By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
On Friday, the music department at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park will present "303::808," a performance celebrating the revolutionary, lauded 303 bass sequencer and 808 drum machine created by the Roland Corp. Those two instruments are responsible for the sounds of house and techno, and students in the electronic-music program at Forest Park (note to budding dance producers: Forest Park offers two classes in the music) will honor the 303 and the 808 with their compositions.
The show won't solely highlight the machine, but, says James Hegarty, assistant professor of music at Forest Park, "I've been encouraging them to try some sounds in that ballpark -- the old analog drum sounds -- to give them something to think about and a place to start. I just tried to come up with some sort of handle for them to work towards."
Also featured will be a strange-sounding creation based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." Though we don't encourage the mixing of poetry with electronic music -- it's a recipe for disaster, especially when Poe is involved -- the performance sounds cool. Says Hegarty: "We set different verses in either small groups or as a whole -- there's about 10 people in the group. Some of it turned out rather rappy -- one singer who's part of it naturally fell into the rap aspect of the verse -- it's real duple-ish. Then there's some settings that are very abstract; one of the guys took the text and really manipulated it using software, so it sounds very stretched-out and distorted. One of the other guys has a Star Wars toy from the first time around; it makes a Darth Vader kind of sound, but it's a $15 Fisher-Price thing, so it crackles and pops. It's a mixed bag of things coming together. Some of the people from the ensemble have gotten together and made pieces for smaller groups."
The event is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, April 28, on the Forest Park campus in the main theater of the Mildred E. Bastian Center for Performing Arts, 5600 Oakland Ave.
ACE OF BASS: Improvisation is a dangerous game, especially when a distorted guitar is involved and the player has more background knowledge in rock than in jazz. The line between artistry and self-indulgence is almost always breached when a rock-guitar player is involved; if you want improvised electric guitar, run straight to Sonny Sharrock, and kick Joe Satriani in the shin on the way.
This past week, though, Darin Gray and Chris Trull's improvised performance at the Side Door was transcendent. At its heart was the work of distorted electric guitar, coupled with Gray's ever-solid bass. Gray and Trull opened for the Shipping News and were on it. The two, who have been working together for about a year now, moved from deep, rough riffing -- Gray tossed off some bass chords that would have been at home on one of his early Dazzling Killmen albums while Trull, whom you may know as guitarist for Darling Little Jackhammer, picked at the innards of the thing with great restraint -- to gentle, quiet beauty. Alas, the quiet wasn't too quiet; the packed house was annoying as usual, talking when they should have been listening. Given his vocation, Gray's used to such rudeness, and he takes it in stride. He doesn't get angry at the talkers anymore and refuses to play louder just to drown them out: "I always feel like I lose if I start playing louder," he says, "because then the audience gets louder anyway, and I have to go louder than that, and then they get louder. So I try and play quietly. That way, I haven't lost the battle. I just haven't participated in it." He's more concerned with the improv at hand, and he's a diamond at it.
BEAT POETRY: The Upstairs Lounge is so over-the-top on alternating Saturdays these days that mere words don't do the thang justice. What a freak show Superbreakout is: Doug Surreal, Mike 2600, DJ Device, Ryan B. and Joe Beuckmann going totally apeshit on four turntables, juggling beats and playing tag, tossing on a 33-rpm Bobby Brown "My Prerogative" 12-inch, punching it up to 45 and then beat-matching it with a DJ Assault ghetto-tech 12-inch. The general theme is hip-hop, old school and middle school (according to 2600, middle-school hip-hop is "anything after Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell and before Souls of Mischief's '93 Til Infinity'"), mixed with rock, soul and jazz breaks (EPMD, James Brown, Oliver Sain, De La Soul, the Meters, Eric B & Rakim, the Ohio Players). It goes on and on, and the result is some of the most innovative and off-the-wall turntable antics we've ever seen. Mixing Billy Joel's "My Life" with a funk beat? Why would anyone do that?
Of course, if you're looking for tight, seamless mixes, you're looking in the wrong place; half the time they're pretty sloppy on the decks, more concerned with shocking segues than invisible merges; you'll hear train wrecks, and furrowed-brow DJ types should stay away if they're going to get all technical. That said, the other night when 2600 and Device manned all four decks simultaneously, it was brilliantly crazy, a mess of scratches and beats that had the totally packed Upstairs bursting at the seams. Sometimes creativity and wide-eyed fun is a bloody mess; at Superbreakout, bloodier is better. That's this Saturday at the Upstairs: good, messy fun.