I just got back from the second night of Keith Rowe in Seattle. Once again, I got there about a half an hour early to find Chris and a friend of his outside. Again we get seats in the front row and talk to Keith for a good bit before the show. Another really great conversation with Keith, this time talking quite a bit about treatise. He had brought with him a notated version of page 54 that he had mentioned the day before. This was generated from a performance that he had done in Houston a few years previous. In this he has thoroughly notated what he is going to play and how for each segment of the score. He even has it pretty well laid out the time scale upon which he is going to play it. I asked him how rigorously he sticks to that time scale and he said pretty well, sometimes faster and rarely any longer the the time which was about 12 minutes. This conversation was immensely valuable to me as Cardew always seemed to hedge on using the score for directed improv and playing it as a score. He seemed to talk it up as an structured improv, but always came back to playing it as a score which means that your reactions are your own but they should be consistent. I brought up this issue of consistency and Keith pointed out how if you take the score as a whole that consistency becomes very hard. At about this point the organizers suggested the show should start so we ended the discussion here.

Keith Rowe/Gregory Reynolds/Leif Sundstrom
The night was two trios with Keith as the common element. He was setup with table of gear on the platform and in front and to the right of the stage was the piano (though not to be played in this set). In front of the stage on the floor was Sundstrom’s Gear: a floor tom and some electronics including one of those cheap record players with integrated radio. On stage to the left of Keith’s table was Reynolds sax and a small collection of objects including a number of beer cans.

In this set Keith more or less was pretty far in the background with low washes and rumbles of sound. Leif had a contact mic on his floor tom and he tended to worked in the amplified texture territory. He scraped things across the head of the drum, pressed on it, rubbed things against its surface and side. He also used the record player in various ways (though never with records) including rubbing it, putting a bowl under the needle and in one nice point he used the build in radio. Gregory began with breathy fluttering sounds on the sax and he often worked with longer tones in the “saxophone feedback” realm. Butcher like but generally more sedate. There were a number of segments where longer sustained tones from him gelled really well with tones from Keith or Leif. However he made the common young improviser error of not laying out enough and of not sticking with a technique long enough. A like a lot of his playing and at times it worked well but overall was a bit unsatisfying. Leif’s playing was generally great and I thought worked well with Keith. I had grabbed the GOD cd before the show and I am definitely looking forward to spinning it.

Keith Rowe/Gust Burns/Jeffrey Allport
Leif’s floor tom and electronics was replaced with Allport’s floor tom and assorted percussion gear. Gust Burns placed a large number of small stick like objects in his piano and this trio was pretty much ready to go. A fairly long silence at the beginning and then Keith put in a bit of static. Jeffrey began with scrapping the surface of his tom as Gust began to stick his small dowels in between strings of the piano. After he had put in a couple he began to rub them basically in the same technique as Sean Meehan’s dowel on cymbal technique. Even with the piano amplifying this, this was very subtle and short lived sounds. Keith never built up his “typical” droning sound, always working the volume pedal and working with shorter tones in a wider variety of sounds. Jeffery worked through a wide array of techniques, but they all were so quiet and so subtle that it didn’t feel at all like a run through of techniques. They worked as a continuation of the same space of sounds. This set was very sparse, delicate and sensitive. Gust played entirely inside the piano mostly with the dowel technique, but at one point rubbing the strings and at another plucking the strings with the dowels. This later technique had a nice prepared piano sound. Jeffrey worked the “Meehan” technique with the the dowels directly on the floor tom head which created a groaning rustling sound. He also did a number of actions with small cymbals on the drum surface from blowing into one, to gentle striking another one whilst rubbing the surface. Throughout this Keith mixed in washes, buzzes, file strings, spronging sounds and short radio clips. Twice during the set the brought it down to near silence – just amplifier hum, but each time Keith brought it back and Gust and Jeffery would both delicately return to dropping sounds into the space. Both of these musicians was comfortable and willing with laying out, not playing a sound unless they were sure that it was the right thing to do. Eventually Gust and Jeffrey stopped, Gust’s head still in the piano. Keith took a good bit of time slowly shutting things down. There was a long, long pause before the audience decided it was over. I really liked this set, it was very different from all of the Keith sets I’ve seen lately and it was fully engaging and musically rich.

Afterward we talked to Keith just a bit more, mainly thanking him and eventually taking our leave. In the last 10 days we have seen 7 Keith sets and a varied bunch of sets they have been. All entertaining and all with interesting and engaging musical elements. Additionally the long talks with Keith have been great from the very informative Treatise information to geeking over stereo equipment. Its been a hell of a September, one I’ll remember for a long time.