The Rain Came

twilightathens.jpgPhoto by frinkianz

A few weeks back I was asked a question: would I like to go to Athens, Georgia in December and play some music. Typically, I responded with two questions of my own. One about transportation and one about a performance guarantee. Both of those questions were quickly answered in the affirmative and arrangements were made for me to perform at Next To Last Fest.

After confirming I then wrestled with the idea of what to perform. The festival organizer, Will Donaldson, was a fan of Twilight & Ghost Stories and I assumed that I would be performing that composition in some fashion. But how? I thought about incorporating large sections of the album recordings interspersed with live playing but this was ultimately a hedge against the possibility of putting a mediocre group together. Eventually a sense of abandon took over and in the last few days prior to the festival I shored up an ensemble:

Daedelus– monome, electronics
Lars Gotrich– acoustic guitar, voice
Liz Janes– voice, ukelele
Aaron Jollay– trombone
Chris Schlarb– acoustic guitar, electronics
Drew Smith– drums and percussion

From the beginning I intended on using the original recording of rain and street sounds as the background for the live performance, just like the album. A funny thing happened on the way to Georgia though. I forgot it.

I spent Friday afternoon down by the bank of the Oconee River recording sounds to use as a replacement. Unfortunately Athens is in the midst of a well publicized drought and the water ran quiet and still. The most exciting event of my riverside visit was the impressive bellyflop performed by a rotund beaver. It sounded like a bowling ball dropped from an airplane.

Again I resolved to use the original sounds and thought intently about how to accomplish this when it dawned on me: The Twilight Variations. I downloaded the zip file with the original four minute excerpt and via looping and crossfading I stretched it out to the thirty minute performance time.

The sounds outside a wet Long Beach apartment playing in the background, I conducted the Athenian sextet with a custom made light box that allowed me to create combinations of musicians on the fly much like the assembly of the album. I met with everyone collectively an hour prior to performance and, with no rehearsal, we took the stage.

Somehow it all sounded just as I thought it would: silence, texture, tension, melody and stillness commingling. Moments converged and dissipated naturally, one idea manually transitioning into another. The light box worked great and I got some solid ideas for future performances. Both the musicians and the audience seemed happy and shared the feeling that it was over too soon. Just the way I like it.

Soon Daedelus performed and, monome in hand, slew the crowd. His facility on the young instrument was inspiring as was his ability to inventively juxtapose melody, context and rhythm. Finally, in an enthusiastic act of quid pro quo, I accompanied Liz Janes on three songs that we have been working on over the past six months. Frozen fingers aside, I think it all went really well.

On Sunday Adam (Doseone), Jeff (Jel) and I watched former Dirty Projectors guitarist Spencer Kingman perform with nothing but a bright red Tokai electric. His guitar and vocal music is delicate, considered and beautifully written. Goosebumps and head shaking ensued.

Later the tables were turned as Spencer and I gleefully listened to Themselves vamp on George Washington‘s teeth and generally rip during their set. Later on the ride back to our lodging I had the pleasure of playing Spencer his first taste of Steely Dan. I choose the Odyssey inspired track “Home At Last.” He loved it.

Meanwhile in Long Beach, my wife Adriana (along with sister Pita and friend Sancha) plied her culinary genius for benefit of all who attended the quadraphonic listening event at {open}. Many thanks to Shea Gauer (the store’s co-owner) who enthusiastically sponsored this event. Not only is {open} a great book store but it also happens to be the best place in Los Angeles to listen to music. During the listening event, my wife told me later, a fresh rain came down quietly outside.

Chris Schlarb- Twilight Athens [mp3]
Recorded in Athens, Georgia
December 8th, 2007 // 192kps

UPDATE: Lars Gotrich has posted On Performing Twilight & Ghost Stories on his blog National Public Viking. Poseidon’s Wake indeed!

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