Ravenna Flamenco

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The Walrus, The Thumb & The Dancers

posted in performance on june 16th, 2008

No, this isn’t a post about some long lost CS Lewis book in the "Narnia" series (besides, wasn’t the Walrus Lewis Carroll’s schtick?). Anyway, what this post is about is the latest Zamani Flamenco show—or series of shows, actually: there were six of them (which goes a long way, I think, toward explaining why I’ve been neglecting Ravenna Flamenco so heinously this last week or two).

Walrus Performance Productions (of the clever logo pictured above) is an arts promotion organization based out of the Capitol Hill Arts Center (CHAC) in Seattle. The Evening Produced In Collaboration ("EPIC" – we like acronyms!) is a month long series featuring emerging performance artists in music, dance, and theater. Zamani Flamenco was involved in the first two weekends only, but there’s still lots of stuff going on – check out the Walrus website for details.

But wait, you ask, I get the Walrus thing (now) and the dancers are a gimme, but what’s up with the thumb? Was there some strange performance art related amputation incident? Have your hitchhiking days met an untimely end? No, nothing so dire, I assure you. Actually, the story with the thumb is this: it has finally sunk in to my compás addled cerebellum how important – particularly in acoustically interesting situations such as this – the thumb is.

Like most other guitar players, I’m chronically obsessed with all the things I can (or can’t, depending on the day) get my fingers to do. Playing successive and different bulerías (in particular) over these last two weekends, however, has done wonders for my thumb-esteem. Basically, at issue is this: when trying to play forcefully enough to be heard over a dancer in full swing, nifty little picado runs or filigreed arpeggios aren’t going to do it. Such was the case with me, anyway. With the thumb, however, I could insert some melody lines into what would otherwise have been a very rasgueado-heavy performance and still be heard over the lady with nails in her shoes.

But enough blather, you say. We want examples! Well fine then. Here’s a bulerías for you. This was actually the last number on our last night; it took me about this long to get over the finger business and just roll with the thumb:

Granted, in other, future performance situations, I will definitely bring the fingers back for some equal opportunity string time. Given the room and sound situation here, however, learning (eventually) how to adapt my playing to fit the space was an important lesson. But enough moralizing. How about another clip? Here’s an alegrías:

The different camera angles are a function of whether or not I had conscripted my very patient wife/occasional ZF videographer Anna to film on the night in question. The peculiarity of the next (and last) clip, however, has nothing to do with visuals. Let me explain: the CHAC, like most of Capitol Hill, is part of a "block building" where all the structures are connected. It’s just sort of a building cube. And there are lots of spaces (connected, as it were, by Kafka-esque corridors and staircases), built out for every purpose under the sun (and some, I suspect, that have never seen the light of day). In any case, the night of our last performance, there was something called INDUSTRIAL MUSIC WARFARE going on in the space below the Walrus Theater (you might know, by the way, that, verbose as I am, I’m not generally given to typographical hyperbole, but believe me: all caps and bold is the only way to represent this).

The upshot is that just as I was getting my mic situated for our last set, a miasma of industrial-grade electronic music came welling up through the floor. It eventually stopped (an exploratory skirmish, perhaps?), but then came back for a second attack just as we were starting our tangos. There’s little else to do but laugh and press on (I believe the audience was asked if they were ready to get funky – I won’t say by whom)—which is exactly what we did. In the end I think we managed to pull it off:

And there you have it! Our next couple of engagements (for the moment) are private (i.e. unless you’re already going, you can’t come), but keep your eyes on the ZF calendar for more dates over the summer.

Now go play!


tags: thumb, accompaniment
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