827. Shades of Rhythm

“Deja vu all over again.” The studio was lit only by consoles and equipment, and the dark felt cozy rather than threatening. Jordan flicked on the main lights as I dropped myself into one of the secondhand armchairs tucked in a corner of the control room.

What ensued was a technical discussion that I won’t try to recap here other than to tell you the gist of Jordan’s idea.

“You were always going to have to handle a lot of multi-tracking or hire more musicians,” Jordan told us. “Chris can’t play the Octopad and keyboards at the same time. But either one could be used as a trigger for samples, and samples can be quite long, you know.”

In other words, we could digitize portions of the tracks that we had previously recorded, and trigger their playback live during the show at the various moments when they’d be needed in a song. A riff could be repeated again and again as easily as hitting a key or drum pad.

In other words I (or whoever) could trigger recordings of my own playing in real time. Not miming, not faking it, but cueing and using our prerecorded material to augment what could be played live.

I could live with that. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I realized Jordan was right. We were always going to have to do something like this if we wanted to capture even a fraction of what we had going on in the demo recordings.

“Why didn’t I think of this before?” I asked no one in particular.

“Because you’ve only got half a brain cell working lately,” Bart said. “Trav, we’re leaving in like two days–”

“Three,” I insisted.

“–so we don’t have a lot of time to figure this out.”

Jordan cracked his knuckles. “Fortunately for you guys, I am on vacation, and I think all of you will get used to how this works if you just have an hour or two a day to devote to it.”

What followed was a couple of hours of us playing around with various pieces of equipment including foot pedal triggers for various samples. We were going to have to buy a pile of equipment and make sure the crew knew how to set it up, and I still needed to talk to Flip, but at least there was hope. There was a potential solution. That night we worked on an arrangement of “Skyward” that turned into a long jam as we got used to what we could do with the samples, including loop them.

I may have fallen in love with looping a little bit. It worked so well with the flamenco/Guitar Craft riffs I had built up and made them danceable like a Middle Eastern or African drum cadence. The guitar is a rhythm instrument and a melody instrument–a lesson I would keep re-learning forever.

We left to get some sleep around four in the morning, while Trav stayed, working on digitizing parts and so on, so we could do more the next night. He took a quarter hit of acid, he said, and would nap in the afternoon.

I was bone tired by the time I was waiting for the elevator at Ziggy’s building. When it creaked open I got in, my head still roiling with various musical possibilities, and when I got out I thought, huh, it’s weird that they must have retiled while we were out today since the floor was now a dark forest green instead of the bluer shade it had been.

I tried my key in the lock and it only fit partway in. I jiggled it, thinking it was just gummed up or stuck, but then I couldn’t get it out again, either. I had finally pulled it free when the door opened a crack and I saw Barrett’s unshaven face. His straight brown hair was falling into his eyes.

After a second we both realized what had happened. “Uh, I’m on the wrong floor, I think.”

He nodded but undid the chain. He was in a bathrobe and slippers. “Yeah. You want to come in for a cup of coffee? I was about to get up.”

“You are?”

“Conference call with London.” He shrugged. Something about the look in his eyes made me think he really wanted to talk to me, though.

It seemed a good idea to say yes. “Sure. Though I should try to grab some sleep soon.”

He nodded and I followed him into a kitchen the same layout as Ziggy’s but with slightly different appliances.

“I was over at Electric Ladyland working on the opening act stuff with Trav,” I said, as if I needed to justify why I was coming in at five in the morning.

“How’s it coming along?” he asked neutrally as he went about filling the coffee pot with water and other steps in preparing caffeine for consumption.

“We’ll have something together,” I said with a shrug. That something might end up being a thirty minute extended prog jam of epic proportions, but that was better than nothing, right?

He gave me a polite nod in return, then brought an empty mug to where I was sitting at the counter. “All right if I check in with you about how Ziggy’s doing?”

“You mean now, or regularly during the tour?”

“Both.” He leaned an elbow on the counter and rested his head tiredly in his hand. “I’m not saying you need to rat him out or be a babysitter. So don’t give me that look. But you’re his boyfriend as well as the director.”

“And you think that was a bad idea,” I said.

He shook his head. “No no, no judgments. People are intimately involved with family and friends and lovers all the time in the business. I’m just saying you’re going to have insider knowledge.”

“He was a little upset tonight that I wouldn’t let him hang around during Star*Gaze rehearsal,” I said, before I could think of a way to spin it.

“Upset how?” He moved away to get the now-full coffee pot but kept an ear pointed my direction.

“A little hurt at being excluded? Petulant?” I offered.

“Jealous?” he asked, as he filled the mugs.

“I don’t think so.”

“I reminded him that offering you the opening slot was his idea,” Barrett said, and I had the sudden realization that Ziggy must have actually told Barrett about us kicking him out. “And also that just because you’re hitched doesn’t mean literally attached at the hip.”

“How did he take that?”

“Pretty well.” Barrett shrugged. “He seemed to want someone to tell him to chill out about it, so I did, and he did. I just wanted to triangulate with you.”

“You’re coming to South America with us, right?”

“I am. I don’t technically have to. But I am.”

One thing I had never asked Barrett about was who his other artists were and whether he spent as much time and energy on them as he did on Ziggy. I was definitely under the impression that Ziggy was the only one who lived in the same apartment building as him.

He fixed my coffee the way I liked it and we sipped together, chatting about how the show was coming together for a couple more minutes before he checked the time and said, “All right, time for me to get on the phone.”

“Time for me to get downstairs,” I answered, as he put our mugs into the sink.

In Ziggy’s door, my key had no problems, and I found the apartment dark except for the light next to the bed. Ziggy was asleep with a book open on his chest, as if he had conked out while reading. His fingers were fanned out beside it. I could just make out the title in the dim light: History of Sexuality. Foucault. I had a vague memory of that being a name Jonathan threw around a lot.

I left him sleeping, got undressed, and brushed my teeth. When I came back to the bed he had curled onto his side and was hugging the book like a sharp-cornered teddy bear.

I climbed in carefully, trying not to wake him as much for the sake of my own sleep as his. After all, if I woke him and we got into a fight, chances of me getting any sleep were low.

I was just starting to drift off when I felt his fingertips skate along my arm. I heard a thump as he moved the book to the side table. “How’d it go?” he asked when he settled again, curled toward me.

“We’re going to try to make it work with samplers and MIDI triggers,” I said.

I think he wasn’t awake enough to really absorb anything but my tone of voice–I was aiming for soothing for both our sakes. “Oh, that’s good,” he said without opening his eyes.

He didn’t seem at all upset, and even if it was because he was ninety percent asleep I was good with that.

I got four and a half hours of sleep before I had to get up again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *