practicing improvisation
a journal of performed and recorded interactions
by Bret Hart

w/ Mark McGee ("Arte Biglips") / Camera Obtusa  ('76-present)
    Mark and I met at A.V. Zogg Middle School in Liverpool, New York around 1973. As a 6th Grade percussionist in band, Mark tells me that he thought I (as an 8th Grade trombonist was "dangerous".  With the sole exception of that school band, we have improvised virtually everything.
    In 1976 we formed a garage unit called Red Shape, which included as bass player either Chris Notarthomas, or "the 17-year-old guy who lives around the corner."  I played a Guild S-65D and sang my strange songs, Mark drummed. We sucked and hadn't the remotest possibility of performing anywhere beyond a house party (at one of our own houses).
    Mark went on to found the ELP/Genesis/Chicago cover band Casco Bay, and I went on to form The Blunt - a 3-piece progressive fusion band with Jerry Mulvey [bass/clarinet/drum machine/narration] and Jim Gass [drums/marimba/xylophone]. Through Jerry, I met the 2-piece Pop-Punk duo Porcelain Forehead, with whom Mark later drummed after I made introductions.  While I was working in South Korea (variously during 1984-1990), Mark hooked-up with the Boston Pop band Piece de Resistance who recorded a vinyl LP, unnoticed at the time due to the similarity to and quick ascendence of Aimee Mann's Til Tuesday in Boston.
    In 1990, back in the States, Mark and I recorded a few informal sessions in Portland, Maine [issued in 2001 as Surf or Fry!], the impetus behind which later gelled into the 4-track psychedelic guitar-Pop concept Maximum Love Vibes (the name, a tribute to Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson) that recorded and issued five LPs [Fume, The Stride, Tight, The Made Bed, and All of it is True] between 1991-1996.
    When I moved my family from New England to the South in 1997, distances made coterminous recording impossible - the collaborative soundscape concept Camera Obtusa was born.  Using aliases Dr. Artemis Biglips (Mark) and Alonzo "Blind Pineapple" Phillips (Bret), we have recorded and released Beating the Devil's Fiddle, Welcome to Eden, Whistlin' Rufus, Pillar o' Salt and Turtle.
w/ Dick Metcalf ('88-present)
    I received a phonecall at work in South Korea in 1998 - it was keyboardist Dick Metcalf [aka "Rotcod Zzaj"], explaining that he lived 30 minutes north of me, had seen reviews of my recorded work in Sound Choice, and wanted to meet and play some music together. Dick is a true friend of the improvising musician, a talented player who has played with Wally Shoup, Davey Williams, LaDonna Smith, and many others, and E-publishes two of the few magazines that smile on Improvisation; Improvijazzation Nation and The Improvisor. We have recorded several projects since that time, most recently in the InstrumenTales Improvisational Duets series.
w/ Dan Stearns ('90-'95)
w/ J-Me Johnson / Industrial Sonic Echo  ('95-'98)
w/ Worcester Artist Group regulars ('90-'92)
    In 1991, while living in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, I learned that 19 miles south was a little known performance/studio space called the "WAG" (Worcester Artist Group) that sponsored a weekly 'Open Stage'. I became an increasingly frequent participant in the Central MA arts scene and improvised with a revolving and evolving cast of fascinating and idiosyncratic players and sound artists. J-ME Johnson designed and constructed steel and wire sound-sculptures and acoustic metal tripods; Industrial Sonic Echo being a group of artists who would improvise together on J-ME's instruments. Dave Nader and Bill MacMillan spouted "smokin' word" art. Mark Paolini attached contact mics to shopping carts and stop signs. With one's eyes closed, Jim Capone could conjure Coltrane. Dan Stearns had extended his electric and acoustic guitar technique, and his rhythmic and melodic sense far afield from 12-tone and pentatonic and was verging on his shift to self-built microtonal instruments and scored composition.
w/ Peter Zolli + Keith Prescott / HipBone ('93-'present)
w/ Steve Blake / Jaws of Glee / Kudzu / The Cheagles ('95-present)
    About 6 months into my involvement with the WAG, I was approached by Peter Zolli to provide spontaneous guitar accompaniment for his original folk music. Following a newpaper classified, the duo soon blossomed into the 4-piece band Progress, with the addition of Keith (drums) and Jeff (bass) Prescott. As can happen, Progress acrimoniously disintegrated.
