Mickey O’Hara works at the Firehouse, a great artist co-op work space and venue. He also performs in Gay Shapes and other projects.
Hey, here is a list of some of my favorite things that happened this year in my hometown:
1. Mulch Craft at the Go-Go
Jeff Giarrusso plays solo as Mulch Craft. He used to live at Gay Gardens so some of you Bostonians might know him. This year Jeff moved into a room in a giant barn house in the woods on the outskirts of Worcester. Shortly after moving in, he delivered what was probably the most creatively ambitious use of the space I’ve seen so far. Here’s the play-by-play:
I was a tad late to his set but when I walked into his bedroom, most of the audience were playing various instruments he had given them, engaged and enthralled. Jeff, dressed in a homemade mask, thrift-store dress, and white lace gloves grabbed me and pointed to a small keyboard, which I started playing. He then started playing a sampler and other electronics and together we blasted off into outer space. Jeff brought us all back to Earth by motioning to us to stop and producing a rope, on which he placed each of our hands. While holding a walkman that was quietly playing a fucked up noise tape, he led us with the rope down the stairs, past another ambient sound station he had previously set up, and out of the barn, into the woods. I wondered where we were going and then saw a light in the distance. We walked closer to the light, which was a small candle in a clearing, and he circled us around it. There were small instruments placed around the candle and we played them for a while. Then Jeff blew out the candle and that was the end of the set.
Boy did he break in that space. It was the talk of the town for days afterwards. Jeff and his partner Olivia are currently shepherding goats on a reservation in Arizona. When I told this to Seamus, he said “Man, he’s taking this black metal thing way too seriously.”
2. Penny Royale at Distant Castle
Kyle Clyde plays solo as Penny Royale. Her set at Forbes Street was marked with an elegant Victorian vibe. Gorgeous droning harmonium, sometimes acoustic, sometimes miked, produced a very full, beautiful sound, sex to my ears. Devastating contact-miked kalimba blasts a la David Tudor interrupted a creepy record playing in the background — all of which was topped by Kyle’s crooning (no one croons anymore). I think her turntable stopped working at some point but it didn’t matter. Kyle’s making music like no one else today. I filmed her set and she told me not to put it on the internet but I still think people should be able to see it.
3. Stand Up For Tibet Benefit at the Firehouse
Mike Leslie’s flyers = solid flyers. And Funeral Cone + Over (featuring Scøtt Reber of Work/Death on bass) + Fat Worm of Error + Jacob the Terrible (Jacob Berendes and the Terribles) = very solid lineup. To kick things off, a Buddhist monk named Lama Sonam played a few microtonal numbers on a large flute after thanking us all for supporting the cause. I took a crappy video:
We wished he played for longer! Really good people came out to this. Matt Zaccarino (Funeral Cone bassist) sure knows how to put it together. I think all of his shows are Tibet benefits. As Dan Wars (Funeral Cone singer) says, “Matt is one of the best people I know.”
4. All of Joe Bastardo’s tapes
Joe lives in Worcester with his girlfriend Ana. He also plays solo electronic music as Bastian Void and Homeowner. Both projects receive a fair amount of attention for good reason: shit’s hot. The most recent Homeowner tape “New England Acoustics” on Metaphysical Circuits is a beautiful meditative journey inwards; it sounds like the future and the past carefully woven together. Fans of computer music, tape music, bells, water, needles on glass, and R2D2 take note. Joe’s work is usually rooted in harmony and is always very musical. I’m constantly inspired by his admirable work ethic and excited by his new material, as his music keeps getting better and better. Who’s gonna put out his debut LP in 2014?
