Six or Seven HIO Fans Might Not Be Wrong
So Hentai Improvising Orchestra, that li'l ol' improvising orchestra from Texas (Fort Worth, to be exact) got invited to accompany dancer/choreographer Sarah Gamblin at the Houston Fringe Festival, performing her piece "Drift: with Trio," which she'd previously performed with another ensemble. For this trip, HIO consisted of:
Matt Hickey: electric gopichand, recorder, navigator, backup driver.
Terry Horn: conceptualist, laptop, recorder, percussion, documentation, driver.
Ken Shimamoto: autoharp, kalimba, erhu, tabletop guitar, recorder, percussion, loadmaster.
8.12.2011, FTW/Houston: "Death to the squares, smoking LSD are swell"
Up at 5am to await Hickey's 6am arrival. My sweetie provided enough dry-good snackage to feed a small (three-man) army. Hickey was a little late departing Weatherford due to goat issues, but we were on our way to Terry's within 30 minutes of our planned departure. Terry's wife Jo informed us that it was T.'s birthday -- number 37. He's still on lifting from his hernia surgery, so Hickey and I will hump all the gear this weekend.
Since we were unsure how big the rental vehicle would be, we elected to pare down our equipment load to leave room for luggage and provisions. This meant that we had to forego bringing the percussion rig that Terry wanted to play, but allowed us to bring everything we used at rehearsal last week. This proved to be a fortuitous choice, as everything we'd brought _just_ fit in the rented Jeep SUV.
We'd discussed having Hickey drive if Terry wasn't sufficiently recovered, but T. wound up driving all but the last three hours of the trip. Traffic was smooth the whole way downI-45, and we wound up making the journey to Houston in under five hours. We rolled up at the Frenetic Theater and found a space that reminded us of several Fort Worth venues. The exterior was graffiti-covered, like 1919 Hemphill, with an adjacent area that was missing a couple of walls that put one in mind of the gutted-out half of the Wherehouse. The performance space, on the other hand, was similar to the Scott Theater's, and the joint was managed by a couple (Robert and Rebecca) who lived on-site.
We grabbed a lunch of tortas and tacos at a bakery around the corner and made it to the home of our hosts, Ryan Supak and Sara Vanbuskirk. Ryan's an engineer and freelance programmer who deejays around Houston and used to play improv with Terry and Mark Cook. Sara is a muso in her own right: a singer with muy impressive pipes who, her husband said, is in the process of moving from a folk bag into a more R&B-influenced one, which sounds like a good idea to me. I checked out some of her stuff online and came away impressed. I bet she'd go over really well at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff if she was ever motivated to venture up this way.
Ryan and Sara share their home with a rescued menagerie that includes Neil aka USA, a pit bull mix; Lawson, a sheepdog (shave a sheepdog, find a terrier underneath); Little, a black cat who's allergic to human dander and makes noises like Darth Vader when he sleeps; and Myrtle, a smaller black cat who's the hunter of the pack. Nice to see an interspecies family, and Ryan and Sara are moving toward self-sufficiency with a rainbarrel system, square-foot gardens, and a studio in back. Great hosts with whom we had some stimulating convos over the course of the weekend. Second Ward, the south side neighborhood where they make their home, has a nice vibe. It's mostly populated by Hispanic working-class families (Houston is a majority Hispanic city); Ryan and Sara feel safe enough to never lock their doors.
At Ryan's suggestion, we headed downtown to a soda shop which was recently opened by a 22-year-old cat who'd been fired from all the best coffee bars in Houston for being critical of the way they did things. Nice to see someone so passionate about what they do. His strawberry phosphates and chocolate egg creams were ace.
Rolled up to the Frenetic Theater to check sound and lights with Sarah Gamblin. I broke the string on the erhu, necessitating a trip to a guitar store on Saturday, but that was fine, although it circumscribed my options a little. The crowd at the Frenetic was surprisingly diverse in age and ethnicity. You'd never see older folks or folks of color at a 1919 show. The burlesque show that preceded us was actually sold out, but by the time of our performance, the audience had dwindled to maybe five paying customers, one of whom was an ex-student of Sarah's from Texas Women's University.
The act that preceded us was a one-woman show from Minnesota that wasn't really performance art, but more of a powerpoint presentation about a 60 Minutes piece in which Jon Krakauer sought to discredit Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. It took a minute to figure out what she was talking about, and then there wasn't a lot of logical support to her talk, with a lot of slides of reader's comments to blogs and her own comments along the lines of "I don't think so." A puzzling inclusion in this festival.