    Two years later, the guys came to a live solo set of mine and this led to the formation of HipBone, in which Peter (bass/vocal harmony), Keith (drums/percussion/accordion), and I (guitar/E-Bow/voice) performed and recorded songs I was writing.  HipBone performed a ridiculous number of times, in some unlikely settings, spearheaded the F.-a.R.M. Initiative [Fitchburg-area Real Music], and opened many doors for other original music groups seeking performance venues.  To date, HipBone has recorded five LPs [Bill Nose, Big Ears, Duck or Mask?, Cho-Rok, and Decoupage] and two EPs [HipBone and My Pet Chicken], most of which were produced by Peter.
    Most of our records were accomplished at Steve Blake's Toad Hall Studios.  Steve has been a guitarist and bassist in several groups of mine and is a splendid recording engineer. He produced the 2nd Kudzu record (Incest is Bad)
w/ Fred Hall (1999-present)
    My awareness of Fred's work goes back to around 1986 when I was writing about homemade music for Op, OPtion and Sound Choice, when Fred was self-releasing his own bent songwriting and cosmic guitar-ness using the pseudonym 'Gentlemaniac'. Somehow or another, after I brought my family here from Massachusetts in 1998, Fred and I became acquainted. I was shortly thereafter 'invited' (?) to become a member of the improvising collective he was organizing called AUTOMATIC MUSIC. Since 2000, on Szum Records, A.M. has released 9-25 (depending on whether Ed's involved in the counting) full-length records of our unique improvisation.
w/ Ernesto Diaz-Infante ('98-present)
    Bay-area improvisor, E.D.-I. was the first 'new-friend' (someone with whom I had not previously worked in a live duets context) and was in fact the first other initiator in my duets series. We duel on the first two discs in the series. Ernesto had sought blind collaboration by way of an announcement in Dick Metcalf's ImproviJazzation Nation zine and it was through one of these invitations that we began working together. He, Dick, and I had previously issued a very strange [now unavailable] CD titled Fowl Turbulence. Ernesto always provides challenging sourcetapes for me to work with, and his ability to skirt the edge of complete entropy amazes me. Very Cage-ian, whether he acknowledges it or not.
w/ Ian Davis (2001-present)
    Saw an ad for Umbrella Records and its CDs of improvised music. A release involving Nick Didkovsky's Dr. Nerve interested me and I sought a review copy for my improv. review 'zine TheUnheardMusic. I received several great discs, including a couple by Ian Davis' Micro-East Ensemble. Great stuff.  Ian came up from Chapel Hill and we nailed about 35m of abrasive then windy then machine-like then ... living room immediacy with a view towards a future Duets Series CD. Since, I drove down to Ian's and we nailed another 50m or so of splendid co-percussion and whatnot; not to mention a disc's worth of trios with Scotty Irving. None of these have yet been issued in any form.
w/ Mark Kissinger ('87, 2001-2002)
    Mark and I go way back into the Cassette Mythos days. We tried an unfinished thing together when I was living in Maryland ('89?).  Later, we completed two fascinating "guitarchitecture" duets releases together. Mark is a guitarist with a palette as big as Pennsylvania. He's done things with Dick Metcalf and other old-school cats.
w/ Bob Jordan ('95-present)
    Bob has single-handedly done more to promote creativity, diversity, and culture in Worcester, Massachusetts than any other individual ever. Of interest, seldom has he been paid or compensated with anything more than verbals and editorials for the art he's brought to the boilerplated ears of Central, MA. He plays everything. He has the largest and best vinyl collection in the world.  He broke my 4-track (forgiven).
w/ Graham Halliday (2001-2002)
    Aussie self-proclaimed "anarchist" musician [guitar/piano], member of Vocabularinist and  who gathered tracks for a Sonic Youth tribute disc, as yet unreleased. Graham and I have two duets discs out.  His sourcetrack, at the time of the first project, were the singlemost challenging things I had ever improvised with.
w/ Amy Denio (2001)
    Amy started putting her music into the world's ear at about the same time and through many of the same channels as I did. I remember reviewing her "No Bones". She's a peerless singer, holds her own with the best of 'em on several other instruments, and can peel paint with a sax. We combined two short duets projects for our volume 1.
