11/11 | BC Grimm (prepared guzheng) , Def Sonic, & Hunter Nicholson @ Common Sage! (Madison, WI)

Check out this incredible poster art by @assortedpsychedelia Andrieu Todd!!! 😍😍😍

Saturday, 11/11/2023
Common Sage
934 Drake Street

BC Grimm
Def Sonic
Hunter Nicholson

Potluck @ 7pm
Music @ 8pm
$10 suggested donation

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!

From a performance of the piece at an outdoor festival back in 2014, photo by Audre Rae Photography
Picture of the setup from a recent performance of The Ideating Knell in Cleveland, OH at the Cleveland Institute of Art

“The Ideating Knell” composition for “prepared guzheng zither” ↘︎

“The Ideating Knell” (2014) full album on Signal Dreams label ↘︎

9/7-9/24 | Forward Theater’s THE GARBOLOGISTS runs at the Overture Center for the Arts (Madison, WI) w/ Designer’s Notes on Original Score

Forward Theater Co. Presents:
Playhouse Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts
TICKETS + dates & info

by Lindsay Joelle
September 7-24, 2023

Wisconsin Premiere

Directed by Jen Uphoff Gray

Featuring Alys Dickerson and Danny Jones

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 ssafarik@forwardtheater.com 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.

Fri 6/2 | BlueStem Jazz presents Brennan Connors & Stray Passage at Garver Feed Mill Patio

FRIDAY  JUNE 2  7pm  $15 

Bluestem Jazz Presents
BRIAN GRIMM – bass/cello/guqin + pedalboard
GEOFF BRADY – drums/theremin/electronics

Brennan Connors & Stray Passage maintained a regular presence in Madison as an improvising/experimental jazz unit for over a decade. Their album “Emergence” was released in 2017 via the Italian record label Setola Di Maiale.  Saxophonist and leader Brennan Connors has been delving further into his own musical and compositional concepts. Brian Grimm (bass guitar and electric cello) has been composing scores and sounds scapes for live theatre in Chicago, Indianapolis, and throughout Wisconsin for the past 2 years as Geoff Brady (drums, theremin, and electronics) maintains his presence as one of the top percussionists in Madison. “All three members weave in and out of freely tumultuous passages and desolate spaciousness, achieving a collective, convincing direction that challenges the listener’s understanding of the passing of time in live composition” (Emili Earhart, Tone Madison). Always listening deeply to one another and the audience in the room, the trio connects directly to the listener with sensitivity, a wide dynamic range, and deep emotional engagement. Don’t miss the rare chance to see this trio live and in full swing!

Live from Cafe Code in 2021

BlueStem Jazz is a non-profit venture dedicated to presenting progressive, avant-garde, experimental jazz in Madison WI.

Be sure to check out their website to see their many upcoming events! BlueStem Jazz has been working incredibly hard to book as much high quality Jazz and Improvised music as possible in Madison, WI. Including supporting both local and touring talents.

Garver Feed Mill

(from their website)
Located on Madison’s near East Side, nestled behind Olbrich Gardens, the award-winning Garver Feed Mill® is a multi-faceted destination that features local artisans, producers, wellness studios, and retailers offering visitors everything from coffee to ice cream, catering to kombucha.

The renovated Feed Mill honors and preserves Madison’s rich agricultural and industrial history by re-activating the building as a next-generation food production center and provide visitors with the opportunity to taste the best of Madison. The historic Mill has been transformed into a platform for local food businesses to grow, and in turn, expand Madison’s profile as a Midwestern hub of high quality, hand crafted food and drink.

Private and public events in our indoor and outdoor event spaces keep Garver bustling throughout the year, bringing people from near and far to “the Soul of Madison” – the vibrant East Side of the City. In winter months, Garver is home to the Dane County Farmers Market, the largest producer only farmers market in the nation.

Health and wellness enthusiasts looking to connect with themselves, each other, and the world around them will also find community at Garver Feed Mill through a variety of spiritual and physical wellness offerings from yoga and meditation classes to aromatherapy and spa retreats.

Garver is a foodie and wellness destination for locals and out-of-towners alike, benefiting from the close proximity and future programming with Olbrich Botanical Gardens and Olbrich Park.

5/12 – 5/28 | “I Carry Your Heart With Me” Opens at Third Avenue Playworks (Sturgeon Bay, WI) as part of the World Premiere Wisconsin Festival!

a new one woman show
at Third Avenue Playworks (Sturgeon Bay, WI)

feat. Karen Estrada as ‘Esther’
directed by Jacob Janssen

MAY 10 – 28, 2023

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.

I CARRY YOUR HEART WITH ME is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide festival celebrating new plays and musicals from March 1 – June 30, 2023, presented by the Ten Chimneys Foundation. To learn more visit www.worldpremierewisconsin.com.

For More info on Jennifer Blackmer and Karen Estrada, please visit TAP’s website: https://thirdavenueplayworks.org/i-carry-your-heart-with-me/


Director: Jacob Janssen
Production Stage Manager: Kelsey York*
Set Design: Alex Polzin
Costume Design: Kärin Kopischke**
Lighting Design: Colin Gawronski
Sound Design: Brian Grimm

** denotes union members

Community Partner Program – Door County Farm for Vets

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.  

Here’s how you can support:

Notes on the Sound Design and Score

“I Carry Your Heart With Me” Poem Cue (Curtain Bow) by Brian Grimm (feat. Emma Cifrino)

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!