Friday, October 28, 2016

Interview with Madeleine Campbell

Madeleine Campbell records bands under the Accessible Recording banner, runs live sound at Brillobox, works at Pittsburgh Modular, teaches classes through TechShop, publishes the Women in Sound zine, and with all the time that's leftover she also plays cello and synthesizer. She'll be improvising with Matt Rappa, Ricardo Iamuuri Robinson, and Jeff Weston as part of Crucible Sound #21 on Saturday, November 5th at Wood Street Galleries. 

Many people here in Pittsburgh are familiar with your recent work with Gangwish (alongside Sam Pace and Crucible alumni Jim Lingo and Keith DeVries). What role does improvisation play in Gangwish? 

Playing shows with Gangwish is fun. Sam is an incredible musician and it's always a treat to see what he does with various iterations of his projects. He was kind of my gateway back into regularly playing cello. Those shows were my first time making music in front of anyone after taking a couple years off post music school graduation. I stopped after my final recital because I felt stuck - I realized I had the last spent 12 years taking private cello lessons, playing with various youth and university symphony orchestras, and memorizing pieces I didn't necessarily care about purely for the sake of a more impressive performance, yet I could not just sit down and improvise or compose an original melody. For me, all the power was in the sheet music. The idea of making up parts of my own was terrifying. Sam laid a great foundation that made it really effortless to formulate ideas and build upon. I consider it untamed/unconstrained structure.

In March, we opened for Faust in Detroit. At the end of their set, we rejoined them to play their last song in the middle of the audience. All I heard was "It's in D!" This was totally out of my comfort zone. It felt similarly to when I learned how to drive stick shift and had to go up Herron Avenue for the first time. I thought "You can't half ass this. You have to commit and just go with it." I felt like I leveled up a lot over those 10-15 minutes. The whole experience was really affirming and encouraging. I think I felt like more of a musician than I ever did in a recital.

I heard good things about Red Eft Trio's first show — what can you tell my about that project?

Red Eft Trio is Jim Lingo, Emily Hawkins and me. Emily is a phenomenal percussionist and co-organizes the Pittsburgh New Music Festival. Jim asked if we would be interested in collaborating through improv. I'm always intrigued by his ideas so I obliged. We opened for Wume and Richard Pinhas a few weeks ago. It's pretty free form but we went into it with a general road map. It was my first time playing synth in front of people. It's more sparse than other projects I've been involved with, which is funny considering how many objects are on stage at one time, but after going to a lot of punk and hardcore shows over the last couple years, it feels like a nice change of pace. I think the first performance went well overall. I think we'd all agree it could use more focus but there were moments that genuinely made me smile.

In your mind, what makes an improvisation successful or not? 

It's hard for me to say since I feel like I'm just dipping my toes in this pool for the first time but in my own ensemble and improv experience, balance and communication between players is a big determining factor in how I interpret success. It's similar to how I converse with people. I talk a lot so I have to remind myself to give others space to do the same and actively listen, as well. The comfort of non-verbal communication comes with time. (Not having that one reason why I think Crucible is exciting.)

Carrying through with the intention of ideas is also important to me, if that makes sense. Maybe that could be framed as not rushing a process. Someone in the audience during the Red Eft Trio set said he enjoyed all the different things happening on stage but felt it was all over the place towards the end and wished some themes would have been more developed before abruptly ending. I think his exact words were, "A wrench is a good instrument and I like how it's being played but I want to hear it for more than six seconds before it's tossed to the side."

The bulk of your work uses a proactive DIY ethos to address issues of gender inequality in music. Here I'm thinking of Women in Sound, Accessible Recording, the recent panel discussion at VIA, and Girls Rock Pgh, to name a few. From this collective experience, what are a few strategies that you have found to be effective in creating legitimately inclusive, welcoming spaces within the music community? 

I don't think it's something I've necessarily strategized but I'm definitely learning a lot as I go along. My creative endeavors are often responses to my own experiences. If there is a need, I hope to help fill it. I wasn't (and still am not) seeing enough representation of women in audio literature so I started a DIY zine about it. I engineered at a big studio where none of my friends could afford to make records so I left and am outfitting a room of my own to try and bridge the gap between lugging your four-track to your friend's kitchen and saving for years to cut a few tracks at a large professional space. Both sides of the spectrum are beautiful in their own ways but I don't want my skills and ideas to only be accessible to people with a $3,000 minimum budget.  

I think there are a lot of really simple ways we can start to make our music communities more inclusive. For some people it will involve stepping outside of their comfort zone but it's time to do that. Let's try to book shows and curate events with diverse lineups. It's not hard to book shows that aren't 100% men. It's not hard to include women and queer and trans* people. I see this happening more and I hope it continues to move in that direction. I'd love to see more all-ages events. It's often feasible to offer sliding-scale entry and childcare, too. More consideration for parents from non-parents need to happen. I'm not saying smoky dive bar punk shows are bad. I've been to a lot and I'll go to more in the future. I just hope we can continue to mix it up more. 

From VIA "Mothership - The Future is Female" panel. Photo: Nico Segall.
Another personal goal for my work is that I establish a platform where people can comfortably ask questions. To me, accessibility to all skill levels is a huge part of inclusion. I was terrified to ask questions when I started recording. It's something I'm still getting over. I was really inspired by a sound recording skill share I co-facilitated with Tessa Barber from Carnegie Library this past summer. There were about ten people who wanted to learn some basic principles and establish a foundational knowledge of audio signal flow but weren't sure where to start. I don't have all the answers but I do know the basics so I can help someone cross that threshold and hopefully feel empowered to build from there. I'm really grateful for the people who have done so for me. 

