August 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
Sammy di Stefano wasn’t willing to stick his neck out any more than he already had which was understandable, but for this Merryn Dieter reserved the right to call him names and curse his grandmother’s hooha. No one cared to comment on this. Whatever the case, Marmoset would have the chance to prove to a hostage audience that they could thrash out a tune and that they were irrefutably punk, plus Sammy’s desire to exact some kind of petty revenge on a poor assistant stage manager would be satisfied, on top of his being paid a handsome little stipend. Wins all around, in short.
On the eve of the Waysles Chamber Ensemble’s opening performance, and by the light of a quickly dipping sun, the band lugged their scratched black cases round the back alley way and stole into Bart Street Recital Hall through the rear entrance. They stowed their load in a quiet corner, snuck out and stole their way back in the following night, that is to say, tonight, with the distinct aim of not drawing undue attention from the orchestra members who are now currently standing around sagely, tending to their instruments as though having intimate chats with dead friends.
Clad semi-formally in black and white, the members of Marmoset remind themselves that they too are musicians and that they have every right to be backstage with these classically-trained people (of whom Merryn is one), absorbing the anticipatory buzz of the unseen audience so calmly as to be practically arrogant.
‘Do not, I repeat, do not unpack your shit until the musicians are on stage,’ di Stefano stressed to the five-piece over drinks and steaks at a pub two days earlier.
‘What are we then?’ said Raven, lead guitarist of Marmoset.
‘Sorry?’ said di Stefano.
‘I said what are we if they’re musicians? What does that make us then?’
Sammy considered Raven who had the sourest look on her face at that moment. ‘Clowns,’ he said. ‘What would you like me to say?’
He turned his attention to frontman Bosco: ‘this shit does not come back to me, ever, agreed?’
Bosco just stared at Sammy who then turned to Cyrus (his main contact with the band), smiled incredulously and said at a rather intimate range, ‘mate, that two hundred bucks hardly wets my beak; don’t let me regret being a good friend here, because I checked out your bandcamp and I’m pretty convinced I’m not doing this for your particular brand of noise.’
This was precisely when Merryn decided it was only right that she talk ill of Sammy’s granny’s nether parts. But no one cared to defend di Stefano considering noise punk was one of their genre descriptors.
Cyrus might not be much when he’s propped on a stool behind the drum kit making sticks pirouette across his fingers like it means something, but gosh golly did he come through and prove his worth. He probably won himself immunity against the common cold shoulder by coming through the way he did, and likely staved off eviction from Marmoset by unanimous decision for the next little while.
Raven still stands by what she says about him having no true sense of rhythm and Dieter thinks he doesn’t have even one hundredth of an ounce of what Keith Moon had when he was passed out on stage, the exact nature of what Keith Moon had when unconscious on stage being something she doesn’t seem to want to expand on or explain. He lacks oneness with the sticks, she says; hasn’t been gifted with an innate flair for the instrument he’s chosen slash been assigned slash resigned himself to playing. If bass man Otis has anything to say about Cyrus it would be that he’s too clean, too plastic (not elastic), as if he’d learned to play the drums at high school discos where the band geeks did live renditions of ‘Heart of Glass’. The rhythm section, says Otis, must be in sync like Siamese clones and Siamese clones he does not feel they are.
Bosco, generally ambivalent about his bandmates to one degree or another, hasn’t said anything worth quoting about Cyrus’s skills as a pacemaker. If he cuts one member down he’d have to cut them all, so he cuts none.
One night, after one of many regrettable fucks, Merryn Dieter began typing away on her lap computer almost as soon as Otis had come and rolled off of her.
‘What’s that you’re saying about me?’ he’d said, trying to sound as if he didn’t really mean it.
Rather than saying something in return Merryn swung the laptop across and showed him the ad she was drafting: “drummer wanted…preferably inspired by Keith Moon (though John Bonham will do and Dave Lombardo is probably acceptable)…dynamism, showmanship, personality, blue-collar understated sex appeal and unpredictability mandatory…must be powerful without overpowering…”
‘He’s not that bad.’
‘That’s probably the worst thing he could be,’ she’d said.
‘Does Bosco know?’
She took a long, deep, savoured breath.
‘I may have shown him an early draft last week, after we both came.’ That shut Otis up.
Being a friend – being the friend that scored him a spot in the band – Otis threw Cyrus pointers to help him not get the sack: ‘don’t be a metronome, Cy, be a fast fucking heartbeat. With murmurs. The murmurs being me and your brass.’
Cyrus responded by drowning everything in cymbals, which Otis felt was, at the very least, progress.
But real progress came when Cyrus had a bright idea that involved Bart Street Recital Hall, a touring orchestral ensemble that would be playing it, an assholeish friend who happened to work as a janitor at Bart Street Recital Hall, a seminal 20th century classical piece, and a then undecided sum of money.
The hundred plus audience patiently fills Hall C, one of Bart Street’s tinier performance spaces, configured in a mini proscenium-thrust style. A concert piano and a lonely-looking harp are the only things keeping the stage from being totally barren.
It’s a mixed crowd generally skewed towards the retired and the semi-retired though there is a smattering of families with curiously young children in tow, dressed cutely in smart casual and looking like they’ve recently budded off their parents fully formed, fully dressed, but just a bit small. Accompanying the fond glances and smiles aimed at the young’uns are the gently concerned looks of those patrons who worry that the inability of something like Sibelius’ ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ to seize a six-year-old’s attention will quash their enjoyment of tonight’s show in the sense that these bored children will fidget and squirm incessantly. Granted, this concern is tempered by an air of humility that suffuses the room, something decidedly bashful about the way the patrons shuffle along the aisles and assume their seats and the way they take shape around the stage like birds rimming a water bath. Tonight they will not be witnessing an hour-long Prokofiev opus performed by Berlin Philharmonic, but a live mixtape of twentieth century orchestral hits rolled out by a “pretty good” ensemble; a middlebrow musical degustation designed for dabblers, wannabes and musicological tourists. Of course, it’s the tiny minority whose egos are burnt by this truth because for the vast majority this will be a pleasantly “cultural” night out and a nice prelude to dinner at that restaurant down the road that does Modern European, Angelo’s Fire.
The doors opened at a quarter to. Just after six struck, the growing spectatorship was joined in Hall C by eleven black-clad players who appeared spectrally on stage, bringing with them a pair of violins, a viola, a cello, a clarinet, a flute, an oboe, a bassoon and a horn. For those on the floor who failed to notice this sombre manifestation on stage, on sitting down and gathering their bearings their eyes widened in gentle surprise and there was often a small smile. Parents pointed the obvious out to their offspring, hoping their excitement would be mirrored.
At eighteen minutes past the hour the hushed shuffling of bodies has now given way to a restless kind of quietness and Hall C seems somewhat dimmer though there has been no obvious dimming of any lights that anyone can attest to. People must be trying not to cough because when the first flurry of them eventually sounds they’re explosive, urgent and purgative. Then silence returns while anticipation continues.
The musicians seem to be striking a pose. Maestro strides onto the stage and in response his liege perks up ever so slightly. The audience, not used to the exact etiquette of high performance, offer brief, uncertain applause and he graciously accepts before turning his back on them, rudely almost. His baton rises, hangs poised, flickers. The first note sounds.
waysles chamber ensemble, september 7
(1) violin sonata in g-sharp minor, janāček
(2) vitebsk: study on a jewish theme, copland
(3) phantasy (for oboe and string trio) in f minor, britten
(4) sextet (for piano and wind quintet) op. 120, poulenc
(5) contrasts, sz. 111, bartók
(6) 4’33’’, cage
(7) string quartet no. 2 in f major, op. 92, prokofiev
(8) spiegel im spiegel, pärt
(9) string quartet no. 8 in c minor, op. 110, shostakovich
(10) 3 pieces (string quartet), stravinsky
(11) sonata, debussy
‘When in fuck’s name did this get moved?’
Bosco has his finger pulp squashed down on the double three on line seven (piece no. 6), his stare honing in on the list as though the list is expected to answer for itself. ‘Cyrus, did you fucking know about this?’
‘Know about what?’ Cyrus says, arranging his snare by shifting it here minutely and there minutely.
Bosco’s got the set list crinkled in both hands.
‘Our cue’s been pushed back three fucking spots,’ he gnarls.
‘How much time does that give us then?’ Raven says while down on her haunches, tuning her guitar.
‘More time than we fucking had before, which was too much to begin with. Not if we’re expected to get into the zone and stay in the zone and stay potent.’