By the time we hit, Terry and Hickey were both drained from our 18-hour day, but we tried to power back with some energy. The high point of the performance was probably Sarah swinging the hand-held light she used in her dance. Unfortunately, the positioning of Terry's camera didn't catch the action. We loaded out all our gear in spite of the theater managers' assurance that they lived on-site and owned a shotgun.
Back at Ryan and Sara's, Hickey and I shared a futon with Little, while Terry shared the bed in the guest room with Lawson.
8.13.2011 Houston/Galveston: Molten Sulfur
Greeted the day on Ryan and Sara's balcony with Little and Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Vol. 1. Cat can write; might have to finish reading that someday. Since we weren't playing until 8:30p (we shared the 10:30p slot on Friday and 6:30p on Sunday), we drove down to Galveston, since it's only an hour south of Houston. I hadn't been in that city in 32 years. We spent an hour walking along the seawall, enough time for Terry and Hickey to pick up nasty sunburns.
Ate lunch at Gaido's, a high-buck seafood restaurant where I briefly worked during my second sojourn in Galveston back in '78. I'd quit my job in Dallas when a couple of friends from New York came through on their way west. We slept on the beach in our cars, left after a few days for Corpus Christi, and parted ways when I ran out of money, they for Wyoming to see Devil's Tower, me to head back to Dallas to beg for my job back -- which is how I wound up in Fort Worth. I was surprised to see the name of the chef I'd worked for on a couple of items on the menu. When I asked our server, she informed me that he's still living, although he's no longer working at the restaurant. It would have been nice to have spent more time on the beach and maybe flown some kites, but we needed to load in again at the Frenetic before the first house arrived. We did, however, stop at a graveyard so Terry could take photographs of some of the distressed 19th century tombs.
Hung out in the dance studio behind the theater while Sarah warmed up. She's a great dancer and thinker about bodies and movement. There were maybe ten payers in the house, but this proved to be our most in-sync performance of "Drift: with Trio." Sarah "cleansed" the room while we were warming up, and everyone's energy and focus were really on. I mainly remember dripping sweat onto the instruments on my table. Unfortunately, Terry's camera failed to capture any of it. It wouldn't be HIO unless some piece of equipment failed. So, it's vapor now. If you weren't there, you just missed it. We elected to leave our stuff (except for Hickey's gopichand and my amp, wah, and tuner) set up on tables to facilitate the next evening's transition.
Beer and talk at the Moon Tower Inn (a Fred's-like spot with a beer garden worthy of the name and a menu of exotic gourmet hot dogs) afterward.
8.14.2011 Houston, FTW: Denouement
Walked around the neighborhood with Terry while he took more photographs, then once everyone was up, we took Ryan and Sara out for brunch at another good Mexican place, since the "archetypal greasy spoon" that was Ryan's first choice was too crowded for us to sit together. After massive breakfast tacos and cinnamon twists, everybody settled down to nap for a couple of hours before we loaded out our luggage and said thanks and so long to our hosts.
It was threatening to rain when we arrived at the theater. All of us were ready to unass. We'd talked about leaving more sonic space in the piece the previous night, and this time we actually did, owing in part to the fact that the li'l Strat clone emitted squawks of feedback that I didn't have time to troubleshoot when I turned it on, so I used the erhu in its place on this occasion -- a practical example of failure being part of our process, as I'd told Sarah the night before. She ended the piece a minute or two earlier than I expected, by collapsing on the stage and pulling the light toward her. It seemed to have gone by in an instant, and I felt dissatisfied. After we were done, Sarah said the piece still felt "incomplete," but Hickey reminded us that such is the nature of improvisation. Terry had two cameras set up onstage, so we'll see how it really went when he posts his video.
Maybe five people in the audience, including a cat who took posed photos of us the night before and Sarah's two-year-old son and babysitter. In retrospect, we probably could have done more to promote this. In particular, I should have asked the Italian kid who to reach out to at the Houston Press (where a generic festival ad appeared, along with a more specific one for the other venue, Super Happy Fun Land, but nada for Frenetic and no calendar mention). Then again, an over-the-transom press release from an out-of-town artist would probably have gotten lost in the shuffle there anyway.
Overall, a good trip that we're glad we made. We left some Sustrepo CD-Rs with Ryan in the hope that he can use them to try and help hustle some more shows for us in H-Town. It felt good to break the seal on playing out of town. Hoping for more collaborations with Sarah and Big Rig Dance Collective. For now, our focus shifts to booking and promoting a show in October with The Underground Railroad, The Panic Basket, and Strung Drawn & Quartered, and doing a show or home recording with trombonist Patrick Crossland when he visits the area from Germany again this winter.