5. All of Seamus Williams’ tapes
Seamus Williams lives in Worcester with his wife Ailin and three-year old daughter Nimi. He also plays solo electronic music as TVE. In 2013 he put out six or seven (!) TVE tapes on his own label, Ayurvedic Tapes. He also had releases on Beartown Records (UK), Mazurka Editions (Australia), FOMJ (Friends of Michael Jackson), and I think he has one coming out on Imminent Frequencies soon as well. Dude has a serious work ethic; how he does it all and manages a family is beyond me. Artistically, Seamus maintains a healthy balance between being disciplined and not giving a fuck — taking your art seriously enough and not getting frazzled if it doesn’t all go according to plan. And his style is boss: with the exception of modified tape players, he makes all his own instruments: small synths, fuzzes, and delays housed in VHS cases, Altoid tins, or not at all. The result is crude, electro-acoustic sound collage, sometimes ultra-hushed, sometimes wilin’ out and getting truly bucknasty. Noise MVP of the year.
6. The radio show “Think Tank Tango” on WCUW 91.3 FM, Tuesday nights (actually Wednesday mornings) from midnight to 2:00 AM
After Seamus’ radio show “Music Under the Moon,” which I often frequent, a French man named Michel comes in. He has long frizzy white hair and usually wears a colorful headband. Michel’s probably in his sixties and doesn’t hear very well. He brings CDs of himself playing what sounds like Garageband instruments or some other MIDI program — piano, drums, trumpets, funky bass, synths; it always sounds like a crazy mess. Sometimes he plays two or three of these CDs simultaneously. Then he takes out his journal and reads his writing over this cacophony; sometimes fiction, sometimes poetry. Sometimes he cuts out the music and just reads for dramatic effect. Here is Michel’s description of what goes down:
“The Stranger tells three to four stories each hour. Each preposterous story is authentic and true but can be validated only in the Parallel Universe. This is the Think Tank portion of the show. The Tango portion is the music: Jazz, Blues, World, Obscure, Experimental, Corny or Scratchy.”
7. Seeing Stockhausen’s “Gruppen” performed by three orchestras simultaneously at Mechanics Hall
Yep, this ruled. Almost a sensory overload at times, never oppressive or boring. Excellent use of panning across the whole gorgeous venue. Experiencing this performance was like the time period when you’re falling asleep, then you wake up for a second, then falling asleep again, repeat. (NB: I wasn’t actually doing this during the performance; it just reminded me of something about how this happens.) Additional notable things about this performance:
1. It was refreshing to see so many young and older musicians playing together,
2. It was only the third performance of “Gruppen” in Massachusetts so far (NEC did it in 1965 and Tanglewood Music Center in 1993),
3. It was free!
8. Hidden Gems series
Local musician / DJ / recording engineer / man-about-town Julius Jones recently got some money from a local arts council to give to street musicians for a project called Hidden Gems. You play on the street for 90 minutes and you get $40. Sweet, right? I played two 90-minute drone sets on Highland Street next to a coffee shop. One guy said “It makes my head feel funny.” Another girl thought I was playing a theremin at first, but then quickly realized it was mixer feedback (without me saying so), which I thought was pretty astute. Props to Julius for hooking it up!
9. Greyhound Pub Mr. Bean Memorial Run
This is a race put on by the North Medford Running Club once every couple months. It’s in memorial of a greyhound dog named Mr. Bean. It’s 3.4 miles, nice and easy, very non-competitive, anyone can do it. I usually run it with my dad. There’s a lady who runs named MaryLou who’s in her 80’s (pictured above). She’s very lively and makes funny faces; very inspiring. The race ends at an Irish bar and there are prizes and lots of homemade food at the end. I always wonder why more people don’t participate.
10. Cancelling the Burnouts
Every year since 1980, for 3-4 days in July, thousands of people descend onto downtown Worcester with tricked out / vintage / quirky vehicles in a festival called the Summer Nationals (also known as the Burnouts). People have drag races, ride stunt motorcycles, and frequently burn out their wheels on the pavement. There are also beauty pageants and bikini contests. It’s very popular: for the duration of the festival, most of downtown is clogged, a giant black cloud of smog hangs over the city, and you can smell burning rubber from where I live. BUT: In 2013, Worcester decided to stop hosting the Burnouts! (It moved to Thompson, CT.) Great idea! Perfect example of why tradition isn’t always inherently a good thing, and sometimes must be done away with. If anyone in Worcester city government is reading this, thank you! Good job!
See you in 2014! <3