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March 7, 2002
The hidden etiquette of "action!"
The interviewing thing continues. Tonight is Amarevois, the Sequel.
A while back she was putting together an Electronic Press Kit and asked me to interview her for that. Sure, I said, and was duly astonished when I arrived at her place to find that we wouldn't be using my humble tape recorder. Amarevois didn't bother putting her mockery into words, but she also made it clear that she's progressed rather substantially beyond the humble tape recorder stage.
We sat in her big flash studio, and using my keen observational skills, I noticed that there were several very large, very powerful lights present. Upon closer inspection I also noticed that they were all pointing at her.
Sometime around then I came to the conclusion that we would also be filming this particular interview. I like to think that it was the presence of a camera that really tipped me off.
It was a great experience: I found myself sitting in a studio surrounded by thousands of dollars of cool toys, and unable to resist the temptation to say things like "action!" and "cut!" and "OK, that's a wrap!"
Which was great fun until Gianfranco, the director, gently pointed out that using those words was actually his job. I'm a little murky on the details, but I'm pretty sure he put his mockery into words.
On Friday last week I got together with Hieu Doan and interviewed him for an hour or so. Over the years I've interviewed a number of people with wildly varied results, but this time I asked more-or-less the right questions, but, even more importantly, I asked them in more-or-less the right order. The result was a pretty good interview. It was also one of the few interviews I've done which seemed to have some kind of structure, and that felt good. Hieu is also a kind of enigmatic character, and he certainly got me thinking about the whole enigma thing.
The whole enigma thing?
I don't much enjoy the standard media interview, especially the ones done by journalists who are convinced that every public figure except them are lying, evil, or simply out to make a fast buck. This sort of journalist interviews people with a very definite agenda: to expose them. I don't see the value of this approach at all. What I like is the mystery.
There's a line from Everything I need to know I learned from Sandman: "People will be more thankful for a mystery than an answer." This just makes sense to me. If I'm interviewing someone who seems to be living a paradox, I'm not interested in trying to get them to explain it or justify it or apologise for it. If someone is living a life that seems mysterious, then what I want to do is get the mystery down on tape. It's far more interesting to get an accurate idea of what someone is really like. The idea is to learn, not to judge.
I wish I could find some way to get paid to interview people. At the moment getting paid isn't the main priority (or even really much of a priority at all), but it's important to be able to find some way of continuing to do it. I'm even thinking of getting a business card printed up, with something like this on it:
How would you like to be interviewed? How would you like to tell someone about your life?
If a stranger came up to you and gave you one of these cards, what would you do?
After yoga today I went to a cafe on Brunswick St, to discover that the beautiful waitress came from New Zealand. This has become a real trend: almost every beautiful waitress I've encountered recently has a Kiwi accent. It seems that no cool Melbourne cafe is complete without one. It makes me wonder if all our cafes have joined forces for a recruitment drive.
And if they have, how can I get involved?
Anyway. Time for action. Time to go and see Amarevois. Cut. OK folks, that's a wrap.
April 18, 2002
A view of the 'Vois
Eight inspiring hours today with Amarevois, which was great. The 'Vois has outrageous musical skills, a vast chord vocabulary, and a snazzy way of hitting high notes on the piano with a kind of modified karate chop. It's a dazzling technique, but also a dangerous one. Using it risks disfigurement and damage if you get it wrong.
The first time I tried it, I got it wrong. Hours later I'm still dizzy with pain, and these words are being gingerly tapped out with breathtaking slowness.
She seems to be able to play all known instruments, and with great skill. I hate that. It makes me feel stupid and lazy. I played her a chord pattern of mine on her guitar, so she played some accompanying flute. Then I played another chord pattern on her piano, and she played some accompanying viola. Then I walked down the street to get some croissants, and she played some accompanying French horn.
You get the picture. It's ridiculous. By way of contrast, my musical skills are limited to (a) rudimentary piano, and (b) slightly more than rudimentary guitar. For the sake of honesty, though, I have to admit that the (b) is actually a sonic illusion.
Almost all guitarists use a plectrum, mainly so they can pretend to be Pete Townshend and flail their arms around. The first time I tried to do this, I smashed my hand into the top of the guitar. I ended up unconscious with pain, and unable to move my hand in any effective manner for several months. When I came to, I abandoned the Pete Townshend windmill approach, and just tried to strum more modest chords.
