I’ll be performing the title track from my 2014 album of experimental zither music called, “The Ideating Knell”. It’s a long-form piece for a ‘prepared guzheng’ Chinese zither, exploring all of the non-traditional sounds you can make on the instrument. In the spirit of John Cage’s groundbreaking solo prepared piano works, this music prepares the guzheng with shell necklaces, clay pottery tools, mixing bowls, small gongs, bows, dulcimer hammers, clay teapot shards, and more! I would describe the 21-string guzheng with its spine of bridges and large coffin-like resonating chamber as a “cathedral of sounds”.
I’m very excited for this opportunity to perform at Common Sage, hosted by Tim Russell and Liz Sexe! An experimental musician and dancer couple who I’ve known nearly the entire time I’ve been in Madison! What they are cultivating with these monthly experimental house shows and potlucks is in kindred spirit to what Ka Baird used to do in Madison before she moved to NYC. It is helping to rekindle a sense of community for the experimental and improvised community here in Madison. It’s something that’s been missing in our scene for years now, and I’m so glad it’s back!! It’s been really hard for Tim and me to schedule a month where I’d be around and available to perform, and we finally got one! Hope to see some of you tomorrow night!
I’ll be taking the new sounds that I’ve been creating for this updated version of the piece and working on a new album of prepared guzheng music for another label soon! More details to come in the coming months, but I’m very excited to release a new album of prepared guzheng sounds on the 10th anniversary of the original release of this concept!
🎶 “The Ideating Knell” composition for “prepared guzheng zither” ↘︎
🎶 “The Ideating Knell” (2014) full album on Signal Dreams label ↘︎
Scenic Designer: Sarah Ross Lighting Designer: Colin Gawronski Costume Designer: Karen Brown-Larimore Sound Designer/Composer: Brian Grimm Props Master/Asst. Scenic Designer: Pam Miles Technical Director: Tony Lyons Stage Manager: Tenley Pitonzo Asst. Stage Manager: Abbi Hess
~ If you see the show and stay for the Talkback, be sure to ask the actors about their ride-along with the Madison Sanitation Department!!
~ Also, be sure get to the show early to check out the visual art exhibit in the gallery area outside of the Playhouse Theater. It’s hosted by Arts + Lit Laboratory and comprises of art pieces made out of trash and recycling!
Some details on the show from Forward Theater: This off-beat buddy comedy pairs essential workers from two different worlds in the shared cab of a New York City garbage truck. Danny’s a white, blue-collar mansplainer hiding a heart of gold. Marlowe’s a Black, Ivy League-educated newbie learning the ropes from her old-school partner. When they’re thrown together to pick up what the world has discarded, they discover there’s more that binds them than taking out the trash.
“A surprisingly humane and honest play that’s filled with as much laughter as it is drama…and reminds us that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. We learn that if given a tattered, grimy old volume of text and illustrations, and you take the time to examine it carefully, its value can exceed your imagination.” – Chicago Theatre Review
ASL-Interpreted Performance: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 2pm – Reserve here for special pricing and unobstructed view of the interpreters.
Audio Described Performance: Sunday, Sept. 24 at 2pm – Please email firstname.lastname@example.org us to let us know you’re coming, so we can make sure you have the correct device and a great experience.
🤩 Playwright Lindsay Joelle to attend Wednesday, September 13th talkback!!
Notes on Sound Design and Original Score by Brian Grimm
** Please do not download these files, I’m streaming them here as a preview – if you want a copy of the album, wait for the official soundtrack to come out for purchase on GrimmusiK Records bandcamp. ** Thanks!!! ❤️ Brian
The Music is Trash…
That’s right! You heard me! You didn’t even have to hear it from a critic or local theater review – this is comin’ straight from the source! The original music in this production is entirely made from trash, garbage, and recycling that I recorded. It was an absolute blast to record all of these fascinating sounds to see what sort of grooves naturally presented themselves and then build music cues from there. These garbage grooves feature aluminum cans, milk cartons, yogurt containers, a broken margarita glass, cardboard boxes, paper and plastic cups, paper and plastic bags, velcro, olive oil and wine bottles, an old beat up carbon steel wok and more!
