Elliott Sharp on Carbon's Void Coordinates Tour

April 19, 2010
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Carbon

Carbon: Void Coordinates Tour
At the behest of Patrik Landolt at Intakt Records in Zurich, I reconvened the Carbon quintet of 1991-96 for a new recording in 2009 and this short European tour around the release of Void Coordinates.

A history of Carbon may be found here.

The band includes Zeena Parkins on electric harp, known for her solos and work with Björk, Courtney Love, and many more.  Drummer Joseph Trump has played with Carlos Alomar, Pigface, Brian Brain, King Black Acid, and Chanting House.  Synthesist David Weinstein has done solo CD's, sound installations, and wonderful work with singer Shelley Hirsch.  Bassist Marc Sloan plays with Gawk and pioneering circuit bender Reed Ghazala.

For this tour I 've brought a compact rig:  the solidbody 8-string guitarbass built by Doug Henderson and Carlo Greco, Celmo Sardine Can compressor, an old Rat distortion,  Eventide Pitchfactor with EV5 expression pedal, and a Boomerang.  I also have my old Malerne curved soprano sax with a Beyer clip-on dynamic mic that I can play acoustically or route through my pedals and into the amps.  I'll rely on each club for the backline - I request a blackface Twin or The Twin and Trace-Eliot bass rig with a 4x10 cab.

26 Vooruit - Ghent - Belgium
I've performed before at the Vooruit a few times going back to 1987: a welcoming and well-equipped multi-level culture space.  Our soundcheck/rehearsal goes quite smoothly and we're soon relaxing over an excellent dinner.  We're part of a jazz festival and Joelle Leandre plays a gripping solo acoustic bass set preceding ours - I've known Joelle for decades: we had a trio with percussionist Greg Ketchum in Buffalo in 1977.  Carbon takes the stage and quickly descends into the set from hell.  Some of our problems could be blamed on jet lag: missed cues, misread setlists (my bad) and assorted trainwrecks.  But the big problems were with infrastructure: a monitor engineer who would change levels arbitrarily and then disappear from his post and a lighting engineer who would create dark moody settings for us that probably looked great from the audience but rendered sheet music, fingerboards, and each others' faces invisible - bad for precision changes and endings.  Still, the audience was extremely receptive so I think the music sounded better from the outside than it did from the inside.  De rigueur post-gig hang and back to the hotel for 3 hours sleep before a daunting four-train trip to St. Johann-Am-Tirol in Austria beginning with a 0615 pickup.  The law of inverse proportions states that the nicer the hotel (and this was a grand one), the less time one will spend in it.

27 Alte Gerberei - St. Johann-Am-Tirol - Austria
Amazingly, we make all of our train changes including one in Cologne in which we had 7 minutes to detrain with all of our gear, descend to ground level, get across six platforms, get up to train level, and then push our way through the crowds all the way to the end of the train where our reserved seats were located.   Touring this way is economical but may be stressful.  Since we rely on backline provided by each venue, sometimes there are risks (even with a detailed tech rider.)   Changing trains in Munich, someone shouts my name and it's composer Bernhard Lang, an old friend and collaborator.  Arriving at this small town in the Austrian Alps at 1735 after 11 1/2 hours of travel, we only have time for quick change in the hotel and rush to the nearby venue, an old barn-like edifice converted into a culture center with 35mm film projectors, stage, sound system, and bar.  Hans, the promoter hooks us up with espresso and sandwiches and we're soon up and sound-checking.  I'm excited to use the vintage Fender Quad Reverb that's been brought for me but find that it has only a feeble and tinny output at what would be normal Twin settings.  I think about Albert Collins and dime all the pots - this just adds some low-end mush so time to boot the Fender and engage Plan B: an Ampeg SVT bass head through a vintage Kustom cab which does the trick, especially when goosed by my Celmo compressor.   The crowd is waiting to enter when we finish and our set commences shortly.  The music comes together as it should on this hit and the band at times sounds like one strange and beautiful instrument, bristling and pulsing.  Our first encore is "Raptor" from the Tocsin CD of 1992.  We're called back for another and improvise a tranquil groove with curlicues of sound floating up.  We're rushed off to dinner by Hans and later return to pack up and get back to the hotel.  A civilized start time the next morning so it's possible to get some good horizontal sleep as well as a real breakfast before the van takes us to the station for our trip to Zurich.

28 Rotefabrik - Zurich, Switzerland
Where is that vaunted Swiss precision?  Our train arrives in Zurich over 30 minutes late cutting into our already too-short hotel time as the concert is to begin at 7pm.  I do have time to jump in the shower and find that the shower-head has built in LED's that display different colors dependent on the fluctuating water temperature.  How did I ever live without this before?  The Rotefabrik ("Red Factory") is another cooperative house of culture with multiple venues, a cinema, and restaurant right on Lake Zurich just outside the city center.  I first played there in 1983 and have been back many times since (which still does not make the stage's electrical system any less annoying: the power onstage is filthy and my normally quiet rig has many strange buzzes, hums, and other extraneous noises.)  Still, my amp, "The Twin", is in good shape and is so loud that it cannot be turned above 2.  The onstage sound is generally good and friends in the audience say that the house sound is excellent.  We've tightened up many aspects of the set and can now twist the material a bit as well as pull out various dynamic subtleties.  The songs are deepening the more they become second nature. "Raptor" again as first encore and a different version of the improvised encore tune, this time starting with my solo and slowly building.
 
29 Porgy and Bess - Vienna, Austria
Another late train and we're in Vienna.  At the station as we're waiting for the van from the club to fetch us, I hear my name: it's composer/pianist/synthesist Sergei Tcherepnin in town to present an installation!  The local traffic is thick and it takes us too long to drive the short distance to the hotel affording us little time there before heading to the club for soundcheck.  We run into bassist T.M. Stevens in front of the hotel - he'll be playing the Porgy with drummer Cindy Blackman the next night.  Setup is quick except for Joe who has to piece together disparate hardware to get his drum-kit together.  My amps are perfect: blackface Twin and an SWR valve bass amp and 4x10 cab.  A different set of strange hums on this day.  I'd say that my rig needs to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb but the inconsistency of the problems points to the venues.  Quick check and bite and we're onstage.  Two sets tonight - the first is a bit short at 35 minutes but quite intense with a cranked version of Eukaryonic.  After the interval, we return for our second.  We stretch some of the tunes and add a wider dynamic range without losing any of the edge.  We're quite pleased with the results as is the full house.  Long improvised encore that expands on the gesture of the previous shows and adds a double-time element at the end.

31 Bimhuis - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Our train on the 30th is at the reasonable hour of 10:40 but we have twelve hours of travel ahead of us with a change in the Frankfurt Airport station.  When we arrive in Amsterdam it's winter with cold rain and driving wind and a long shlep to the taxi stand.  Soon enough we're at the hotel with a free day ahead of us which I spend working on various things including beginning a composition for bass clarinetist Gareth Davis who resides in A'dam.  I hadn't performed at the Bimhuis in many years and had yet to witness its new incarnation in a just-built complex on a large canal that includes our hotel and a boat passenger  terminal.  The club is incredibly well-equipped and the audience view the stage along with a dramatic backdrop of water traffic and trains.  The crew is friendly and efficient and we're quickly set up and then sitting down to a fine meal by the Bimhuis restaurant's chef.  At soundcheck, we begin to develop a new piece, called Transalpino (for now) which we debut in the first set of our penultimate concert of this tour.  Here my set-up is stone quiet as I thought it would be - the joy of good power.  The first set goes extremely well and after a short interval, we play the second.  Great response and our encore is a fiery Raptor.  After the show, greetings with cello goddess Frances-Marie Uitti, Jack deKuypers, and Gareth Davis.  Director Pavel Borodin has  filmed our set (he made the DVD of "Velocity of Hue - Live in Köln") and interviews us after.

April
1 Grand Theare - Groningen, Netherlands
Another civilized start time and then what should have been a simple train ride to Groningen offered a lesson in the dangers of privatization.  About ten years ago, the Dutch train system was offered to private contractors - one bought the tracks and stations, the other the trains themselves.  The decay and incompetence apparently began almost immediately.  We took one packed train to Hilversum and there changed to another overstuffed one marked "Groningen".  After about one hour, I asked a passing conductor an unrelated question and he mumbled half to himself, "oh you're going to Groningen ...you need to move to the first car as the train will split."  I announced this to my esteemed colleagues and we discussed strategies, finally settling on bringing up the smaller backpacks and instruments through the train and waiting for the next stop to move the bigger cases as it was just too crowded to do anything else.  At this point  a general announcement was made about the impending change and chaos ensued.  Reaching the station, we hightailed the gear to the first car and loaded it on only to be told that the first car was NOT going to Groningen and that we needed to move everything to the train ahead on the track.  We unloaded and did the transfer onto a train even more packed than before.  We did eventually reach Groningen and fortunately had a bit of recovery time at the hotel which was conveniently located next door to the recently renovated Grand Theater, a beautiful old space with polished wooden floor and high-tech lighting and sound.  Some tweaking necessary in soundcheck but generally good sound and we break for dinner.  Two sets to excellent response and a relaxed post-gig hang with Marcel from the Theater and various friends. One hour of sleep at the hotel and then Joe Trump and I catch a taxi to the train station at 0430 through streets packed with pre-Easter drunken revelers.  Our train to Schiphol Airport in A'dam departs on time but has no heat and in the frigid morning it's quite the refrigerator.  At Schiphol Joe and and I bid each other "good flight" and he heads to Portland and I to Frankfurt and then Newark where I rendezvous with Zeena, Marc, and David who were on a different flight.

Writings, scores, discography, other E# info may be found Here.

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