But doing this involves keeping a strong grip on a plectrum. Somehow, I could never remember to do that. Hundreds of plectrums disappeared into the sound hole in the middle of the guitar, and I found it embarrassingly difficult to get them out again.
After several years of this, the sound of the guitar changed. What started out as a twang gradually became a rattle. Plucking a string no longer produced the desired effect. Instead of sounding a note, it merely jostled the vast number of plectrums entombed within. I had progressed from melody to percussion without changing instruments.
In the end I gave up using plectrums. I wanted to perform a symbolic act of throwing the plectrums away, but even this proved beyond me. They were all trapped inside the guitar, and I couldn't get them out again. Of course, I only wanted to get them out so I could hurl them into the sea in a defiant gesture of rejection. Not being able to do this proved immensely frustrating. In the end I had to pay some guy to do the job for me, and the memory of his laughter continues to haunt me.
The upshot of all this is that I started fingerpicking guitar instead. Now, to the untrained ear, this might seem like I'm doing something clever. But don't believe the hype. I'm not doing anything clever at all. It's still the same old rudimentary chords, but only one note at a time.
To give you some idea of the contrast in our musical skills, Amarevois can play a B-flat diminished seventh with an added ninth and a slice of lemon and move to the key of E=mc2 in thousands of different ways, some of which involve hitting the high notes with a karate chop.
She doesn't have a NoPro, though, so at least I could tease her about that.
May 3, 2002
Excuse me while I tidy my room
Another long, effective day with the 'Vois in her studio. She wanted help writing a bio for her Electronic Press Kit. We have a chat, and I suggest this:
Describing Amarevois and her music is like trying to fling a gossamer thread around the moon. It might be possible, but no one has worked out how. She's impossible to pigeonhole, because she does it all. She's a great singer, a great guitarist, a great producer, a great songwriter. Listening to her music is like being gently bathed in swirls of dreamy complexity. It takes you on a vast, inexplicable journey.
As part of the barter system we use, she then gave me a lesson in Pro-Tools, the incredibly sophisticated music composition software program that she's an expert at.
What I learnt can be neatly summed up in three words: "tidy your room."
Gone for chaos
Now, for those who can't believe that a piece of music composition software, even a very sophisticated one, can offer such a lesson, let me explain.
I've known for a very long time that what I really want to do is write: songs, stories, jokes. As I assess what I've achieved so far, I can confidently say that I've made some degree of progress in all these things.
At my advanced age, "some degree of progress" seems increasingly insufficient.
Amarevois once looked at where I work, and pointed out something that I'd never noticed: "this arrangement doesn't work. Your guitar is in a case on the floor, and your piano is off to one side, where you don't see it. How do ever remember to play them?"
I responded with a thoughtful pause. Several minutes of complete silence followed. Eventually she added another observation: "and have you ever thought about tidying up around here?"
At least the answer to the last question was easy: no, I'd never thought to tidy up around here. I went all machismo for a second, and loudly announced that I had a choice, and that I'd gone for chaos. "It's always worked for me," I declared, swooshing my arms around in the manner of an unimportant Shakespearean character. But then I lapsed into another thoughtful pause. I'd suddenly realised that one of my most treasured assumptions wasn't true.
So when she asked how I remember to write songs, my honest answer is that I haven't always remembered. And the periods of forgetfulness have sometimes dragged on for years. And being enshrouded in a lifestyle of chaos has often meant that I've found it difficult to remember what my real goals are.
What I noticed about Amarevois' studio was how conducive it was for getting real work done. Everything had been streamlined to make it the best possible environment for writing. The only things on display were all related to music.
And what I saw her doing with Pro-Tools was working, very quickly and very efficiently, on details. Having got her studio set up properly, she was on to the next stage: composing, fine-tuning, editing. Getting the details right.
Meanwhile, I'm still enshrouded by chaos.
Time to revisit that.
Time to tidy my room.
February 13, 2003
The 'Vois and The Machine
In addition to an astonishing home studio, Amarevois is also the proud owner of The Machine. Her kitchen is a little on the small side, and it's even smaller now, owing to the presence of The Machine. It sits on the kitchen bench and appears to be gradually taking over the entire area. It has the power to send small copies of itself out like a mutant strain of mechanical ivy. It's generally regarded as wise not to stand too close to it.
