (vade//) and Larry 7 played the room like a drum. Monkeytown’s back room, if you haven’t seen it, is a hard-walled cube with projections on each wall. A visualist can easily blind the audience and break the mood with the combined light from the four projectors and I’ve been thankful for my earplugs on several occasions when the audio artists have found the resonant frequency of the room and made it ring how I imagine the inside of the fuel chamber of the Space Shuttle must sound. (Alright, that last was definitely hyperbole.) However, Larry 7 and vade// did no such thing. Larry, who I’m told used to work for Andy Warhol, played with a bunch of analogue electronics, tube amps, a multi-stringed instrument with mics on it, and four mics arranged in a cross on a rotating turntable. Also quite difficult to describe. Let’s just say he succeeded in his aim, “to set up situations where he has almost no control over what happens, so he can be entertained along with the audience.” Anton’s setup is as digital as Larry’s is analogue — just a laptop — and he usually doesn’t take his MIDI keyboard along so it’s all controlled with the mouse and keyboard.

Again, beautiful stuff. I almost stayed home to program but I’m so glad I went. Time to program now: the patch for tonight is almost ready. I rebuilt it from scratch to make sure I got the order of operations right.

* note: I am very envious of Giles’ domain name.

Addendum

If you don’t bother to read my del.icio.us links in the spliced feed, you’ll have missed a great listening opportunity: an album of Radiohead covers called Exit Music – Songs with Radio Heads. I particularly recommend the cover of Just by Mark Ronson and Alex Greenwald, which reveals the hidden funk of RH with handclaps, djembe and sexy horn blasts. My Flickr photos are also in the spliced feed and I’m just about to upload a shitload of cameraphone pics featuring the flowers of which I spoke yesterday. Name the purple pom-pom, s’il vous plait.

Last weekend, Improv Everywhere staged another mission for Manhattan. 80 IE agents in royal blue shirts hung around in a Best Buy store, just being helpful.

>The reaction from the employees was pretty typical as far as our missions go. The lower level employees laughed and got a kick out of it while the managers and security guards freaked out. […]

>With our main photographer busted, I took out my camera and started taking covert snapshots. One employee caught me in the act and rushed over. As soon as he got to me, I caught him off guard with a question, “Hey, do you know where I can find the right memory cards for my camera?” He stammered for a second and then said, “Sure. They’re right over there.” I thanked him and was on my way. Another employee caught me moments later in the DVD section, but I disarmed him with a question as well, “Do you know how much the Star Trek DS9 DVDs are? There is no price tag.” We chatted for a second about how expensive the set was, and by the time I walked away he forgot all about the camera.

Read on: the Best Buy Mission

Sorry for the silence here — I’m spectacularly busy, as you might have guessed. I’ll try to post a few times a week: it’ll be brief, messy and the mundane will creep in but hey, doesn’t that describe everything? As I said 10 hours ago, my new thesis is Kids Connect, which brings together a lot of my interests: improv theatre, networked performance and collaboration, Second Life performance, teaching and has the added benefit of institutional support so more of the being-the-producer work is taken care of and I can devote myself to artistic direction and teaching. In other news, the semester is drawing rapidly to a close and I have a paper for Law, a presentation and a project for Media History, a project for Max/MSP/Jitter as well. Exciting stuff. I’m reading Deep Time of the Media by Siegfried Zielinski, key ideas of which can be found in this brief Rhizome interview — and I’m presenting on it and Spectres of the Spectrum (a messy, funny film collage — see this review) on Friday. Key thought from Deep Time for you before I get back to it: the present concentration of power is in control of time, not space. E.g., TV, pace Tivo. (Man, I hope someone gets that besides me.)