Sentimentals & Instrumentals

Another wonderful new year’s concert by The Absurd at Cologne’s LOFT.

On this saturday, the streets were so icy in Cologne that I saw several people slip and fall during the few minutes I was out to have some food after soundcheck. Police issued a level 3 ice warning (I had no idea that there are levels of this): people should stay at home if possible, so we were afraid that we would play in front of an empty room. But apparently, our fans love us so much that they risk their bones! the room was almost as full as usual when we started to play.

 
My favorite tune of the night was a new piece called ‘Reykjavík 2004’. It was based on an improvisation recorded in 2004 with guitarist Michael Frank on bass and me on guitar, plus Manfred Meurer on drums. ‘Manni’ had been the Absurd drummer during their beginning, more than 30 years ago, and he was supposed to play drums at this gig but sadly, he couldn’t come. Göttin Gala replaced him on drums and did a great job.

Why have I never before composed anything for The Absurd? I should do that, it is so much fun hearing your ideas played by a bunch of great musicians.

This composition was a collaboration between Michael Frank (who came up with the bass line and the strange somewhat Magmaesque trills, and who had the idea for the furioso end of the piece) and me (chords and melody). I am grateful that Michael insisted that our seemingly sparse 2004 ideas were interesting enough to turn them into a piece, and that I could see how effortlessly he structured them. He is a music educator and knows what he is doing. There is still so much to learn for me! Although I strongly believe in the value of not knowing in music making, I see that knowing is of great value as well 🙂

People liked this piece a lot, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it as well.


Gernot Bogumil – tr
Michael Frank – g, voc
Vera P. Frank – voc
Göttin Gala – dr, voc
Michael Hausmann – vibes, dr
Max Höfler – g, voc
Kim Jovy – reeds
Marcus Jovy – b
Sercan Özökten – voc, perc
Michael Peters – g
Hans Salz – dr, vibes, perc
Andreas Wagner – reeds
Norbert Zajac – voc
Martin Ziegler – p


 

Cardboard Winter

Binaryminds is a software company that I sometimes work for. For the 2016 winter holiday season, they sent greeting cards to their customers – but not ordinary cards! The packages contained Google Cardboard sets – virtual reality headset kits made out of cardboard. You need to put your smartphone into them to watch 3D scenes.

The 3D scene that the binaryminds customers were pointed to contained season’s greetings – “keep calm and holiday on” – set in a computer generated winter landscape. And there is sound, done by me, a six minute ambient winter soundscape. I am totally in love with the sights and sounds of this.

If you watch this in a browser on your desktop computer, you can move around using your mouse. If you use a tablet or mobile phone (it needs a gyroscope/compass to work), just move around. Of course, the best version is a virtual reality headset. (If you only see two parallel static images, your device doesn’t support the 3D view)

click on the image to launch the VR landscape

Of course the soundtrack was done with a nod to mastermind Brian Eno, inventor of this kind of musical aesthetic. Eno was the one who came up with the term “ambient music” in the 70s, and some of his ambient soundscapes evoked a sense of place, an inner landscape. He often used this music as an acoustic backdrop to his visual art exhibitions. The result was always pure magic.

Gwneud Sŵn in Wales

When multiinstrumentalist and livelooper Rick Walker started doing the first international livelooping festivals in California 15 years ago, he probably had no idea that this thing would eventually spread like wildfire. We are doing several such festivals per year now, in many countries, and more are added to the list every year.

There is a growing scene of livelooping artists some of which travel around the world to perform on the various festivals. Unless there are sponsors, the artists usually pay for everything out of their own pockets, because this is not a commercially successful enterprise – it is just about the love for music. And the audience is fascinated every time by the wide range of styles and ideas, the musical quality, the surprising creativity they get to see.

Steve Moyes, a livelooping guitarist/cellist from Wales (who had performed on my 3rd festival in Cologne), had organized such a festival in November 2016. Eight musicians from the UK, France, and Germany met in Cardigan, a little town at the southwestern coast of Wales, for a very enjoyable afternoon/evening of livelooping music.

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Most of us stayed for several days. Steve cooked for us, and we were hosted by Maggie Nicols, a singer from the UK improvised music / free jazz scene. I remembered Maggie’s voice from early 1970s Keith Tippett projects such as Centipede, and I was thrilled that I could stay in her large house, an old mill building, and get to know her.

My Wales trip started with some technical problems, including a faulty Midi controller, and an expensive laptop that suddenly refused to boot (update: after the UK trip when I came home, it was suddenly alive again as if nothing had happened – my computer technician has no explanation except that it maybe didn’t want to travel to Wales). Instead of the laptop, which is usually a central item in my livelooping setup, I used my iPad with a combination of livelooping, effect, and granular synthesis apps, all of this to create textural loops, plus an oldfashioned but still amazing Gibson Echoplex for shorter loops. Also, Steve gave me his Line6 DL-4, a workhorse for delays and looping.

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One day before the concert, I put new strings on the guitar, and one of the tuning pegs broke – I could no longer tune the A string, but after some experimenting, I fixed it, sort of, by squeezing a clothes peg under the string. I could have borrowed another guitar but I felt stubborn at this point. After all, my cheap trusty Höfner Shorty is something special, with its integrated amplifier/speaker which allows for wild feedback orgies.

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The evening was beautiful, even breathtaking at times. I loved Steve Moyes’s cello loops and his abstract, sculptural approach. Heather Summers played beautiful pieces with her warm violin sound in the middle of things, and David Cooper Orton delivered a number of his masterful guitar pieces. Nelly Meunier’s ‘prehistoric’ sounds from stones, bones, leaves and other beautiful little objects were a quiet sonic meditation, and ecnegrU’s skillful reggae/dub explorations blew my mind and made me dance. Julia Kotowski’s songs (as ‘Entertainment for the Braindead’) have become even more perfect since I saw her in California, 7 years ago, and Emmanuel Reveneau (‘Lucid Brain Integrative Project’) was as lucid and amazing as always. What a great group of musicians! I felt thrilled that I could be one of them on this evening.

Somehow my technical problems led me to play more radically, much more in the noise department, and I quite enjoyed it (and so did a number of people in the audience – never before so many people came and told me how much they had liked my set).

On the next evening, we staged a mini festival with short sets personally for Maggie Nicols because she had performed in Austria on the festival day, and missed it. I played even more radically this time and enjoyed it even more (Emmanuel found it ‘supercool’). What has happened? I feel that while I am open to many kinds of styles, including ambient and psychedelic which would typically focus on ‘beautiful’ sounds, I suddenly feel much more drawn to experimental sounds and structures, to noise, to uncertainty, to go beyond all borders. It was almost like a little epiphany. Playing freely like this felt so natural, so clearly like me. And I feel a little bit like a newborn, I still have to learn so much.

After our little mini-festival for Maggie, we did a collective improvisation. It was wild and ecstatic at times, and hearing Maggie’s voice soaring above it just like it did 45 years ago (with Centipede on their immortal ‘Septober Energy’ album) really gave me the goosebumps big time! I played like never before, sometimes including granular synthesis. I discovered that I could put my unconnected iPad on top of the guitar, feeding its speaker output through the guitar picks and the guitar signal chain with its effects and loops. Wow!

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Looking forward now to how my music wants to develop. I let it do that by itself, as always. It will take care of itself.

“Das Hertz” revisited

“Das Hertz” was a free-improvisation, jazz/rock/experimental band that existed between 2006 and 2009:

Martin Ziegler – keyboards
Michael Peters – guitar
Guido Erfen – bass
Wolfgang Dieckmann – drums

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We only did one or two gigs but we recorded lots of sessions in the rehearsal room – not in a real professional way, we just put a stereo digital recorder somewhere to document our efforts.

Sometimes we kept searching for the muse, but very often, the music really took off. Too bad the audience was so small, it really was a great band at times! There is 1970s Jazzrock in the mix … a healthy dose of Krautrock … the sounds of Progressive Rock sprinkled all over … and very often, a main ingredient is sheer madness.

We usually played as a quartet, occasionally with some guests, but some of the albums/podcasts were recorded on days without Martin, our genius piano player – we were in power trio territory then, and that was always a very special experience for me.

Luckily Guido, our bass player, spent a considerable amount of work turning these recordings into two albums (“initial” and “electric gentry”) and after that, into quasi-albums that he called ‘podcasts’. He edited the recordings, did lots of mixing and mastering, he invented track titles, and he created artwork (being a painter, he did a very creative job). And as a programmer, he created the official Das Hertz website, putting all the recordings on archive.org, under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike-Licence.

I recently listened to some of the recordings on archive.org and for some reason, the site had problems streaming on that day. So I decided, being a fan of Bandcamp, to put everything on Bandcamp as well. So now, you can listen to the complete archive of Das Hertz on Bandcamp if you wish.

dashertzbandcamp

And I made a selection of my favorite tracks. I called it “M-Theory“. You know, guitar strings, string theory, and my first name. Some of the tracks still really amaze me. My own playing amazes me, it is often something I couldn’t reproduce, something that I couldn’t do on my own – I need a great band like this to catalyse my muse into coming out and doing this.

The first track (“Hunting the Drama Waltz”, whatever that means) is a lengthy improvisation that features the power trio – Guido and Wolli, the rhythm group, laying out a fast relentless harmonically open groove for me to take off in whichever direction I wanted to fly. On this piece I play guitar but also guitar-midi-driven virtual keyboards.

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Bohemian Polyphony 2016

My loop guitar colleague Gerd Weyhing had invited a few musicians to spend five days in a castle in the Bohemian mountains in the northern Czech Republic, in a remote village called Trebušín, to make music together. So we met in August 2016 in Castle Kalich, eight musicians and one self-declared non-musician, and spent these days musicking, talking, cooking, walking.

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Leander Reininghaus (g,b,keyb), Michael Peters (g), Bernd-Michael Land (synth), Birgit Rehse (voc,g,keyb), Volker Lankow (perc), Gerd Weyhing (g), Wolf Red (synth), Bianca Guitton (voc,keyb), Joris Donkel (“non-musician”), Pavel Vurmik (house master)

To me, these days felt almost like what I imagine a late sixties Krautrock hippie music commune must have felt, for a few days, complete with a quiet idyllic countryside, an old castle just for ourselves, a campfire every evening, and absolutely no plans, only music. House master Pavel took good care of us and even showed us around his beautiful nearby hometown Litoměřice.

I had brought two guitars, various analog and digital gear, and my tape loop system that I had used for a concert a week before in Berlin. My little workstation looked like this:

We recorded hours of improvisations, some of which were quite inspired. Sadly, my own contributions (some of which felt really great when I played them) were not recorded due to some glitch. Bummer!  but then, we did it for the moment, not so much to create recordings. There will be an official CD release, and I will be listed I think, however … next time, we’ll be more careful with the recording.

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We all loved these fun days and the company of very diverse and interesting musicians, and human beings. We look forward to another week together, maybe next year.

Berlin Livelooping August 2016

I am in Berlin now for a week, on my way to the “Bohemian Polyphony” event – more of this later. Of course I met my old friends Leander Reininghaus and Markus Reuter who both live in Berlin now.

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I had met Leander and Markus on a Guitar Craft course with Robert Fripp in … 1991 I think, anyway, about 25 years ago. We played together as “Trio Gitarristik” for a few years during the mid-1990s, performing various Guitar Craft tunes plus our own compositions, and also ambient soundscapes.

This week, because I came to Berlin, Leander had organized a livelooping concert for us at the Galiläa church, a beautiful abandoned-church-turned-into-performance-space, and we performed together again for the first time in about 20 years.

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Leander framed the evening with a number of beautiful short pieces by Erik Satie (from “Musique d’ameublement” – the first time I ever heard this music) and Philip Glass (“North Star”).

Leander Reininghaus

I used analog vintage gear and my “Frippertronics” setup based on tape delay. Even though my energy had been low during the day, it went up as soon as I was on stage, and I was pretty happy with my 20 minute solo set! As often, I had no idea what I would do until I started with the first note, and I felt carried and led by the music that slowly developed. How this works never ceases to amaze me.

I heard from someone in the audience afterwards that my music sounded autumnal to him, and at the same time, he sensed a dry kind of humour. I liked that. Interesting how the same piece of music can elicit such a wide range of responses in the performer and in everyone in the audience.

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Markus created one of his amazing ethereal soundscapes on Touch Guitar and Ableton Live. I had occasionally seen him on stage over the years but this piece felt especially intimate and personal to me.

Markus Reuter

At the end, we improvised together on the chords of Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)”. Leander had chosen this beautiful piece (that, incidentally, I had played on my mother’s funeral four years ago) to finish this thoroughly enjoyable “Berlin Livelooping Session”.

Trio Gitarristik after 20 years

Thank you to everyone from the venue who made this evening possible!

 

A new website

Finally, a new Michael Peters website, this time made in WordPress – with the help of the wonderful Kathryn Hardtke, a web designer from Cologne.

The old blogspot blog (that I stopped writing in 2013) was moved here where it will be reanimated. Blog/news will contain news about my music activities but probably more than that.

Let me know what you think ok?

-Michael, July 2016

The Letchworth 7-and-8 (for Georgina Brett)

Here is a piece I improvised in Letchworth (north of London) on Nov 1st, 2014. Maybe you like it

My mini-England-tour was big fun. Thank you so much to Georgina for organizing the concerts in Letchworth and London, and for spending time with me (especially on Halloween evening), to the ladies at Dot to Dot in Letchworth, to Michael Bearpark and his family for hosting us, to Roger Harmar for spending a lovely day with me in Brighton, to Darren Sangita for a lovely spontaneous party, to Mathura Das for letting me be his cooking assistant.



























 
(some photos were shot by Michael Bearpark)

The music that I played and the music that I had recorded during rehearsals before the tour ended up in this album, a very heterogenous collection of musical sounds, voices on the streets, and field recordings that is almost like a diary to me. The days in England were intense and surreal at times, and you can hear it. Listen loud.

Drone

Maybe it was the last warm summer day of 2012. I took a longer walk up and around my favorite hill, enjoying the warmth and the silence – nobody was around and sometimes I need to be completely alone to find myself.

There was no wind and it was very quiet, except for some faraway birds and some crickets. I stood and scanned the far horizon when I became aware of a very quiet, almost inaudible high drone – and of a cloud of several dozen tiny insects that circled around and above my head.

I don’t know why these insects flew around me – they didn’t settle on my skin and they seemed completely harmless. They liked me for some reason, and they stayed with me for about 15 minutes. They were very small and very fast, tiny dots, barely visible against the blue sky. I couldn’t believe my ears – I don’t think I have ever heard something like this before. Unexpected and magical!

I found that the swarm of insects reacted to my movements – I could raise a hand, and they would back up a little bit. For some reason, the pitch was higher when they were close, and it went down immediately when they went further away. Eventually, they flew away, and the sound vanished into silence.

I did not have a recorder with me to record the sound, and the insects were very quiet, almost inaudible, the recorder wouldn’t have recorded much. Here is a recording of a swarm of insects inside of a hedge behind my house, recorded in 2007. I sped the recording up to give it a pitch that was like what I heard today. It sounds a bit different (that sound was much more steady and quiet), but you can get an idea.





Turquoise Coast 2: Underwater Concert

I’ve seen hundreds of concerts in my life, some of them rather unusual, but the most unusual of all definitely was Michel Redolfi‘s underwater concert that we had the pleasure to visit on a hot afternoon in May, in a modern indoor pool of a little town called Martigues, just west of Marseille.


Redolfi, born 1951, is an electronic avantgarde composer. Unlike many of his colleagues, he manages to create soundworlds that are utterly beautiful, adventurous, and fantastic, while never using any of the kitschy clichés that are often used by popular music composers. He has always created something that is entirely his own – a visionary, and one of my great musical heroes since I heard his first album back in the eighties.



He was also (as far as I know) the first composer who performed music underwater, starting this in California in the early eighties. Since then, he has conducted underwater concerts in pools, lakes, ocean shores, coral reefs. Real instruments (mostly metallophones) have been used but due to the physical properties of water, very few instruments can be used successfully under water, so most of Redolfi’s underwater concerts consist of electronic music transmitted via underwater speakers.


In Martigues, Redolfi was sitting beside the pool in front of his laptops, creating an ad-hoc mix of his own sounds for the 30-40 people floating in the warm water for an hour (foam tubes under feet and back helped us to float lying on our backs, with our ears in the water). A very relaxing experience!