Stage Prop Sounds I also had a very fun recording session at the Overture Center, where I recorded a bunch of the props that are featured as garbage on stage throughout the production. In the music, you’ll hear a ton of percussion created from a mannequin, cat crate, birdcage, campfire pot, bamboo steamer, suitcase, along with some plastic and metal fans that were in the dressing room!
Kalimba Theme The one exception in this landscape of trash music is the kalimba thumb piano; which was a delightful Christmas gift from my parents this year! The kalimba theme that I recorded is tied to one character specifically and appears four times throughout the show. That’s all I’ll say to avoid any spoilers. But if you see the show, see if you can catch all of the times this theme appears!
Special Sound Design Moments from Trash I utilized the trash, recycling and prop sounds a few times in the show that became a mix of sound design, field recording and musical elements. One example is a panic attack moment of anxiety that one of the characters suddenly finds themselves in. To heighten this uncomfortable feeling, I added a crescendo and accelerando of a heart beat sound, which was actually made by striking a cardboard box with my thumb (the sound turned out great!). The feeling grows as the city soundscape also crescendos, accompanied by unsettling birdcage sounds and a distorted and slowed down version of the kalimba theme in the background.
Another example is the lovely quiet Interlude that we get in the middle of the show. A winter storm comes rolling over New York City. To create the atmosphere of blowing winter wind between the buildings I blew on a wine bottle to get a few breathy pitches and I used the ringing sustained sound I got from the birdcage after I would strike it with one end down on the ground and one end up and slowly lower it all the way down as it rang out. It was one of the most fascinating sounds I captured. This is all set in the backdrop of actual sounds of snow falling. Eventually the truck starts moving and the city sounds take over again as we start the next scene and carry on with the play.
The way that the city sounds, and musical sounds interact are very similar to a piece I composed back in 2018 called “They’re Still Here”, a 30 minute long Musique Concrète élégie honoring loved ones who’d passed that year. This unique piece of music dealt with how we handle (or don’t handle) the grieving process our modern society – which actually ties back into one of the themes of this play.
Sound Design Obviously, there are a lot of garbage truck sounds and city soundscapes throughout the play. It’s about a 50/50 mix of sounds that I recorded and sounds that I collected from archives elsewhere. I did spend an entire morning waiting in my driveway for the recycling and garbage trucks to come by so I could record them. One big mistake I made; I forgot to charge my field recorder the night before. So I had it plugged into the side of the garage to get some charge and then every time I heard a garbage truck making a turn down a nearby street in the neighborhood I quickly yanked my recorder out of the outlet and ran over to our fire hydrant (right next to the trash cans) and hurriedly whispered which take and what type of truck was coming by. Then tried to play it cool by hanging out with my dog in the front yard as Anne did some weeding in the garden. We would celebrate (silently) with big fist pumps everytime a big, loud, fun garbage truck sound was captured.
Similarly, the city street sounds & construction sounds were about a 50/50 mix of recorded and found. But in the bar scene, Anne and I went on an undercover field recording mission at a local bar! I won’t name the establishment, but I will say that for a 7pm on a Monday night, it was a lot more crowded and way more drunk than I anticipated…
One of the main issues we faced with all of the garbage truck sounds I recorded and collected is that they were the type of trash collection where the truck grabs the garbage can with an mechanical arm and dumps the trash into the hopper – whereas the NYC sanitation workers are manually loading bags into the hopper. This made it difficult to use the longer stretches of garbage trucks driving, because they all had frequent stops with mechanic arm and dumping/crushing sounds. It made for a lot of stitching, layering, and editing together individual pieces of many different sound clips to create the one fluid sound that you hear in the show from one garbage truck sound to the next.
