Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Andrew Olmstead - August 7th, 2011


I enjoy creating music out of limitations. My philosophy right now is to make music out of what you have. Turns out I really like the way a broken Casio MT-240 sounds through a crappy laptop sound card. My $5 toy speaker is my most useful preamp, because it compresses ridiculously high audio signals and saves my expensive speakers. This limited set of equipment has opened up a world of new sounds to me. All musicians deal with two huge limitations which ultimately make music better.

Number 1 – Musicians

Technically, playing with other musicians usually limits your options to a relatively small set of allowable sounds. Fortunately, we are substantially rewarded when we listen and communicate with other, opening up new ideas and musical territories. For many people, playing music with others is why they play music in the first place.

Number 2 – Instruments

Every instrument has limitations. Maybe it’s too harsh, quiet, limited in range, monophonic, inorganic, or unexpressive. Sometimes we push past these limitations, other times we use them. Check out Neil Welch’s use of clicking saxophone keys and leaking overtones.

Neil Welch – Outer Rounds

To add limitations to this session, I’m arranging field recordings and videos for us to make music with. These will add content to the improvisations which you cannot change. Hopefully constraints will create fertile ground for improvised sounds. I started experimenting with this sort of thing when I met Doug Haire at a Seattle Phonographer’s Union event. He arranges some amazing soundscapes, and also produces Sonarchy Radio with Jack Straw Productions and KEXP. A couple weeks ago, he recorded Racer Session musicians for the show!

Looking for a video/sound example, I paired Doug’s music and a disturbing video of chimps. Mute the video, then play the two clips together.

Video of chimpanzees attacking and eating each other - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7XuXi3mqYM

Doug Haire’s “The Hand Off” - http://grooveshark.com/s/The+Hand+Off/30lrV6?src=5

My piece this Sunday is meant to highlight the ridiculously vast amount of knowledge and technology that the human race has amassed. To put the rate at which technology grows in perspective, consider the cell phone. The Bell Labs engineers who invented the first cell phone were born in a time when telegraph lines across the Pacific were just starting to be used. Now my phone is clocked 500 times faster than my first computer. Most remarkably of all, I just looked those facts up on my phone in ten minutes. Thanks to the internet, we now have immediate access to early telegraph patents and spec sheets for the Pentium II. Perhaps that’s a bit random, but I can’t believe how quickly our knowledge is disseminated. Five minutes later, I’ve also learned how to model flight dynamics on MIT OpenCourseWare, just in case there was room here for a travel example.

But this piece of music is not meant to glorify our knowledge, only to display it. As great as all that information is, 98% of my enjoyment of life comes from exercise, food, nature, sound/music, hanging with friends… We don’t need to be told how to enjoy these things.

The musicians:

Andrew Olmstead – keys
Garrett Sand – guitar
Andrew Swanson – voice
Thomas Campbell – percussion
Sylvia Gozdek and Jason Pier – recorded voice

Also, Soyoung Shin is helping me collect videos for the session! Major, major thanks to her for the help and suggestions.

FYI, some of my music is hacked together and freely available at http://emptyroom.bandcamp.com/.