Saturday, June 21, 2008

Shanghai Model

I visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall which is a museum focusing on the urban development of the city. The highlight of this place is a full-scale model of Shanghai - it's quite impressive. Check out the pics...

Shanghai Riot studio session

I apologize; I have been neglecting this blog as of late... I have been very busy these past couple of weeks writing music, organizing rehearsals, getting a studio squared away - administrative stuff. But finally, I was able to get into the studio and lay down some takes. The session was a couple of days, and it took the the entire first day just to figure out the studio which was very old, and with some things not working the way they should... Also the process was quite interesting. Recording sessions in China introduce a whole new set of issues, the main one being the language barrier. The lead engineer of the studio is Chinese, and he knows how all of the gear is set up, but I hired a German engineer named Mattias and we were frequently depending on a translator... but all said and done, I think we got some pretty good stuff. Pics coming...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Watching the NBA Finals

The finals games start at 9:00am over here. I went to a sports bar with Willie, Mike Brownell (a bassist from Boston and a Celts fan), and Mike's friend Dave. The back room where we were seated was filled with Americans; it really seemed as if we were just watching basketball at a bar back home... that is until the commercial breaks. In the states we are familiar with game-time ads for cars, beer, financial planning, T.G.I. Friday's, Taco Bell, etc. However we were reminded ever so harshly that we were in China; instead of airing commercials, the screen instead displayed a very long message regarding the earthquake. Some very melancholy Chinese music in a minor key (the antithesis of up-beat sports music) was playing throughout these breaks. Then the screen would flash pictures of the aftermath of the earthquake, people suffering, families crying... it was very weird. I took a picture of the screen each time this message showed; here is the text verbatim:


The world laughed at you for being backward;
The world was full of envy and anxiety when you opened up and progressed into a financial powerhouse;
The world condemned you when you put law and order into the upheaval and lawlessness created by followers of a self proclaimed Robin Hood in Tibet but failed to applaud when you used your influence to save the lives of Burmese monks;
The world threatened to boycott and disrupt the August Olympics on ground of your violations of human rights standards set by the West who by apartheld policies and discrimination of coloured people blatantly violated for ages the same standards set.

Let me tell you Mother as a dragon seed brought up outside China;
They fear you Mother as you out compete them;
They fear you Mother as you are set to replace them at the healm of world order faster than they can accept;
They fear you Mother as you refused to take sides in every international dispute as you believe that to each his own and from each his best;
They fear you Mother as you have by hardwork hastened the failure and decadence of self assured western supremacy system;
And finally for the period 12th May to eternity, you have shown the world the tenderness, love and care of the best guardian government with leaders the Chinese People can ever have contrasting greatly with the aftermath of the Florida and Burmese cyclone.

Mother, words of praises and admiration will never come from the West as they have painted you falsely as a hardcore monster with no feelings for your own for too long and the Western World is watching with total disbelief on CNN, BBC, Fox Media, live, the search, rescue, care and rebuilding operations to restore life and normalcy into the millions of displaced victims led by brothers Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao demonstrating love care and simplicity with no political agenda whatsoever. Mother, we whether in or out of the Great Wall are lucky and proud to be descendants of the ever Supreme Dragon.


Mr. Ben
Bensports Satellite TV
May 2008

This is a trip, right?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Differences: the driver/pedestrian relationship

It can seem like a free-for-all at times; vehicles cut a lot of corners and swerve out of the way to avoid people. I would say a driver's first choice in a traffic situation is to accelerate rather than to slow down. This mentality is even programmed into the traffic lights; the same red, yellow, green color scheme applies with all the familiar rules, yet at a red light, there are numbers on the light that count down from 20 seconds to the next green light. With about 3 seconds left, the red and yellow lights go on at the same time as if to signify the drivers, "OK, get ready to put that pedal to the metal and bust through this light!" If you are crossing the street when this happens, the cars still go at typical bust-through-the-light speed, they just drive right through the pedestrians in the intersection. Everything seems to be a close call - that's just the norm.

If I was a driver or a pedestrian doing the same things in Seattle... man someone would get pissed! Let's say you are the driver turning right at an intersection and you cut off a person crossing the street - a typical pedestrian would probably get very angry, and let you know about it. It works the other way too; if you are jay-walking, a car (with traffic following him or not) will slow down and wait for the person to cross; and likely be upset if the person doesn't quicken their pace. If there are cars facing each other traveling the same speed on a small road, instead of just maneuvering away from the point of contact, somebody better yield or they will get an earful.

