Somehow, between last-minute equipment emergencies, luggage breakdowns, and persistent cold symptoms, I managed to get myself, my guitar, my “man purse” carry-on bag, and three seperate pieces of luggage onto an airplane that flew out of Burbank at about 8:00 AM on Sunday the 13th of March. I don’t usually sleep on planes, but soon after takeoff I realized that my body was going to insist on getting whatever rest it could, and I ended up dozing a substantial amount of the way across the country.
I got into New York at about 6:15 PM, and made the rendezvous with both my luggage and the airport shuttle with minimal hassle. My destination was the Queens abode of Todd Reynolds, a world-class violinist with a terrifying resume to match, and a wonderfully warm human being and friend, who was kind enough to offer me crash space during my stint in New York.
I loaded my luggage into Todd’s place, as he was rehearsing a rather amazing piece with composer Neil Rolnick. While they were occupied, my first impulse was to unpack the guitar and get some practice in – I’d been so busy with last-minute preparations for the trip that I hadn’t been able to do any serious practice for two or three days. I also got to see a run through of the piece they were working on – a work for solo violin and electronics called “Fiddle Faddle,” which made use of all sorts of interactive real-time arrangements on a laptop, which responded to live input from Todd. Very, very happening stuff.
It was around this time that my body started realizing that it had been awake for about 36 hours non-stop, so I opted out of dinner with Todd and Neil, choosing instead to make the acquaintance of the nearest sofa-bed.
After catching up on some much-needed sleep on Monday morning (and a good dose of the afternoon), it was time to make my way to The Monkey, to start setting up for the gigs. The first real show at the Monkey wouldn’t be for another four days, but Dominic Frasca was all for having me in to set-up, soundcheck, and practice in his space as much as I liked. Which was fine by me, since I had touched down in NYC having never used more than three Echoplexes at the same time, and I wanted all the rehearsal time I could possibly get.
I’m a small-town Iowa boy – born and raised in a city of about 60,000 people – so I still have an innate sense of intimidation about big cities. I’ve spent time in Los Angeles, Chicago, Moscow, London, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and other large urban areas, so I’m not a stranger to what life in a major city is like. But I still can’t comprehend the sheer immensity that is New York City. The amount and density of architecture that’s compressed into one geographical area is really unbelievable to me, and difficult to completely fathom. Since I was staying in Queens (which, for those unfamiliar with NYC, is a seperate “borrough” outside of Manhattan proper), I had ample opportunity to examine the city from a distance. Going into Manhattan for the first time on Monday, making a gradual entry into the heart of NYC by taxi, was utterly brain-boggling. I can’t imagine how long it would take to learn to navigate such an environment.
I got to The Monkey late Monday afternoon, where I met up with Dominic and finally got to see the space for myself. The Monkey’s not huge – in fact it probably measures no more than 20 feet by 25 feet – but the space radiates a very serious vibe. Dominic’s whole motivation in building the place was to create an environment where everything was in service of the music, and that focus of intent absolutely comes across in the atmosphere of the space. The layout of the room is spartan and elegant, with each of the five surround sound speakers suspended from the ceiling, and the subwoofer mounted on the wall above the main door. And since the Monkey is located on the 12th and top floor of its particular building, the large windows in the room provide a pretty stunning panorama of downtown NYC.
There had been some last-minute complications in terms of borrowing all of the Echoplexes we’d need, so for Monday evening there were only four to work with. But that was more than enough for the time being, since setting up the basic rig was a fairly complex task. Between getting signal from the audio line splitter to all of the individual Echoplexes (which required an extra trip out to the local Guitar Center to pick up the right kind of cables), routing each Echoplex through the 5.1 system (and figuring out how to identify each one verbally, so that my concept of “Echoplex Number 1” matched Dominic’s), and then balancing the different Echoplex output signals with one another (and balancing the live, unlooped guitar sound with all of those), this initial set-up took a fair amount of time and attention. Dominic, bless his heart, was completely accomodating and helpful during the process (and throughout the entire week, for that matter.)
I’d love to say that the first notes I played in the Monkey set the world on fire, filled me with boundless confidence, and caused women all across New York to collectively swoon at the display of my musical virility. But the truth of the matter is that I found it to be a fairly humble and tentative process of carefully balancing levels, adjusting settings, and gradually getting used to “hearing” in 5.1. (Example: at one point I was testing the center channel, and remarked with a somewhat panicked tone that it sounded very out of alignment, as if the sound had been panned to one side. Dominic politely pointed out the fact that this was because I was standing about a foot off to the side of the center channel speaker, which was mounted right above my head, suspended from the ceiling by heavy duty chains. Upon actually moving myself underneath the speaker, I was quite amazed at how much more centered the sound became…) Add to this the fact that I hadn’t really spent any quality time with the guitar for about three days, due to preparations and the actual trip, and you have a fairly rusty foundation for a first rehearsal.
In spite of the growing pains, there were a number of moments that night where I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at how good the basic system sounded – even with only four EDP’s and a couple of hours of initial set-up, I could finally hear ideas bouncing around the room that had been trapped inside my head for months up until now. There were all kinds of possibilities that would have literally been impossible with any less sophisticated of a set-up. Dominic was absurdly kind with his commentary, while I was profusely apologetic about my lack of togetherness, and kept telling him “just wait until I actually get my act together,” while hoping to myself that I actually would be able to do just that.
The challenge now would be to figure out how to make the best use of the Monkey in the time I had available: after this particular night (Monday the 14th), I would have two more days at the Monkey (one of which would be an “open rehearsal” for some friends and press people) before the first gig on Friday night.