Monday, February 18, 2019

Trev Tochnik's 'The Power of New Money'

I know I said this blog was done. But if I don't put these words down, then it will seem like this never happened. 

And while I haven't covered anything like "musical theatre" before, in any prior post, I won't sweat breaking precedence, as this will, now, assuredly be, this blog's final post. But what kind of theatre did I witness...?

Well, an artist calling himself Trev Tochnik created an interactive performance piece that he called "The Power Of New Money." An actress from New York, Mick James, collaborated with this admittedly esoteric Michigan-based artist, working as the co-director for this minimalist-and-yet-still-complex dramaturgy.

Now, there is conceptual choreography and very specific lighting cues that go along with the actor's mannerisms and movements, but its all set to music. In fact, what's really been brought to life in this strange play are the songs that Trev Tochnik created..., it's just being channeled into a surreal mime-like opera of sorts, rather than a typical trope for "a band," like a night at a "club." I couldn't see if there was a sound engineer or a lighting crew, but I have to imagine there was some bustling around in the dark shadows of the claustrophobic backstage area that was allotted to Tochnik and his troupe, at the Tonsle Estate.

There are a few photos from this performance at the Tonsle Estate woven across this "final" blog post. You can see how I wound up discovering that the "backstage" area and the actual "stage" were transient. We followed Mick and Trev from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to a landing by the stairs, a vestibule, and then back to those bathrooms, a long and narrow space that provided just enough space for this small audience to peer into, and witness the movements. Each elbow bend, or furrowed brow, each awkward stretch or somehow graceful hunch of the back seemed to express a range of emotions that were both pensive and fearful, in love and in dread, relaxed, and yet yearning... Yearning for the ever-restoring power of "new money..."

If you've never been to the Tonsle Estate, it's not really near anything. In fact, its situated between two empty lots. This assured that the rock-tempo drum beat and clanging, fuzzed-out guitars of a song like "You Come Back When You Arrive" would not disturb any "neighbors." But also, the more ambient, swelling whole-notes of the solemn space-gospel "Maples" could attain an idyllic resonance, enveloping the house-bound audience with proper reverberation. The spaciousness of the house, as well as the unique architecture of some of the rooms, meant that the urgency, the alarm, the suddeness of moments in the play that involved loud screaming or gunshots, could attain sufficient emotional impact, without restraint. I'm amazed no one called the cops..., but yet, how could they be frightened when the tranquilly-groovy orchestral-jazz suite "Hawaii" started washing over them....
You could see in Tochnik's eyes that he was both excited, and distracted... Or perhaps that was his character? Perhaps that's at the heart of the album's true emotional import..., that we are all eager, and yet anxious, in this endless (and hot) pursuit, for this "proverbial" "new money." I know that Tochnik is eager for more ears to hear the songs that accompany his play... He told me after the performance that they would be available this Friday (Feb 22nd).

There is something about the softly booming bass, the arcing feedback roar, the sonambulistic swells of "Homelooking," that palpably suggest a kind of elevation, or a detachment..., a striking outward for new territories, a longing for grander things, or at least just more grandness..., a full, heart-swooning  kind of ambient song that fills up any room that tries to contain it. At times, I felt like I was floating within the 10x10 confines of a certain room, as though the soundwaves had attained water-like qualities; the distortion curling after the chorus, the haunting synthesizers shuttering like curtains. I found myself forgetting to take every third breath. There is something about the softness and the ominousness, that makes me believe that Tochnik has a quiet and quaking ambition to use this music to only push his stage show further.

I only regret that I lost my programme from that night. It was seven pages worth about the play, with lyrics, credits, and thank-yous, that also included a diagram of the Tonsle Estate, it's unique layout; sort of a prepper on where we would be moving, with the performers/directors, throughout the night. But I'm still smitten with the music.... The Power of New Money; some kind of ambient-post-rock trip, threaded by croony, vibratto-heavy vocals that would phase in and out of a fuzzed-distortion, and a crisp, lilting lullaby.

These images you're seeing were captured by photographer Julie James. Tochnik and James forbade any other kind of camera, other than James'.

I won't be surprised if this play is never seen again. Though I know there's intentions to create it elsewhere. The songs will haunt me, sublimely, for a while... And now, you'll get to hear them yourself. I keep returning to the disco-beat and curiously cadenced bass of the title track, "Power of New Money...," where Tochnik sings "...we surrendered..." That's how it felt, as the spell of the songs was cast, and as Trev, the actor, took on each song's evocation, through his eyes, and his stare. At what point, he left me asking myself, do we catch ourselves...., to keep from surrendering? Or are we complicit, and even enjoying the psychic and emotive forfeiture....

