For a real learning experience you just can’t beat a failure (but it sure does suck at the time.)
I like to use my time at soundShoppe to try out new stuff. Quite often by halfway through I get frustrated and just use my time tested equipment to jam for the rest of the session. That was the case at the last soundShoppe. I have been trying to find some “stomp boxes” to replace some ancient rack-mounted Lexicon “Vortex” processors that I have been using to alter the samplers I play. Those old boxes weigh a ton and I can’t take them with me when I travel. So, I spent the first hour last soundShoppe noodling around with these two Electro Harmonix “Synth 9” stomp boxes to no avail. It was a complete failure. I couldn’t get anything happening that I liked. Eventually I bailed out on the boxes and had fun jamming with just the samplers I brought. Of course, I was annoyed because I have been consistently banging my head against the wall with this project. Driving back home thinking about my failed attempt I was reminded another failure in my musical history.
In the mid 1970’s my friend and co-conspirator Chip Chapman was an electronic composition major at CALARTS. The college had a Spring Festival at that time when all of the student’s family and friends would show up on the campus for concerts and exhibits. Chip signed up for a performance upstairs in the Main Gallery, which was one of the more high visibility areas at the school. Chip titled his performance “Show of Power.” He managed to get some money from the school to rent a tape delay unit and we pulled two tape decks out of the synthesizer studio to use as a “Time-Lag Accumulator”(ala Terry Riley.) Chip got permission to move the Buchla Series 200 modular synthesizer, so we ended up basically stripping the studio and moving it to the main gallery.
After midnight Chip had the whole mess wired up and the Buchla patched with about every patch cord in the studio. The two musicians Chip had recruited to play the piece showed up with their bassoon and electric bass. Chip fired up the machines running the outputs from the instruments through a gauntlet of delay and synthesizer. The most amazing sound ripped through the school. I was completely blissed out. The sound was incredible. I had never heard anything like it before. Then, about 30 minutes in, the whole system stopped working. It totally crashed. We stayed there troubleshooting all night without success. When show time came, Chip finally had to pull the plug and apologize to the audience, which included lots of his friends and family (who had just made the hour long haul from San Gabriel to Valencia.) That evening, Chip, my brother Rick and I moved all of the equipment back into the studio, and I suppose that Chip pulled another all-nighter hooking it back up.
Chip’s humiliation became my inspiration when a few years later I was trying to figure out how to recreate a live version of the “wall of sound” that I had been producing on recordings. The “Show of Power” quickly came to mind and I recruited Chip and Rick to work on a “low budget” version of the setup (Chip was out of CALARTS by then so we were dependent on whatever equipment we could scrape together.) The result was the band/project called AIRWAY, which I am still fooling around with 4 decades later. So, Chip’s big failure is still paying dividends (but it sure sucked at the time.)