Random acts

Fear and loathing in ensemble experiments

What: 100 Musician Improv Music Night
Where: The Grey Eagle
When: Thursday, Aug. 21

At $7 a ticket — roughly 14 musicians to the dollar — I figured a 100-musician jam couldn’t be anything but a good deal.

Turned out it was merely too good to be true.

The flyer promised a diverse fusion of music. But, barring a few jazz performers, singer/songwriters and old-time players, reggae jammers dominated the evening.

Though comprising barely a third of the forecast 100 performers, the 30 or so participants actually started off OK, managing to meld African flutes and hand-drummed rhythms with Appalachian fiddle and washtub bass, plus a little funk bass and some surprisingly adept rock drumming.

When members of the kinetically charged old-time group the Rib Tips took the stage, with vocalist Ian Moore fiddling and singing to a cavalcade of acoustic percussion, the show was even captivating — for a good five minutes.

Soon enough, though, the whole thing collapsed into a boring, droning reggae-fied jam session that was hopefully at least fun for those inflicting the pain. By the end of the third hour, the crowd was gone, leaving a steadfast contingent of jam-happy players unwilling to yield the stage. A millennium later, the jam ended with a vague reference to how everything would be better if we just said “om” a lot. Then the show finally, blessedly lurched to a halt.

It was a grand experiment along the scope of Communism, with much the same result.

What: Free local-band festival
Where: Pritchard Park
When: Saturday, Aug. 16

Backlit by the waning sun, their swaying limbs and random stomping suggested kindergartners marching in place on some imaginary trek to a magic land.

Except these were grown adults lumbering about in a drunken, uncontrolled stupor. It was a homeless dance party at Pritchard Park, and everyone, apparently, was invited.

All day long, bands like Dig Shovel Dig, The Devil Punchers and Ruint Pope Faction had been playing for free in the small concrete amphitheater in the center of the park as part of a once-monthly public-concert series introducing new local bands to a wider swath of prospective fans.

During this most recent installment, new groups like glam-goth rockers The Outre Hammer took their first sweeping stab at recognition. Other performers, like singer/songwriters Leah Kane, James Crabtree and Kevin Campbell, simply tried their best to keep the rock-ready audience around.

Frankly, most onlookers seemed attracted to the scene by exactly what had lured the boot-shuffling homeless — loud sounds and pounding rhythm.

No one brought the beat heavier than final act Kerouac or the Radio. Led by vocalist/bassist Jeff Markham, the trio is a diesel engine of heavy rhythm and gloomily melodic guitar held together by a merciless bass line.

Set against the disappearing day, Kerouac or the Radio seemed almost wraithlike, their zombie fans washed out to a ghastly yellow by the city’s sodium lights.

Xpress crashes a PBS documentary

Growing up in eastern North Carolina, my friends and I loved to draw out the word M-o-o-o-o-o-g when we’d get seriously toasted. It sounded so weirdly c-o-o-o-o-o-l, like the notes that British keyboard freak Keith Emerson could strangle from a Moog synthesizer.

Unfortunately, I learned just this week that the name that brands the seminal analog instrument developed by Robert “Bob” Moog is actually pronounced “Moeg” (like “rogue”). So much for the joys of wasted youth.

Moog’s own teenage years in upstate New York were a far different story: He built pitch-bending Theremins for fun. And by the early 1960s, he was inventing a new synthesizer line that, a decade later, had blipped and bleeped its way to the heart of pop culture (keyboardist Walter (now Wendy) Carlos’ wiggy, wild-selling Switched-On Bach, released in 1968, took the Moog international).

“Bob is a guy who contributed hugely to global culture,” proclaimed West Coast filmmaker/musician Hans Fjellestad, in Asheville last week with producer Ryan Page for the first leg of a documentary film shoot (real film — not video) on Moog the man.

Fjellestad isn’t out to make an exhaustive study of electronic-music history, he revealed.

“That would be more of a Ken Burns approach,” he added. “This is going to be a little bit different: We’re exploring the idea of the maverick American inventor.”

That is, the guy so many of us know in our hearts as M-o-o-o-o-o-g. The reclusive, white-haired genius type whose new product line, the Moogerfooger (pronounced Moe-gur-foe-gur), makes me want to say M-o-o-o-o-o-gerf-o-o-o-o-o-ger. Heh, heh. M-o-o-o-o-o-gerf-o-o-o-o-o-ger.

The idea of the frontiersman — of the loner tackling uncharted territory — is dear to Fjellestad. ZU33, the San Diego-based production company he runs with Page, scored a critical coup in 2002 with the documentary Frontier Life, which turned a lens on off-the-beaten-track life in nearby Tijuana, Mexico, including the border town’s cutting-edge electronic-music scene.

The Moog project, expected to be completed next summer, is being funded in large part by San Diego public-TV station KPBS, which will seek a national air date for the finished documentary.

This film, Moog quipped from the nondescript Riverside Avenue warehouse office of Moog Music, will make him a household name.

Maybe so. But just don’t expect stoners to say it, Bob. Not once they actually learn how to pronounce it.

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