February 28, 2005

Don't take my word for it

This was in today's Dominion Post:

Ascension Band
@ Happy
Friday, February 25

Reviewed by Simon Sweetman

The Ascension Band is the shared brainchild of Dave Edwards (experimental solo musician/writer and member of The Winter) and Nigel Patterson (The Chandeliers) and features a dozen musicians from Wellington’s underground and alternative music scenes. Members of While You Were Sleeping and Mr Sterile Assembly are also present - the band’s line-up including: two drummers, two bass players, two guitarists, two vocalists, keyboards, organ, and electronics.

Having performed at the Meatwaters Festivals in 2003 and 2004, the floating roster of musicians associated with the project allows for a slightly different incarnation at each performance. The band’s origins stem from Edwards wanting to create a big band to perform improvised or free music, which is still anchored in some way, by a structure.

This Fringe Festival performance has Ascension Band debuting “Evolution. It is tighter than the band’s previous sonic excursions, being essentially a symphony performed by a rock band - rather than merely a piece of free-noise. There is, however, ample room for the musicians to improvise within this framework.

Beginning with a loud burst of white-noise, Coltrane’s famous sheets of sound are here being torn to pieces by vicious bursts of feedback and heavy bass ruminations. The drummers however are silent. After a few short minutes they join the hunt, following as the band makes its first move towards a groove, but this is held up somewhat by a painfully slow series of spoken-word vocalisations. The timbre of the voice moves from slow, drawled speech to near-song and actual singing - but it really slows the feel of the piece.

The Ascension band works best when all of the members are busy - playing off one other, but also delighting in the incongruity of scrapes and scratches countering a vocal aria, or soft, purposeful grand piano.

But most often Ascension Band is far happier striking a more primal groove that most certainly owes a debt to the tripped-out cosmic space-jams of Santana or Sun Ra, but often comes just as close to sounding like The Stooges. The influence of punk and industrial music clearly present. The incongruity completes, as does the circle, when the piece concludes with another burst of noise, this time a choral affect - loosely conducted by Nigel Patterson - featuring the group members’ disparate, displaced voices.

We're on again on Friday & Saturday at 7.30pm at Newtown Community Centre. We'll add some acoustic opening acts (incl me solo) to set the mood, refine the imperfect elements (we went from performance on Friday to another rehearsal on Sunday and another still to come this Thursday - it's a real working band except without the pay), and generally put on an even better show this time.

I'm happy to report that we got enough people along to Happy to cover our costs and even make a small profit of $25 - but on the other hand the expenses for the Newtown shows are greater which more than cancels that out. We have to hire the hall, a PA, a video projector, plus posters, petrol, recordings etc. It's not cheap - we've got a big fight on our hands just to break even and really need you to come along...


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February 24, 2005

tonight's the night

This is it - finally, the culmination of the last several months work on this Ascension Band project. We've got a twelve-piece band lined up to play some killer music with nuanced textures, dynamic control, wide range of instrumentation, & rocks like a @#%@^$^%*!er - the history of the evolution of the universe in one room.

On a personal note this show is also going to be my last effort for a while in Wellington as I'm moving to Melbourne next month.

We start at 10pm at Happy - hopefully see you there, bring a few friends. Best value Fringe show in town...


& this appeared in yesterday's Wellingtonian:

Ascending into controlled chaos


FEEDBACK CHORALES, waterfalls of sound, cerebral climate change and shuddering skies alight with lightning. That’s what The Ascension Band are promising listeners at their Fringe Festival shows.

Perhaps more than any other act, The Ascension Band embodies the Fringe Festival’s slogan of “organised chaos”. The group, with between 13 and 15 members, is something like an orchestra – but not one Mozart would recognize.

Trumpets, electric guitars, strings, keyboards, drums, voices, computers, a Hammond organ and more combine to produce “Evolution”, a 50-minute “electric symphony”. Composer and conductor Nigel Patterson says the symphony has a structure, but within it is a lot of improvisation – hence the organised chaos.