A Nod to Inspirations from Recycled Music Makers Around the Globe
One of my starting points of inspiration for the music, knowing that it would be heavily percussive and utilizing trash was the famous percussion show on broadway called “Stomp!”. I thought of that vibe as a good launching off point. Something percussive, from NY, with a lot of energy that can move us forward from scene to scene. However, the true main inspiration for taking all of the trash and recycling and creating music exclusively from those items came from various ensembles around the world that have done just that. For instance the “Landfill Harmonic” in Cateura, Paraguay; which is a youth orchestra who built their instruments from trash in their local landfill. Making beautiful music from the ugly and discarded junk that finds its way to their home. In the play, the character Danny explains that you throw something away and it might be shipped to a landfill in India, etc, your discarded trash may see more of the world than you ever do in your whole life. And who knows how it affects the people where it ends up.
I had remembered this orchestra in the back of my head when we started this project and thought of them and how they use the trash of their landfill in such a positive way as a major point of inspiration. I also was thinking of the Eco-Afro-Futuristic punk ensemble Fulu Miziki @fulumusic (roughly translates to “music from garbage”) that I started following in recent years on instagram who also hand makes their instruments and performance outfits out of trash and recycling.
About the band: Fulu Miziki is a collective of artists who comes straight from a future where humans have reconciled with mother earth and with themselves. This multidisciplinary collective of artists is based in the heart of the Congolese capital city Kinshasa and was founded by Pisko Crane. For several years now, it’s founder Pisko has spent an amount of time conceptualizing an orchestra made from objects found in the trash, constantly changing instruments, always in search of new sounds.
Making our own performance costumes, masks and instruments is essential to their approach of Fulu Miziki’s musical ideology. Their unique sound supports a pan-African message of artistic liberation, peace and a severe look at the ecological situation of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the whole world. For Fulu everything can be recovered and re-enchanted.
There’s also a singer who goes by Mc-Deive @mc.deive_ that I started following on instagram. I don’t know much about him other than he seems to sing about Brazil a lot and is maybe in Angola, Africa? Maybe someone can help me out here. All I know is that he sings super catchy songs while accompanying himself on an empty plastic water bottle with his camera man/hype man and that you should follow him!
As a follow up I’ll say that I wasn’t specifically trying to emulate the genre of music after any of these groups, it was purely the concept of trash music that I was taking as inspiration. All of the music genres I created for the show I let occur naturally. I let the trash tell me what grooves it wanted to play and went from there. There are some similarities to Fulu Miziki’s style, but that is more the nature of both projects exclusively using trash as it sounds, and being primarily percussive in nature – which will lead to some similarities. However, it was not my intention to copy their music style nor did I listen to them or any other groups when I was recording and composing this music.
Wednesday, May 10: Pay-What-You-Will Preview Thursday, May 11: Final Preview Friday, May 12: Opening Night
Wednesday – Saturday evenings at 7:30pm Friday matinee May 19th at 2:00pm Sunday matinees at 2:00pm
A world premiere!
Esther Shannon (*Karen Estrada) is a government stenographer working for the US Air Force during the tempestuous Vietnam War. Lonely, conflicted, and haunted by voices from her past, Esther finds herself smack dab in the middle of a troubling investigation.
With plenty of twists and turns along the way, Jennifer Blackmer’s taut, suspenseful mystery packs a real emotional wallop at the end. This new play will be presented as part of World Premiere Wisconsin, an inaugural and ambitious statewide festival celebrating original works.
TAP has founded a wonderful tradition of partnering with local community organizations on each show of their season. All of the ticket sales from the pay-what-you-will preview show goes directly to the community partner. In this case it is Door County Farm for Vets, and truly needed and amazing organization whose mission is to eradicate veteran suicides through farming. I love this so much. What a needed cause and what a fantastic approach.
Since 9/11 we’ve lost roughly 5 times as many veterans to suicide than we have in combat. It is massive problem that needs to be tackled and supported!
From DC Farm for Vets website:
DC Farm for Vets is a rehabilitation farm that provides education and services to Veterans entering into agriculture. This service includes several different programs. We have an available community gardening program along with scheduled training tailored to the specific time of the growing season. Our training program entails regenerative agriculture, sustainable chemical free produce production, livestock, and cherry and apple orchards. We believe in Growing while Healing.