w/ Don Campau (2001)
    Like Amy, Don's been inundating the world with his aural-muse for a few decades. Usually guitar/keyboard + voice, his songs are like no other, disarming and alarming at the same time. We have two duets projects available. He has a great radio show called No Pigeonholes that's been the hometaper's friend since the 70's. A very important piece in the American sub-Pop culture puzzle.
w/ David Wortman ('98-2000)
    Ex-band teacher/excellent saxophone and flute player at my middle school.  We had played and recorded together in the "post-RIO trio" (?) [with Scotty Irving: percussion/The Crutch/electric desk stapler] The Rockingham County Recyclers in 1997. David was one of the first participants in my duets series.
w/ Phil Hargreaves (2001-present)
    Utterly fabulous reedman from Liverpool, UK.  Capable of circular bird-flock like cascades, ear-jolting splatter and splutter, long mournful unmelodies. Our two duets volumes are available in Europe as a single 2-DC set through Whi-Music.
w/ Ben Waters (2001-present)
w/ Ken Hyder (2002)
w/ Phil Sudo (2001 - R.I.P. 2002)
    Someone recommended I check out Phil's Zen Guitar website.  I had skimmed the hardcover book when it was released, while working at Tatnuck Booksellers, and thought it interesting. We got in touch and Phil sent me some solo recordings to accompany, with a view toward his accompanying some recordings I'd sent of my solo improvisations at a later date when he felt up to it. I finished my half and sent him a dub, which he enthused about. Sadly, our duets record together won't be finished and we won't be hearing more of Phil's splendid guitar- meditations, as he lost his battle with stomach cancer and has moved on up. Bless your peaceful soul, Mr. Sudo.
w/ Phil Kellogg (2001)
    FireParty Beefheart discussion group acquaintance. Killer slide guitarist, in the style of John Fahey, Bill Harkleroad, various seminal Delta/folk Blues influences. One duets release together.
w/ Tom Nunn (2001)
    Author of Wisdom of the Impulse, a fine discussion/treatise/reflection on Improvisation. Tom also is the inventor of many artful sound-producing sculptures and delicate electro-acoustic percussion platforms and sonic devices. He is one of a handful of old-school (ie; Gino Robair, H. Kaiser, the ROVAs) San Francisco artists improvisors still mining and refining a deep muse, decades in development.
w/ Chris Cutler (3/28/02)
    When invited to a small salon gig featuring Mr. Cutler at Ian Davis's home studio/performance space, I asked whether the entire evening would be devoted to solo performance.  Ian told me that some local players would have opportunity to improvise with him, preceding/following his solo sets, and invited me to "bring an instrument". He stressed "AN instrument" and said "keep it small".  I have a penchant for lugging sonic circuses into settings.
    Chris, Ian, myself, and a very idiosyncratic young bassoon player enjoyed about 20 minutes of spirited playing. From where I was sitting, I could see Ian's percussing and the bassoon player clearly, but nothing more of Chris Cutler than one of his elbows. The whole thing almost ground to a halt at about the 15 minute point, but the bassoon player persisted (it sounded excellent) in loudly breathing in-and-out of + fingering the valves on his instrument after Ian and Chris had stopped sounding, so I allowed a diminishing loop I had created to swell in volume and abraded my Pan-Jo strings in time with his valve-noises. Next thing we knew, Chris and Ian were emerging back into things and we kept at it for a nice while.  Later, Fred Hall played e-bow/slide banjo, Ian D. percussed gently, CC worked his kit, and I played the Pan-Jo with an e-bow (experiencing internal mic trouble and some irritating static).  None of this evening was successfully captured to tape.
w/ Jack and Ben Wright & 3rd Program (1997)
w/ Automatic Music (1999-present)
w/ Scotty Irving / Clang Quartet (1998-present)
w/ Larry Marotta (2001)
w/ John Jasnoch (2001-present)
w/ Mika Rintala (2002)
w/ Greg Segal (2001-2002)
w/ Charles Rice Goff III (2001-present)
w/ Jeff Mcleod (2002)
w/ Hal McGee (2002)
w/ Eric Wallach (2002)

"Improvisation is Fate." 
Duets Series: