I played a concert today at Inverleith House in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden — well, it was more of an improv session, really, organised by the immensely charming Yati Durant of the Edinburgh Film Music Orchestra and a very, very fine musician, with Margaret Christie on double bass (Margaret is a freelance publishing professional in her day job and is always open to a bit of improv) and Nicola Baroni on cello — Nicola and Margaret I knew from Edimpro rehearsals, but I’d not played a concert with Nicola before, and had little idea of what he was capable of.
It was to mark the end of the Tony Conrad exhibition in the gallery. Yati, Margaret, Richard Worth and I had played an earlier concert in November last year, around the beginning of the exhibition. The November concert had been really fun, so I was looking forward to this one.
Well, it was if anything more fun, with Nicola playing the hell out of his cello and an amplified park bench that happened to hanging there as part of the show. Being the only amplified musician there, I had to be careful about dynamics; note to fellow players of single-coil guitars, when you’re playing with unamplified acoustic musicians, keep a hand on that pickup volume knob if you want there to be such a thing as actual silence. At one point Yati’s small daughter joined in, sitting on her mother’s lap and sawing at the park bench with a violin bow, and then she and her mum began a bit of vocalising and we got into a bit of call-and-response. I used my trusty EBow a lot (damn, I love that thing) and in general my gear behaved itself, but as usual I got a bit frustrated with my rather old Zoom G2.1u and its annoying reluctance to go to bypass unless you hit both footswitches at the exact same instant.
Having said that about silence, amp hum can be fun; there was a young woman present, a friend of Yati’s, I think, and he gave her a small pocket-sized analog synth to play, which made some interesting swirly noises that I thought were coming from my own gear until I realised she was making them. One of the patches on the Zoom has a ring modulator setting which creates insane amounts of swirly amp hum, and if you bonk the guitar it makes for a hum that you can actually tune, by twirling the gain knob on the Zoom. So that prompted a brief, impromptu duet.
When you play improvised music you can’t always tell for sure if the audience is really liking it or just being polite. But at 2.30pm we’d been playing for ninety minutes straight, and we took a break. That was when Yati’s little girl began doing her thing with the park bench. A middle-aged couple (what am I talking about? I’m ‘middle-aged’) had appeared beside me and the woman whispered to me “Are you going to play some more?” I said I wasn’t sure, but that we were booked until 3pm. She asked Yati the same question and gradually we started to join in with Yati’s small daughter, which developed into one of the more eventful improvisations of the day.
Gear I brought: Fender Telecaster, Roland MicroCube, Zoom G2.1u, Boss RC-30 Loop Station
Gear notes: I didn’t use the RC-30 much until the very end, when we were tailing off and I was feeling a bit burned out; I’d randomly recorded a few seconds of guitar earlier in the afternoon and I played the loop a bit while Yati and Nicola were banging the hell out of that park bench. The Zoom, for all its versatility, is getting increasingly annoying to me (noisy, fucks with my already questionable tone, hard to turn off) and I may have to retire it. The MicroCube is a great practice amp but faced with players like Yati, Nicola and Margaret, with the lovely tone coming from their brass and strings, I’m starting to dislike the MicroCube’s digital-sounding tone. It would be nice to sound a bit cleaner and more valve-y. Next time, different pedals; I really only use the Zoom for its pitch-shifting capability, and that will shortly be rectified. Maybe I need to sell the MicroCube and start relying on house amps.
Music notes: With such a spread of different types of player, this was a less jazzy session than the November one. Nicola and Yati had a great sense of humour and mutual rapport; sometimes I just stopped playing and watched Nicola because he was so intense with that cello, while still being entirely musical. Yati being on trumpet and (I think) flugelhorn, there was unavoidably a jazz flavour about some of his playing, which I liked very much; it’s just what the sound of the instrument does, but he’s such a good player that you’re kept on your toes and you don’t want to slack. Margaret and I not being full-time musicians, I think we both tend to wait and see what the others are doing and respond to it, but I don’t like to always find myself doing that. Sometimes it’s good to drop a bomb. As long as it’s the right bomb.
Damn, I love improvising. The latecoming couple whose arrival prompted us to play an extra 40 minutes were so sweet afterwards. It was like going to see improvised music in Inverleith House was their Sunday treat.