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practicing improvisation
a journal of performed and recorded interactions

by Bret Hart

w/ Mark McGee / Arte Biglips / Camera Obtusa  ('81-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 school band, we have improvised since meeting. In 1976 we formed a garage unit called Red Shape, which included bass player Chris Notarthomas, or "the 17-year-old guy who lived around the corner."  I played a Guild S-65D and sang my strange songs, Mark drummed. 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. While I was working in South Korea (variously during 1984-1990), Mark hooked-up with the Boston Pop band Piece de Resistance who recorded an unnoticed vinyl LP.  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 / Greg Sullivan ('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. Additionally, the two of us have issued five CD-R's of "stacked improvisational folk music" as Some Pig.
. w/ Ian Davis (2001-present)
. w/ Mark Kissinger ('87, 2001-2002)
. w/ Bob Jordan ('95-present)
. w/ Graham Halliday (2001-2002)
. w/ Amy Denio (2001/2003)
. w/ Don Campau (2001)
. w/ David Wortman ('98-2000)
. w/ Phil Hargreaves (2001-2002)
. w/ Ben Waters (2001-2002)
. 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 with my Pan-Jo, 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/ Automatic Music (1999-present)
. w/ Jack and Ben Wright & 3rd Program (1997)
. 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."