I, Culturebot

CULTUREBOT.COM INTERVIEW

Name: Patrick Grant
Title: Composer/Performer/Producer
Affiliation: Curator & Co-Producer of “The MMiX Festival of Interactive Music Technology

patrickgrant

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in Detroit where I studied music composition and classical performance by day while playing in Punk/New Wave bands by night. I read about the loft and gallery concert scene in 1970s NYC and that sounded more preferable to me than LA. It was artsier and I wouldn’t need to have a car. When I moved here in the late 80s that scene had played and wasn’t to return in a new form for a while. I quit the band I moved out here with found work writing and performing music for downtown theater groups and assisting well-known composers like John Cage. It was experiences like that that taught me more about making a living as an artist than the Juilliard education I never completed and even so, as they say, only in New York.

2. What do you look for when you’re seeking out new work?

I fell into the role of curator-by-proxy through various self-produced concert series. Early on, I sought to fill the void that was left when the loft and gallery concerts that brought me to NYC had (temporarily) fallen out of vogue in the late 80s and early 90s. My association with theater music always meant that I at least had a space to work and to do concerts. The same was true when I expanded into Chelsea galleries in 2000. Being in spaces such as these creates circumstances which are “extra-musical” so care is given to selecting artists which are a compliment to and an augmentation of the hosting venue’s creative discipline. Ultimately, it is really about audience and community building. Being a composer and performer myself I would naturally pick artists whose work I admired and wished to collaborate with. That’s how I get to meet people. That’s my microcosm. The macrocosm is in introducing artists, performers, and audience members to each other who might not normally cross each other’s path. When I see further collaborations being made as a result of these events, I consider that a great success. That’s something we all benefit from well beyond the scope of the seeds that were planted.

3. What was your most remarkable moment as a curator/presenter/producer?

I may be speaking out of turn here but so far it’s been the upcoming MMiX Festival of Interactive Music Technology on Oct. 8-11 at Theaterlab. Truly, and I can back that up. At the beginning, I envisioned it taking place at the same time as the Audio Engineering Society’s annual convention in NYC. If you’re into audio and musical gear, that’s a big deal. Deciding to have the festival then quickly gained us the support of interactive software leaders Ableton and Cycling ’74 (makes of Live 8 and Max/MSP/Jitter respectively). This in turn brought us some of the best and most diverse performers in that field. The idea of having something bigger than the festival itself to tap into has been very powerful. It’s given me the power to call up complete strangers, some of them very well known, and get them to come onboard. I couldn’t see myself doing that a couple of years ago and that, for me, is remarkable.

4. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

Anyone who knows me knows that I always cite Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange.” That may sound strange but let me explain. ACO was originally released as Rated-X by the incipient rating system (along with “Midnight Cowboy” and “Last Tango in Paris” due to their adult themes) and was re-released in 1974 reduced to an R-rating. The porn industry had made a joke of the X-rating by saying, “Well then, we’re XXX,” so it became meaningless. So, with an R-rating, ACO was able to air television commercials. I was eleven at that time. One day I heard it on the TV: The “Glorious 9th Symphony by Ludwig Van” but, as we know, being “performed” by Wendy (née Walter) Carlos on the Moog synthesizer. I didn’t know then what the music was or what was making those strange sounds. It was to be the very first LP that I ever bought for myself. Coming home from the store, I was reading the back of the album (who were these guys with the foreign names?) and couldn’t figure out which track I had heard on TV. I dropped that needle everywhere on the disc, but could not find it. What was up with all this classical stuff? I thought that was only used for goofing around in Warner Bros. cartoons! I noticed that one of the tracks looked a bit different in the middle, a darker color due to less activity in the grooves. I cued up that spot, and there it was: the march section of the 9th’s choral movement. It rocked my 11 year-old world, or as the Moog tagline ran at the time, I was instantly “switched-on.”

Why? It enabled me to listen to music stripped of fashion, the opposite of popular music (which I love too). It led to the original book by Anthony Burgess and got me literate beyond my years, leading to Vonnegut, Brautigan and others at an early age. Mostly, it’s a story about the choice between good and evil, and our free will to choose, motifs which stick with me to this day and inform just about everything I’m interested in, one way or another. Or at least I can explain it that way. Even with my guilty pleasures! ACO was my gateway drug.

5. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

Absolutely it would be the ability to be a convincing and charismatic public orator. Presently, I feel that I could do a lot better in that department. The thought are there but something gets lost when I convert them into words let alone how those words get expressed. After being surrounded by actors, poets and other performers all these years you’d think I’d have learned something. It’s been slow going but I believe there’s still hope! Countless times I’ve let myself get bullied into situations just because somebody had a better gift of gab when, deep in my gut, I felt it wasn’t right. I had to defer to the power of the word only to regret it down the road. I’ve learned to trust my intuition more and more often these days, even if words still fail. Yet, if I had that skill, I may not have become the person I am. Maybe I’d be someone who’s better at talking about what they’re going to do than just doing it. I hope not.

Patrick Grant (reposted frm Culturebot)

Les Paul – Coming Full Circle with the Original Looper

This blog wouldn’t exist if not for Les Paul (1915-2009). So many know of his innovations in the development of the solid body electric guitar, but there is also his work in the advancement of multi-track recording, tape delay, sound-on-sound looping, reverb etc. that we take for granted today. Before the software replicants that we use today, there was a time where, if something didn’t exist, you went into a machine shop and made it out of wood, metal, vacuum tubes and electrical components. That’s hardcore analog. That calls upon a wider range of skill sets than most of us have today and, in Les Paul’s case, than most anyone ever had.

