Archived Album Review: The Meets - It Happens Outside by David Bernabo

The Meets’ It Happens Outside is a curious entity. The album plays with the mixture of acoustic, electric, and electronic sounds. There is also an interest in jazz and modern composition, but both interests are tempered by self-plunderphonics in pursuit of the beat. The album, I presume, is the brainchild of Brandon Locher, who has been pumping out a steady stream of interesting projects with his co-founded label/support structure, My Idea of Fun, out of Johnstown, PA. The piece that first drew me in was his humorously distant Conversations where a phone call chain sustains itself by the next caller answering the previous caller’s greeting and ensuing discussion. But It Happens Outsideis a different beast.  

The music is dense and constantly shifting. There are a few entry points for me that may help frame this review. If the music is conceptual, the concept may be dealing with minutiae. The album’s editing is the central player. Songs are built upon small edits - I’m guessing thousands. The Books have mined this ground before, but their tone always felt a bit academic. It Happens Outside grooves. It breathes. At times, it lets some steam off. Jeremiah Cymerman, who has released a few stellar albums of precise composition and editing on Tzadik, also comes to mind. Where Cymerman usually limits his palette to a few instruments or source sounds, Locher has amassed an army of sounds from which he can pluck. Madlib (mostly anything) or Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma also tie into the elastic nature of some of the rhythms.  

With a palette dripping with sound sources, the element that ties the record together is the presence of rhythm. Collections of drum kits, electronic beats, clatter, and rumbles form a bedrock for each piece to grow and shrink, adding melodic ornaments and then submerging those elements under new findings. The ingredients in each mix are fascinating and leave the listener eager for the next combination of disparate sounds. “Stoned Eyes” rolls out drums patterns, piling on layer after layer - piano, guitar, synth, turntable, percussion - until the listener loses frame of reference. What is a sample, what is real? “Nobody, Not Even the Rain” is another parade of rhythms - think less college tribal and more Mt. Eerie tribal.  

There are plenty of melodic statements. In fact the album is hyper-melodic. New statements pop out of every corner, lasting anywhere from a second-long blitz to a developed arpeggiated chord pattern. The most successful passages develop a motif while manipulating the harmony. Take “The Witching Hour” - an acoustic guitar introduces the melody. Vibes form a duo. Electric guitar, a trio. Then the ensemble enters - squeeks, record scratches, piano, and drums breaks. Swells of horns add atonality and in some cases either microtonality or intonation issues. The piece lets the listener in and then provides room to wander and explore. In contrast, the first half of the record acts as show-and-tell where Locher and company throw a million ideas at the listener. Most of those ideas stick. About two-thirds through the album is where the listener needs some time to absorb the album and luckily/skillfully, “Even When the Time Comes” and “The Witching Hour” provide some time for reflection.  

When I consider “free improv,” I usually bucket the term into two camps. 1) Music that is created on the spot, but tends to pull from each musicians’ experience, skill, and history and 2) music is that is searching for new sounds with every step forward. While It Happens Outside was created from a number of sources, many improvised or separated from the intent of this album, this album is by no means a free improv record. But I feel like the goals of the latter definition serve as a mission for this album. Each new second brings the opportunity and the responsibility to further the music - to change the context of the previous setting by introducing a new statement. 

Pick up the LP/DL: http://www.myideaoffun.org/101/mif254.html

waywardland by David Bernabo

I am thrilled to be part of Jil Stifel and Ben Sota's new work, WaywardLand.  The piece is an evening length dance work that will premiere as part of the New Hazlett Theater's CSA Program. Here is a bit of information.

A new work that searches out the intersections between, modern dance, contemporary circus and physical theater. We look for the very root of our species nature, finding entanglement, support and relationships as we meet, dance, fly, balance, and rock through this WaywardLand. by Jil Stifel and Benjamin Sota, with Anna Slowdanger Thompson, Taylor Slowdanger Knight, set be Blaine Siegel, sound by David Bernabo, costumes by Casey Lee Droege, and lighting by Scott Nelson.

Thursday, Feb 12 @ New Hazlett, 8pm (one night only!)

I have been very fortunate to work with all of these people before. Taylor and I co-curate the Lightlab Performance Series and have performed together in the majority of pieces that I have danced. Likewise, I have worked with Anna in a number of pieces - she was also part of the original MODULES crew. Jil gave me my first taste of dance when we danced a short duet in one of Gia Cacalano's pieces. Oh, Ben and I have never worked together! First time! Blaine and I have been a part of a number of things together, and I am excited to announce a duo art show in 2016 (that I will announce later). Casey has graciously involved me in a number of her awesome projects! and Scott and I worked together on Sprout Fund's Tenacity. Working with Scott is actually very exciting as he can maintain an incredibly high level of creativity and professionalism. I'm a bit envious of that professionalism. 

Anyway, this is all to say that you should check this out! Besides there being a number of things in this piece that don't exist in Pittsburgh dance, the piece is really quite wonderful - lots of surprises, subtlety, and some fun. 

This has actually been one of the most challenging music projects that I have undertaken in a while, but I'm happy to say that the music is feeling really good and there is new ground being covered. The music has grown to include three main strains: accordion music, drum groupings, and ambient or drone-based pieces. Years ago, when my grandfather passed away (1994), I inherited his accordion. It has made appearances here and there - Vale and Year's lost album, Greg Cislon is Truant, my score for Mark C. Thompson's Kimono, and  2007's Graphic Scores CD in duet with violaist Ben Harris. In Waywardland, it exists as a standalone piece called "The Momentary," which is one of my favorite recent pieces. I'm very happy with how it plays against the movement. It also exists as a drone and looped element. One haunting inspiration is Antony's score for Robert Wilson's The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, especially this piece:

There is much to love here, but what I gravitate toward the loop - it does not call much attention to itself. As you may know, I generally hate looping or, at least, looping pedals.

I won't ruin too many of the surprises, but I'm happy that an old composition is seeing the light of day. In the last month of my high school career, Eric Graf, Greg Cislon, and I started recording a record that was as they say "eclectic." It was also partially a plunderphonic record before I knew what that meant. There were heavy doses of Ornette Coleman, Luigi Nono, Stockhausen, Luc Ferrari, Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis, Mark Dresser, Varese. It was a time where I had a lot of free time, audio galaxy provided a wealth of free and relatively obscure music, and allmusicguide was my, ahem, guide to "related artists." At the time, I was heavy into Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," but thanks to audio galaxy's fragmented downloading method, I only had the slower duet sections. (There was another piece labelled as "O Sacrum Convivium" that I had forever held as one of the most beautiful pieces, but I haven't actually been able to find who composed it and if that is the true title.) Anyway, I composed my own version of a Messiaen piece for violin and piano.  My classmate Muriel is on violin and I am on piano. 

Another collaborator: David Cherry created the trailer (below). Back in 2004, David ran a collective publishing organization called Incredibly Thin. Through Incredibly Thin, I met a number of folks, including Blaine. Anyway, small town Pittsburgh. Check out the trailer and hope to see you a week from Thursday!

One more: I was able to work with Kelly Miskis on some of the vocal bits for the score.