The specific objectives and purpose of this organization is to work towards the elimination of veteran suicide. We accomplish this through teaching skills of sustainability and consumption of nutrient dense produce and livestock. Being able to grow your own food gives you a sense of control over your life and it is incredibly rewarding. Every dollar that gets donated to DC farm for Vets we donate back to our veterans or the community giving our veterans the opportunity to serve something bigger than themselves once again.
As always, there is the potential for some spoilers when talking about my design for the show, so reader beware! I’ll be honest, this was maybe the most difficult play and stressful Tech process that I’ve been through. Most of the time I show up to Tech with all of my cues composed, recorded and mixed – already arranged in my Qlab session with best guesses at timings and fades. But this show was a tough nut to crack. I spent 3 weeks working on melodic themes for the different characters and emotional moments. I would compose a theme and develop it into a cue, only to listen back to the recording while reading the script and thinking… hmmm – that’s not quite right. I think this is the most material I’ve ever developed and then immediately scrapped during the rehearsal and design process for a show.
It took me 3 weeks to realize that the reason all of my melodic material did not feel right, is that the character Esther is the melody! Because it is a one woman show, I needed to sink further into the background; purely be the accompaniment support and let Esther drive the show, let her be the melody. It was soooo different than doing even a two actor show. That is something I did not anticipate.
So the weekend before Tech, I made a HUGE design pivot and developed the idea of recording many variations of long tones. It was a tricky assignment – the director Jacob made it clear that we’d probably want sound under most of the show, but it couldn’t be melodic, and it couldn’t be rhythmic… hence the tones. But it made sense because we had the concept of there being fluorescent light tones for half of the play’s design – and these musical tones could be the color of the storytelling world outside of those fluorescent and cold deposition spaces.
On that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Tech (starting Wednesday) – I recorded Emma Cifrino on viola, Greg Smith on clarinet and bass clarinet, and myself on cello and guqin zither (individually) running through “the gauntlet” of tones. I’ve done this before on my own, it’s intense, so I definitely understood the process and what I was asking of these fine instrumentalists. I’m so glad Emma and Greg were down to complete this process. It wasn’t random notes, I created a scale built out of all of the notes needed for each chord progression and melody that I had developed throughout the whole process (even if I thought we were scrapping it). We went one note at a time, recording 5 styles of that note. Long straight tone, no vibrato. Long tone with vibrato. Crescendo to a sting. Sforzando to diminuendo. And my favorite, wobbly oscillating pressure dynamic pulsing long tones! Greg was a total champ, because we ran through the whole process on Clarinet, and then picked up the Bass Clarinet and said… ok here we go again. And then he went on to perform Carmina Burana with the Madison Symphony Orchestra later that evening … WOW!!
I made sure to have every player record every melodic theme as well, just so I had my bases covered for Tech. Even just my melodic and tones libraries were quite extensive for this show – because I knew I’d just have to build most of the cues on the spot. Jacob and I really couldn’t judge what would feel right until we were in the room and tried things out. So it was a slow, brutal process to build cues on the spot, and not at all my ideal scenario. Let’s just say there were a number of all nighters that needed to happen. This is something I try to avoid at all costs these days (by being over prepared), but that just shows you how different this show was and how much needed to be built, created or refined even outside of tech hours.
Besides the melodic and chord tone libraries, I had built up an even deeper library of Military Sounds from the Vietnam war including AK-47s, Air Bombers, Rocket Launchers, and very importantly the Huey Combat Helicopter. I also recorded the forced air heat sound from my vents at home, and the intensely loud buzzing of each fluorescent light in my basement. From these fluorescents and vent sounds I created many variations of tone clusters and chords that created a framework for the sonic tonal texture of the show (which I then replicated with the acoustic instruments).