Video: Les Paul and Mary Ford are hosted by Alistair Cooke on a 1953 broadcast of the legendary CBS show Omnibus doing a “sound-on-sound” performance of “How High the Moon.”

I’d been thinking a lot about him this week before his passing. I haven’t owned a guitar in years and I had just gotten tired of either borrowing my friend Gerald’s Gibson SG for recording or playing clean guitar sounds on my keyboard and running them through guitar FX plug-ins, that I decided to get one of my own again. The first electric guitar that I bought for myself was a silver Les Paul Standard copy made by the Cortez (!) company when I was a freshman at Wayne State University in Detroit. I’d decided to skip school that semester but still lived in the dormitory keeping up the pretense of going to classes. Money that was supposed to be spent on books was quickly converted into the cash needed to buy that guitar and an amp, so I could make spending money playing in original music bar bands at night. My days were spent giving myself a crash course in guitar playing that, thanks to years of violin, piano and theory that came before it, went very quickly. After moving to NYC and fully embracing the new paths that MIDI technology was taking us to, my bar band aspirations became a thing of the past. The guitar broke and was never replaced. Plus, I was surrounded by friends who were/are guitar wizards now so, why bother?

Cortez: accept no substitutes

Cortez: accept no substitutes

Yes, after moving to NYC with one of the number one bands in Detroit, that all fell apart. I returned to “serious” music, as I understood it at that time (I had classical training, J.S. Bach to Steve Reich, but the bands were a more immediate form of expressing Cold War angst, for this young man). I worked for John Cage’s publisher and then later, his editor, so that, coupled with my incipient work in avant-garde theater, saw me through a phase of trying everything possible: indeterminate music, serial music, prepared piano, percussion quartets, electronic soundscapes, etc. This led to a World Music phase in the 90s that was followed by a Neo-Minimalist phase because, with my keyboard-based ensemble, I was able to use non-tempered gamelan tunings within the guise of pattern-driven mini-epics for chamber ensemble. Still, it wasn’t completely ‘me’ yet. One of the best compliments I received from a live performance of a piece of mine for microtonal keyboard and gamelan at Celebrate Brooklyn! came at me like the kid who speaks up in The Emperor’s New Clothes: “I really liked your piece. It reminded me of The Who.” I laughed them off. But later, when I thought about it, when the piece was removed of all the ‘new music’ trappings, they were right. The road I chose may have been different, but the destination was the same. Since then, it’s all been about returning to who I was all along. My music has become a synthesis of everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done and that includes restoring the sound of the solid body electric guitar to my work, though with a lot more history behind it this time.

When I arrived in NYC, I almost felt I had to hide my punk rock/new wave ‘detour’ when I re-entered the classical world. I guess I was embarrassed about my incomplete music school pedigree. Worse yet was the embarrassment I felt (and still feel) for the Ivy League composers who dominate the NYC scene when they try to “rock out,” or decide to get all “downtown” on us. I guess it works both ways. To see it you gotta be it and, well, I don’t see it. Much. If hanging-in-there has brought me anything, it has made me come around full circle and feel comfortable in my own skin again with what I’m doing and where I want to go now musically, and there ain’t no degree you can get for that.

Playing a neighbor's Gibson arch-top 1980s

1980s: Goofing for the camera as Elvis Costello with a Gibson arch-top

So here I am last Sunday, 20+ years after that silver Cortez, looking at all the electric guitars hanging on the walls at Guitar Center on 14th Street in Manhattan. So many new models and guitar gadgets since I last looked. My trips to music stores had always centered around the keyboards, electronics and software. So, if I’m coming full circle, why not go all the way? After a half an hour of trying out different ones, I decided on a particular Les Paul Standard that seemed to call my name and felt just right.

Mind you this was before Les Paul’s passing today. I’m sure I’m not special. I’m sure that there were millions of musicians somewhere thinking about him every day. In the months, weeks, and days leading up to that moment, I’d been talking about him with my guitarist friends, building up the courage to get another Les Paul some day soon. My research led me to remember all the innovations that he’d made besides the solid body electric guitar: multi-tracking, overdubbing, looping, tape delay, reverb etc. Now these live on in the little machine before me that I’m typing into.

I had an Akai APC-40 to control my laptop on order from B&H Photo since late May, until they emailed me that it would not be shipped within the quoted 2-4 weeks. I would have to wait until September! Screw it, I’ll make do with how I’ve been doing things up until now. I canceled the order and put that money towards the Les Paul Standard sitting beside me right now. Sometimes musical expression has to be more immediate than a chain of gear that needs to be turned on, booted up, opened up, mixer on, speakers on, controller on… sometimes it has to be something you can just reach out and grab, touch, pound on if you must, and make some music with, dammit. Like now. That’s classical and that’s rock’n’roll.

2009: The new Les Paul Standard - I dub thee "Xanax!"

2009: My new Les Paul Standard

Thank you, Les Paul for always keeping a beautiful and musical balance between man and machine, and for an electric guitar that will sustain a note almost as long, but not quite, as your legacy surely will.

Patrick Grant

P.S. – The MMiXdown would like to give a shout out to Studio360 and to Variety of Sound for adding us to their blogrolls. It must have been the bikinis. Thanks!