Build It

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So things have changed a bit, or a lot, depending on the scale you use to measure major life events.  I am currently in Montreal, studying city building and place making with a bit of sustainable or ecological design thrown in.

I’ve been at McGill and immersed in planning for 6 months now, and while the work load has made it somewhat impossible to think of much beyond studio and stats and graphics, I keep finding all of these really amazing and transformative pieces of art and design and literature that are a powerful reminder of the experience of building and making.

My tools are 4,600 kilometers away and my art practice of short pieces sketched out during lectures are really not enough, so the tone of this site is going to change a bit.  Highlighting makers and the things they make….until Atrux can get back to making things of our own.

P.O.R.T.L.A.N.D.

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So as the title suggests I got to spend some time in the PDX last week.

Portland had a lot to live up to.  During my time in LA it was universally considered the one city I had to see before I headed back up North (unfortunately I wasn’t able to make that happen) and it was hailed as a city with a strong and supportive creative community with great coffee and even better beer.

It didn’t disappoint.

I got to spend some time working on a project for the “day job” with the great folks at Periscopic, and I got to check out a really interesting “conference” put on by The New Communicators.

Interested in how we communicate, the second year of events focused on Reciprocity and how it and unspoken social norms influence communication today.  Presentations ranged from a Keynote examining education and public policy to definitions of all the social media animals you will encounter once you start interacting with the public through a variety of tools.

I also learned that here at Atrux we are what they call “Lükologists” (for more on this great collaboration check out the citizens think tank Research Club) and that creativity (in whatever form you find it) is an asset and every time you go out in the world looking for willing collaborators, you have a way of finding them.

This is the greatest cup of coffee I've ever had.

365 Days a Year

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Atrux is in the midst of a bunch of really interesting projects, but while we plan and wait and think and plan and thing, I want to help get the word out about a bunch of really interesting ongoing art projects (and also to hopefully introduce you to future Atrux collaborators).

First on the docket:  “A Lyric a Day” is a pretty self explanatory project by Cheltenham, United Kingdom based graphic designer Luke Beard.

Using lyrics that range from former “Hot Boy” Lil Wayne to current Indie darlings Mumford and Sons, the project is a great introduction to Luke as a designer in a format where he also gets to play around.  The rigid timeline of the project seems to encourage a kind of frantic creativity that I’m sure has produced some pieces that wouldn’t have happened if the work has taken place under more comfortable circumstances.

Another great thing is that as patterns begin to emerge…..

(It seems like Luke is a fan of the collage and portraits from the 50’s and 60’s)

and you think you might have a handle on his aesthetic, he comes out with something completely unexpected.

With over 5,000 Tumblr followers  and a print run of postcards scheduled, this great art project is picking up steam.  Personally I’m excited that we still have four months left to see what Luke can do.

Hopefully it includes more work like this:

All images are property of Luke Beard.  For more check out ALAD on Flickr.

I’ll Wait for the Sun

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While we wait and plan and listen and wait and plan and listen some more, I’ve started working on these solar powered amplifiers.

The first baby steps forward happened today:

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s definitely a start.

This is a change, a huge one, for me as an artist.  Working in a format I can barely understand (3 weeks of reading and electrical schematics are still unintelligible), with tools I don’t know how use, while trying to reverse engineer a final product that produces sound without overheating or blowing up.

I am better when looking at staff paper than a circuit board.

But this is helping me remember the sense of possibility that comes with working on something new.  Sometimes we forget that, get into patterns, focus on the art that we know.

Thankfully Atrux isn’t about playing it safe.

Hopefully Week 2 will be just as productive……

Again we’ll keep you posted…..

Ohm’s Law? I’m sorry can you repeat that…

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So Gridlock is over.

And while we keep working on the recording projects and some print designs, I got an interesting offer a few weeks ago that I’m pretty excited about.

I have the chance to write for a couple of fantastic musicians as part of a festival for the Los Angeles Friends of the River.

