Saturday, February 28, 2015

Talking With Bob and MB

Last month, on the birth date of Arthur Jarvinen, I posted an article called An Antenna Repairmen Performance.   The members of the Repairmen were Jarvinen, M.B. Gordy and Robert Fernandez.  The post included a video of their magnificent joint composition Ghatam in live performance.  (Go.  Listen.  Watch.)

Yes, M.B. goes by his initials.  Everyone calls him M.B..  Most people don't know what the letters stand for.  I'm not even sure if I'm supposed to use periods.  Robert usually gets called Bob.  Everyone knows what 'Bob' stands for.

That post prompted the three of us to get together to talk about the Repairmen's history.  We met last Wednesday.  I recorded everything for use in future Mixed Meters posts.  This post is a quickie to say thank you.  Thanks, guys.

Here's an early picture of the trio - scanned from a xerox of a photograph.  Bob said it was taken in 1978 or 79 at CalArts where the Repairmen, all students of John Bergamo, met.

L to R: M.B. with hair and mustache, Art with hair and sideburns and Bob with hair and beard.  (I love the video camera on the left and the shadow of same on the right.)

You may well wonder what these guys are doing.  Certainly not conventional percussion music.  The tall cylindrical object is a resonant metal artillery shell to which long strips of masking tape have been affixed.  The shell was amplified.  The trio slowly pulled the strips of tape away from the shell creating sounds.  Neither M.B. nor Bob could remember a title.  We'll also have to imagine what it sounded like.

I asked about how the group got started.  Bob answered:
We gravitated towards each other.  We were in the new music ensemble together.  We had a lot of likes, our personalities.  Art could see that we had chops, we could play already.  We were getting better.  And he said 'You know, this might be something.'  It was his idea.  He said 'Let's do a trio.  Let's start writing.'  It was wide open.
M.B. added:
And it was going to be not just a percussion trio because it was pretty much going to be whatever it was.  Sort of a Performance-Art-for-Percussion trio because we did plenty of pieces where there wasn't a whole lot of percussion going on.
Back to Bob:
We started kind of sifting what was out there for trios.  Art started writing text, you know, just to push the boundaries.  We knew that text could be involved, that non percussion activities could be involved.  There was theater, how hard could [that] be?
In our discussion we covered the piece Ghatam in detail.  They gave me a lot of information about the history and structure of Ghatam.   Watch for that in some future Mixed Meters post.

After 3 hours of talk and laughter hunger overtook us.  Here's a picture of M.B. and Bob taken later that evening, before the food came.


I'm not very good at telling jokes.  One joke I do tell, however, is about how dancers count to three or to seven.  Musicians often find this very amusing.

Unfortunately the joke cannot be conveyed through written language.  It must be told by someone out loud and in rhythm.  I've mentioned this before in the post Counting to Seven.  Back then I didn't try to tell the joke.

It turns out that this bit of humor is based on reality.  It actually happened to M.B.  Here's audio of the three of us discussing how it happened.  (Note: To protect the innocent I removed some personal details about the dancer from the clip.)

Listen right here:

(If that doesn't work try this page instead.)


Somewhere, back in history, I wrote a piece for the Antenna Repairmen.  It was called Bombed.  I've mentioned Bombed before here.  (That page has a story about how Frank Zappa reacted to Bombed.)

Bombed is in three movements.  Here are the program notes for each movement.

1. Into the Stone Age – Three young Americans, believing the sound-bites of their leaders, participate in the destruction of a less significant culture.
2. Pan Am 103 – Wrapped up in their own problems and fears, they have no conception of what is happening around them.
3. Out of Your Mind – Our heroes, trying to walk home after the bars close, cannot remember the music they heard that day.

Bombed came up in our three hour marathon Wednesday.  Here's Bob talking about it.
That was a fun piece.  That was a hard piece too.  We played it pretty damn well.  You know why I think we liked that piece so much?  Not because it was well written.  To me it epitomized the Repairmen, the kind of weird things that we did, the odd rhythms.  'You're playing seven?  I've got my six in that time.'  It was no problem for us, we got so used to doing that.
You can listen to Bombed here.  You can even download the score here.


Tim Wolf said...

Thanks for this recollection and conversation with Bob and MB.

The artillery shell piece was titled "Mask". It was composed/created by Art. In addition to being performed by the Repairmen, Art and I performed it at Cal Arts as well. Here is a recording of it from around 1979.

The Cal Arts percussion room had a great collection of various surplus items including what appeared to be a large aluminum aircraft engine cowling that I believe the Repairmen performed on. The artillery shell was part of this collection of resonant metal junk.

Mask involved preparing the artillery shell before the performance by covering it with strips of masking tape from top to bottom. In performance, one or more performers would remove the tape strips in an improvised manor: slowly, quickly, steadily, in a staccato fashion, etc. I believe that the shell was amplified. The piece was really a sonic mediation on friction, the friction of the tape gum pulling away from the metal.

I collaborated a lot with Art between 1978 and 1981 at Cal Arts, in performance, improvisation and sharing of caffeine. We briefly had a trio called the Caucasions, with trumpeter David Weiss, and a duo called the Folk Hunters. I created a very limited-edition, blue-printed, hand-woven poster for the Repairmen in April, 1979. I think of him often.

David Ocker said...

Thanks Tim. Fascinating and much appreciated - both the recording and the poster. "Percussion, Text, Crime ..." (I wonder what the crime was.)

The aircraft engine cowling was used in John Bergamo's piece called On The Edge. David Johnson performed it at the recent tribute to John at CalArts. (you can see the cowling in front of the stage in the first picture)

Christopher Garcia said...

this might exist somewhere else, i.e.,
my apologies if I am reitierating

One time, John Bergamo had signed the CAL ARTS PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE
to do a percussion concert at LOS ANGELES CITY COLLEGE
and one of the pieces we did was by Arthur that he called ZONE

we each had a tam tam with a hole in the middle of it and we each
had metal dowels anywhere from 5 to 8 feet long
the IDEA was to pull the metal dowels thru the holes causing
overlapping reverberations, sonorities etc.,

kinda like nails on a chalkboard x's 5 percussionists doing it at the same time

I asked Arthur how long should the piece last,
his answer was very JARVINENIAN
"til they can't take it anymore" he said with a twinkle in his eye and THAT SMILE

I should also mention that Arthur, Bob and MB also performed
another piece of Arthurs called
which they would also perform at CAL ARTS

but I dont think they were yet calling themselves
THE ANTENNAE REPAIRMEN at that time.......................