Saturday, August 28, 2010

Open Mikes - Tim Noah's Thumbnail Theater

Been busy for the last two weeks, so I didn’t go to a lot of concerts or work on anything for the StormSound Cycle. But I have managed to attend the open mike twice again at Tim Noah’s Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, though I had to leave early. This venue continues to be (at least for me) the premier open mike north of Seattle, despite being not too close to where I live, and despite them not having the grand piano on the stage any more. Musicians get longer than one song there (usually two, or ten minutes) and there’s a real sense of community. There’s also an actual audience of people who’ve come to listen, not just to play.

Some of my favorites from the last couple of times I’ve been there: 1.) “Joyful Noise”, an acoustic Gospel trio with gritty female vocals reminiscent of Kim Hill; 2.) Hank (don’t remember his last name) who plays blues on a twelve-string guitar with consummate skill and lots of non-bluesy ad-libs that morph the genre into something quite new while still being true to its roots; 3.) Isla playing Swedish fiddle music expressively and starkly on a solo viola; and 4.) Wayne Lovegrove’s guitar music – I would have to classify this as the so-called “new acoustic” that was an offshoot of the new-age music in the 1980’s, but that would do a disservice to Wayne’s music. It’s relaxing, yes, and pretty – but not only that. It’s tightly composed and beautifully played, and he uses unconventional tunings, some of which I’m sure he’s invented himself.

As far as my playing goes, this last time (8-27-10) I just played a couple of rather conventional pieces. The time before (8-13-10) was more interesting to me at least. I played two pieces: “Strange Repeating Bird”, based on a birdcall I heard while living in Japan some years ago, and another improvisation on the rondolin. (The word “rondolin” is probably the result of a high-speed collision between “rondo”, meaning “round”, and “mandolin”, or possibly “violin”.) The first piece I played, “Strange Repeating Bird” (SRB), is based on the repetitive call of the kijibato, known to me as the “repeater pigeon”. It makes its hooting, cooing call with the help of an inflatable throat sack. It is a sound that often gently awoke me in the morning while I was living in Fukushima in the late 1980’s. My music based on this call is in my “popular” style (though the people in Japan didn’t think so back then, minimalism having not gotten there yet) and is usually a big hit at open mikes – though I don’t like to draw a line between my “mainstream” and “experimental” pieces. The rondolin improv was much like the previous one, with Vance playing the djembe. I recorded both pieces, but the recordings were messed up by a mysterious rumbling noise that goes on pretty much continuously through the first half of both pieces (I didn’t hear it while playing).

For those who are interested, the open mikes are on Friday evenings; sign-up begins at 7:00.

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