Live Coding with Improvised Piano, Bass, and Electronics

This recording from August 23, 2017 at Jazz Central Studios was made during Sound / Simulacra: A monthly series that I do in conjunction with bassist/composer Cody McKinney. The intent is to explore musical improvisation as a “faithful and intentionally distorted” representational process. On this occasion we featured Minneapolis-based Mike Hodnick, aka Kindohm.

…[Kindohm is] widely known for his live-coded dancefloor interruptions, wringing algorithmic rhythms and textures from a text editor using the open source software TidalCycles. Combining analog synthesizers and samples, Hodnick’s improvised performances encompass an array of styles from glitchy IDM to odd-time techno. In 2016, Kindohm released “RISC Chip”, an 8-track LP released on Conditional. Receiving positive criticism on Resident Advisor, Lisa Blanning writes: “Hodnick has a way of teasing inhuman funk out of his evolving patterns. RISC Chip succeeds in escaping its programmer’s niche, launching Kindohm’s work into the realm of music that exists for its own sake.” – www.residentadvisor.net/reviews/20249

Mike and I both played solo sets earlier in the evening, but for the finale we formed a trio with Cody McKinney on bass and electronics. My setup included acoustic piano, Rhodes, Novation Circuit, and various processors. Both Hodnick and McKinney are expert improvisors so participating in this performance was quite a pleasure. Please have a listen and let us know what you think!

45 Delusions with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company

45 Delusions was commissioned by the Walker Art Center for an event with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) as part of the Common Time exhibit and performance series. The piece was performed and recorded with the dancers on March 30, 2017 in the Perlman Gallery at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. My setup included Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Korg KP3+, and a Moog Minifooger Delay. Graham O’Brien performed on percussion and electronics triggered from his drums.

John Keston's Setup for the Common Time Event

My Setup for the Common Time Event

The score is two pages. The first page (pictured at top) is the timeline for both performers. The timeline is vertical and made up of cells that last between one and five minutes each. Frequently the cells correspond with each player, but they are arranged so that at times they overflow. Rests are also included as cells. Each cell includes brief instructions and/or graphics that give suggestions to the musicians. Some of the instructions are expanded on the second page of the score.

Graham O'Brien's Setup for Common Time

Graham O’Brien’s Setup for Common Time

The second page also includes a list of forty five delusions. These include terms such as alternative facts, capitalism, corporate culture, equality, freedom, fossil fuels, greed, justice, and so on. There are also a few technical delusions such as erotomania (belief that a celebrity is in love with you) and lycanthropy (belief that one can turn into an animal). The second page explains the delusions and what to do with them:

DELUSIONS
Anything that might be considered or is delusional. These are not necessarily medical or technical examples of delusions and may involve individuals, societies, or organizations. Prior to performing the piece, each musician chooses one “delusion” applied to each cell within the score.

Take a look at the PDF at the end of this article to see the complete list of delusions as well as expanded instructions for some of the cells. Obviously this is an improvised piece of music, but this approach steers the improvisation in directions that would be unlikely to occur freely. Particularly the timing. As one performs or listens to the piece it is possible to discern distinct variations as the musicians transition from one cell to the next. If you are inclined to listen to the piece in full, try following along with the score and placing a SoundCloud comment where you hear the cells change. The timing on the recording doesn’t exactly match the score, but it’s pretty close.

The reasons I took this approach are multi-faceted: (1) It keeps the piece moving. Often free improv tends to stagnate as ideas are repeated and refined. With this approach the challenge is to express ideas with concision and then move on to the next (this is possible, albeit rare, in free improv – we call it channel surfing). (2) It is possible to strictly define the length. We used a timer that counted up to 30 minutes. One quick glance at the timer illustrates the need to move on to “High Speed Arps” for example. (3) Mood, dynamics, and theatrics can be injected to create a narrative with scope and meaning. It is a way to ask questions, discover sounds, explore, and experiment. (4) It enhances my musical engagement. I am influenced by my collaborators and surroundings, but I’m also interpreting the language of the score, and hopefully to the benefit of the musical output.

45 Delusions by John C.S. Keston (148K PDF)

Sound / Simulacra: Cody McKinney & Jeremy Yylvisaker

The Sound / Simulacra series is hosted by myself and Cody McKinney at Jazz Central Studios in Northeast Minneapolis on the fourth Wednesday of every month. If you haven’t made it any of these shows you’re not entirely out of luck. They are all being recorded and I’ll be sharing excerpts here on AudioCookbook. The first event in the series was a duet with Cody McKinney and Jeremy Ylvisaker on January 25, 2017. Their gorgeous improvisations were faithfully captured by sound recordist, Dave Kunath. Enjoy!

Jeremy Ylvisaker is a multi-instrumentalist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a member of the indie rock bands Alpha Consumer (with Michael Lewis and JT Bates) and The Cloak Ox along with Andrew Broder of Fog, Mark Erickson and Dosh. He plays guitar in Andrew Bird’s touring band alongside Martin Dosh on drums and Michael Lewis on bass.

Cody McKinney works with sound by actively theorizing, organizing, practicing and challenging its properties. He studied bass and improvisation under many luminaries including: Johannes Weidenmueller, Bruce Gertz, Jim Black as well as composition under Kirk Nurock, Rory Stewart, Steve Lehman and Diane Moser. Cody’s group, Bloodline, along with John Keston and Pete Hennig, have recently recorded an album due out mid 2017.

Keston and Westdal at Nublu, NYC Circa 2009

I just had a listen to these videos of Keston and Westdal with Graham O’Brien on drums at Nublu in New York, Feb 7, 2009. The eight year old recordings were shot by my mate, Benjamin Montag, who is responsible for the majority of the art and design work for Unearthed Music, including the art on my new solo album, Isosceles.

I was using the Nublu house Rhodes, which I repaired earlier that night replacing a couple of broken tines and tuning a few notes. I brought along a laptop and interface to live-loop the Rhodes and send a click track to Graham. I borrowed the Korg MS2000 from Simone Giuliani. You may also notice distortion on the Rhodes at about 6:47. For that I brought along my BOSS DF-2 Super Distortion & Feedbacker pedal, which I have been using on Rhodes since the ’90s.

Since I had the laptop to loop the Rhodes in Ableton Live I ended up a few nice phrases that I ended up posting here on Audiocookbook. For example, in one post I shared a nice phrase and discussed my repair job before the gig and another includes a field recording inside a taxi on the way to the show. Checkout a few archival recordings from the gig below:

Rhodes Loop from the Nublu Backline
Another Rhodes Recording from Nublu
Segment of Recording from Nublu
Inside a Taxi in New York with Ben and Simone

Bloodline at JT’s Jazz Implosion

bloodline_art

Bloodline, a trio featuring Cody McKinney, Peter Hennig, and John Keston (myself), has been quietly performing at a handful of obscure venues in the Twin Cities for about a year and a half. On Monday, October 3rd we’ll poke out heads out of the shadows for a set during JT’s Jazz Implosion residency at the Icehouse in Minneapolis.

JT’s Jazz Implosion at Icehouse is one of the hottest jazz scenes in the cities. Featuring bands that study strong jazz composition, the performances consist of a variety of modern jazz songs with an improvisational flair. The bands that perform are emblems of originality in the modern jazz scene, oftentimes receiving national attention for their jazz genre knowledge and assimilation of multiple influences. The series appeals to a variety of listeners, providing multilayered compositions for every jazz fan.

For a taste of what Bloodline is all about, please have a listen to a few excerpts from one of our recent performances at Jazz Central Studios: