We’re three shows into this NA leg. By last night’s show in Montclair, NJ we felt like we had clawed our way back to the level of performance we reached at the end of the previous legs. We were fine at the first two shows, but some of us, not just me, had to think now and then about what we were doing — which didn’t really affect the show, but was a little bit of a reminder that there’s a lot going on.
Jon Pollak, our LD for this whole tour, has left for I don’t know where. We’ll miss him — his lighting was wonderful — but our new LD, David A, will be up to speed soon.
On the night bus ride from Canandaigua, NY (near Rochester) to Montclair the crew bus broke down — a radiator pipe problem, I was told. In the middle of the night (5 AM?) the band and dancer buses circled back around and picked up the survivors. Crew members groggily piled on and slept the rest of the night in the empty bunks and on lounge sofas as we continued on to NJ.
Amazingly, I slept though the whole thing, as did Mauro, Paul and some others. I woke up in a parking lot in Fairfield, NJ to find Victor (guitar tech) and Bruce (FOH mixer) sitting in our bus lounge, surrounded by luggage, drinking coffee.
The abandoned bus was repaired, and showed up in Montclair mid-afternoon with Arlene, the driver, behind the wheel.
Mauro and I decided to bike from the hotel in Fairfield to the Edison house and lab, a National Historic site in nearby West Orange (about 9 miles away). Rolling hills along the route, through Verona and some other hamlets, made for a bit more of a workout than we anticipated. We passed by pleasant wooded suburbs and some pretty big houses. No bike paths (no surprise there) and not even sidewalks in some areas. If you don’t have a car in NJ you really are a second-class citizen. When we got there — a gatehouse to a private community marked the entrance — we were told that it was open only on weekends, and the lab was under renovation. My fault for not double-checking opening hours.
I’d read in a new book about recorded sound (Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner) that Edison arranged demonstrations of his “perfected” wax cylinder recorders at various theaters around the continent. He’d have a known singer sing along with their own recorded voice, and then at some point the singer would stop and the recording took over. Testimonials claimed that the audience gasped and couldn’t tell the difference between the live singer and the recording (like “Is it real or is it Memorex?” for those who remember those cassette tape ads).
This seems a little far-fetched, though it’s true that we do hear what we want to hear to a large extent, and the amount of hype Edison was capable of generating was considerable — and hype can affect what we see and hear. There was indeed some information that surfaced alleging that Edison had “trained” the singers to imitate the quality and sound of the recordings — slightly pinched and not very loud — to make the gag work. This seems likely, as any decent singer could sing far louder than the volume of those old machines.
Although this may make Edison out to be a bit of a three-card Monte showman (as, like that game, the demonstration was rigged), it also shows what a talent he had for marketing and promoting his inventions. Coming up with an amazing idea and even patenting it was only half the battle… at least as far as getting it out there goes.
The rigged demonstration also gives an early hint at how performance is influenced by technology. Technology feigns neutrality — to simply record and capture (photography, audio, digitizing) — but not only does each technology skew the copy in some direction, the copy soon becomes the gold standard against which performance is measured. Even if the copy is not 100% faithful, in a weird backwards turn it becomes the “real” thing. While this seems almost comic — early singers imitating wax recordings or photographers imitating Impressionist paintings — with multi-track and now digital recording the worlds of recorded (and manipulated) sound and live performance drift ever further apart.
Our show in NJ went great — the crowd was up on their feet for a good part of the evening.
I’ve been in contact with some of the Extra Action Marching Band crew about doing more songs together when we reconnect in Portland, Seattle and Berkeley. Emails have been exchanged about brass arrangements and stage attire.