All sounds could only be heard under water. The vibrations weren’t transmitted through the air into our ears, but somehow materialized directly in our bodies, heads, brains, minds – a very peculiar and unreal feeling, especially with this kind of dreamy and floating music.

I had the privilege to talk with Redolfi, asking questions about various aspects of his work, for half an hour after the evening concert. (I hope I’ll be able to use the interview for a radio feature later this year.) It was very heartwarming to talk to him, we have so much in common (because he influenced me so much, not the other way around) and we feel similar about so many things. We had met and talked before once during a concert in 1999 but we did not really know each other well. When we hugged after the interview though it felt like we were old friends.

A thorougly enjoyable event, and one of the highlights of our vacation in Southern France!

Contemplating the Planet Venus

stopping the car on top of the hill
midnight, black velvet sky,
and just over the western horizon
the brightly radiating jewel,
just about to follow sun & moon into the night

beyond this world of petty primate concerns,
suchness is easy to spot, purity, an immaculate beauty
that is laser focused, piercing directly through the heart
and so immense that there are no words.
to die for a beauty like that!

this touch left me shattered, unable to sleep
not knowing what to do with this
unexpected kiss of the beloved
that music, that prayer, that vision, of what?
how many multitudes do I contain?

 


Georgina Brett from London is my favorite livelooping singer


Image Credit:
Earthshine and Venus Over Sierra de Guadarrama

Daniel Fernández

Ecstasy Trilogy

Here are three ambient movies that I put online recently, each of them about 30 minutes long: “Mouse Pointer Feedback Ecstasy”, “Arboreal Ecstasy”, “Symmetric Jellyfish Ecstasy”. Wow, 90 minutes of ecstasy?

Ecstasy is not something we usually encounter in our daily lives, and different people have very different ideas about what it is. I just saw that Wikipedia has three different definitions!

The effect of the videos on the observer will vary, but all of them slow down time like the motion of liquid in lava lamps, or like Marian Zazeela’s extremely slow ornamental videos to La Monte Young’s drone music.

For the MTV generation that is used to very fast and hectic cuts, this will be unbearable to watch 🙂

1. Mouse Pointer Feedback Ecstasy


I used a toy microscope and filmed the microscope output on the screen – I pointed the microscope to its own images. This creates a video feedback loop, resulting in all sorts of effects. Because nothing much happens when filming an empty screen, resulting in more of nothing, I chose to film the mouse pointer from very close. Some postprocessing was applied (mainly, slowing down). The music is ambient music that I played on synthesizers and tape delays, back in the mid-eighties.

2. Arboreal Ecstasy


This was the first video designed to use as a backdrop for Georgina Brett‘s set on my livelooping festival from last April. I filmed these trees out of my car while driving through forests in Washington and Northern California (usually, Sabine was driving and I held the camera). Postprocessing: Slowing down and some motion blur, and a mirror effect at the bottom of the video, to take out the street that was visible in the original. The mirror creates a nice effect that looks like a reflection on water.

I chose Georgina’s piece Leanate as soundtrack for this, and I slowed it down considerably using Paulstretch. Then two weeks before the festival it turned out that someone else had also planned to use trees for a backdrop video, so I dropped this, and created something new for Georgina:

3. Symmetrical Jellyfish Ecstasy


I had filmed these amazing creatures in an aquarium in Oregon. Postprocessing included slowing down, changing the colors, and introducing symmetry. The music I chose for this imagery consisted of a loop I had created a while ago (I have forgotten in the meantime how I did it); during the piece, several instances of this loop, running at different speeds, get superimposed.

Georgina’s gorgeous set with the jellyfish video behind her can be watched here.

When in Rome

In the afternoon of the second day of the Florence Livelooping Festival, Fabio Anile (who had to work on Monday morning and could not stay for the evening concerts), Michela and me drove down to Rome.

Fabio had invited me for a couple of days to make music together. We share a love for livelooping, ambient, and minimalist polyrhythmic music, and we had already played together on loopfestivals in Berlin and Cologne – here is what the final minutes in Cologne sounded like:

      LastMinutes - Last Minutes, by Fabio Anile & Michael Peters




 
I stayed in Fabio’s place for several days, and on each day when he came home from work in the afternoon, we improvised together for several ours, and recorded everything. It will take some time to listen through all of this! Some of the improvisations will probably be good enough for a CD as they are, some others need some working on, and some might be used as a sketch for a composition. The music that we produced was quite beautiful and dreamy, often involving silence or very few notes.
Not surprisingly, the food was also very good 🙂




 
Of course, being in Rome, I also did the tourist thing – wonderful !





 
“Peters is super” – yes, but there are still some typos in there ! Please try again.














 
On my last morning in Rome, before going to the airport, Fabio drove me to Tivoli, a few miles outside of Rome, where we took a look at Villa Adriana. “Villa” is a somewhat misleading word for this huge complex of buildings. This amazing place had been home for a while to a Roman emperor who liked it better than his palace in the city – I could understand why. Of course I did not only take photos but also binaural recordings with “headphone” microphones (wearing my furry black windshields which Fabio found very funny).








A Suitcase Full of Stars

Another Livelooping festival, this time in beautiful Florence …

 
Some of you might remember the sentence “my god, it’s full of stars”. Another situation, but one could also say this about my new suitcase that I had to buy because the airline that calls itself “Easyjet” allows for only one piece of cabin baggage. For me as a travelling livelooper (well, occasionally), this is a bad restriction: I need to carry the laptop in one hand and the small Hohner G2 guitar in the other hand. I wouldn’t check in any of those two of course, and to put the laptop into my suitcase didn’t feel so safe. The solution for this was finally to get a large new dark blue suitcase that could contain not only my toothbrush and t-shirts but also the guitar, squeezed in diagonally. And to be able to recognize it at the baggage claim, I put lots of little fluorescent stars on it, on all sides. It looks really nice, and they glow in the dark!

 
Massimo Liverani the hero had organized the 4th International Livelooping Festival in Florence. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also housed us, fed us, drove us, and showed us around the town.

 
Among the liveloopers I met in Florence: Gareth Whittock, and his wife Emma, from Bristol …

 
Willie Oteri and Dave Laczko (WD-41, and I know the secret story behind this name now) from Austin, Texas …

 
Fabio Anile from Rome, with his friend Michela …

 
Rainer Straschill from Munich with Michéle …

 
Enrico Coniglio from Venice (right) who turned out to share some unusual passions with me (such as, wandering around with binaural microphones, or dipping a hydrophone into the sea and listening to fish) …

 
We walked around the old city after midnight … Roman statues, old bridges, cafes that were the birthplace of the futurist movement, and of course breathtaking buildings …

 
We drove up a hill to take the tourist look over the valley of Florence … the city and the area of Tuscany are amazingly beautiful, I want to come back and spend a vacation here!

 
The venue was an open air stage in a beautiful park. It was very warm, and families and kids were all around until very late.

 
My set was the last one on this day. I replaced Randolf Arriola from Singapur who couldn’t come.

My set had some weak moments, but all in all, I was very happy with how it developed, and I felt that this gig had been a significant step. Too bad my long pants had disintegrated unexpectedly the day before, I look a bit sloppy with my short pants, but it works if one closes one’s eyes and just listens to the music 🙂

The Sunday after the Saturday before. Massimo and his wife fed us with pasta, and we all sat together in a small garden under a fig tree, eating and having coffee and talking.

 
After this, most of the tired loopers went to bed again, while Fabio, Michela and me set off to Rome for the next adventure. Fabio had invited me to stay with him for a few days, to make music together. Because he had to work early on Monday, we missed the second day of the festival. Too bad but the first day had already been very enjoyable, with very nice sets of Giovanni Lami, Enrico Coniglio, Fabio Anile, and Rainer Straschill. (And me.)

2011: A Livelooping Weekend

This was the weekend of the 2nd international Livelooping Festival in Cologne – I had organized the first one almost 3 years ago, and for various reasons I felt it was time to do another one.