Yield... that's the key word actually; I have yet to really see anybody yield to anything out here. People are very conscious of their space in the West; it is huge sin is to invade someone's comfort zone; thou shalt not make someone feel endangered. Westerners have a big comfort zone (especially in Seattle); it's like everyone has their own 3-foot halo fending off intruders... Out here, there is no luxury of space; everything is crowded, everyone is close together, and nobody complains. It's not a free-for-all, it's just closer calls (whew!) on a regular basis. BTW, I've seen more accidents in Seattle than I ever have over here... and I don't even think there's a Chinese expression for "road rage".

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Strange gig (part 2)

So... we finally arrive at the gig; it's been a bumpy ride on that tiny tour bus and we're all eager to get out. The event is International Children's Day, and it is on an outside stage... you always have to be careful with the outdoor events. Last year when I was in Shanghai I played Canada Day. We were set up on a stage inside Shanghai Stadium, but we never did get to play as we were rained out... in a big way. Thankfully there was a cover on the stage because that could have saved thousands of dollars in gear damage. Back to present day; there is no cover for the stage - and it's mighty cloudy... I'm worried that this keyboard that I'm borrowing might be in danger. There was a small tent that I was prepared to retreat to with the instrument had it started to rain. They say the show must go on... well, nope - not this time... if it rains then this gig is over.

So we opened the show with a 4-minute piece to get the crowd livened up. Without warning we were cut-off by the MC as he started talking into the microphone... Then we got off stage and sat in the tent for the entire length of the show; about an hour and a half. There were many speeches and performances, in Chinese of course; it's always fun to do your own translations. A notable performance was by the Aussie, Paul who did a children's song in english; you may be familiar with the "Bottles on the Wall" song? It's a simple counting song that explores the process of reduction... once there were six, then five, etc... the melody stays the same, but the bottles keep falling off the wall... this was followed by a beautiful redintion of "Hey Jude" (sang on top of the original recording - a unison duet with Paul McCartney - ha!). The kids loved it, even though to them it was just a foreigner with a big smile singing some kind of gibberish... The trio closed the show and played about 3/4ths of a song before we were cut off by the MC again... he said his goodbyes, and we finished the song (picking up where we left off) - and that's the gig. Yes - about 3 1/2 hours of bus time (including waiting for the tardy dancer on the side of the highway), about 1 1/2 hours of tent time, and about 8 to 9 minutes of music... all in a days work. It's funny; we could have done just about anything up there and it wouldn't have mattered; just as long as there were foreigners up on stage looking foreign... I guess it gives the event a sense of class... a lot of times they just want non-chinese people on a stage with sound coming 0ut of the instruments... that's work!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Strange gig (part 1)

There are many different kind of gigs out there. My preference, of course, is to do a gig playing original music for a willing audience. I've spent a good part of my career playing standards on a riverboat, which is a fairly commercial gig for a jazz musician. Other times someone may want to hire a band in primarily a background setting. In these gigs it's not about the music, but about making the establishment look good; I call these wallpaper gigs. On occasion, there is a different level of these wallpaper gigs; I had the pleasure to "work" one of these gigs last weekend...

This job required me to borrow a keyboard and amplifier; Willie's drummer friend, Feng, was nice enough to hook me up. The day before the gig, Willie and I picked up the keyboard from Feng's basement rehearsal space. This is in a different part of town; a really crazy place - imagine walking down a flight of stairs that leads to a long hallway lit by florescent light... the smell of urine is prevelant, not because people are peeing in the hallways, but because it's just so dank and musty there that the smell from the bathrooms just lingers. With each step the smell grows stronger... also with each step, the sound of multiple rock bands rehearsing grows louder. A very chaotic scene, although all of the doors in the hallway are closed and there's really no one in sight. Here's a really telling piece of information: according to JQ, before it was a rehearsal space this place used to be the mental institution!

Feng lets us into his room and I check out the keyboard; the instrument is fine, but the problem is there is no case for the keyboard. It's not the end of the world, but not having a case is a pain... the board is not too heavy, just awkward to carry. I also have to carry an amp, so Feng empties out his hardware bag which has wheels and is able to fit the amp and all of the chords inside (unfortunately it's not quite big enough for the keys). So we take all of this stuff back to where I'm staying. From the cab it's not that far of a walk to the front door, but it's three stories up a very tiny, twisty stair case... it's definitely a two-trip job that requires some skill and patience. I'm wondering how I'll be able to do all of this by myself on the day of the gig.

The next morning, it's time to bring the keyboard to the meeting place; surprisingly, it's not as hard to take the stuff downstairs as it is taking it up. Also, Feng's hardware bag is quite useful as a dolly for the amp and chords. The meeting place is at the front gate of the Shanghai Television Station; here I meet Scott, Paul and Nick (Aussies from a previous post). The plan is to leave at 11am in a small tour bus. The bus seats about 20 people, and it's an old rickety thing. There are six dancers who are sharing this bus with us as they are working the same event; we are going to a place about an hour away on the southern outskirts of Shanghai (can't recall the name). So we load all of the gear onto the back of the bus and we are ready to go by the 11am departure time, however there is a dancer that we are still waiting for... the band is slightly peeved because we showed up on time and are now getting slowed down... around 11:45 is when we actually take off, and the dancer still hasn't arrived. After we leave the city, we go through a toll booth - then pull over right on the highway and wait for his kid for about an hour. It's excruciating - we're all crammed on this tiny, ramshackle bus waiting for one person. I'm annoyed and I'm starting to think no one person is that important; I'm thinking, it's not like this is a Black Sabbath tour and we're waiting for Ozzy... Geez! I start thinking in absolutes and getting really down on the way things are running around here... "If you miss the bus, then you missed the bus!" My usual cool, calm, collected self is being challenged. Meanwhile, the band starts discussing how we have to let this guy know that he messed up, and the agent who is traveling with us informs us that he understands english. The kid finally arrives and he is a very skinny, lenky Chinese guy; probably 18 or so. He's got big feathered hair and stylish sunglasses and tight clothes - a very new school Chinese kid. When he gets on, Paul immediately says to him (imagine in Aussie accent), "Hey mate, you've got some explaining to do, don't cha?"... the kid ignores us; he's on his cel phone and does not acknowledge us one bit. Then Scott who is sitting behind him taps him on the shoulder saying, "Don't you think an apology is in order? A simple 'I'm sorry', maybe?"... still no response, not even a glance. I was definitely perturbed by this guy; it seemed like everything about him was very annoying. His cellphone ring was the sound of birds chirping - extra irritating! Kids today...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Studio rat

I've been slammed the last couple of days...

WEDNESDAY: The gig the night before at JZ was a blast; I felt that Steinar and I were able to make the piano/organ thing work nicely... it is usually difficult to share accompanying duties with another chords player, but we were both listening and reacting well to what each other was doing. I hope we get to do it again before I leave... The crowd was pretty thin compared to the other nights I have been at JZ; this is due to the weather - the first really rainy night since I've been here. But the weather has never been more pleasant since the storm. It's more like Seattle weather right now; less humid, a slight breeze, easy to deal with. I haven't gotten that haircut yet, and if the weather stayed like this the rest of the time I was here, I probably won't get one. But... we all know this won't last, and the first overly-bearing sweaty day I'm going straight to the salon to lighten that load on my head...

Today I checked out a studio where I may do my recording project. Alec Haavik is doing his project there right now, and I went with him and the engineer to hang out for the preliminary set-up. This studio is super-cool, a very old-school room with wood paneling and very high ceilings, not to mention it has an incredible 9-foot Steinway - the piano alone is good enough reason to record at this place. Checking out the studio was inspiring; it put me in a very work-oriented mindset. There is still material that needs to be written for the project, but after seeing where the recording will possibly take place, I immediately felt the urgency to take care of business.

THURSDAY: This morning I finished writing a new piece, this one being the title-track to the record. There are times where songs come out really fast; this was one of those times. I'm going to have to give it the test with a real band to see if it actually works... All of my songs are merely musical experiments; sometimes they work and sometimes they don't... we shall see.

Let's put "Shanghai Riot" aside for a bit... I have another project that I've been working on the last year called Pontius Pilots; it's a duo with me playing piano/keyboards with Robert Nelson (aka e.R.DoN), a producer who triggers organically constructed samples through a device called the MPC. This afternoon Willie and I did a PPilots tracking session at a studio run by a friend of Hua's. The studio contained a real gem of a keyboard; the Yamaha CP80... this is a unique sounding electric piano, it contains real strings, yet it's own pickups - it's sounds great. Basically, we were able to get some good takes of Willie playing solo, then of him and I playing together. The next step is for me to send e.R.DoN these audio files via FTP so he can start dissecting the stuff and add his element to the tracks. It's cool - we basically have a global tracking session happening right now. I record stuff in Shanghai and send it to Seattle, Robert tweaks it in the way he needs to, writes drum sequences to the new material, then can send the stuff back to me to work on some more. In the end we have new Pontius Pilots material that we can work with in a live setting and/or piece together tracks for an album. Thank you internet!