Throughout the show, you’ll hear the Huey Helicopter as an intense heartbeat. You’ll hear Air Bomb drops and Rocket Launchers as a forced air vent rattling in the corner. You’ll hear Bass Clarinet as the persistent buzzing of the deposition room fluorescent lights. You’ll hear musical themes for the Military, and each individual character in the show. You’ll hear the USA’s actual Military Jazz Band playing dance party music. You’ll even hear clapping from a 1960’s video of people applauding for the IBM Selectric II World Champion Typist who could type 180 words per minute (deep cut!)!! You’ll also hear the iconic music sounds of the 1960’s! My absolute favorite era for popular music! This was one of the huge discoveries that Jacob and I made late at night trying to crack the code of this play. It’s been so much fun to revisit the music of that era, the music I grew up on. If you like this music of the late 60’s, you’ll enjoy the preshow!
Honestly, I felt like I came prepared for 4 different versions of this play, and none of those versions was the show we ended up doing!! So this one was a big learning process for me and I’m glad I had everyone record those melodic themes, because we ended up using most of them! Thank you to the whole production team, Karen, and Jacob for your patience with me on this tech. I know it was stressful for you too, and I appreciate your grace to let me figure out each cue on the spot.
The final two music cues in the show are two of the best cues I think I’ve ever composed and produced. I’m really happy with how those turned out (you can hear the “Poem Cue” above).
Special Shout Outs
In the end, the true star of this show is Karen Estrada who is absolutely fabulous in this piece of 1,000 transitions and micro-moments. I think audiences will love the performance she gives in this show. What a feat to memorize and perform and hour long show alone, all by yourself. So many lines!!! I could never, ever, ever do that. This performance really highlights Karen’s wide range as an actress. Not only that but she kept us all laughing deep belly laughs throughout tech, which I absolutely needed to keep me going! I hope you can come see the amazing work that Karen has put into this show!!
The other star of this show is Colin Gawronski‘s light design and how it interplays with the beautiful scrim paint job by Alex Polzin. The combo of those two elements is GORGEOUS. It’s like a watercolor painting and I love it. It’s worth coming to this show just to see the different worlds that Colin and Alex have created together with their designs.
Congratulation on the World Premiere to playwright Jennifer Blackmer and for building such a dynamic world for us to play in. It is a whirlwind of a play, and there is just so much contrast and emotion to dive into. I want to know more about her mother, who is the inspiration for the stenographer character Esther who is transcribing all of the Vietnam non-com depositions. I’m glad I could be a part of your premiere!
Thank you Thank you Thank you to Emma Cifrino (viola) and Greg Smith (clarinets) for performing and recording on this score!!! I love how both of your instruments support the story and add color to this world. The recordings turned out great and you both killed it in the studio sessions!
Feb, 3rd is Bandcamp Friday, which means that 100% of album sales on bandcamp go straight to the artists! So I’d like to share some of my recent releases with you – if you’d like to support my career, consider buying one of these albums!
“Birds of North America” original soundtrack
This is my original soundtrack from the Third Avenue Playworks October 2022 production of “The Birds of North America” by Anna Ouyang Moench! It was composed for guzheng Chinese zither & cello, using both instruments to imitate the specific bird calls and songs that appear in each scene of the play. The cues are short because music was utilized during transitions only, to help show the passage of time between each scene – so unlike most of my work, it’s very concise and a quick listen! “Birds of North America” is a story about the relationship between a father and daughter over the course of a decade, set within the backdrop of our global climate crisis and political division. There are extensive liner notes available on the GrimmusiK Records website, along with links to environmental organizations in Door County, WI that you can donate to! I really love how this production turned out and am excited that I now get to share these compositions with you. 🙂
Before the 19thoriginal soundtrack
Original Score composed, performed and recorded for React (Indianapolis, IN) filmed production of “Before the 19th” written and directed by Georgeanna Smith Wade. Released in support of women’s rights on the November midterm election day, read the full liner notes here.
“The Drift” by Lovely Socialite
Though our process for releasing this album was severely disrupted by the pandemic… it’s finally out and it’s some of our best work yet, so please please go buy this album. It has some of my favorite pieces that I’ve ever composed (like “The Drift” and “Gratitude”) and it features stellar performances from the whole band. If you’re a Socialite fan, you already know. If you’re not already, you’re about to be one!