muted tones

october 02

today we are cartographers // i needed new units of measure / across / what's left

October is curated by Sarah Renee Bertsch of Chicago: she is atlas, and is currently working with the transaction Ensemble. She collaborated with Chicago's Tiny Hairs for this project.

curator log:

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moving on

november 21st, 2002

for those of you still coming here periodically to read things i write for you, i’m writing for you somewhere else now.

Q: where?

A: At my new log, sans sherriff.

thanks for stopping by.


breaking the rules?

november 18th, 2002

I just spent the weekend playing three shows and five sets. And some of the people I performed with played even more sets than that. I think the record was eight sets, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more.

To keep things in context, I’m only going to talk about the show the (Richard Nickel) transaction Ensemble played last night with Tiny Hairs. Our (the tE) most frequently used lineup is drums, bass, violin, cello, organ, and vibes. But last night we played the Hothouse, and when we play the Hothouse, the vibes player (Davis Krieg) and I share the piano. We even have a little Muppetts-esque, up & down correography worked out for when everyone else is tuning. The real fun of playing the Hothouse, though is getting to play a fancy piano. It’s all like tuned regularly and has been played by many (semi) famous hands and stuff.

Before I get to the pith, I want to mention the (as always) stellar Tiny Hairs performance last night. They improvised over our trancy piece and added the beatuiful lines, and textural quirkiness that I’ve grown to love about them. (Even though they were short a performer. I missed you, Jonathan!)

Moving on, the reason last night is log-worthy (besides including Tiny Hairs) is that I had a sort of breakthrough during the set. As of this weekend, I’ve been an improvisor for a full year, and that means I’m about a month away from being a one year veteran keyboard player, too. Last week we (the tE) tweaked the arrangement, allowing for more liberty to be taken by each performer in regards to the notes we play. This sounds like a small thing, but it has started to make things more exciting even after just three performances using the new arrangement. So without getting into a tedious explanation of the arrangement, I’ll say that previously, we could only choose rhythms - all the notes were scored before each performance, according to how many ensemble members would be there, and whomever happened to be writing the score.

I had a moment during our performance last night where the keyboard really started making sense to me. Specifically in relation to the other players, and their choices within the arrangement. Up to this point, I’ve been relying heavily on my basic music skills to plunk out rythums that didn’t cause too much trouble, and just tried to stay in the background. I think the allowance for more a more melodic approach (if one so chooses) was what helped me break out of that. Maybe I’m just programmed to hear/create/respond to that kind of thing.

I’m becoming a better musician, and in turn, a smarter (more interesting?) improvisor. My vocal instructor of many years used to love the thing about “learning the rules first, so you can throw them away” - which always rubbed me the wrong way. It didn’t seem very fun. I think I might be following my own path where I learn the rules as I’m throwing them out - which is turning out to be more fun than just doing whatever you want.

Whatever way you slice it, I’m having a really great time, and working with some incredible people. Thanks, guys.



sotl/splinter group/ SPECTRA

november 07th, 2002

I’ve spent the last two nights being kicked on my butt by two separate encounters with experimental/ambient/drone performances.

Tuesday night I saw stars of the lid at the Empty Bottle. It was spectacular. This is going to sound ridiculous, but I really appreciate their controlled manner, or I guess, subtlety. I know you’re thinking, *duh*- but really, I like the floating, seamless quality of their pieces.

Wednesday night I went to splinter group studios (the first Wednesday of every month, Leavit at Grand) to see my friend Peter (tiny hairs) play with his trio: LoRoSa. The lineup is Peter Rosenbloom on violin, Jason Soliday on keyboard, and Ernst Karel* on trumpet/electronics contraption. The trumpet contraption is what made me really excited about them. He has a practice mute on with a microphone in it, which goes to a big box of filters and whatnot, that are essentially a synthesizer (this may not be an accurate description. Anyone who knows is invited to leave a comment with corrections). The result is beautiful, and I’ve been overusing this word lately, but it’s a very organic sound. By organic I mean a natural progression or development of the sound itself - which would make sense because the origin is a trumpet. Natural meaning I can hear that the sound isn’t programmed or controlled by a computer…it comes from a person, and their lungs, and that creates a different quality. A subtle quality, maybe, but like I said, I dig subtlety.

The other group I really liked from the evening was TV Pow. Three guys, three laptops, and some equipment I couldn’t identify from behind and was too chicken to ask about. I bought their cd, and I’m listening to it at work, and it’s quite up my alley. During their performance there were two moments that really moved me. The first was a layering of bells, or bell sounds. I think there was some kind of unidentifiable screech over it, too. I’ve been really obsessed with bell sounds lately and it made me excited to hear someone else working with them. Maybe at some point in the future I will talk about my bell sounds idea, but I’m running short of time today. The second part I enjoyed was a quiet passage with what felt like nighttime emptyish road sounds, with a railroad crossing bell in the distance. The road sounded wet, and the few cars were a nice punctuation to the small bell. This was quickly broken by some louder screechy stuff, and I wished they would have developed that feeling a bit more, but I wasn’t at all disappointed. I was talking to Peter on the way home and I was telling him how specialized, or particular my tastes in this kind of music are. I lean towards people who use natural sounds…or organic sounding synthesized sounds. And, I like it when dynamic shifts are used wisely. A surprise can be effective, but can also become annoying and off-putting if used too often or at the wrong moments. I realize fully that this is the musician in me talking, and these people aren’t necessarily concerned with the musicality of their pieces, but I guess that’s what I’m saying as far as my preferences go. I tend to go for the pieces that, whether accidental or not, have a compositional quality that is in some way musical. I guess I’m taking great liberties with the word musical, but I think you might know what I mean. If not, please leave a comment, and we can start the discussion.


p.s. I’ve been trying to get some *working* links for you to either SPECTRA or splinter group, but nothing seems to be working out for me. If you can find anything working, please let me know so I can post it.

*Peter just told me this is his real name. not Ernst Long. but, we still could have our wires crossed. somebody help us. please. we are very confused people. by nature.


october 31st, 2002

don’t you love how i keep using these snappy french titles for my posts? i do.

today is the last day of my reign at muted tones. well, technically, it was yesterday since alison’s november piece was posted today, but it’s still october for like, ten more hours!

no, seriously, listen to her piece. she’s awesome.

before i get to the formalities i want to share a few things wholly unrelated to muted tones.

as it is halloween, i am dressed as an edward gorey character. it is more fun than you can imagine.

today (halloween) a coworker asked me where i sit. at the same moment i glanced at a (halloween) decoration of a devil.

coworker: where do you sit?

me: in hell.

coworker: don’t we all?

me (doing my best to stare at him without cracking up): that’s correct. the damned are in great numbers. the underlord will be pleased.

coworker: you’re starting to creep me out.

advantage, bertsch!

it’s a (halloween) joke, people.

anyhoo, on with the show…

i don’t think i’m going to be posting anymore, as i really don’t have much to say beyond tasteless jokes, and judging by your reaction, i should keep them to myself.

unless people start commenting like crazy, and sending me emails all the time, and stopping me on the street to tell me what they think of my piece…yeah. unless that happens, you won’t be seeing any new posts here.

thanks for reading, and listening.
(keep checking muted tones monthly for new pieces…actually, why don’t you join the tense forms mailing list so you don’t have to worry about remembering.)



au fait

october 18th, 2002

I was just discussing my piece with a friend, and they said that they heard it as two movements and a coda.

This is a great observation. If you read about how the pieces were made, and listen to them, and think about the names, this will make sense to you.

Also, Allison (January) has been posting. You should go read it.


october 04th, 2002

I suppose it’s about time to post a follow-up. I’m thinking there will be a few more posts as muted tones progresses, but certainly not in the volume we’ve all become accustomed to.

I’ve received some kind feedback from a few people. Feedback is good.

One of the people who contacted me is related to the piece in a way that almost rivals my relation to it. Go to my post entitled “the story” and read it, and then read the comments. I’d link to it, but there’s really no way to right now. I think it’s on page 4. Anyway, it just blows me away.

Honestly, I’d like to see more people leaving notes in the comments section here. It would be great to know how many people we are reaching. When you sell records, or play live shows, you get this sort of immediate gauge of the degree of contact being made. In this case, it’s a little harder. I mean, I know that I can look to see how many people have looked at the site…but that’s different. All you need to say is I heard it, and I’ll be happy.

