So I wrote this book, and then I had a lot of unexpected life changes and I got way off track editing the draft, and I ended up expanding it in unproductive directions and vandalizing myself with a million edits and replacing the light touch of stream-of-consciousness narrative with ponderous literary pomp and then I had a bunch of additional life changes and then I got real busy and it just sat while I focused on my storytelling work on stage.
I’d revived it briefly a while back when my friend Keith Sinzinger badgered me into working on it with the very, very generous offer (since he was a master editor with faith in my stories) of being my editor, but he left us before we could roll up our sleeves to get down to it and I just left it alone, feeling sort of wrung out and sad.
Now that it’s going to be a while before I can do much stage work during the pandemic lockdown, I thought hey, I have a book manuscript—maybe I should finish that.
I have a modern car for my commute, and it’s a perfectly nice car, but for the last month, whenever I’ve needed to get out for food or essentials, it’s always been in my old Citroën 2CV, Sister Joanne. My routes, for which I should be making quick, point-A-to-point-B runs in accordance with my civic responsibility, have been growing longer and more intricate in their explorations as a way of being out of the house, out of the neighborhood, and in my element again as the kind of person who needs a little private. meditative time each day to get my bearings, bobbing gently through the side streets and swaying around the bends.
One of my favorite elbows-on-the-carpet reads was the reprinting of the 1902 Sears Catalog that was one of the nifty pieces of late-seventies nostalgia that my grandmother kept in her balsam-scented telephone cabinet. Everything about it was neat, despite my steadfast belief in the world of the future as envisioned in my yard sale copies of mid-sixties Popular Mechanics magazines, and the neatest thing of all were the Heidelberg Giant Power Electric Belts.
“Joe-B, are you readin’ about those electric belts again?” she’d ask in the sweet Baltimore brogue that’s fast retreating into memory. “You and those electric belts. You know, I’d have thought you’d be lookin’ at the brassieres, but it’s always those electric belts.”
I was delighted to be invited to perform once more at the North-East Electro-Music Festival held at the Center for the Arts in Homer, NY. It’s a three-day festival of electronic and electro-acoustic music that brings together some of my favorite artists in the field for a diverse selection of genres and instrumentation. This was my sixth performance at one of these events, created by the Electro-Music community, now celebrating fifteen years of bringing artists and audiences together, often in a diffuse way in which players play, coalesce, and recombine into both planned and spontaneous ensembles that challenge and engage.
The event includes performances, unstructured time to just gather with other performers and composers and talk shop, and a variety of workshops ranging from the technical to the historical and instructional. We were lucky this year to have Bill Vencil, known on Youtube as Chords of Orion, with us to perform, share his technique, and conduct a great session on how to get established as a performer on Youtube.
There’s a openness and forgiving quality to audiences at EM Fests that really push a person to open up more, and experiment more, and to try new ideas and modes on an audience that is both one of the smartest and most forgiving in the field, and I’ve been gradually drifting from doing tightly scripted, fully orchestrated combinations of stories and live, improvised soundtracks that are my best approximation of what you’d get if stand-up comedy and digital jazz got together and made a noisy, chatty baby on stage. This year, I took on unresolved plotlines, half-told tales, and ruminations uncertainty and endings.
I’m an industrial design fanatic and a former media conservation technician, and I’m always fascinated by the way some things are just seemingly eternal, while others are indefinitely capable of maintenance, and some are just running on a lit fuse from the day they leave the factory.
I’ve got the oscillating Westinghouse desk fan my grandmother looted her savings passbook to buy in 1938, right after my mother was born, because it was unusually hot in May that year in Baltimore, and it works beautifully not because it made a pact with the devil, but rather because it is made of simple materials and simple systems, and every decade or so, I lay it out on newspaper on my workbench, dismantle it down to its components, clean out the dust and lint and hair and other greasy nonsense, change the carbon brushes if needed, clean and polish everything, apply grease and oil where it belongs and wipe it off where it does not, and it’s good for another five years. Seventy-eight years down, it’s good for another seventy-eight if someone gets it after me and takes the same care.
“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”
I’ll be playing a gig in my ambient mode, as Kantoendrato, on Saturday, March 23, in Pittsburgh, PA. The details are as follows:
A meet-up & performance event for electronic music and modular synthesizer enthusiasts, featuring manufacturer demos, live performances, hands-on wiggling, and more! Admission is free, however donations to the The Western Pennsylvania Center for the Performing Arts Academy (a non-profit organization) will be gladly accepted. We understand that starving artists and students are especially strapped for cash.
My mother was progressive and carefully explained sex to me well ahead of the rest of the kids in school, which was a problem, given my in-built mania to tell everyone around me about cool things I’d learned.
Mind you, I was not clear on the idea that sperm cells preferred to be administered in a liquid medium of a precise consistency and temperature, and I explained to my fellow students, with a tone of wisdom and gravity, that sperm was microscopic, like bacteria and viruses, and just leaked out of boys in a cloud that could impregnate any unlucky girl in the vicinity of a particularly potent boy.
My breathless retelling of this misconception about conception led to a very brief mass hysteria in my class involving all the girls taking to fleeing the boys as if they were surrounded by swarms of yellowjackets, complete with sudden darting changes of direction and wildly flailing fanning gestures.
“What on earth are you doing, Miss Wassman?” asked our teacher of one of the gesticulating young ladies.
“I don’t wanna have a baby!”
“I don’t wanna have a baby! There’s sperm everywhere!”
“Joe Wall said—”
“—Oh, did he now? Mister Wall, can I have a word with you?”