I wish more liveloopers would organize such a festival. It doesn’t have to be a mammoth, several-days-70-loopers festival such as Rick Walker’s festivals in Santa Cruz (which he now has stopped doing because it kept him busy for months). This Cologne festival presented 10 acts again (this time, 9 soloists and 1 trio) and so was small in comparison. Many people seem to think that it is very difficult or lots of work to do that, but in fact, it is not so much work, but lots of fun, especially if one chooses nice loop musicians and everything turns out to be a success. It helped a lot that the cultural office of Cologne and the culture trust of the Cologne-Bonn Sparkasse bank sponsored me again to an extent that allowed me to hire people who did sound, videotaping, video projection, photography, and other support work.

Cologne Loopfestival 2011
Cologne Loopfestival 2011 / Image (c) Alan Jaras

Some of the loopers stayed in hotels, but Georgina Brett, Per Boysen, and the boys from Darkroom stayed at our house.

The day of the festival was very warm and sunny … good for us at first, so we could hang out on the terrace in the morning … of course in the evening, there were less people in the audience than we had expected because some of them had preferred a lazy evening in a beer garden over hours of difficult music in the darkened hall of the Loft …


Setting up was less chaotic than one could expect with 12 musicians and tons of electronics all squeezed together on a few square meters. Then Thomas Elbern started with his Twilight Worldz guitar drones, followed by Uwe Schumacher (who I knew from two concerts in his church based KlangSpielRaum) and his world music influenced improvisations on bass, percussion, and voice …


Patty Stucki sang, played synths and saxophones, and transported the audience into other worlds …

… before I entered the stage with my guitar and delivered several quite multifaceted pieces of music, some of which were successful (i.e. came out similar to my plans) and some didn’t. Oh well. I am still learning!

Sjaak Overgaauw had been inspired by the first Cologne loopfestival to create his own annual festival in Antwerpen. His Premonition Factory produced beautiful ambient music, and after this, David Cooper Orton played guitar somewhere between folk, rock, jazz, and minimal music. Both Sjaak and David had been among my livelooping colleagues in Santa Cruz in 2009 …

It was a special treat for me to finally see Georgina Brett on stage. I had met her in London in 2007 where she introduced me to her ethereal vocal canon music. This time she sung a complex 30 minute piece based on words by Pythagoras. The video backdrop I had created for her, starring slowly moving psychedelic jellyfish (which I had recorded in an aquarium in Oregon) was a great visual addition to her composition I thought. (Georgina was too concentrated to even notice 🙂 )

Georgina was followed by Stockholm based looper Per Boysen, one of my favorite looping musicians (I remember being in awe watching him on festivals in Zürich and Rome). Instead of guitar, flute, or saxophone, he presented his newest instrument, a Chapman stick. It seems that a good musician can create magic on just about any instrument!

Reyn Ouwehand from Amsterdam was the only livelooper I hadn’t met before. He turned out to be not only fun to spend time with, but also a much more proficient keyboard player than I had expected – jawdropping even. He finished his set with a nice impromptu improvisation with Georgina.

And finally, Darkroom (Andrew Ostler and Michael Bearpark with Andrew Booker on electronic percussion) delivered a beautiful and relaxing piece of electronic music that reminded me of Krautrock psychedelia, probably due to the synth sequences created by Os.


We came home after the gig, exhausted but happy, and stayed up late. On the next morning, Sjaak and Ingrid and Patty came to watch us having breakfast, Georgina and Per did the dishes … some of us stayed until the evening, talking about music, but only Per stayed another night and left on Monday afternoon.


What a great weekend with such nice people! I wish we could all stay together for longer, but of course many of the loopers are parents and have to go back to their families and workplaces … the looper island that Michael Klobuchar dreams of will probably remain a dream …


Here is a very nice 5 minute WDR3 radio feature about the festival, containing short interviews and music snippets by Reyn, Patty, Thomas, Georgina, and Uwe:

      loopfestcologne2011_wdr3_tuulasimon - Michael Peters interview by Tuula Simon

(photos taken by Andrew Ostler, Mike Bearpark, Petra Schulten, Mike Gürgens, and myself)

Soft Drugs in Antwerp

I did a Saturday/Sunday trip to Antwerp to visit the Livelooping Festival, the 3rd one organized by Sjaak Overgaauw. Except for the bad traffic jams that I got into on the highway, I found that Antwerp is not really far from here – less than 3 hours.

 
I had booked a hotel that looked cheap and good on the website. Well let us say I will look for another hotel should I come back to the next loop festival. But the area was interesting – it was a Jewish quarter of town, and I saw lots of Jewish couples walking around the place wearing very traditional cloths and very strange cylindrical fur hats that I haven’t seen before anywhere.

Living in Germany, I’m not used to seeing traditional Jews because understandably, very few of them live here. I saw lots of people from many countries in Antwerp, and I heard many languages. A young man talked loudly into his mobile, in a language that I didn’t recognize, while taking a leak standing beside me in the toilet of some cafe. Antwerp somehow reminded me a little bit of Manhattan – even the relatively small city park with its ponds and bridges reminded me of Central Park. I liked that a lot.

 
Lots of interesting shops, some of them selling things that I didn’t recognize. And the chocolateries – oh my god. Soft drugs (I am clearly addicted to chocolate), and beautifully set up. And expensive.

 
I visited the bank of the Scheldt, a broad river flowing by the city into the nearby Atlantic.

 
A ponton made loud and deep water noises. I recorded a few minutes using my little digital recorder (this time it was wearing its new wind protection, and looked like a muppet with a wild hairdo) – click the arrow to hear water, seagulls, church bells, and traffic noises of Antwerp.


 
Hungry from walking. Apple pancake and coffee. Good. Then back into the city roads and early evening. Time to walk to the venue.

 
I first met with Kirstin, Facebook friend, synth player, and fan of Sjaak’s music. It was nice to talk face to face instead of using facebook (we hardly knew each other in real life). Then to the venue together for a couple of hours with ambient music, drones, and loops.

 
Some of the livelooping music was quite amazing. Sjaak’s ambient synthscapes were deep and hauntingly beautiful. Welsh guitarist Simeon Harris also created sounds and textures that were very beautiful, shimmering and complex – I wish I knew his trade secrets … but I think gear is involved that I cannot afford at the moment. Flute and sax player Theo Travis used relatively modest gear, but his playing technique and compositional skill was outstanding. A very enjoyable and inspiring evening.

I walked home to my less-than-convincing hotel, slept for a few hours, and got up early. I drove through the Schelde tunnel and visited St. Anna, a popular recreation area for Antwerp citizens. You can see the city from there. If you walk around a bit, there are also views of, er, modern architecture and chemical industry areas, maybe not quite as beautiful as the Antwerp skyline, but in the early Sunday sunshine, everything looked shiny and fresh.

 
After a croissant or two for breakfast, I drove to Sjaak’s and Ingrid’s place for coffee. The boys had just gotten up and were busy transferring video files to portable hard disks. I also met Coco again, the cheese loving red tomcat that can make funny faces.

 

Scrap Cities, Rubber Boats, Sepia Songs

Last saturday was very full. I worked until noon (no pictures of the ColdFusion code that I wrote, that would be too boring), then I headed towards Cologne. On the way, driving towards the S-Bahn station, I realized I would have to wait for quite a while, and I stopped by an unusual exhibition that I had always meant to visit.

 
Michael Kramer is an artist who lives not far away from my hometown. His studio, I am told, looks like a scrapyard – one thing that he does is creating sculptures from scrap metal. His sculpture “Die Stadt”, the city, is spread out on a large flat roof. Visitors can walk around on the roof and look at many very different kinds of cities made from a million strange looking metal parts. I loved this place so much that I almost forgot that I had planned to take the next S-Bahn station to go to Cologne.

 
I managed to catch the train in the last second … it took me to Cologne where I met Sabine in a sports museum. Now I don’t care for sports at all and I don’t care for the sports museum even less but today Greenpeace was here on a 30-year-anniversary tour (the German leg of Greenpeace was founded 30 years ago, 10 years after Greenpeace came into existence in Vancouver), and both Sabine and me were curious what it would be like.

(On the way from the Cologne main station to the Greenpeace event I met Dorothee, a friend of Sabine – we talked for a couple of minutes. I wasn’t aware at this point that I was going to have four (4) chance meetings of this kind on this day.)