“Evolution” is a mix of musical genres, including free jazz, contemporary classical, industrial, punk and noise rock. All the members have their own individual style and come from different background. Nigel says it has taken some time to blend them into a sum greater than the parts, but now thinks the band “fits together beautifully”.

Organiser and guitarist Dave Edwards says Wellington has a great avant-garde music scene, but one of the group’s aims is to bring in some new blood - though they do feature experienced avant-garde musicians like Nigel and Dave.

The Ascension Band formed in 2003 for Wellington’s Meatwaters Festival, getting their name from jazz great John Coltrane’s “Ascension”, a groundbreaking 40-minute piece that featured 10 musicians. Coltrane remains something of an inspiration, as Nigel says he’s liked by punk and jazz fans alike.

The bands’ shows will be recorded, and they hope to make an album out of them.

Ascension Band: Electric Symphony
Friday 25th February @ Happy, 10pm
Friday 4th & Saturday 5th March @ Newtown Community Centre, 7.30pm
$6 full price, $5 unwaged, $4 Fringe card

Live 2004’ DVD available now
Visit http://ascension05.tripod.com or email fiffdimension@hotmail.com

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February 20, 2005

the 99th blog entry

I got woken at 5am by the window rattling. I’m annoyed at myself for going to sleep with an idea for a song in my head and not writing it down, because I was sure I’d remember it. Now I’ve no idea what the idea was, probably nothing earth-shattering but it’s irritating to lose it. I’ve told myself a thousand times not to rely on the instinct that says I’ll remember things – must be some kind of devil whispering.

I do remember one exchange from a dream I just had though – bumping into a guy I went to school with, now older and looking uncomfortable in an ill-fitting suit. He was complaining about his (presumably well-paid) job in legal publishing. I said, “well I wouldn’t want to work in legal publishing – fuck that shit”. The punchline being of course that I do have a part-time job in legal publishing (not that bad as semi-skilled sitting-in-front-of-a-computer-all-day jobs go – there’s a minimum of pressure and I can listen to CDs while I’m there). In the dream I went downstairs to work and spent the rest of the time hoping the guy wouldn’t see me.

Two weeks to go here – my flatmate/landlord Alice has already put an ad in the paper for someone to fill my room and been showing people through. It’s slightly annoying and uncomfortable, makes me feel like I’m being rushed away. I’ve been here almost exactly a year now and will be a little sad to go, it’s a good flat. A year’s enough time to watch the cycle of the seasons – another year would be repetition.

It will be good to have a change from Wellington; I get pretty sick of it here sometimes, walking up and down the same streets always. I also saw in the paper the plans for Weta Workshop to build a big monument to itself at the end of Courtenay Place – at ratepayers’ expense. What if you took the $300,000 and gave $3000 each to help a hundred struggling painters or first-time novelists or unsigned musicians? Might not that be a bigger contribution to the cultural life of the city? I could have a small record label up & running for three grand… Kerry Prendergast’s right behind the sculpture on one hand, and demolishing Te Aro on the other – the ‘cultural capital’ image stinks of hypocrisy, but in a way it’s appropriate since film is all about the image (‘illusion and delusion’ as my cousin, a film-crew focus-puller puts it). Just make sure all the homeless people are hidden away when they get around to holding the Olympics here…

It’s weird how my calender’s full up til March 21st then huge question mark after that. Daylight savings ends on March 20th so the travel date seems quite poetic – have to make sure I don’t get confused by the time change and miss my flight!

March 4th & 5th we have the gigs just down the road at the Newtown Community Centre, then the after party – just so I can have a hangover when I have to move out of the flat on Sunday 6th. Then Monday 7th I’m up at Otaki Forks doing a training week with DoC, restoring a 1930s sawmilling site. The plan after that was to go to New Plymouth for the WOMAD festival but now I don’t know if I can find anyone to go with, so wouldn’t be so much fun. Kronos Quartet are the star attraction but they’re playing in Wellington too so could see them here. Then a few days to get ready for the shift to Melbourne. My friend Mike who moved there last month still hasn’t got in contact – hope he’s alright.