Dieter is standing by the drawn curtains, listening to the violin shivering on the other side. ‘No one’s expecting us to be in any zone,’ she says. She moves away from the curtain and lifts her hand-me-down Les Paul from its case. ‘Someone with a phone, figure out how much time we have.’
Dieter throws Bosco a look that’s telling him to cool it, at least volume wise.
Otis approaches the frontman with an Android in his hand, his bass hanging in place from his shoulders.
‘May I take a peek?’
‘Be my fucking guest,’ Bosco says, almost tossing the sheet into Otis’s hand.
Bosco skulks off towards the rear entrance, almost certainly for a bout of chain smoking.
Otis’s eyes leaps from sheet to screen while his fingers dart across the keypad. By the number of disparaging tongue clicks and mutters emerging from his mouth, the typing errors must be flowing freely.
As for the maths, this he does in his head:
16 minutes approx.
12 minutes approx.
14 minutes approx.
18 minutes approx.
17 minutes approx.
‘We’ve got at least an hour.’
Raven is miming chord progressions, walking around on the spot, her mouth puckered up as it often does in the heat of performance. Merryn is back beside the curtain. It’s unclear whether she is enjoying the Janāček rendition or judging the way the violin and piano converse with each other, her face is so straight. Every once in a while she’ll wander back amongst the others as though taking stock of her troops.
Bosco returns stinking of unfiltereds.
‘How long?’ he says.
‘Seventy seven minutes approximately.’
Bosco turns on his heels: ‘I’ll be out back.’ He stabs an index finger at Cyrus. ‘Your fucking friend has a lot to answer for. You too.’
Raven is now miming what seems like a solo, staring after Bosco pucker-mouthed and wearing the absent gaze she often does in the heat of performance. Otis has stopped twirling his sticks and now just sits behind the drums like a deer caught in a thicket and resigned to it.
‘Typical male,’ says Merryn. ‘Beating his chest while shitting his pants.’
Eager if not rapturous applause sounds at a sudden from beyond the heavy, heavy drapes, almost in response to Dieter’s quip though obviously not. The rhythm guitarist walks away from the curtain with a contorted face. But knowing Merryn Dieter means not knowing what this face means in the slightest.
‘I still say this is silly,’ says Raven.
‘What is?’ says someone.
‘This thing we’re about to do.’
‘Silly how?’ challenges Otis, rapidly double-fingering one of his bass’s strings as though preparing to crank out ‘Eye of the Tiger.’
‘How many of these oldies are we hoping to get to our next gig? Wait. Take a step back. When’s our next gig?’
‘Well…maybe I’m too slow or something, but I thought our aim was to get notorious. Shock and appal.’
‘Shock and appal who? We’ll piss off a couple of retirees, max.’
‘Still earns us some credo.’
Raven lays her guitar on the floor and does the same with her body. She stares into the rigging way up in the ceiling, then cranes her neck and visualises Cyrus behind his drums, upside down and Dutch-angled and still looking quite sullen.
‘It won’t stop being dumb,’ reiterates Raven.
‘Skim milk is dumb,’ Merryn spits. ‘This – what we’re doing – is anencephalic.’
‘You know those babies literally born without brains? What we’re doing is what they would do if they weren’t stillborn.’
‘Wow. That’s some rough talk,’ says Otis, chugging away at those bass strings.
‘She’s got the right idea though,’ says Raven.
A mosquito viola hums from somewhere beyond the curtains.
‘Four thirty three is a punk masterpiece,’ Merryn declares. ‘You can’t outpunk it and you can’t piggyback its genius.’
‘…and now she’s got the wrong idea. Jesus, everything’s genius these days. What’s genius about it? Educate me; educate us,’ says Raven.
Otis says, ‘educate yourself,’ which Raven ignores.
‘The fact that you’ve even asked me that means you’ll never get it,’ Merryn says.
‘Because it’s all so self-evident.’
‘Because it’s not?’
‘I’ve never heard it, so how the fuck would I know?’
‘Yet you’re confident enough to talk smack about it.’
‘I’m talking smack about the concept, not the song.’
‘You can’t know the concept unless you’ve heard it. It’s not a song.’
Otis pipes up: ‘Ever get given detention, Ray? At school, sitting on the floor, nose into the wall. Silence.’
‘Then you know the concept.’
Merryn turns on Otis. ‘Have you listened to it, slut?’
