OPEYE | 1|11|1998 Photo: Moe Staiano
OPEYE | Vinny Golia, George Cremaschi and Garth Powell
This was one of OPEYE’s best Beanbender’s shows! They started by all playing gamelan instruments for about five minutes, like five uncoordinated figures from the inside of five of the those giant clocks you see in Europe; the ones where some elaborate scene is staged on the hour, with gremlins and the like banging away. The weird and ridiculous costumes added to the effect. Then the usual movement through the instruments followed: Henry Kuntz playing his loud double-reed musette thingy, his tenor sax, tiny violin, more gamelan, etc., while John Kuntz played a tiny electric uke(?), and a few other string things, Brian Godchaux played viola and electric 5-string mandolin, Esten Lindgren played trumpet and trombone (sometimes both at once) and drumset too, and Ben Lindgren play doublebass.
The sound was a little better than usual, due to Godchaux being amplified much of the time. The dynamics of the group and its aesthetic were also quite clear: Henry is usually in the foreground regardless of instrument, he makes the most soloistic statements (while abstract and noisy, his phrasing, articulation and attitude placing these statements within the general context established by Coltrane), while John Kuntz and Brian Godchaux form a middle-ground not entirely unlike Keith Richards and Ron Woods: they play off one other, trading tiny lead lines, and while neither is really repetive (though grooves pop up frequently, they’re submerged quickly), connecting strongly (if a bit abstractly) to each other and to a lesser degree with the other strata.
John Kuntz| 1|11|1998 Photo: Moe Staiano
Meanwhile, Esten functions as a sort of secondary solo voice, rarely moving past Henry to the foreground, he’s a sort of shadow figure. Ben’s role is to form a firm background, his bass lines are highly rhythmic, minor-pentatonic (again, touching on Trane’s legacy), and are structured with a drummer’s sense of repetition and slow development. I must admit, it’s taken me a while to appreciate Ben’s minimal approach, but I think I’ve finally come around to it: it works very well as compliment and foil to the complex and skittery upper layers of OPEYE.
A few members of the audience had to leave during this set, but not necessarily because they couldn’t take it: a couple guys with Grateful Dead jackets surprised me by leaving – they’d seemed to be way into the music – but then they returned five minutes later: presumably the music had created a need for internal balancing of chemicals. Dan Plonsey
OPEYE Quintet | Zen Disaster (Muir, Kaiser, DeGruttola, Ligeti)
June 12, 1996 at Beanbender’s
As regular Beanbender’s attendees know, I like OPEYE a lot. I don’t know exactly why: it has something to do with those ridiculous masks, Henry Kuntz sawing pitchlessly on the tiniest violin, Brian Godchaux’s ability to play the viola like he can and can’t play simultaneously, John Kuntz’s mandolin and ukelele frailings, and the giant abstract painting Ben Lindgren paints and hangs behind the group (perhaps at some concert he’d paint during the concert?).
And I like the way Henry holds up masks to the audience (as a shaman? magician? professor?) only to be followed by John holding up a can of Bush’s Baked Beans. As always, there was off-kilter gamelan playing, trombone mutterings, a costume change or two (who are these creatures anyway?), extended-technique tenor sax, banging on toy drums, bowl gongs, musette (?) blares and extended (perhaps a tad too extended?) explorations of a single slightly-off-pentatonic-blues bass line. Of course, various demons were conjured up, but no one present seemed the worse for the encounter. Another successful trip out of the known and sensible worlds!
Zen Disaster started off great: there first piece was a sort of polyrhythmic free-Beefheart-esque thing. But when the strings tried for something quieter and more extended on subsequent pieces, Lukas Ligeti operated as a contrary force, e.g., disrupting Danielle DeGruttola’s lyrical cello with sporadic heavy bass drum thumps. Perhaps this was what the quartet (or just Ligeti?) intended, but I experienced the rest of the set as drums vs. strings.
One piece featured unaccompanied solos by each member of the quartet finishing off with some very loud stuff, and at least that worked okay (nice work from both Chris Muir and Henry Kaiser on guitar), but I was left feeling unsatisfied and weary of the tension by the end of the set. Much more satisfyingly whole were the bits that I heard of Kaiser/DeGruttola/Ashley (?) at the Chapel of the Chimes on June 24. Dan Plonsey
Opeye Program Notes
IMPROVISATION, TRANCE, SHAMANISM… and ALL That JAZZ
While most people associate trance and trance music with something repetitive, hypnotic or spacey, this is only the lowest common denominator of trance. Trance is a state in which one gains access to regions of the mind not normally available in one’s “ordinary” (survival) mode of being. Repetition, hypnotic suggestion, and calming, ambient sound are fine focusing techniques for one to gain entry to these generally untapped portions of the brain and mind. People associate these methodologies with trance itself; but they are only narrow well-directed corridors into that state.
The trance state is one we all share some familiarity with. It is not unlike the dreaming state. Yet the difference is that while in the dreaming state, one is not ordinarily conscious of being the dreamer. In the trance state one is aware of oneself dreaming that which is being dreamed or intuited. This is more like what we call “day” dreaming; yet there is an acute awareness through which one may also purposefully manipulate the symbols in one’s dreams.
At the point this manipulation takes place, one is not only aware of the dreaming in a passive sense but becomes a full participant. One may then enter the reality of what we refer to with some mystique as shamanism. The shaman is one who has cultivated, through experience and practice, the ability to manipulate people, animals, objects or symbols of same in this “non-ordinary “state of being. One who has these abilities and who can put them to use working with others may then cultivate healing powers in that the manipulation of reality on a deeply sub-conscious level may restore another who is out of psychological or cultural balance to harmony with themselves or with their culture.
In free improvised music — i.e. music which is entered into and played without any compositional signposts — we’ve found from experience that one enters a state of BE-ing not unlike the trance state. While there are no particular “triggers” at work to propel the musician into this circumstance — no built-in repetitions or hypnotic suggestions — the focus and attention to detail demanded by free improvisation itself seems to launch one into this non-ordinary state of reality. Although (contrary to popular opinion) the ability to improvise and to improvise creatively is built on a great deal of practice, one finds oneself manipulating sound — and, in our case, frequently “symbols” as well — in ways that one had not previously “thought” to do or even “knew” that one could do. This inherently creative and explorative aspect of improvisation suggests then a shamanic dimension; it suggests that through manipulation of sound, cultural “healing” may take place through music.
Sound itself exists in both its “pure” state (as simple-to-complex modulated tone, center of its own vibratory universe, with no attendant “musical” implications) and in the context of a cultural perception of same as well (some tones being given more cultural “value” than others). A conscious awareness of these aspects allows for the purposeful manipulation of sound in a musical context which might promote cultural healing.In our case, we refer to this manipulation of sound as “avant” shamanic because it is not meant to restore any pre-existing (out of cultural harmony) cultural arrangement, but to explore the making of a new cultural arrangement altogether. For despite the particular strengths of every culture — and of our own as well — there are many obvious ways in which world cultures as a whole are fundamentally lacking in wholeness. One may then re-find one’s own self in the midst of these cultural disharmonies; in the process, new cultural arrangements may follow.
For us, the language of jazz is the shared semantic starting point for these explorations. While we are not actually playing “jazz” in any formal sense, jazz has suggested — from its New Orleans’ beginnings — a collective, open-ended approach to the creation of music, an approach basic to free improvisation. Such an approach may also mirror ways in which we might all find our collective way with each other in the “real “world.
In these ways, music may help contribute to human awakening..