Friday, May 8, 2009

Technical limitations and the genius of Richard Derrick

Technical limitations explain why this photograph of core Poetry Scores contributing composer and musician Richard Derrick, which I took, sucks.

The day I spent with him and Crane at Redondo Beach, I forgot to bring my digital camera, so we had to make do with an inferior, disposable point-&-click purchased along the concrete boardwalk.

After a cheap film processing job at a convenience store, I had some shots ready to be scanned, but by then the computer in my house that is networked to the scanner had lost its mind.

So, tonight, quite belatedly, I held up a print of a photo of Richard, took a picture of it with our digital camera, and transferred it to my laptop to get it up here. You will notice that the flash cleaved Richard's skull with a silver oval. Oh, well, best I could do.

Richard can relate, this I know, to making the most of technical limitations. We owe his vast archive of music, which he generously provided for our projects, to a physical limitation that emerged in his middle age. It hampered his virtuso playing, which was what sent him back to all of his old tapes, with the instincts of an archivist.

As an editor in the digital age, he was faced with the technical limitations of the analog tapes - for the most part, cassette tapes - that he had been using to document his music since the early 1980s. He has done an amazing job making these old, flawed recordings listenable and (for our purposes) usable.

However, there is one technical limitation which, in my view, he has not been able to overcome: microphone placement in recording drums.

Everyone who has ever been in a rock band will recognize in an instant the sound of a rock band recorded with a room mic. The drums give it away: they lack presence, they lack pop. No matter how inspired the performance, the recording reeks of a rehearsal tape.

I have now listened through all of twenty-nine (29!) CDs that Richard has compiled of his project Another Umbrella and donated for our use. I gig-booked this listening process, making notes as I went along.

Speaking of technical limitations, I am now a family man with an ass-kicker of a day job, so I do almost all of my listening to music for Poetry Scores in the car. So I do my note-taking in the car. Since I am operating a motor vehicle while taking these notes, I use a technique (cf., technical limitations) I learned reviewing movies: taking notes in the dark, writing without looking at what I am writing.

They tend to be very brief, almost telegraphic notes. For example, here are my complete notes to Disc 28:

cinematic bed/dawn
guitar freak w/ drums
room sound w/ drums

There is a good reason the notes are not more detailed, with a track-by-track breakdown. The note "room sound" denotes that problem with the sound of the drums, which renders these recordings - regardless of the quality of the performance - unusable in a poetry score.

It's a shame, in light of the following message from Richard Derrick.

A "request" for your next mp3 posting, whenever that may be: Disc 28, tracks 5-6. It's one jam broken up in two tracks when we switch keys, from a rehearsal at which I played better than I did at the actual gig.
As generous as this man has been to us, I would love to make use of this cherished performance of his on a poetry score, but technical limitations get in the way. I can, however, honor his request for the mp3 posting!

Free mp3s

Another Umbrella

Another Umbrella

Richard Derrick * guitar
Rob Ivon * bass
Bob Lee * drums

Recorded at Bob's garage (Granada Hills), 27 August 1995
Medium: stereo cassette (condensor microphones)

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