‘It’s not about fucking silence. It single-handedly expands the definition of music to its farthest limits. Music isn’t just created, written down and played. Music is. It just is.’
‘Right,’ Raven says. ‘So when the audience applauses, is it for the musicians who didn’t do shit, or for John Cage and his obvious cynicism and contempt, or for themselves, for buying tickets and sitting still and being cultured? Or is it for the dude who coughed at two minutes twenty seven?’
Otis’s bass line sticks its nose into the heavily pregnant silence.
‘Heathens,’ says Merryn.
Raven gazes up at the riggings and traces their lines as ‘Vitebsk’ courts her ears. She thinks aloud, ‘I wonder if anyone’s ever fallen from up there.’ She then thinks to herself, ‘if anyone did, they surely didn’t make it.’
Bosco now positively reeks of cigarettes and his shirt is off. He’s pacing on the spot, swinging the microphone round and round in a vertical loop, gradually increasing the radius of its path by letting the cord slip through his damp palms.
The other members of Marmoset hover in position, awaiting their cue. The final fading strains of ‘Contrasts Sz. 111’ bleed into tentative but keen applause, and as the last few smatterings dissipate, Cyrus taps his sticks, one, two, three, four.
Paired melodic chainsaws begin hacking at each other without warning, one eventually withdrawing in order to howl and whirl around the other like a mad dervish humming a nursery rhyme.
The drummer launches an assault on his skins, trying to kick a hole in the bass drum and dent his brass circles all the while bestowing a constant shower of hi-hat trills upon the proceedings.
Bosco cuts in with a barely comprehendible bellow, like a lion maddened by a thorn whose tip has broken in its paw. He appears to be eating the microphone or perhaps regurgitating it, barking about how he’ll wait for someone’s iron will to rust and how the two of them will fuck this evening, but not for lust. Or something along these lines.
Supporting him is a subterranean bass line that grumbles along before giving in to brief, hypnotic spasms of driving funk a-la Minutemen. Otis’s bass seizures are backed up by a flurry of hiccupping snares from Cyrus, who is doing much to prove his worth as a drummer at the moment.
Merryn re-engages Raven and the buzzsawing hits new heights of reverb and aggression without completely losing its melody in the hanging cloud of drone that has built up over the last forty five seconds. The two guitars jerk around each other like a couple tangoing furiously at the bottom of a swamp.
Bosco vomits into the mic before swinging it in the air, “like Cerberus chewed off his middle fucking head.” Sweat drips from his man tits and his tattooed back. The mic’s orbit sails perilously close to Raven’s head, who takes a step towards the frontman for heaven knows what reason.
Marmoset blaze through one more verse-chorus combo and round out with a minute-long freak-out, Raven beating a solo out of her instrument with the possessed swaying of a snake charmer, stabbing through the mountain of muscular noise Merryn and Otis keep piling notes onto. Cyrus may have developed ballismus, the way his arms seem to launch themselves from side to side, in utter hysterics.
Bosco swings and swings the microphone until it finally flies out of his sweaty grip and smacks into a black wall, letting off an ear popping bang, practically coinciding with the advent of the ghostly guitar shriek that seems to hang in the air seconds after the four instrumentalists have ceased playing.
The dripping frontman staggers over to where the mic lies, picks it up, makes it pop three times with the palm of his hand and declares “we’re Marmoset, spelt just like the animal. Find us on bandcamp and support our shit. Just type in Marmoset. You can now go back to having your dicks yanked by Mr Cage. Thank you. And many thanks to assistant stage manager Gordon Sezlack for his lack of vigilance.”
Merryn’s frown deepens. She yanks the lead out of her Les Paul’s jack while the amp is still turned on, letting off a screeching blast of her own.
Two hulking men in black t-shirts have appeared backstage, flanking a skinny aghast-looking man presumably in his early thirties. The heavies take a few steps towards Marmoset, but seeing as the band is already packing and the damage has already been done, they take the conservative approach and keep a close eye on things, fists clenching and unclenching like nervous anuses.
Merryn looks over at Bosco. “Unnecessary,” she says. She kneels to clip her case shut and gently calls him a dumbass.
Cyrus looks as though he is about to throw up on his skins and his left knee is bouncing madly when the applause carries over from the stage, across the drapes, weak and troubled and sparse. With as little ado as possible, an attempt at appeasing the audience is made with some Prokofiev.