In the early stages of its lifecycle, The Machine makes coffee. But the process by which it does this takes complexity to stunning new heights. Luckily, The Machine comes with The Manual, which is several pages longer than War and Peace. Amarevois set aside a week for training, and pursued her quest for mastery of The Machine with the discipline of a samurai. She studied, she took notes, she took a break to meditate on a Zen koan. Refreshed, she returned to her study, and eventually distilled the essence of her notes into a single page of instructions. She pinned this up next to The Machine, and watched with calm resignation as The Machine ate it.
She made us coffee, and I made the mistake of watching. When she turned on The Machine it sprang back to life with a furious vengeance. Lights flashed, machinery rumbled, the kitchen itself shook. I sprang back in alarm.
"Perhaps I could hide under the mixing desk in the studio," I said.
"Stay there, weakling," she intoned, in Latin. Confronted with both The Machine and The 'Vois, I had no choice but to stay. In a state of concentrated focus, Amarevois rapidly went through all thirty two points on the list. She moved with ease and confidence while I stood paralysed in fear. At one point she casually flicked a lever, and various dark gods appeared. The Machine has a special lever to summon gods of this nature. The gods greeted each other, and fell to talking. But soon they argued, and then they fought. The result was a blazing jet of boiling liquid.
I couldn't help but notice that Amarevois, at all times, remained completely calm. Throughout the entire process of summoning gods and coordinating their discussions into a useful purpose, she kept up a steady stream of normal conversation. She appeared to be in relaxed control of a natural disaster.
One has to admire such a person. Such a person is capable of anything. Such a person has ... The Machine. Such a person is ... The 'Vois.
March 3, 2003
Several sickening thuds
Well, despite the pleasure of sharing a house with a stuffed emu in a box, it's been a terrible week.
I've had the most shameful experience of my adult life. It's taking time to recover, but I already know I won't ever really recover. The sad truth is that Amarevois, may the gods bless her graceful heart, beat me at pool. As a result, I've lost a fair chunk of the will to live.
It's worth stating at the outset that I come from a long tradition of pool excellence. For a long time, there were only two things I was good at: hitch-hiking and pool. I went to a school which had a pool table. I lived in a housing co-operative which bought, largely at my instigation, a pool table. For a time I slept on a pool table. Eventually, I slept under a pool table. Pool and I go back a long way. As a result, pool is one area where I show very strong tendencies to not lose.
So when I suggested a game to Amarevois, it was all I could do to not wager, say, several high denomination coins on the outcome.
Initially I cast a wary eye on her playing style, and duly noted that it was built around the twin towers of power and optimism. She'd cast the briefest of glances at the table, immediately line up a shot, and blast away. At first this approach failed, to the utter delight of her opponent. By the time I won the game, she'd potted a mere one ball. I needed all the self-control I had not to snicker and mock. I had, as they say, "whumped the 'Vois."
But as I racked up the balls again I was visited by the dread spectre of over-confidence. "I've whumped her once," I thought. "I'm a-gonna keep on whumping. And not only that: I'm going to whump her in style."
There was a time when I was proud of that style. It was a time that stretched back a quarter of a century, and ended with savage abruptness today. I am, or was, the kind of pool player who coaxes the balls around the table. I gently rustle them across the velvety surface. I inveigle, I wheedle, I vex. Pool, for me, is all about showcasing my knowledge of exotic verbs.
And in this, as in so many other things, Amarevois does it differently. She approaches pool from a background in archery. Pool, for her, is archery in reverse. Instead of drawing an arrow back with power, and letting fly with a relaxed motion, she draws the cue back with an easy motion, and lets fly with concentrated force. It's a style built on power and precision. If her aim is good there's a sickening thud as the ball rams into the pocket.
The second game started with several sickening thuds, and then there were several sickening thuds more. It all seemed curiously unreal. Even when the black made a sickening thud it still seemed like I had nothing to worry about. Hubris had set in, and I hadn't even noticed the danger.
So we kept playing, and I kept losing. As soon as the 'Vois got her aim in, the whumping changed direction. By the end of the evening, I'd been thoroughly vanquished. I'd love to say that I've emerged from this experience a stronger and a wiser person, but I can't. All my vexing and wheedling had counted for naught, and it seems that now I must learn the thud.
Either that or I find some other game to showcase my exotic verbs.
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