I’d even be happier if we start some conversations here. Like a feedback loop. ha!

thanks for listening,

credits - (for real this time)

september 30th, 2002

today we are cartographers

i needed new units of measure
produced by joshua dumas

violin, theremin, radio, piano, drums: joshua dumas
acoustic guitar, vocals: sarah renee bertsch
violin: Peter Rosenbloom
electric guitar: Mark Booth
cello: Mary Claire Kueber
clarinet: Allison Stanley

engineered by joshua dumas
produced by sarah renee bertsch & joshua dumas

keyboards, electric guitar: Jonathan Liss
electric guitar: Mark Booth
violin: Peter Rosenbloom
noise: Charles King
drums: Jim Lutes
clarinet: Allison Stanley
acoustic guitar, vocals: sarah renee bertsch

what’s left
produced by joshua dumas & sarah renee bertsch

piano, acoustic guitar: sarah renee bertsch
bells, microphone noise: joshua dumas
keyboards: Jonathan Liss

Charles King, Jim Lutes, Mark Booth, Jonathan Liss, Peter Rosenbloom, and John DeVylder are Tiny Hairs.

many thanks for helping with this project to:
mike piontek, joshua dumas, Jonathan Liss, Peter Rosenbloom, Mark Booth, Charles King, Jim Lutes, John DeVylder, Allison Stanley, Casey Meehan, Mary Claire Kueber, Jaime Roche, Marc Battista, Jonah, Andy Wagner, and The Trumbullplex.

i needed new units of measure, and what’s left

september 25th, 2002

After finishing across, it was clear that I was going to have to fill about 6 more minutes with music. To make this happen, Josh and I sat down at the computer. Josh has a bunch of recordings of me on there from the last three years or so. He also has a massive collection of sounds and snippets of music he’s made. We started with tracks recorded during the Tiny Hairs sessions that we didn’t use. For the next few hours or so, we mined Josh’s files for sounds and pieces of music that would work with the piece. Much tweaking was done. Much filtering, processing, reversing, and uh—plain ol’ messing around was done.

This song ended up being i needed new units of measure. And soon after we started work on it, I decided that I wanted the two songs to be part of a larger piece. They work with each other to do something much more effective than if they stood on their own. They do, however, prove very effective on their own anyway … which is a point of pride for me, and I’m sure Josh as well.

All the work was really done by Josh, and I was the hands-off director. Josh is going to be credited as Producer for this song, since that’s pretty much the only way to pin down what he did. At first I felt a little weird because it seemed like he was doing so much work, and I couldn’t really help at all. But then I realised that it wasn’t like it was becoming “his” song or “his” project, he was simply taking some raw material that I had presented him with (the Tiny Hairs sessions, and some of my own tracks from earlier versions of the song), and was making it into something cohesive. Adding nuance, and character with some of his own sound and music creations. A real-live collaboration! Holy crow! This was all done the same night we recorded the final vocal track for across, so when the time came for “something else” on this song, I just walked in the next room and improvised some vocal tracks.

We finished units, and we still had like two and a half minutes to fill. I was stumped. It took me a few days to come up with the idea of taking the whole concept to another level. Units is like an unstructured version of across. I knew this before. But what could be added to this? Something before units? Or, something after across? I decided the third song should take the ideas in both, and distill them, or pare them down to just be the simple main idea. So, that’s how we get what’s left. But that’s just the beginning of the story. Making this happen was a total nightmare.

First, I went to a friend’s practice space to use his Rhodes electric piano (Thank you, Casey Meehan!). Josh set me up with his mini-disc recorder and I just lined in. The deadline was looming on the horizon, and we still need to leave time to mix down, so I decided that I would work for an hour, and whatever I came up with would be it.

It was awful. But we didn’t know it was unworkable till the next day. Truly, it was just dreadful. I’ll just skip to the next part of the story. Josh and I were on the back porch sulking because we’d been trying to make it work for like, hours. All of a sudden I realized that I’d been going about it the wrong way. I said “It should be a simplification of the idea! I should play a variation on the song, but like, really simply!” And josh said, “the lead from the old old version” (this being the acoustic guitar track on units) and I said “that’s exactly what I was thinking!” so we ran inside and grabbed the mini-disc and headed for Casey’s space.

This time I went through the amp. Josh set up a mic, and I played for seven minutes, and we left. It was great. We felt so good about it. We got back to Josh’s-er, the uh, studio, and played it back. There was all this crazy unexplainable overdrive. Josh says he’s still investigating to find the culprit. In any case, we had no time to do it again. After a few moments of feeling like scrapping the whole thing, we found there were a few little parts that came out okay. Including one line where I just played the lead. No variation - just played it straight. We decided to use that, and then a few other lovely parts that made it through undistorted. Basically the song built itself after that. Josh did some tweaking, we did some mining, and came up with the final piece. It turned out way better than I had expected even in the beginning. Yay, us.

So. There you have it. The first and third songs of today we are cartographers. If you have any questions about technical stuff, I’m sure I can find out for you. I may have even picked up enough to explain it myself. Wouldn’t that just surprise the pants off ya?


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