alex ferris writes:
In late 1999 I was working as a welder/metal sculptor in Providence and having a series of conversations about music with Mike Rinaldi. In January 2000 he asked me to help him make some instruments and we made a xylophone and several mbiras using formulas and suggestions from Sound Designs by Reinhold Banek and Jon Scoville.
I left Providence at the end of February and moved to Chilmark. I got hold of Bart Hopkin's book Musical Instrument Design and began working on Dubass and Pedal Guitar. The idea for the pedal operated capo-fret came from a street performer, Eric Royer, I'd seen in Harvard Square a few years before, who'd had an ingenious one-man-band set-up.
My idea at that time was to integrate homemade instruments with standard ones to allow percussionists to contribute tonally, i.e., replace bassists and rhythm guitarists with drummers.
A year later, in addition to Dubass and Pedal Guitar, I had made Bass, Pilon, Thump, Paired, Lamellop, Harp, Bish-Bosh, Pig, E3W, Croon, Chant, Sir Gamelan, and the two bowed instruments that eventually became Bosco.
In March 2001 I began recording them, mostly to examine how the instruments could be amplified, still intending to integrate them into a traditional band.
The results, which I eventually named Rumor, changed my mind. I realized that the instruments worked well together and formed a band in and of themselves. I would have continued recording, but the ADAT I was using self destructed while I was working on the last piece.
That summer the instruments were included in a series of local performance/shows called Cafe Mobius and were played simultaneously for the first time by a group that included Paul and Scott.
At the second of these I met Rod Welles, a film-maker, who was documenting the show. The following summer he invited me to install the instruments (several more had been built by then) in his barn at Labyrinth Speakeasy in West Tisbury.
On August 22, 2002 the instruments were played by a large group of people under the name Anarchestra for the first time.
(photo: dick iacovello)
The sessions continued weekly with a fluctuating group of people, sometimes with an audience. Around Halloween a regular group including myself, Rod, Linzi, Paul, Charmaine, and Scott was established with others joining us occasionally. We recorded the sessions Moment/Um through The Geese Have No Choice, which document the evolution of our collaboration. The cd Labyrinth Speakeasy contains two excerpts from these sessions.
In April 2003 I moved to Santa Fe. Having a large studio, in which I could do both the shop work and the recording, for the first time, I took the opportunity to work on improving the recordable sounds of the instruments. In december I learned how to make magnetic pickups which cleaned up the sound considerably. I acquired a 24-track recorder and began making studies of different combinations of instruments resulting in the cds 4/04+, Bathtub Music, Three Pieces for Single Objects, . . . terofourdis. . ., and Residue.
In September 2005 Hot Flash, performed by Linzi, Gaspard, and me was recorded.
In October 2005 the instruments were installed at the High Mayhem Festival where, over three days, a few hundred people played them continuously for 10-12 hours a day. High Mayhem 2005, A cd of 86 randomly selected samples ranging from 27 to 57 seconds documents the installation.
In December 2005, with the shop/studio growing increasingly claustrophobic (and consequently less productive), we expanded into another space in the same building. The original space became the joint workshop of Alex Ferris and Gaspard Cabanes and the new room was solely for music.
In January 2006 regular weekly sessions began around a core group of Dawn Edelman, Dezbah Stumpff, Gaspard Cabanes, and me. The cds Rashomon, un coeur simple, Endurzbo, and 6/06 were recorded there in february, march, and june.
In May, preparing for a show (see picture above), we limited ourselves for the first time to a smaller group of instruments. Following that, we each chose a few and played them exclusively, as a more normal band would, for the next month. The material that constitutes the cd Well . . . the moon is in Scorpio was recorded at that time.
In July, we played a show (again using a limited group of instruments) at the studio before Dezbah moved to Chicago. The music on Anarchestra: Plenum is from rehearsals for this show. We were planning to record the show itself, but I neglected to push the right button and "it's gone, in the air, you can never capture it again".
In August Gaspard and I recorded Dry Ice. In October, we performed Dry Ice at the High Mayhem Festival.