Sunday, February 3, 2019

It Was Everything To Me

This blog started 11 years ago, this week. I like to believe that I'm just as madly inspired as I was in my mid-20's, but the reality is that I'm three times busier than I was back then. Of course I'll still be writing about music that's made in Michigan; I'll still be interviewing artists based around the Metro Detroit area, and beyond. But this is the final post. It's so strange to write that out and have the period fall at the end. This is the final post....

Thank you to everyone who stopped by this site. Thank you to everyone who read these words. Thank you to every artist who sat down with me over some coffee to chat. Thank you to everyone who let me listen to an album a week before it came out, so that I could string together a small tidal wave of emotions and adjectives onto these digital pages.

I have only glimpsed what might have been only a modest impact that this blog had... But, being uncertain of its sustained necessity, I am using this post to put a period on it all. The 2,100 or so posts that stretch back over the decade are all blips that fall together to form a grander collage... Not only a capturing of contemporary Detroit music history, such as it was, but telling the story of a kid who grew into his 30's and held onto that mad inspiration, held on to the enthusiasm he found at live shows and the modest transcendence offered in deep album dives, with headphones...

As I said, it's not a sad day, or a sad post, because I'll be writing over at, or, or via Local Spins in Grand Rapids, or maybe somewhere else... But this blog did bring me some joy, so it's bittersweet to move on... I hope it brought you some joy, too. Don't let the music you listen to ever recede into the background. That was the whole point of this blog. It's listening, rather than hearing. And I don't know what else to say or write... But here are 40 songs that have meant a lot to me, as I've updated this blog throughout the years. Some songs are older, some are newer. And there are at least 40 more, 80 more, that just didn't happen to be on this streaming platform..., which I regret. But anyway.... Wherever you go next, listen closely... Start a dialogue with the music.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Grove Studios Offers Automated OpenLIVE Platform

Grove Studios isn't a traditional Artists' Residency, but it is a haven of sorts. It's a colony where the pollinators of local culture--be it musicians, photographers, visual artists, voiceover artists and creative entrepreneurs, can find a space to work, to evolve, and to capture...That is, to record! This is a hybrid rehearsal space/recording space and can even function as a gallery or a podcasting venue, and its based in Ypsilanti Michigan.

And if you follow my writing, this isn't the first time you've heard me mention Grove. Grove got off the ground two years ago, but had its grand opening last Summer. Founded by musicians and partnering with community members and local businesses, the Grove team aims, above all, to create a space for collaboration and opportunity... And what they're featuring now, just seven months after their grand opening, is access to the digital recording platform OpenLive for the clients that use their Grove Room. 

OpenLIVE is a hardware and software solution that adds to Grove's internet of things solutions to great rehearsal spaces for musicians of all stripes. OpenLIVE allows artists to quickly create an account in 60 seconds, book their session on Grove's website and then book their recording time. Then, all they have to do is show up, perform and rehearse.  Minutes later, you get a recording. The artist could either release it right there and then, on their bandcamp page, or just keep it as a demo.

OpenLIVE comes from an Australian company, and this Ypsi location is one of only three venues in the United States offering it to clientele/artists. You'll get free access to OpenLIVE if you book Grove's "deluxe room." (They also have a "classic room," with just the basics, PA, guitar, bass amps, drum kit). If you want to utilize Grove, it's not like you have to pay monthly dues or rent out a space... There are peak, and off-peak times, with rates ranging from $15-$25 per hour. You can book time online, and there's 24/7 access, available, if you'd like to be a Resident, rather than an hourly renter. You can see some promotional offers currently running on their Facebook page. 

So you can essentially think of this dynamic web app as having Hal 9000 recording you as you work, and then wrapping it all up for you once you're done. "We want artists to control their own content," said co-founder Rick Coughlin. "We just want to support making the means of accessing great content for them easy and affordable.

That said, Grove isn't intending to become a Recording Studio. That might be the plan down the line, in the future, when they set up industrial-size shipping containers to offer artists who want flawless sound isolation properties for their recordings. Coughlin knows there are plenty of exceptional studios nearby, including TapWater in Detroit, Willis Sound and Big Sky in the Ypsi/Arbor area. "At $25 per hour (Grove) is between what a bonafide studio offers, and what you can pull off on a cell phone, or using Garage Band," said Coughlin. But with Grove, it's "...totally automated, so musicians can focus on what they are best at, and know that their content for audio is going to be on point." The next step, if you stay tuned, is Live Streaming.