I’ve reached the point where I’m getting nervous about the move – especially the possibility that I can’t find a job, run out of money and come crawling home after a few weeks. Time to start seeing if I can line a job up there before I go. I can manage my finances; I don't spend excessively and it's a big help that I don't smoke, drink a lot, or run a car (otherwise my student loan would be up in the stratosphere somewhere). My problem is that I'm not much good at generating income.

I’ve been spending a bit of time recently on spreadsheets on my computer, for Ascension Band and then my own plans for the next year or so. I thought I had the budget reined in, but Nigel decided he wants to hire a PA and lighting operator for the Newtown shows. I’m not sure what a PA would achieve, since we already put out all the volume we could want in that room. A bit more thump on the bass drum would be nice but that’s about it. Anyway, from here my position is ‘fine, so long as I’m not the one paying for it’. The band already owes me $295, out of a total shortfall in the vicinity of $500 if these new expenses go in.

I’m just doing my personal budget on the assumption that I lose that amount. Really I’ll get at least some of it back. Other key numbers in my planning include: $1300 worth of miscellaneous expenses before I can leave (dentist bill the biggest), $A1200 allowance to set myself up in Melbourne (is that enough??), have to save $60/week on return in August to have enough for the bigger world-travelling mission this time next year, and two years to pay off my student loan at $35/week after this year (assuming I have a regular income).

With the show though it’s not so much that losing money would be a huge financial burden, it’s more the psychological aspect of feeling like a failure. I know it’s my fault in large part for setting the ticket prices too low - $6 for a twelve-piece band plus multimedia presentation and 30+ hours of rehearsals, compared to the $15 most other shows are charging for much smaller-scale events. We're the underdogs in this festival thanks to my foolish modesty - when people like Weta and the bigger shows have been repeatedly drumming in the message that if there's one thing you can't afford as an artist it's a sense of modesty!

On the other hand we’re the best value-for-money show in town. We need something like a hundred people along over three nights just to break even – so if all of you who read this blog come along and bring three friends we might just scrape through…

Ascension Band: Electric Symphony

Friday 25th February @ Happy, 10pm
Friday 4th & Saturday 5th March @ Newtown Community Centre, 7.30pm
$6 full price, $5 unwaged, $4 Fringe card

‘Live 2004’ DVD available now for $20
Visit http://ascension05.tripod.com or email fiffdimension@hotmail.com

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February 15, 2005

Photo shoot

AB photo shoot 2.JPG

We had a photographer over to the band practice on Sunday, couple of amusing images here (low-res to be nice to Iona - will put higher res versions on http://ascension05.tripod.com). Thanks Jenny. The article should be in next Thursday's Wellingtonian.

AB photo shoot 3.JPG

Budget for the show is beginning to come under control - the shortfall is down to -$430. If I can shrink it to less than -$400 (should be doable if I can sell a couple more DVDs) I'll feel alright about it. I took two copies of the DVD to the National Library - with an invoice for $35 each. Will be interesting to see whether they accept that without blinking or tell me to f#^% off...

Three rehearsals this week for the show!

And this afternoon I've also got an interview for the JET programme (teaching English in Japan). I've been planning to come back from Melbourne in August to do more with Ascension Band (eg the Jazz Festival) but going to Japan instead would be an interesting curveball. Will see what happens. Note the Japanese vocalist on the left in the photos (who's been very good about not drinking at the rehearsals since I told him off).

I've also been wondering about adopting 'David Black' as a stage name/persona when I get to Melbourne? Black is much cooler sounding than Edwards and it's my mother's maiden name so I have a right to it. It'd emphasise my Irish heritage and be a feminist statement in a way (since the custom of a woman taking her husband's name is pretty unfair really). And maybe I need to step outside myself a little bit; it gets stifling in here sometimes...

Here's another picture, this one from the mr sterile archives - me at Meatwaters 2002. I seem to remember that being one of my better performances. Not sure if I've evolved any from the mutant hillbilly look though?

meatwaters 2002.jpg

Ascension Band: Electric Symphony
Friday 25th February @ Happy, 10pm
Friday 4th & Saturday 5th March @ Newtown Community Centre, 7.30pm
$6 full price, $5 unwaged, $4 Fringe card

Live 2004’ DVD available now for $20
Visit http://ascension05.tripod.com or email fiffdimension@hotmail.com

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February 11, 2005

Two weeks to go til ‘opening night’.

Good news and bad news on the budget front. Good news is that we got some help with the poster run – Brian Wafer who I know from New Plymouth called in a favour with Sticky Fingers and so they’re putting up a hundred posters for us in exchange for a dozen beers and some names on the door list! That’s a saving of about $70. The bad news is that an item cropped up which I’d overlooked: getting a sound technician for the gig at Happy. That’ll be $80.

I also added in some expenses (petrol, discs, photocopying) that Nigel’s been covering. So as it stands we’re running at a – fairly intimidating - $470 loss. Or in other words, that’s the amount of money we need to make over three shows just to break even. Spreadsheets are great things… $470 divided by an average ticket price of $5 (a steal for what the show involves) divided by three shows means we need 31 paying people to come to each.

I keep getting this image on auto-replay in my head of Terry Gilliam in Lost in La Mancha saying “we are f#&^ed! We are so f#&^ing f#&^ed!”

Calm down, take a deep breath. From here what matters is generating income. I’ve got some copies of the ‘Live 2004’ DVD ready to go – any sales of that will be very helpful in relieving some pressure (psychological as well as financial!) before the gigs.

I’ve been musing about what comes next after this Fringe show. It seems the logical thing is to scale everything right back to almost nothing – just me, a guitar and maybe the laptop. This ‘big band’ thing is not exactly out of control but its mass makes it unwieldy – using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. I’m having my usual problem – the artistic side of things is going fine, it’s definitely good music we’re doing, but it’s messing with the rest of my life. I went for a dental checkup today and unfortunately I need a cleaning and some fillings – that’s $375. Plus $60 for some arcane tax bill, $60 internet bill, $70 to get a new passport, $35 to set up an Australian bank account, a $22 library fine… it’s all a bit of a blow financially. Funny how these things arrive all at once. If I spent more time working to earn money rather than running around organizing this show it wouldn’t be so bad.

In a way this is familiar territory – it seems like nearly every time I embark on a big artistic project it has fallout. Here’s a quick recap of my artistic career and its consequences:

1998 – Scratched Surface: First album, went alright (though partly inspired by some teenage girl-trouble & heartache).

2001 – The Marion Flow: $550 production cost (puts Ascension Band in perspective), still nowhere near broken even. Also annoyed collaborators by being disorganized.

2002 – Mantis Shaped and Worrying, Anterior Pathways: Lost a girlfriend, minor mental breakdown.

2003 – Parataxes, Loose Autumn Moans: Depression & possible suicide attempt.

2004 – Live 2004: neglected shorthand paper for journalism course so didn’t pass diploma, loss of confidence & self-esteem.

2005 – Ascension Band Electric Symphony: budget blowout leading to public embarrassment and loss of reputation?

…Or maybe it’ll go OK this time. 31 per night’s not that many people, and the number will come down if we can sell some DVDs beforehand. They’re worth having in their own right, it’s not like asking for a handout. The thing with all the albums is that they represent my good side – the creative me who gets things done and has something original to say. It’s just the making of them that causes problems. I call this the ‘Dorian Grey in Reverse’ syndrome. I’m reminded of a quote by the great local musician Anthony Donaldson in a newspaper article about him where he says “well, my life’s screwed but I’ve got my music”. Is that going to be me when I’m his age?

