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)

Video: Are You Hiding by Camp Dark

A couple of months ago I spent about 18 hours over two days recording synthesizers for the upcoming Camp Dark album Nightmare in a Day. It was a blast and the music is gorgeous. I wrote in more detail about the project here. The latest video, edited by Adam Svec, is for the song Are You Hiding. This one ends with a long passage of Moog Sub 37 running through the Minifooger Delay as I twisted the Time and Feedback knobs.

Are You Hiding” is the second video in a series to promote the release of Camp Dark’s new album, Nightmare In A Day (Icehouse MPLS on Friday 5/15). The story was inspired by holiday trips back to South Dakota. The song navigates the trajectory of playing roles of earlier versions of you. This veneer eventually falls apart when the years become visible. A person can only hide in plain sight for so long before they are spotted. It’s an anthem of empathy for those who experience this distance between former and current selves. “Are You Hiding” features performances by Graham O’Brien, Adam Svec, Dan Choma, Matt Leavitt, Matt Friesen, and John Keston.

Erik Thompson included the video in his “Top 10 Must-See Minnesota Music Videos This Week” series at the City Pages. Oh yeah, and we’ll be performing at the Icehouse in Minneapolis on May 15, 2015 to celebrate the release.

Duet No.7 for Synthesizer and The Singing Ringing Tree

This is the last of seven videos produced documenting my five day recording session and performance series at the Singing Ringing Tree (SRT) in Burnley, UK. There’s a lot more content in the can, but for now this is enough to represent the project. My part of the collaboration with the SRT was simultaneously recorded on site using a Novation Bass Station II connected to a USB battery. I also ran the Bass Station II through a Moog Minifooger Delay.

My last day on site was also the windiest and it turned out that the best wind reduction happened to be a very thin cotton t-shirt wrapped around the binaural head as you can see in the photo below. The strong winds, although useful, made the process quite difficult, and the binaural effect seemed a little less prominent with any sort of wind reduction applied. However, I was able to get couple of good takes by carefully placing the dummy head next to the SRT and opposite the wind. Please checkout the playlist of all six duets (#2 was omitted) on my YouTube channel.

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Hi-8, Bleep Labs, Moog Sub 37, Minifooger, Elektron Analog 4

Sub37+A4

This analog-sourced audiovisual piece is a collaboration with video artist Chris LeBlanc. The visuals were performed with a Hi-8 camera running through Tachyons+ and LoFiFuture processors, and keyed with a Bleep Labs synth. On the music end I’m playing my Moog Sub 37 through my Minifooger Delay and synched up to an Elektron Analog Four. I sent Chris separate signals from the Sub 37 and the A4 that he used to make the visuals respond.

Slow Phrase on the Moog Sub 37 through Minifooger Delay

night_vision_sub_37

Here’s a short phrase from a slow melody on the Moog Sub 37 that I recently played during a studio session with Lucas Melchior and Chris LeBlanc. The patch is one that I made specifically for performing lead lines and uses aftertouch to apply the vibrato. I also ran the Moog directly through the Minifooger delay. No other processing was applied to this monophonic phrase.