 
I met Sabine and my colleague Michaela – I handed her the data CDs that I had worked on this morning – and we had a coffee together. Soon after I ran into my old friend Karla who was also interested in Greenpeace as it turned out.

 
The Greenpeace event was interesting and moving – we listened to a 1-hour talk about the history of this organization in Germany. I had forgotten so many things and realized that without these people, the world would be in a much worse shape than it is now. They had helped to stop major environmental crimes that would be unimaginable today. I felt moved and very grateful that this organization exists.

One ugly German word that made Greenpeace famous during the eighties was “Dünnsäureverklappung” – chemical companies got rid of their highly toxical acids by simply dumping them into the North Sea, and Greenpeace successfully stopped them.

 
On this day, families could take their kids on a ride with one of the famous Greenpeace rubber boats on the Rhine. They went pretty fast. I’m not sure I would dare to do this. I get seasick when I brush my teeth.

 
Sabine had enough adventures for this day, and drove home. I went to several concerts in the evening. The annual Kölner Musiknacht took place on this day – it offers dozens of concerts at many places throughout the city. One 15€ ticket pays for all concerts.

I had heard the quite wonderful jazz band Sepiasonic one day on the radio, 3 years ago, and my ears got really big. What was this? It sounded like a very poetic crossbred between Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North and modern Scandinavian jazz groups such as Hanne Hukkelberg. I loved it. Sepiasonic? They had a website with some music but no CD.

(Update: they have an album on Bandcamp now)

Anyway when I saw that they played in Cologne I was very happy that I could finally see them live, and I was not disappointed.

 
Swiss master clarinetist Claudio Puntin, jazz singer Insa Rudolph, and jazz guitarist Kim Efert (I loved his compositions and style – a kindred soul!) were accompanied by an amazing band that consisted of drums, bass, and three flutists – a very unusual setup but with everyone being a master of their instrument, very effective in creating interesting improvised soundscapes and highly sophisticated tunes in odd meters. When Insa Rudolph’s voice effortlessly soared above complex harmonic structures, and three flutes played playful and experimental compositions that reminded me of Egg and other Canterbury bands, I was a happy listener.

 
I talked to Insa after the concert and asked her about the CD. Apparently they are working on it and it might be released at the end of this year. Something to look forward to!

 
My next concert was two hours later. I walked through cold streets towards the Cologne Cathedral which was illuminated brightly. When I got there I saw that it was full of people for some kind of catholic event which had nothing to do with the Kölner Musiknacht.

 
Although this cathedral (when empty) can trigger some sort of feeling of presence in me, I’m not at all interested in Catholicism and cheering crowds of young Pope-the-popstar-fans. Actually I think that it is sad that so many kids get conditioned this way instead of learning about their conditionings in order to wake up from them, but I don’t want to go into that here. The cathedral remains a place of power to me regardless of what might go on in the people who come here.

 
The WDR Funkhaus, the old central building of the largest radio station in Germany, sits right across the cathedral. I have spent many hours of my life in its beautiful concert hall, seeing amazing concerts of many kinds, mostly avantgarde and world music. I hadn’t been here for a while. Coming here on this evening gave me a warm feeling of coming home.

 
The Iranian concert was scheduled for 10 pm – it was not yet 9 pm and cold outside, so I decided to attend the 9 pm concert with Baroque string music – more precisely, “NeoBarock” with compositions of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. The violins were tuned in unusual ways but coming from the quite stunning performance of Sepiasonic, I found that I couldn’t open to this music.

Although I think of myself as very open to basically all kinds of music, I have problems being interested in some periods of classical music. Although the musicians played with breathtaking virtuosity, I found myself getting bored with the predictability of the compositions.

 
The 10 pm concert was a different category altogether – classical music, and modern music in the classical style, from Iran. The band played three long compositions that gave the instrumentalists ample space to improvise and show off their quite amazing virtuosity.

One of the percussionists was Peyman Nasehpour. We had met two years ago because he is a friend of Rick Walker. In May 2008, Peyman drove a couple of hours just to meet Rick at the livelooping festival that I had organized in Cologne. On the day after the festival, we all met again in Cologne and had a beer together – a delightful mix of musicians from many countries. I have been a Facebook contact of Peyman since (he even gave a frame drum lesson to me via Skype once), and he had invited me to this delightful concert.

 
Before the concert began, I noticed my old friend Walter and his wife in the audience. We met afterwards and talked, and then we saw that Kerstin Kilanowski had also been in the audience. Kerstin and me had been colleagues as students working in the department of education … 30 years ago? Our common colleague and Kerstin’s friend Gisela Schinawa also came and greeted me … she wondered where my long hair was … it seems I have changed a bit during 30 years …

Surrounded by Fog

Recently, I was the only participant showing up on an official but small-scale Adobe Coldfusion Developer meeting at Starbucks, on a very hot day that probably turned off the other potential developers. The representative from Adobe had decided to raffle two tickets to a U2 concert in Frankfurt as an incentive to come to the meeting. So I did not only get a tasty ice coffee and a bag with Coldfusion PR material, but I also went home with two U2 tickets, each worth more than 90 Euros.

I gave the other ticket to my friend Matthias Ebbinghaus who was very excited to get to see his once-favorite band live for the first time, and for free! I’m more a child of the seventies – U2 is a good band no doubt, but they never ranked among my favorites. I looked forward to this anyway, and we got rewarded with a very nice evening.

We took the high speed train to Frankfurt and found our seats among the other 55000 fans in a huge stadium.

 
U2’s “360 degree tour” takes place under a structure that they referred to as their spaceship. It looked like a giant green bug to me first, but when the amazing light show took off, I could see what they meant.

 
We both weren’t really impressed with the sound quality but we figured that in a huge place like this, it is probably not possible to create a real good sound quality for everyone. The people around us didn’t really care though – everybody was standing most of the time and dancing to the tunes most of which were even familiar to me.

 
I took a little while to get beyond my inner judge who criticized the silly rock star movements and cliches, but after that, I could let myself fall into the show, and I liked it a lot. It helped that the four musicians keep trying to transport a positive message.

 
Too bad we had to leave a little bit early so we could catch our train back to Cologne. Thanks for a very nice evening Adobe !!

 

An Absurd Weekend

25 years ago, a guitarist from Cologne called Michael Frank started a band called The Absurd. Their mixture of rock (often including odd meters and political lyrics), jazz, and free improvisation was always open-minded and full of crazy ideas, experiments, and fun. Many musicians (including myself) were members of The Absurd for a while.


 
After 25 years, today’s incarnation of this band is still alive and kicking. We met for a hot July weekend in Berlin to record in the Andere Baustelle studio that belongs to a member of Berlin’s most famous experimental band, Einstürzende Neubauten.

We were 16 musicians this time, some from Berlin, some from Cologne – a real big band, with several guitarists, several drummers (one at a time) and percussionists, several bass players (two at once at times), lots of singers and brass players, plus keyboards and vibraphone. When all these people were all in full flight, the sound was mindblowing. I was reminded of jazz orchestras like Centipede at times.


 
Travelling to Berlin by train was already fun 🙂


 
We were very happy with the studio personnel and gear (although it was so hot in there at times that the air conditioners had a hard time to cope).

 
My workstation was an ancient Marshall tower. I played the Turkish Cümbüs during the piece “Zukkaattakk” and my little Höfner Shorty guitar (with an inbuilt speaker!) into my modified Ibanez UE400 multieffect – so I was mostly using real vintage gear this time.


 
Studio work is exhausting …

 
A wonderful weekend, big fun with good friends. I haven’t heard the studio recordings yet, and I don’t know how much of it will end up on the silver jubilee vinyl that is planned. I think there was lots of incredible energy, I hope it got caught on tape.

On Sunday night, we did a “video concert” in the studio. We played all pieces while being filmed by several cameras. For some reason the realtime video podcast didn’t work but we have the video material. Here’s Sercan Özökten’s video cut of “ZukkaAttakk” (play it VERY LOUD to get an idea of the energy that was in the room) and “More Miles per Hour”.


 

Sahara Of Snow & Other Places

Fragments today as there is a slightly fragmented, slightly surreal feeling – I just read something surreal, and something slightly surreal was there after a short nap in the early afternoon today.


