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Percussion on the Road

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Ches on the Road
(David Horvitz)
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As a percussionist, Ches Smith is on the road a lot. By his count, six to eight months a year. All that time on the road can be a little boring after a while. There's only so many times you can play "The Out of State License Plate Game." On his most recent tour with the band Xiu Xiu, Ches decided he was going to use his time on the road more constructively. He came up with the idea to write and record a piece of music for each town on the tour. Assisting him with the project are audience members from each town. He calls it the Y/OUR Town Project.


John Moe: What is the Y/OUR Town Project?

Ches Smith: It's audience members, fans of the band, or whomever happens to be at the show. They're welcome to grab a few tape recorders I have at the merch table. They can make whatever sound, text, reading, or anything they want to do. Then, I make a piece - mostly percussion, but some electronics and some other instruments - containing as much of the text as I can use.

John: What kind of recorders are you using?

Ches: This is just a hand-held, Olympus, digital voice recorder. I got it at Radio Shack.

John: It's like a little dictation kind of thing.

Ches: Yeah, it is. You can just plug it into your computer and upload the stuff that's on it.

John: You're a professional musician and recording artist, but you're going with these really low-tech recording devices. Why is that?

Ches: I think because if someone walks off with it, it's no big deal, first of all. And I need something that can withstand being on the road, the way I tour. As many people in the motel room every night as we can get in there, and we're in a crowded van - stuff gets broken all the time.

John: So here's a woman singing a song about not wanting to move to Alaska. Do you know this woman?

Ches: I don't think I know this woman, but then again, I don't know. I'm not sure who any of these people are.

John: This is just what showed up in the bottle washed ashore, so to speak.

Ches: Exactly.

John: What's making the buzz?

Ches: That was found on there also. Someone just recorded something. I watched the opening band's set, and I'm not recognizing it. I don't know where that came from.

John: When you're assembling this into a song, are you thinking of that city? Are you trying to match what that city means to you?

Ches: No actually. With the exception of New York, and maybe Los Angeles and San Francisco, I have a really one sided view. I feel like I often don't have the time to really get a feel for the town. That's another reason I wanted to do this: To try to get a feel, in some abstract way, of that town.

John: So when you're putting this together, it's not based on your knowledge of the town, because your knowledge of the town isn't all that deep. So what is guiding it?

Ches: When I'm putting it together, I think musical considerations. Drums were my first instrument. Even though I've studied and still continue to study and write tunes that use harmony and melody and all that stuff, I primarily come at music from durations. Basically, rhythm in the broadest sense. I'm trying to not even think that I'm writing anything more than anyone else is, really.

John: "Composed by Ches Smith and World."

Ches: I just want it to say "Composed by World."


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By MARCO Mapelli

    From Capriate(BG) ITALY, 09/15/2008

    Ches is the NUMBER ONE ! I liked very much his project ! Please put other sounds on the blog ! Kiss (to JS too uhuhuh)

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