TOPIC: Pedro's Dowry

Here's a bit more info re: the piano reduction project. Frank really liked my arrangement of Pedro's Dowry, enough so that he planned to record it. He had me put together an 8 piece band consisting of: Me, Bob, and M.B. on percussion, [I reduced the original 6 orchestral percussion parts to 3, without leaving anything out (or at least nothing of any consequence). It was really tricky, but it worked.], Leonice Shinneman on drum set, [Leonice was also a percussion major at CalArts when the Repairmen were there. He was also in my band The Mope (see aside, below)], Toby Holmes on fretless electric bass and trombone (the trombone joined in on the Lover's Duet melody, with the piano player also on kazoo) [see aside re: Toby H below], Lorna Little (now Lorna Eder, also in the Ear Unit) and Gaylord Mowrey (formerly in the Ear Unit) on pianos, and Lorna's brother Dane Little conducting. So actually a 7 piece with conductor I guess. But 8 people.

An aside - The Mope played at Hop Sing's once, on an ICA concert that included Ocker as a guest artist. We played The Recurrent Obsession, which was first realized on Frank's Synclavier, I think(?). We also played Pink Napkins, note-for-note from the guitar transcription, in an arrangement that I did. Classical guitar (Miroslav Tadic), marimba (me), bass clarinet (Jim Rohrig, also of the Ear Unit), trombone (Toby Holmes), and tabla (Leonice Shinneman). As for that 25:24 thing David mentioned in the interview, we nailed that. But that is certainly not the kind of thing that anyone, including Frank, does on purpose, intellectually. You just feel the space you have to work in, or keep track of the underlying pulse and play. It's intuitive. If you're aware of the rhythm section you can do something against it and get back in synch when you feel it lining up again. It's a lot like Steve Reich's phasing, which is accomplished by rushing VERY slightly. You will notice that that rhythm in Pink Napkins occurs on a repeated figure, so it really is a lot like phasing. We managed to play it by rushing a bit, not by breaking it down like you would with a simpler polyrhythm like 5:4. One other little note about Pink Napkins. I did the copying on that, and there were a couple of measures in the middle that were clearly just plain wrong. I think maybe there was some editing that had been done, and Steve was working from a different version. Or maybe he had just sketched something in but hadn't finished digging out all the notes. Whatever the case, it made no sense. Steve was on vacation and unavailable, so I ended up transcribing those two bars, with Miroslav Tadic's help, I believe (I'm not a guitarist). I doubt that what I came up with would pass muster with Steve, but it's a lot closer than what was originally there in his version.

An aside re: Toby Holmes. Frank was auditioning drummers and bass players. I think it was after dumping Vinnie and Jeff Berlin. It would have been about 1981(?) It was the round of auditions that eventually brought Chad into the band. Anyway, Toby plays both bass and trombone. I had a conversation once in which Toby said that what he listens for first in a piece of music is "does it work?" He's really unprejudiced about styles, and likes just about any music if it's done well, and works for what it is. I was impressed by that attitude. I suggested to Frank that he audition Toby on bass, and told him about this "Does it work?" way of listening. Frank said "That's valid. I listen first for 'How is it recorded?'"

Back to Pedro. So, Frank had me put together this chamber ensemble to play Pedro's Dowry in a version built on the piano reduction. The plan was to record it for release. He asked me how much it would cost to get it together. I made a decision as to how many rehearsals I thought it would take, and I said we would need to get at least $15 per hour. I was probably thinking the project wouldn't happen if it was too expensive, so I bid way low. Frank said "You shouldn't work that cheap". But he didn't offer us more. We were all thrilled just to be working for Frank at all, and for a recording project.

We rehearsed a bunch, and it was coming along. Frank came up to CalArts to hear us rehearse, and even conducted us a bit. He also took us over the coals on some of the rhythms. We were all very nervous.

But Frank was also negotiating with the LSO at the time. He finally decided on Kent Nagano to conduct, and he wanted to have Pedro's Dowry in that project. He asked us if we would rehearse with Kent, and also Chad and Ed, as prep for the LSO recording. So this band had a rehearsal with Kent Nagano conducting, and Ed Mann and Chad sitting in on their respective parts. Frank was tweaking things the whole time. He would have us play certain sections, but have Chad do it reggae style, or some other way. It was a little weird, because this was our project, and we had to just get out of the way for Chad, Ed, and Kent. I don't know how they felt about it, but it was kind of tense.

It turned out that Frank decided against recording this version, because it was already on Orchestral Favorites and now was heading for the LSO album. He told me it just didn't make sense to spend 7 grand recording yet another version. He did like the piano reductions a lot though, and that was gratifying. Once he arranged to have Lorna and Gaylord read through them for him so he could get a sense of them. We did it at CalArts, because Frank didn't have two pianos in one place. To our surprise Frank showed up with this whole entourage. Dweezil was there, just to listen, and a film crew from some Bay Area TV station! They were doing a piece on Frank, and this was his latest thing, so he brought them along and filmed this reading session. He apparently felt no compunction about putting Lorna and Gaylord on the hot seat with no advance notice. A lot of it went well though. They're both really good, and had prepared some of the stuff. But the 3rd movement of Sinister Footwear simply is not sight-readable. He made them play a little bit of it, but then stopped them and said "I won't make you embarrass yourselves". Thanks a lot, Frank. But that was the session after which I got that nice phone call from Gail, so I guess things had gone well.