If you’ve read through to the end of this entry, can I just conclude by saying – I don’t want your sympathy, I want your patronage!! Thank you.

Ascension Band: Electric Symphony

Friday 25th February @ Happy, 10pm
Friday 4th & Saturday 5th March @ Newtown Community Centre, 7.30pm
$6 full price, $5 unwaged, $4 Fringe card

Live 2004’ DVD available now for $20
Visit http://ascension05.tripod.com or email fiffdimension@hotmail.com

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February 09, 2005

third rehearsal

My horoscope for Wednesday said my reputation was going to suffer a series of blows but I had to remain calm and articulate myself. It could be something to do with the ACC bill for withholding tax from way back in 2003 for an article I wrote for Real Groove and a couple of days work for Gibson Group. And my internet bill’s bigger than I thought. And I’ve got all these expenses coming down with the Melbourne trip – getting a new passport and an Australian bank account, and going to the dentist. I’m sure there’ll be more hidden costs I haven’t found yet. I might not be able to afford to go to New Plymouth for WOMAD after all… :-(

So this was exactly the wrong time for the weeding job to fall through. And with the summer weather finally arriving I’d much rather be outdoors than doing the office job. I had another swim in Oriental Bay today – at least I can take time out to do that. The good thing with the proofreading job is that there’s a minimum of pressure. I’ve got enough to think about with the Fringe show. There’s an ongoing tension in my life between my art and work – they tend to impinge on each other. I probably should have been a professional musician – instead I studied film which was a complete red herring (the notion of studying something useful that I could have got a job out of seems never to have occurred to me). At least if I’d done a music degree I’d be proficient enough to play paying gigs. As it is I don’t have to worry about compromising since I don’t do it for money – in fact I run at a loss. And it’s a continual drain if I count the ‘opportunity cost’ of flitting between irregular low-paid casual jobs rather than getting a solid career happening. On the other hand it is a balancing act – not enough art effort and life gets empty, too much and I risk burnout. I’ll definitely be ready for a break from it after the Fringe.

I also wonder if there's some kind of middle-class guilt thing happening - I had a stable upbringing, never abused or had to go hungry so I have this urge to compensate by spending my time on uncommercial music, Don Quixote-style, just so I can be the most downwardly-mobile member of the family? It's not like I'm having to deal with anything like real poverty though. That'll take a few more albums & shows yet.

Today I had the experience of working with the media from the outside – Nigel & I were interviewed by Tane from the Wellingtonian for an article in next week’s issue. Whether it would have happened if I hadn’t been in a class with Tane last year is an open question. Tane worked hard and concentrated on the course last year – whereas in September when the pressure was on I was concentrating on putting Ascension Band together for the Meatwaters performance and consequently missed out shorthand and thus the diploma. So Tane’s got a fulltime job and I’m still not much more than a bum.

I also did an email interview with www.thebigcity.co.nz which should come out in the next few days. And then there are the other newspapers, the Package, Radio Active and maybe even Concert FM to get onto. We need all the free publicity we can get – I’ve been playing with the budget spreadsheet and it says for every $50 we spend on posters we need 3-4 more paying people in the door to each show. But will the posters attract that many extra people?? I just don’t know, I need expert advice on this.

We can also bring the break even point closer quite significantly by selling copies of the Live 2004 DVD – so if you want one, please get in touch. It’s a good bit of local history…

Third rehearsal tonight, making good progress through the piece. We’ve got most of the structure down, but it probably sounded better last week. Too much loud stuff this time, getting a bit sludgy. It needs more space. And it’s hard to play guitar when it’s hot – fingers get slippery, strings go out of tune. We’ll get there though. We’ve added another two rehearsals to the schedule so it’ll be a tight show, well worth seeing…

Enough sales pitch, I’ve got to do more of it tomorrow and at the Fringe opening on Friday. I was never good enough at schmoozing to get regular film work, but can I make myself do it to get people to come to my show?