I think a lot of this comes as a no-brainer to me because of the network of brilliant, inspiring, innovative women living and creating in this city. Volunteering with Girls Rock! Pittsburgh for the last few years connected me with many wonderful musicians and artists and it spread from there. Collaborating with Lauren Goshinski of VIA has taught me so much about curating and executing an event. Alexis Icon showed me everything I know about live sound and has continually told me to stop doubting myself. Celeste Smith of 1Hood Media represents the business woman I hope to be someday. Getting to know Molly Burkett has inspired me to start exploring production techniques for my own music. This support network is invaluable and my biggest motivating factor. 

You can read more about Women in Sound and Accessible Recording on the cyberweb. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Interview with Matt Rappa

You may already know Matt Rappa as the drum half of the long-running self-described "A.D.D. bludgeon rock" band Triangle and Rhino. More recently, he's been experimenting on his own as Skeletonized, which has mutated into a full live band. Whatever the context, Matt's playing seems to be always recognizably heavy and packed with detail and nuance. He'll be improvising with Madeleine Campbell, Ricardo Iamuuri Robinson, and Jeff Weston as part of Crucible Sound #21 on Saturday, November 5th at Wood Street Galleries. 

Can you give me a little history of the various musical projects that you've been involved in?

I grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania and started playing music with my best friends in a punk band called Fogo Junior. I started playing drums on buckets in my friend's basement, and eventually got a used Rogers drum kit and "taught" myself how to play by listening to records and trying to replicate what I heard. I was lucky enough to come up in a thriving small town DIY scene in the 90's. We had a good variety of bands and styles come through on tour, which exposed me to a variety of different underground music from all over the country.

Before I moved to Pittsburgh, I was in a band called The M.O.T.L., which was my first experience playing improvised music with a variety of different people & instruments at shows. After moving to Pittsburgh in 1997, I enjoyed attending shows at Millvale Industrial Theater and eventually played shows there and wherever we could in a band called Warlocks. Warlocks was largely improvised as well, and included drums, bass, french horn & sometimes guitars or other instrumentation. We hosted house shows in the North Side, and were lucky enough to have Thrones play in our dining room, among other great noise acts and bands. The first tour that I went on with a band was with Warlocks in 1999 or 2000, driving around in a packed station wagon from show to show. The highlight of being in Warlocks was opening for Men's Recovery Project & Thrones in Cleveland, as well as opening for Enemymine(ex-Godhead Silo) for a leg of their tour.

After Warlocks ended, I was one half of sample/loop noise project Boda P'nodo with my friend Jake who I played with in Fogo Junior & Warlocks. Boda P'nodo made sounds with a 202 sampler & Halloween voice changer from what I recall. In our short existence, we were lucky enough to play shows with Reynols, Evolution Control Committee, and Burning Star Core.

After Boda P'nodo, Jake & I started writing songs on guitar and drums as Triangle & Rhino. We went on a month long U.S. tour without ever having played a show in Pittsburgh. We had various third members through the years contributing vocals, horns, electronics, or guitar sounds to the band, but the core duo always remained. Throughout our 13 (maybe 14?) years as a live band, T&R played countless live shows, went on various tours, released music on cd, cdr, cassette, vinyl and digital formats, and played shows with countless amazing local, national & international acts. Jake now lives out of state so Triangle & Rhino exists solely as a recording project as of 2015.

More recently, I played for a couple years in a punk-ish, heavy, weird band called Fantasy Crime, and started Skeletonized as a recording project. Skeletonized existed as a recording project for a few years, mainly as an opportunity to improve on my recording and mixing skills. My friend Eric helped considerably with information and techniques to improve my recordings, and then helped me get started on translating Skeletonized to a live solo project. After playing some shows solo, my friend Luke joined on saxophone and we started writing and practicing as a duo with me on drums, vocals & electronics, and Luke on sax. Most recently, my friends Eric, Brian & Eric have joined in live on saxophone, electronics and guitar. We're currently recording and mixing songs for what I hope to be a digital release, as well as a release on cassette.

Is it fair to say that, over the years, you've gravitated toward making music that is more tightly composed? Are there still elements of free improvisation that figure into recent Skeletonized material? 

I've always enjoyed improvising in a live setting, particularly on live recording sessions.
Throughout the existence of Triangle & Rhino, we always had fun improvising on recordings, and normally half of each release was improvised material, sometimes with overdubs. Sometimes ideas for structured songs came out of improvised recording sessions as well.

All of my parts in the Skeletonized live set are "written", or practiced and played essentially the same way each time. The other instrumentation (saxes, electronics, guitar) is partially improvised and partially written/practiced. I have & am currently taking improvised Skeletonized recordings and attempting to make arranged pieces from them. At this point, it's one of the best ways to generate ideas for songs.

Do you draw a distinction between "jamming" (for lack of a better term) to generate ideas that will eventually be solidified into songs versus free improvisation for its own sake? 

I'd say I do draw a distinction between the two. A lot of times, a passage of a recorded improvisation will fall in to place for a few minutes and stand out to me and/or whoever else is involved and listening to the session. That passage would end up on a physical or digital release after all the performers agreed that it sounded great. Sometimes the bi product of that passage is inspiration for a piece with structured parts that's performed the same way or essentially the same way each time.
I think recording those improvised moments/sessions was always important to me & whoever else was involved at the time. When everyone hits a sweet spot in the recording session, it's great to be able to go back and listen any time you want.

At the same time, there is something magical about improvising live in front of an audience. Everyone performing and observing can potentially share a moment in time that can't be replicated, even if the audio or video are recorded live. That's why I'm so excited about participating in Crucible Sound with other performers I've never met before. Anything good or bad can happen, and that unpredictability is exciting.