SAHARA OF SNOW

The Sahara Of Snow we saw today was a perfect white surface that covered the hills; mostly perfect, gleaming in the early March sun, but here and there, a trail made by humans and a dog, trails made by deer who had galloped across the open field, maybe in the night or the early morning – leaving groups of four indentations in a row, then a wide gap to the next group; and mysterious small trails that began nowhere and ended nowhere, trails by large birds that had landed for unknown reasons, doing unknown work on the ground, thinking bird thoughts.

 
ZOOMING

Tomorrow Craig and Trinity will fly back from their short concert tour / vacation in Portugal to their home in Idaho. How wonderful that one can easily feel so connected to people from faraway even without knowing them very well. I wish we’d have more time. How wonderful also to play music together in front of a small audience. Some more about this later.

I looked their house up in Google Streetview and loved the large blooming lilacs all around – followed the street for a while without being able to see the mountains in the east. What a strange kind of spyhole I looked through, an unsharp kind of warped virtual reality consisting of frozen frames with cars standing still on the street, but me zooming from one frame to the next like a ghost in a world where time stands still while a sun shines that never moves.

How long until we’ll have telepresence robots that will allow us to walk and talk, representing us in faraway places?

 
TREE RINGS

Long rows and columns of numbers that represent tree rings and their sizes, created by an ancient Fortran software that is as old as my car – 23. The time we looked back to: 7000 years in the past.

How strange to think of the people who lived then, not knowing about Fortran, impossibly far removed from the faintest idea even of the concept, just as we are removed from their concepts. Long rows and columns of numbers, measurements, places, realities, landscapes, real lives, births, deaths.

I’ll write a software for these numbers that will reverse their sequence, and group them in a different way: In the Heidelberg format, maybe invented in this city in Germany that was also home to a factory that built the famous printing machines that I used to work on in my early youth, helping my father.

They had a black thing going forwards and backwards – it looked like a slightly eerie robot head, with one eye, and it had two arms, one taking up the next sheet, one putting the printed sheet down on a stack. I always wanted to record the sound they made but I never did.

 
SIDEBURNS

The impossibly fast minimalist patterns played by Keith Tippett on a grand piano (one that I’ve played myself for a few minutes last year), at times prepared on the fly with objects that I couldn’t see from my place. Never having seen him live but in love with his style of music since the early seventies, Lizard, Centipede.

Julie Tippetts (I forgot the story behind the “s”) somewhat aged visibly of course but with a voice that hadn’t. The drummer from Germany who I hadn’t heard of before, catalysing the piano/voice duet, leading and following with an astonishing degree of sensibility. An hour of hardly ever looking at each other because it wasn’t necessary – going to many faraway places together, totally in blind sync, rhythmic and dreamy, musical box and mbira, stately Purcell chords on the prepared piano that suddenly sounded like a cembalo. The audience was stunned and in awe.

“I understand that some people would like to hear more but this was all that we know.” The Britishness, the sideburns, the dry humour. What a genius. His playing took me to many places that felt totally right, taken directly from what I imagined I would have played without knowing it, without even beginning to have the musical vision for. And the idiosyncrasy that made me feel even closer to him.

 
BACKYARD

I took a friend out from my office room and showed him around the yard in front of the house, some patches of snow left here and there (that was days before we got new loads), blue sky, a promise of lilacs. I carried my notebook around and talked to him, he sat in his living room in Hamburg, hundreds of miles from here.

Then I went back in and he showed me around the flat, a street lined with large trees, a backyard. Sometimes the skype connection broke down and we had to reconnect. While he talks to me often his face turns into a modern painting when the software grapples with the low bandwidth – then sometimes out of the blue, the image freezes, the hissing freezes, and he is gone and we have to dial in again, continuing the exploration of the depth:

His experience in the moment, my experience in the moment. The moment is shared, some mysterious kind of energy is shared, the very fact of someone listening (without judging or valueing or commenting) creates a palpable difference in the atmosphere that changes the way we feel and think. Magical moments when we sync looking at the same thing.

A closeness, a conscious sharing of this, the hard-to-describe reality of what is simply here, something tangible that is obviously in the air and in the body, something impossible to describe that nobody can understand who has never done this, transported by tiny amounts of electricity across hundreds of miles.

 
DOG EYES

Early morning, Orion is already setting in the west beyond the hills, tiny dots of light from distant stars – the one on top of the constellation (al-Dhira, Bed Elgueze, Yedelgeuse … “hand of the giant”, 600 light years from here) is hundreds of times larger than our sun, a wobbling, oscillating, unstable red giant, something much more vast than we could ever imagine with our petty mammal brains, and destined to explode – hopefully, in many thousands of years, and not tomorrow – covering our skies with the flash of its death.

So it vanishes beyond the hill, winter is definitely over although there is snow all around. The clocks will be set to summer time soon. Another round, all things different, all the same.

Later in the morning: The shivering legs of a small dog that has to wait with his owner in the cold outside of a supermarket, probably for the owner’s wife to come back. The trust in the dark dog eyes when I talk to him. We are both here, different brains, but not different in what we are, and in a way, we both know it: Always on the cusp, on top of the wave, riding the mystery.

Church Vibrator


 
My second end-of-November improvisation concert (my first one was in 2008) with percussionist-singer-bassist Uwe Schumacher in a church in Bonn, Germany was an interesting experience for me in several ways.

Firstly of course, improvisation concerts are always interesting experiences, especially when there is no plan at all. Uwe’s regular church concerts (sometimes solo, sometimes with musical partners) are based on complete openness. The resulting music can develop into many directions – often there are jazz, world music, or ambient influences. It seems to be a successful concept – the number of visitors slowly increases and many people come on a regular basis.

On this evening, a sound engineer class from the nearby university came to record us as an exercise, in professional quality. I’m looking forward to that recording – haven’t heard it yet.


 
I brought a number of new musical toys, such as a wonderful old Indian electric drone box with tambura sounds, an autoharp, and an electric classical guitar which always makes me want to play bossanova inspired music.

One item I brought was a vibrator. I knew it would potentially offend religious-minded people to play with a sex toy in a church but I used it in complete innocence, thinking purely in musical terms – the vibrating egg shaped device can be placed on various kinds of surfaces (metal bowls or drums or cymbals are great) to trigger a wide range of sounds. I played with it for a while and eventually found a vertical open metal tube that was probably a candle stand. I put the vibrator in there and left it for a few minutes, making the whole thing buzz and drone away with an interesting timbre.

Apparently, this was too much for some people who left the church at this point.


 
I also used my solo livelooping gear at times to create dense soundscapes. Uwe sang on top of them, and he played bass and looped percussion, especially the wonderful berimbau from Brazil that I love so much.

My own playing was ok I think (for my standard) but with hindsight, I would say I should have played less, leaving more room for Uwe and for a more dynamic interplay. Livelooping does not always lend itself for a group improvisation, and “less is more” is always a good motto anyway.

We even got an email with detailed criticism from a regular visitor of Uwe’s concerts. He hated what I did so much that he left earlier. I actually felt grateful for the email because usually, people leave without commenting when they don’t like a concert, and one is left with the part of the audience who liked it, with no way to learn from the negative views. We received some very positive comments for the evening too, so what we did can’t have been a failure entirely, and I didn’t feel completely devastated by the email, but I noticed that it successfully undermined my poor little musician ego for a while. I’m not a very experienced live musician yet, and I don’t always feel completely confident with what I do, especially if I move in potentially dangerous free-improvisation territory.

Having one’s ego attacked by harsh criticism is an interesting experience in itself – does one go into defense immediately, hitting back or powering up the ego self-repair mechanism, or does one try to tolerate the feeling for a while and look at it with interest? I found it difficult this time – the superego voices that come up in such a situation are very convincing, the reaction of the body is not pleasant, and inevitably, one feels like a child that is reprimanded by one’s parents. I’m grateful for the experience anyway – it seems I have been so successful setting up my life to run smoothly, avoiding edges and criticism, that I almost forgot how painful it can be.

I was happy to hear from Uwe that he liked most of what we did, even if we weren’t always playing together in a successful way. At this point, he would be my favorite partner for some kind of duo project.

Here are some video recordings I did with my little camera, the sound also being recorded by the camera. This doesn’t have the official recording sound quality (I haven’t received a copy of this yet) but it gives a good impression already.