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February 08, 2005


Good news and bad news. Bad news is that the weeding job's been canned. Fergus the boss is sick, looks like taking a couple of weeks to get over, and he needs to check in occasionally to supervise the work. So he's having to pull out of the contract. Bummer, especially when I need to be saving to travel. I still have the proofreading job but it's much better to work outdoors on a fine day. Sitting in front of a computer all day makes me feel woozy by the end.

Good news is that Nigel & I have got an interview tomorrow with a reporter from the Wellingtonian about the Ascension Band show (ok so the reporter was in my journalism class last year). We're also on the front page of www.thebigidea.co.nz - now if only we can get a bit of radio airplay so people will click that this show's going to be worth seeing. The budget's looking pretty tight - is it going to be worth forking out to Sticky Fingers for a poster run?

There're a couple of mp3s up on http://ascension05.tripod.com if you want a preview.

The other thing the last few days is that I've fallen in love with the wah pedal I borrowed off Nigel - will have to get my own now. It really opens up new possibilities. If you don't know, it's basically a potentiometer which alters the relative bass/treble of the sound. So you can leave it in one position to create a sharp or muffled sound, or you can rock it back and forth to alter the sound as it's played and get all kinds of spacey effects. Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and numerous 70s rockers used it (the intro to 'Voodoo Chile' is one of the great wah moments) but it must have become a cliche and gone out of fashion. I don't do cliches though, partly because I wouldn't know how, so I'm finding it really interesting. You can get a whole range of sounds out of just one note. And you get to use a leg as well as your arms to play, so it's getting closer to the full-body workout that drummers have.

The Waitangi Day / Bob Marley day concert was fun. I missed most of it because I was down at Lyall Bay having a swim - water was great. I went to Oriental Bay in the harbour on Saturday and it was full of jellyfish, so not so appealing. Wellington also had fireworks for Chinese New Year, and there was a unicyclist riding around the Basin Reserve cricket ground all weekend trying to set a world record. Just to keep things interesting...


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February 04, 2005

second rehearsal

Rehearsal the other night went alright, Atsushi looking very chastised & sober. We're still working through the piece a section at a time, he'll probably have more fun when he gets to do his screaming about Nagasaki bit. We also had two trumpeters squabbling over having to share a microphone. Not sure about this new guy Sam who Nigel brought along, he was disrupting the first practice a lot by doing his little bop licks at inappropriate moments (ie while Nigel's trying to talk) thus slowing the whole evening down and then on Wednesday he didn't like having Jason there (who's musically a bit quiet & shy but has been there since the start - you can see him on the DVD but he was too nervous to get in front of a mic on stage so he's completely inaudible). Sam's 34, you'd think he'd have developed a little bit of maturity by then.

Other than that it went pretty well, show's on target. I had a listen to the rehearsal recording and it's very promising - a new level beyond what we'd done last year (which was itself a quantam leap up from what I'd done before that - the music's growing almost exponentially). Two rehearsals til the first performance at Happy, so that one could be a little loose which I think is fine. Then another rehearsal and two more performances where it should get tight. Nigel says he's getting us a string section and a female singer too but haven't seen them yet.

There are two things I'm slightly nervous about: 1) that we won't get enough of an audience to break even, and 2) that all the amps at the Newtown performance will blow a fuse in the building and the show will come to a screeching halt. I made a mistake in setting the ticket prices way too low for an event of this scale (the Fringe programme includes solo theatre pieces with $15 tickets - we're charging $6 for a full works big band + multimedia presentation), but that just means extra value for the audience... here's hoping they show up.

The Fringe show's my attempt at bowing out of Wellington on a high note. I've had at least one offer of a couch to stay on in Melbourne. It's only six weeks to go so the apprehension is hitting. I also have to get my passport updated, set up an Australian bank account etc. Things are pretty good for me at the moment, I've got work but with a minimum of pressure and the show to look forward to. Can't last forever, but a change will be good.

I also added to the http://ascension05.tripod.com site - there's an mp3 there if you want a snippet of the work in progress...

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