Thankfully a high degree of trust exists between “The Friends” and I and I’ve been given free reign over what the piece can be, with only a single note of caution:  The performance is beside the freeway.

Now for those of you that don’t know basically everywhere is beside (or near) some kind of freeway in Los Angeles, and so while this wasn’t surprising, I thought it was a problem that deserved some consideration.  So I started thinking about the river and how it relates to Los Angeles and the question that I kept coming back to was:

“How do you amplify the quiet?”

(Because truthfully my “small sound” music is going to need a little kick to cut through the billboards and the bright lights of the City of Angeles)

My unoriginal answer (that I kept coming back to) was solar powered amplifiers.

It seemed so simple at the time…..

Needless to say I’ve been reading up on voltage and speaker resistance and Ohm’s law and capacitors and trying to figure out how to read schematics and calculating the DC voltage of solar panel units wired in series.  This is an example of those things you learn in high school that will never be applicable in that thing called the “real world”.

I’m excited (my calculator is tired!) about the possibilities.

Stay tuned for more pictures from what is sure to be a long process!

Com·mu·ni·ty

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Art imitates life.

Or so I’ve been told often enough during my time as a musician.

Clinton and Joshua seriously analyze the night's show

And I’m starting to think there might be some truth to it.

For this entire series we’ve brought in artists that are all part of the tight community of artists based around the California Institute of the Arts.  Musicians that have worked together for years and will likely be making compelling art together for years to come.

Gridlock 4.0 however was a bit different:

Clinton meet Josh.  Josh meet Clinton.

Now you could argue and say that for the most part jazz is an idiom that thrives on collaboration and that it really wasn’t a big deal that these guys had never met, and for the most part you would probably be right, but this was a recording session and the first time Clinton had been invited somewhere outside of America to showcase his music and the first session with an engineer he’d also never met.

It made for some interesting moments.

Trying to explain things that are usually second nature to someone who might as well be speaking a different language is difficult.  Throughout the whole series we’ve been trying to figure out how to talk to Vancouver about this CalArts community that we are so connected to.  Luckily for us the conversation between Clinton and Josh was a bit more straightforward.

Those are the conversations that start to build and integrate artistic communities.  Or to put it in a more “Gridlock” perspective: If you understand someone’s music while you’re having a beer with them, you might understand it in the performance space as well.

Maybe the initial phase of integrating or strengthening artistic communities needs to happen on a micro scale:  One artist from Canada, one from California.  And go….. And maybe Gridlock was expecting too much too soon from everyone involved.

So let’s think about it this whole thing like an introduction: Clinton and Josh got it enough to make a pretty good start on a record.

And hopefully next time our conversation with Vancouver will go a bit beyond “hello”.

Around here we call him “The Kid”

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During the whole Gridlock process there have been many highlights:

Douglas Wadle doing his best impersonation of a Baptist Preacher in “Insomnambulations: Preachin’ Aphasia” and Matt Barbier tackling some of the toughest trombone rep in the world.

Vinny Golia reuniting with Dylan van der Schyff and Clyde Reed and picking right up where they left off almost 20 years ago.

Kathy Carbone teaching an interdisciplinary Master Class on Improvisation at my alma mater Simon Fraser University.

Andrew Tholl playing “Koan” by James Tenney in Vancouver for the first time since he passed away four years ago.

These were all great moments and each of them represents what is at the core of Atrux (community, collaboration, education and great performances) but I think my personal highlight of this entire crazy endeavor came during the last show of the series.

Joshua Van Tassel (otherwise known as the drummer in our “Band of Awesome”) had gigs scheduled in Toronto and had to miss the second of two shows at The Libra Room. With Clinton, Graham and Josh Charney set to perform as a trio we weren’t too concerned about a small line-up change.

However, we hadn’t anticipated how quickly word gets around in this town.

Apparently the crowd at the Libra Room liked Mr. Van Tassel as much as we do and spread the word that the whole band would be back for another night and a second show.  The surprising thing about this is people actually came out to see them! (This is no small feat for a show in Vancouver).  Luckily our audience (like most Canadian crowds) was understanding about the line-up change.

One of the audiences members though, did have us feeling a bit guilty about sending Mr. Van Tassel back to Toronto.  Jonathan (a 16 year old high school student from London, Ontario) showed up eager to find out if the “Band of Awesome” lived up to the hype.  A drummer in his high school jazz band, Jonathan (or “The Kid” as he was quickly and unoriginality nicknamed) planned his whole Vancouver trip around visiting family and watching jazz.  Clinton and Co made up for him missing Mr. Van Tassel by calling him up onstage to sit in with the band.  The Kid was a hit with the crowd and a great reminder to all of us that music can be just as fun now as it was when we were just starting out.

The lasting image of Gridlock 4.0 for me is a simple swing tune that saw a community expand, new relationships solidified, a drummer for Atrux in London, ON and a great story for The Kid of that night at a jazz club in Vancouver when he got to sit in with the band.

I have a feeling this will always be one of my favourite Atrux stories and I’m looking forward to the next time Jonathan gets to play a show with us.

For more photos of “The Kid” check us out on Flickr

Gridlock 4.0: It’s all over now.

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It’s been an eventful week for Atrux.

The final shows of the Gridlock series were last weekend and in addition to having a house full of musicians and playing tour guide around Vancouver, I got to hang out with some of my favourite people in the world. Clinton Patterson, Joshua Van Tassel, Graham Chapman and Josh Charney made up our “Band of Awesome” and as you will hear from the recordings that title is well deserved.

On top of being fantastic musicians, they are all great guys, who had as warm a welcome for the city that Atrux calls home, as Vancouver did for them.

We also “found” a great new venue, which if you’ve been following the progress of the whole Gridlock series, is not an easy thing to do in Vancouver. The Greedy Pig on Cordova occasionally has live music and were generous enough to book us a show on really short notice. Killer Bourbon selection, great staff and an appreciative audience. Atrux will definitely be putting on shows here.

Another great thing about the Gridlock artists is the level of trust that exists between all of us: I didn’t hear an entire program before any of the shows, but all the music was been strong and original. This week was no exception, as the material Clinton wrote specifically for Vancouver really brings the noise. It’s almost equal parts jazz and hip hop and blues and soul and everyone (from my parents, to random people on the street) was into it.

We’re working on the recordings and have high hopes for the forthcoming release, but for now here’s some photos and video of the Band of Awesome’s time in Vancouver:

Clinton Patterson, Joshua Van Tassel, Graham Chapman and Josh Charney live at the Libra Room, Vancouver, BC.

Clinton Patterson, Joshau Van Tassel and Russell Scholberg play Guilt and Company

Joshua Van Tassel and Clinton Patterson recording a new track, Live in the Living Room

Check out Atrux on Flickr or Atrux on YouTube for more photos and video of Gridlock 4.0.

Stina on Clinton

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Clinton is from Georgia.

I don’t necessarily think that’s the most important thing to talk about, but it was the first thing that I learned about him.

I had just arrived in California and he was one of the first people I met. Prior to our first conversation the only time I’d heard a southern accent was on TV. To say I was terrified would have been an understatement; I couldn’t understand anything he was saying and kept having to ask him to repeat himself. Finally I just resorted to guessing, rather than asking. I’m sure this lead to some interesting answers and he probably thought this Canadian was a little bit crazy. I spent most of the night hoping that I wouldn’t be guessing at answers for the next two years and realizing that TV really doesn’t give southerners enough credit. I had no idea how prominent a feature in my life that accent would become.