Diamond Body Friday

I live in the countryside 30km east of Cologne – it takes 45 minutes to drive into the city. This Friday I managed to squeeze four very different Cologne appointments into one day which was good … it saved some driving time. So the day brought me an interesting and quite pleasurable mixture of computer programming topics, music related meetings, and something deeply spiritual – all in one package. Plus a nice walk, some interesting buildings, a number of lo-res photos (see below), and a piece of cake.

Date One – ColdFusion 9 Upgrade Workshop

Version 9 of Adobe ColdFusion has just been released, and I was invited to a presentation at the Cologne Adobe offices. My programming colleague Horst Becker was also participating, plus 20 or so other ColdFusion programmers from the larger Cologne area.

It was good to see again that ColdFusion is in pretty good health (even though many programmers who feel attached to other programming languages often doubt this, and look down on CF because they think it is not a real programming/script language). CF9 is the first version that was entirely prepared by Adobe (it used to belong to other companies before), and there are quite a large number of useful developments and new features, such as extensive methods to communicate with Microsoft Office products, and a new Hibernate-based Object Relational Mapping methodology (a persistence layer, or abstract access method, replacing the familiar SQL database access syntax).


 
Exciting as these technologies are, I find myself more and more bored, not by ColdFusion which is a wonderful tool, but by this kind of work in general. I don’t belong to the programmers who are completely identified with their work and their tools and take it all oh so seriously. But as I don’t have an alternative way to earn money, it seems I will stay with it for a while. Unfortunately, it seems to me that programming, instead of getting easier and easier as technology advances, gets more and more complex, requiring more and more energy to keep up with the latest developments.

I took a walk with Horst along the Rhine towards the chocolate museum where we had a coffee and a cake, overlooking the Rhine. We spent an hour discussing technology, current projects, and his art exhibition that opened later that evening. (Horst was not amused when his iPhone told him about the latest stock market developments following doubts about the solvency of Dubai.)


 
That part of the Cologne Rhine west river – stretching for a mile south of the city center – used to be a no man’s land full of old defunct factory, storage, and silo buildings. Everything has changed now – there are many gleaming new office buildings, among them the new German Microsoft center, and the three spectacular crane buildings, two of which are already in use. I felt slightly uneasy to walk below them, with I don’t know how many tons hovering above me, just leaning on one thin looking central column. For some reason I had to think about the huge Cologne subway project that led to the collapse of the archive building, not far away from here.


 
Date Two – A Talk About Music

I walked half a mile from here to the Severinstor, the heart of the old southern part of Cologne, where I met Christian Schaal, a singer and bass player who I knew from concerts with singer-songwriter-composer Markus Apitius. Christian had recently asked me to join his new band project that he is thinking about. We had hot chocolate and tea and talked music for an hour. We found that we have some ideas in common, and that we will probably meet again at the beginning of the year for a session, to see how we harmonize musically.

I find that my musical activities are expanding rapidly, with the various loop festivals, other concerts, and various free improvisation collaborations. I’m enjoying this immensely of course, and not being a professional musician (Robert Fripp told me that I’d be much better off if I didn’t try this 🙂 ) I don’t have any expectations, and I don’t even think about commercial success, so these musical explorations can be completely open. I have no idea where I will be in a year or two, musically.

 

Date Three – A Strange Instrument

After my meeting with Christian, I drove to Mr. Viertmann’s beautiful guitar shop to pick up the Cümbüs I had recently bought for cheap. This strange Turkish fretless 12-string banjo was in bad shape but I got it back repaired, and ready for new strings. I can’t play it yet but it is such a strange instrument with such a strong sound, and I sense so many exciting musical possibilities here … I look forward to learning to play it … at least a little bit.

 
 
Date Four – Remembering Presence

My last appointment led me to Rani Willems, a wonderful spiritual teacher who I met only a couple of months ago. Her work complements the many things that I learned and experienced at the Ridhwan school – following many years of Zen and Meditative Inquiry with Toni Packer, who taught me more important things about life and the human mind than anyone else.

I hesitate to write about what this is all about – too large a topic for a little blog such as this, too prone to misunderstandings. Strange how many myths exist about spirituality, meditation, enlightenment, and everybody seems to be an expert anyway.

To me, this thing has nothing at all to do with religion or beliefs or philosophy, it is certainly nothing esoteric and actually not even spiritual, whatever that means. In 2001, after more than 25 years of grappling with Zen, it began to dawn on me what it is about, and I found it to be natural and utterly simple – too simple for the mind to grasp.

It appears to me now that all that was needed was
1. a good knowledge (thanks to Toni) about the countless ways that we constantly fool ourselves (by clinging to personality, opinions, beliefs, self-images, etc.) so I could learn to quickly recognize this in myself, and to drop it;
2. I eventually lost interest (to a limited extent) in my own compulsive, conditioned, and repetitive thinking; and
3. I found that by ignoring the oh-so-important blah-blah of my own mind, instead staying simply awake for a while, completely conscious in the present moment, something entirely unexpected and powerful could begin to shine – something that had been here all the time, totally covered up by the internal noise that I believed to be. This new thing is closer to me than my personality, it has nothing at all to do with Michael, and it was just a matter of recognizing it – somewhat difficult because in the midst of all the turbulence of my life, this was a quiet constant, easily overlooked.

There is some kind of oscillation now, the old Michael structure appears to pull me back into oblivion most of the time, but there is another force that pulls me into remembering again, very subtle and soft, but it is there, sometimes very strongly and clearly like today while looking at it together with Rani, and burning like a flame afterwards through the evening. We are incredible beings! Yes, stardust, as Joni Mitchell put it, but much more than that.

Wise Old Men

Who remembers Catweazle? When Daevid Allen entered stage yesterday where his band Gong was already playing, he was clad in his skull covered suit, a long glittering cloak, and a pointed hat. I thought of Catweazle at first, that crazy sorcerer from the middle ages who time travelled into contemporary England by accident.


 
What on earth does this guy (who will turn 72 soon) do to be so obviously healthy, full of positive energy, and so much power and stamina at this age? he jumped and danced around on stage all night long, he played electric guitar and sang as energetically as ever, laughing often and having the time of his life. I looked into his old wise eyes from quite near the stage and found that there was a considerable amount of presence and charisma around him. Remarkable.


 
Gong and their guitarist Steve Hillage were heroes of my youth. Here’s a photograph of my table in a room in a Cambridge college where I spent a week or two back in 1975 to work on my English. The Camembert Electrique LP by Gong (“holy cheese!”) was one of the items that I bought there, completing my early Gong record collection that already contained the “Radio Gnome Invisible” trilogy – a mythology about a planet called Gong, inhabited by the peaceful and spiritually evolved Pot Head Pixies that visit Earth in their green flying teapots. (I learned yesterday that the flying teapot theme was inspired by an analogy by philosopher Bertrand Russell.)

I was delighted to finally see the reunion lineup of this band that has been together since 2006 – Mike Howlett was not with them yesterday but at least there were Gilli Smyth (still doing her psychedelic witch singing at 76, maybe more convincing than ever), Canterbury scene guitar hero Steve Hillage, and his longtime partner, synth wizard Miquette Giraudy, along with a wonderful backing band (drums, bass, and sax/flute – I knew none of them before but they were all technically outstanding).

The Steve Hillage band played as openers before Gong, warming us up with Hillage’s psychedelic old songs – even some of the complex pieces of his Fish Rising album. They played quite energetically, less playful than I remember them – “less bubbles” as Michael Frank commented. I liked them a lot. Where would I be as a guitar player if I hadn’t been inspired by his echo guitar and his ethereal screwdriver glissando technique? (The technique was invented by Syd Barrett but I learned it from Steve Hillage who also used it extensively.)

The Pot Head Pixies that visited Earth 35 years ago are still alive and more active than ever, it seems. I bought their new album “2032” yesterday. It says that 2032 will be the year when “the existence of Planet Gong will be officially recognized by astronomers on Earth and will signal the first public arrival of these space visitors”. Something to look forward to!

Y2K9


 
Y2K9 was why we had come to the west coast in the first place:
Rick Walker (who keeps pointing out how much my MY2K project had inspired him to move towards abstract electronica) had invited me for years to come to his annual livelooping festival, and this year was the first time that I felt up to it.

One reason that I felt I could do it this time was that I had finally replaced the heavy guitar rig full of hardware effects I had been using for years by a notebook – good for international flights. I also took my small midified Hohner G2 guitar, an instrument that can easily be taken as hand luggage and tucked into a plane’s overhead compartment.

The notebook contains a complex Plogue Bidule setup that is capable of doing infinitely more than my old hardware effects could – it is a maze of VST plugins, VST instruments, loopers, and realtime samplers, infinitely reconfigurable and versatile, and it opens many musical doors for me although I’m still a long way from understanding Bidule, and also, a long way from mastering this setup.


 
One additional musical difficulty that I had created for myself was that I insisted to improvise everything – as on my previous solo livelooping concerts, I played no compositions (although sometimes compositions suddenly found their way into the improvisations). This has its pros and cons. It needs a certain amount of openness from the audience – people who expect “pieces” will inevitably be disappointed.

What usually happens, and happened this time too, is that I start out only from a rough idea for the beginning, and then some kind of flow finds its own way, often in surprising ways, sometimes boring, sometimes interesting. One thing that sometimes seems to happen, and it happened this time too, is that I try certain things along the way, and fail – then I’m disappointed and frustrated, but because the audience doesn’t know what I was trying, they often like the result anyway.


 
I was flattered that Rick had featured me in his “headliners” list for the festival, and scheduled me for no less than 3 gigs on 3 subsequent days.

On the first night, we met for the “Best of the Y2K9 International Live Looping Festival” concert in the Anno Domini Gallery in San Jose. Except for Atlanta based kalimba wizard Kevin Spears, all of us had come from abroad (from Germany, Australia, Barbados, UK, Belgium) and were somewhat excited to play in the USA for the first time.

It was a very nice evening – although we did not have many people (maybe 25) in the audience, there were up to 200 people listening and watching the show over the internet. Nat Grant from Melbourne created a very soft and subtle texture of material sounds from percussion and plastic foil, Julia Kotowski from Cologne played her charming “Entertainment for the Braindead” songs, David Cooper Orton presented wonderful guitar compositions, Sjaak Overgaauw led us into quiet ambient sound worlds, Andre Donowa played very relaxed caribbean guitar music, and Kevin Spears made us all tap our feet with his irresistable, and technically astounding, kalimba grooves.

I drove home with Nat, Julia, and Kevin in my car, eventually discovering that our fuel was low – and there was no way to get new fuel in the middle of the night in the mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz. We made it safely to Santa Cruz though – thanks so much to my guardian angel who protected us on the quite dangerous highway 17.


 
The next night, Rick had scheduled me for the “Experimental Side of the Y2K9 Looping Festival”, a concert in the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco which holds regular new music concerts curated by Matt Davignon. I’ve known Matt for years as a very creative musician and regular contributor to Chain Tape Collective projects – it was very nice to finally meet him in person.

I must admit that it was quite exciting for me to drive into the breathtaking night skyline of San Francisco, with Rick and Nat in my car, to give a concert there. This wonderful city is a mythical place, both beautiful (as Sabine and me saw it a few days ago) and dark and even a bit creepy – but then I’m probably simply not used to this place at night.

The gallery was a wonderful concert space. Matt did his drum machine soundscapes, Nat and Rick created surprising music with percussion instruments and various materials, and Thomas Dimuzio played breathtakingly beautiful synthesizer music – like something straight from Blade Runner, but abstract. I would have loved to get a recording of this but he had forgotten to record it!


 
I did 25 minutes of, as Georgina Brett put it, “severely electro-acoustic LIVE music” – a continuous stream of sound events from the guitar and from various mysterious little devices that made the audience lean forward, trying to see what they were 🙂 The music was not something that is easy to listen to afterwards, but I think it was an enjoyable concert live – big fun for me to play really noise oriented at times, maybe I should do more of this?


 
The main livelooping festival began on Friday evening with a concert of some of the headliners – Nat Grant with Rick Walker, Kevin Spears (the Paganini of the kalimba, as Rick put it very correctly), The Mermen guitarist Jim Thomas, and me, with each of us given 45 minutes. This was the only concert which saw me a bit nervous during the afternoon, but then I found myself very quiet and mostly present while I performed. Again, many things that I tried to do failed, but the audience didn’t know what I had been trying, and judging from the many positive feedbacks I got, at least parts of it must have been enjoyable. I felt especially flattered by a very positive website guestbook comment by the wonderful singer Lilli Lewis who I saw perform on the next day.


 
The two following days were like a livelooping sweat lodge – from noon to midnight, more than 50 livelooping artists played for half an hour each, performing on one half of the stage while on the other half the next artist quietly set up his gear. Many of the stylistically wildly diverse shows that I saw were amazing, some of them utterly wonderful. Among my favorites were Bill Walker on lapsteel guitar, David Cooper Orton on electric guitar, Mike Crain’s ambient-minimalist vibraphone music, and especially the songs of Lilli Lewis – her performance was almost a spiritual experience, many of us were in tears because it was so beautiful and full of heart.
Lilli’s CD is here in case you want to hear it.



 
At times during the days of the festival, just sitting and enjoying, I seemed to feel an intense field of love that surrounded the whole venue. It was an impersonal love, and definitely something beyond the love that Rick, and the many people who helped, obviously put into organizing this event. For some reason, the livelooper community is exceptionally friendly – there is no competition but rather an atmosphere of mutual support. It seemed to me that something that I would call the presence of love can materialize in a palpable way when many people gather in such an atmosphere, to work together and to share what means most to them – their music, their personal vision of beauty.

What a treat this festival was. We finally met on Monday morning for the traditional loopers brunch and had coffee and cakes with Rick, Chris, Michael Klobuchar, and Nat Grant the next day … then we had to say goodbye. Amazing how close one gets during just a few days, and how much we missed each other afterwards – it was not unlike a meditation retreat or a guitar craft week … special times where one is together in an intense way, and then leaves to return into ordinary every day life reality.


 
(thanks to George Wiltshire and David Cooper Orton for some of the Michael Peters photos)

(many festival photos are here)

Towards Y2K9 (3): The Guitar Sculpture

A tourist visit to Seattle, especially for a retro-futurist enthusiast like me, is usually (literally) topped by a visit to the magnificent Space Needle that was built for the 1962 World Fair and that is still the city’s landmark. And of course, we had to ride to the Space Needle with the monorail train that was also built for the World Fair almost 50 years ago.


 
We entered the monorail at the downtown station – the ride takes just a few minutes but while one approaches the Space Needle, it is difficult not to feel that nostalgic techno optimism that was so prominent in the American “Zeitgeist” at the time … even though the monorail looks a bit battered today.


 
The view from the needle top was quite stunning – we had a very clear and sunny day and could easily see Mt. Rainier in the south (behind the skyline on the right side here) and even Mt. Baker in the north.


 
The space needle area also contains the new Museum of Pop Culture which is both a music museum and a science fiction museum. The building itself, designed by Frank Gehry, is quite a sight – I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it elsewhere, and one might say that it is hard for the museums that it houses to top the outer appearance.


 
I hadn’t expected much from the Science Fiction museum but I must say that I rather liked it. Its many exhibits were quite nicely presented, clearly by people who love Science Fiction, and lots of thought had obviously been invested in structuring the many aspects of this genre. Very entertaining!


 
The music museum, founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is mostly dedicated to American rock music, most prominently to the electric guitar and to Seattle’s most famous guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix. The tree-like guitar sculpture in the lobby, called Roots and Branches, is quite impressive when one stands under it. Many of the guitars in the sculpture were quietly plucked by some robot mechanism. Actually the thing looked less like a tree and more like a fountain or a volcanic eruption, spouting instruments in the air.


 
Although the two museums are largely unrelated, there is currently a wonderful exhibition that relates to both, showing tons of Science Fiction and space travel related record covers from the 50s. I love this stuff!


 
In the evening, we met Ted and Letha and their rather charming little daughter again – they took us to a Greek Festival which, somewhat surprising to us, has been very popular in Seattle for years, so much that it was difficult to find a parking lot for the car. The huge tent was full of hundreds of excited visitors who ate Greek food (wine leaves stuffed with rice – yummy), listened to nice Greek folk music that was played at top volume, and watched Greek group folk dances. A most enjoyable evening!