The gig that ate my life (but left me smiling)

The past two weekends, I’ve been in a theater/music collaboration as part of the experimental ensemble I play in. We’re called Out of Context, and we do something called conduction — a method of improvisation that’s guided by a conductor who uses a set of hand signals to indicate, very generally, what we musicians are to do. Some signals allow the conductor to build coherence and even returning motifs or musical settings into the improvisation; other signals allow him to whip us into a chaotic frenzy and then stop us instantly. It is an incredible amount of fun.

Here’s a trailer assembled from previous performances:

STORM: Theater Grottesco and the Out of Context Orchestra
from Theater Grottesco on Vimeo.

Dino (JA Deane), our conductor, collaborated with members of Theater Grottesco in Santa Fe along with a number of writers, scientists, poets, videographers and visual artists to compile a variety of text and images about our changing environment. The resulting piece, which we performed eight times over two weekends, is called STORM — and I’d have to say it presents like one: fierce, sometimes overwhelming, different every night, probably too unrelenting some nights but with a clear ebb and flow other nights. Dino conducts the ensemble as always, including the actors, but in this show also improvises the triggering and placement of multiple videos projected above and around the stage.

If you’ve ever been in a theater production, you know how consuming it can become. It’s a huge time commitment, from initial rehearsals through tech/dress rehearsals and then finally the shows. When you have a matinee and an evening show at a theater that’s an hour from home, it’s a little tough to do much of anything else.

I spent those in-between hours on my own in the warehouse/gallery/theater space, working on ideas for another gig coming up. I surrendered to the limbo. My composing schedule and goals went out the window for those two weeks, and I decided to just be OK with that.

Another trait of shows like this is the camaraderie that they just about always foster. I adore my bandmates. No two ways about it. OOC has existed as a band for 15 years, 11 of which I’ve been around for, getting together on the second Sunday of every month for years and years to make chaotic, often strangely beautiful sounds. They’re family to me.

Out of Context 2012 (L to R): JA "Dino" Deane, conductor; Milton Villarubia III, electronic and acoustic percussion; Jon Baldwin, cornet; Joseph "Joey" Sabella, vibes and electronic percussion; CK Barlow, sampler/live sampling; Paul Bossert, trombone; Jefferson Voorhees, drums; Katie Harlow, cello; Alicia Ultan, viola; Ross Hamlin, guitars; John Flax, text; Bonnie Schmader, flutes; Carlos Santistevan, upright bass.

The other day at my freelance gig, I ran into a former coworker from the job I quit last summer. We caught up a bit, and in parting she said, “You’re really living the dream, Carla.” It’s funny; I have a sticker on my laptop that says just that. It was given to me by a musician friend, Jacqueline van Bierk of the band Otto’s Daughter — it’s an ad for their EP “living the dream.” I stuck it on the laptop case so that it’s visible to others when I’m working/playing, and I did so a little bit facetiously.

But weeks like this make me stop and think… I guess I am, huh?

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About CK Barlow

I'm a composer and music-technology instructor. In the summer of 2011, I decided it was time to give full-time music-making a shot, so I left my corporate job (I've always had one). That's part of what inspired Composing Kitchen, the blog I publish with my incredible spouse, Karen Milling. View all posts by CK Barlow

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