I got to spend a lot of time listening to Clinton play while we were both at CalArts. We’d wander the hallways and Clinton would improvise and I would just listen and try to figure out what made his music so compelling. I never figured it out, but I think it might have something to do with how honest and genuine a performer he is. I was surprised, years later, to find out how many of those early improvisations became tracks on his first record.

The jazz program was probably the highlight of my time at CalArts, and though the school was pretty open, my friendship with Clinton meant that I got to listen to a lot of jam sessions. The thing that stands out most about Clinton was how versatile a musician he was, even back then. Whether it was a trio playing straight ahead swing, a large ensemble free jazz experiment or a Rhodes driven party band, his musicality always stood out. Our first year, he started playing piano and suddenly it was like this whole new musical world opened up. He started playing a lot more Latin music (along with forming a band with one of the greatest names ever: “The Point Bonita Gentlemen of Leisure”) and funk, reminding me that one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century was the Fender Rhodes. He was a pretty intimidating musician to hang around with then (I remember one particularly embarrassing jam session where I suddenly forgot how to count) and he just keeps on getting better and taking more chances musically and really growing as an artist. He does all of this while maintaining what I at first thought was a stereotypical southern charm. I later learned this was something completely genuine. There’s no ego and no swagger with Clinton, just a really huge smile. He’s a great reminder that music can be many things and that it’s okay for (at least) one of them to be fun.

He called me recently and told me that he bought an electric guitar. I jokingly mentioned something about rock stardom, to which Clinton responded, “That’s the idea”. The music that he’s working on now has definitely evolved, but in a lot of ways it still has that same feel as those first hallway improvisations; extended chords and surprising rhythm, and this voice that is somehow both foreign and familiar.

He’s working on a new record with a bunch of great people in LA and I can’t wait to share this one. I have a feeling it’s going to be fantastic. When I approached him about possibly coming up here and doing a show, he jumped at the chance. He calls me with Vancouver updates to make sure I know he’s been rehearsing and wants to play as many shows as possible, meet some local musicians (he’ll be teaming up with drummer Joshua Van Tassel from Toronto and is also bringing up some friends from LA) and check out the VanCity hangout.  We’ll also be recording an EP while he’s here, which may end up being the first release from Atrux Records.

I’d like to say that all artists are this easy to work with; maybe it’s something they put in the water down south.

From 2007’s “From a Dream” Hip

VIVO

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Vancouver is many things.

A city with a multitude of arts venues it is not.

Which is why it’s so surprising to hear people ask “What’s Vivo?” when I tell them about the venue for Gridlock.

My first response is “Oh, it used to be called Video In, you know the non profit video distribution/gear rental/exhibition space that is one of the best in the city? On Main Street? Been around since 1973?”

More often than not I’m met with a blank stare, which is really too bad because in a city that is struggling to keep art spaces open this it’s kind of shocking more people aren’t aware of what this space has to offer (beyond the great exhibition space there is also state of the art video equipment and editing studios). They also put on workshops and exhibitions, including the always popular “Signal and Noise” festival that brings some of the best noise musicians in the world to the West Coast.

Maybe the lack of awareness around Vivo speaks to something about the nature of the artistic community in Vancouver and how sometimes it can become easy to find a comfort zone (as an artist or an audience member) and stop looking for something new.  Whether that’s a new artist, or new venue or new way of working.  Maybe as artists we “hit our stride”, we find what we like (whether it’s a sound or a way of working) and suddenly we lose the desire to be out at every show, to be looking for  a new place to present our work.  We are happy that the community has defined itself (we present work here and we work with these performers etc. etc.) and we work within those confines.  This is somewhat inevitable, but I think we have to be cautious about becoming too comfortable especially in times that can be generously described as challenging.  Hopefully there is another reason to explain the blank stares and the city realizes what a great and underused venue it has.

We love Vivo, (everything about them actually) and the Gridlock shows have been such a great time, hopefully someone else will follow our lead….

For more information on what Vivo has to offer: www.videoinstudios.com