In September Gaspard and I (with assistance from Dawn) built the instruments and structure of Music Box which we installed in the parkinglot at the High Mayhem festival in October.
On November 17th, Gaspard, Dawn, and I played together in the studio for the last time. The building was scheduled for demolition in late December. Remnant is the recording from that session.
In mid-December, as I was breaking down and packing up the studio, Garry Transue arrived intending to sample some sounds to use in an audio visual installation and decided it would be more fun to play instead. His collaborator, Bill Wolford arrived from Seattle a few days later and he, Garry, Dawn, and I played and recorded for several hours over the next few days. Contingent contains some of the music we made.
By the end of January the studio was closed and the instruments were in storage.
At this point I'm discontinuing the insemination/gestation/etc. metaphor. To me, life and its registrations exist in a state of permanent (in the Trotskyist revolutionary sense) infancy. The propertarian template of our (not mine --see ANARCHIST METAPHYSICS and FOLK MUSIC AND EPISTEMOLOGY) worldview tends to imply that accumulation (of things, of experiences) neccessarily makes the accumulator superior somehow. I don't believe anybody "grows up" n a linear sense ("The biggest man you ever did see was just a baby in this life" -Bob Marley). People and their products transform and morph continually, as any living entity does, but the result is not the stability implied by ideas like "maturity" but simple difference. The value we assign to these differences is arbitrary.
George Land and Beth Jarman (Breaking Point and Beyond)
In 1968, George Land distributed among 1,600 5 year olds a creativity test used by NASA to select innovative engineers and scientists. He re-tested the same children at 10 years of age, and again at 15 years of age.
Test results amongst 5 year olds: 98%
Test results amongst 10 year olds: 30%
Test results amongst 15 year olds: 12%
Same test given to 280,000 adults: 2%
“What we have concluded,” wrote Land, “is that non-creative behaviour is learned.”
RECORSO: back east
In May as many of the instruments (less than half) as would fit in a box truck (Myles Thurlow at the wheel) moved east and were installed at Labyrinth Speakeasy. Weekly sessions took place on tuesdays and a new crew (including Rod and Paul from the first go around) formed.
The regulars & semi regulars were:
paul. rod, montana, zach p, ellie, zach l, andrew, miguel, richard, pat, hector, madog, niko, howie, seychelle, nick, peter, sandy, leon, adam, kendyl, rebecca, nick, bridget, julie, sarah, sophie, anthony, marciana, emily, marina, justin, maria, barney, phyllis, kaela mollie, kalina, noah, patrick, nathan, peter, koko, alisa, arno, nancy, zack, andrew, meaghan, and others whose names I forgot or never knew in the first place.
Some played more actively than others. Some mostly hung around outside smoking and talking. But all contributed their presence to the atmosphere in which the music was made.
the instruments were:
peddlar, dubass, basicable, bo tree, sacre bleu, gurney, quesera, bosco 2, bosco 3, basuka, bootzilla, wheely wheely, 'sprong, la bas, monte, goatskin drums, paired, thump & squat, tubes, lamellop, pilon,dish. pig, sprawl, reeds, whistles, flutes, ocarinas, and voices
There were also frequent unscheduled sessions. In one of these (on August 1st) Montana Steell, Madog Frick, Ellie Dauscher, Andrew Prouty, Zach Pearson, Zach LaNoue, and Alex Ferris recorded the cd VOID IF DETACHED.
When we left Labyrinth Speakeasy in late August, we (andrew.madog, ellie, sophie. nico, marciana, arno, adam l, bridget, rebecca, kendyl, paul, nancy, miquel, montana, richard, nick, adam h, and alex) had a tea party, an inconclusive croquet tournament, and played for the final time of the summer outside at Peckerwood (solar powered and home to a few of us) to the rising of the full moon (which eclipsed just before dawn). Soon to be available on cd as Peckerwood Eclipse (pts1 & 2).
During September Anarchestra packed up again. On the 28th of September twenty of us (Bridget and Arno (it was their birthday), Montana, Koko, Marciana, Andrew, Andrew's dad Steve, Zach, Zach, Alisa, Miquel, Nico, Sophie, Ellie, Emily, another Miguel, Rick (the sound guy), Alex, and Molly from RISD) gathered in Providence and played as the models strolled at Mike Rinaldi's Zingareza ("Dare to Regress") fashion show at Firehouse 13.
A week later eleven of us (Zach L, Montana, Peter, Alisa, Liz, Bridget, Koko, Adam, Yasenta, Alex, and a guy from NH) travelled to Vermont and played for two nights (October 5/6) at Marlboro College (a show set up by Zach Pearson).
On October 26, we (Yasenta, Katieso, Alisa, Ellie, both Zachs, Madog, Miguel, Tom, Jay, and numerous others whose names I don't know) played at the Iron Pour at MassArt in Boston.
In January (2008) a group of us (Zach P, Mike, and Madog in deezus christ; Alisa, Ellie, and Andrew in the civic; and Alex in pricilla the van) moved Anarchestra to Tucson with a stop to play at Twin Oaks intentional community in Virginia along the way (a show set up by Zach Pearson). In March, Alisa, Liz, Bridget, and Sophie generously brought their positivities to town and left the The Vine a far better place than they found it.
A lot of the instruments and equipment were broken from the shows and the road. By summer the shop was functioning, the instruments were fixed, and new instruments were getting built. In June Zach Pearson and Ursula drove a truckload of instruments, augmented by several taken from storage in New Mexico, to Vermont. Alisa and Ellie took the truck from there and played shows in Acton and Jamaica Plain in Massachusetts. During the summer we played on the dock in Edgartown and at Che's Lounge in Vineyard Haven a couple of times each (the first show at Che's Lounge is documented on the cd of the same name).
Early in the fall a group led by Ellie and Alisa played at the Howl Fest in Thomkins Square Park in NYC.
During the fall a new group of instruments was built and as winter approached Alisa, Ellie, and Sophie came to live in Tucson for the winter. Together, we build The Furt, a five sided structure to use as a studio. Several others came to town over the winter. Unfortunately, little music was made.
In the spring, we played two shows at the Sculpture Resource Center and one at the Nimbus Brewery to benefit Flam Chen.
[Parenthetically . . .
The Socio-Aesthetic Experiment (2007-2009)
During this period (which began when I left New Mexico) the focus of Anarchestra shifted from studio work to live playing (collective improvisation) and (for lack of a better word) performance. A semi-regular group of people traveled and played in a variety of contexts and generally lived in the same places (Peckerwood in the east, The Vine in the west). My hope was that we'd develop a few specific musical skills, a depth of interaction, and raise the level of our improvisations above those of random collections of people, eventually generating a language and methodology particular to the group of people involved.
In my mind, we would approach this with interest and dedication evolving through the concept of a tribal aesthetic to the development of a unique and disciplined common voice which would give our performances some originality and distinction. The underlying assumption was that, given the opportunity, people would rather generate a contributory relationship (creative, artistic) with their living situation than a parasitic one (social club).
Unfortunately, most of those involved were content with basically passive participation and we never made any music that explored beyond what would be expected of any group of people (i.e., mid tempo jams in 4/4 characterized more by self-indulgence than mutual creativity).
Despite the failure of this approach, I have not lost faith in this idea.]
I was injured during the summer of 09 and wasn't able to work.
On October 9th we played at Pueblo Noir, the 90th birthday of the Hotel Congress, a large show organized by The Parasol Project. For the sound check the instruments were played beautifully by members of MarchForth Marching Band among others.
On November 8th we set up at the Franklin Street Docks at the Festival of All Souls. As the procession (of about 30,000) arrived at the docks a group of a dozen or so (including Linzi who was passing though Tucson) no three of whom had met before played (very well) for about 45 minutes.
During that fall I recorded the music the became the cd Manque: res les los.
Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife ecology, said, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect." I feel the same way of thinking should apply to music and most likely everything else.
We have a world of pleasures to win and nothing to lose but boredom.