H2Opus: Behind the Music (w/video)

Make Music New York 2010

And so, after months of planning and promotion, our Make Music New York 2010 performance of H2Opus: Fluid Soundscapes by Multiple Composers at Waterside Plaza in Manhattan came to pass on June 21st. Funny. Considering everything that could go wrong, musician schedules, illness, broken guitar strings, it all came down to the elemantal. It seemed that, after all of that, our only concerns were the possibility of rain and the reality of wind.

The weather forecast for that day was great. Nothing but pure sunshine all day. Yay! Sort of. On every piece of electronic that we as consumers buy, we see that notice in bold on every instruction manual: “WARNING! Do not store or operate this equipment in direct sunlight.” Man, they are not kidding.

With temperatures in the mid 90s and with no cover of any kind, we were sitting ducks for El Sol. The result was having to prolong the set up process as much as possible and, even then, do so with Manhasset music stands serving as umbrellas for the sound board and such at my station. I couldn’t even read the LCDs on most of the stuff until the sun went down a little further. Everything felt hot to the touch and, as usual, I kept my quiet veneer on the outside while I was privately freaking out on the inside. This I do for my team. I’m long beyond the days of counter-productive displays of dismay when there’s problems to be solved.

The upshot to this was that, after waiting 90 minutes longer than planned to set up, we were going to have to start the show without a proper, if any, soundcheck. Electronics and computers really do strange things when over heated. My computer wouldn’t boot up and read the MBox correctly. Our sound board, with each of the 11 pieces pre-programmed for levels, decided to give me random settings. One can always pre-program these levels in rehearsal and know that at the gig some minor adjustments will be necessary to accommodate for the different space/venue.  Well, this was like Bizarro World.

For smaller, more convivial shows like this, I’ve been able to run the sound from my station no problem exactly because of this programmability. In this situation, we sure could have used a dedicated soundman. My attention was all over the place.  I told the group and people afterwards: “You have just witnessed the last time I run sound while performing, no matter how small the gig, EVER!” I mean it.

Now the wind. It’s a good thing I saw this one coming days ahead of the show. Living at Waterside Plaza, I felt like an ancient mariner, going down to the performance site for every night leading up to the show and taking wind readings. “No good,” I thought. “This wind off of the East River is going to blow our music and our stands all over the place.” We had to find a solution.

My trick was to go to an art supply store next to the School of Visual Arts on 23rd St. and buy a half dozen sheets of black foam core. From these I made and gaffer taped to each stand “wings” (bad choice of words) that could fit 4 pages of music so page turns would not be necessary within a piece. In turn, these music stands would be heavily gaffer taped to the stage so that they wouldn’t blow over. That was half the problem solved. Keeping the music on the stands was the other half.

I called around and found a place in Queens that would cut (and deliver) 9 sheets of 1/4″ clear Plexiglass that would fit on top of the music to hold it down and yet enable us to read it. That seemed to do the trick.

One of the reasons I had approached Waterside Plaza about us doing a Make Music New York performance was, I thought, “How hard good it be. It’ll be EASY! I live there. Just bring everything down on luggage carts and such.” It was harder than that but certainly not as hard as dragging all those 88 key fully weighted keyboards off the premises. Plus, I wanted it to be our “Big NYC Moment.” You know, playing an outdoor gig on the East River on the first night of summer in Manhattan…hell, I romanticized it as being something like our “rooftop concert.”

And, you know: it was just that. Attendance was GREAT, all ages were represented, kids were dancing, the mature folks were bopping in their seats, and the stand-offish teens hung the duration on the perimeter lest they would blow their cool. Most of all, the musicians played great and we did well as a group. We were completed on the diversity of the music played and to me, that meant a lot. After all, “diversity” is this city’s middle name.

H2Opus: Video Excerpts
(click lower right icon in the player to enlarge)

Things to watch for in the video:

1. Musicians struggling with their music against the wind
2. The clever editing around the kids riding scooters back and forth
3. Performing while adjusting the sound at the same time (when possible)
4. The sound of the wind into the mics (you can even see it in the trees)
5. Musicians leaning into their music more and more towards the end as the sun goes down and the light fades

Afterwards, having had a proper sound check, I wanted to do it all over. Not possible. That’s live performance. So ephemeral.

Having this repertoire together now, we all are looking forward to doing it again in some way in this upcoming season: INDOORS!

Patrick Grant

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