Remembering Bénédicte Pesle: The $100 Ice Cream

The $100 Ice Cream (orginally published on

In 1994 David Tudor and I were summoned to Venice by Benedicte Pesle to visit the historic La Fenice theatre. Our objective was to determine whether David’s music “Soundings: Ocean Diary” (1994), music for Merce Cunningham’s “Ocean”, would work in such a potentially challenging venue. Our trip was short but sweet. Filled with plenty of shopping, delectable eating and pensive pondering. Benedicte took care of us very well, shuttling us around the city via Gondola and water taxi.

David had been talking for quite some time about a very special shop that, and I quote, served “the best ice cream in the world” – Cucciolo’s. David sent me off on a scouting mission to verify that the Gelateria in fact still existed… it did. At the time David was experiencing some difficulty with his mobility so walking, especially in the twisty-turny Venice labyrinth, was out of the question. We met up with Bénédicte, she hailed us a water taxi and off we went across the grande canal to patronize Cucciolo’s. The taxi captain (I can’t really call him a “driver”) pulled up his craft to Cucciolo’s, we disembarked asking him to wait for us, and proceeded to indulge. We each gobbled down a bowl of their gelato chocolato and without hesitation, David ordered another. I can safely say, it was indeed an incredible taste experience. After our cravings were satisfied we sauntered back to our waiting boat and motored back across to our hotel. I worked out the Lire-to-dollar conversion in my head after we got back… all tolled up, it came to about $100. David Tudor drew no lines when it came to indulging in the decadent.


The Tudor Table

Tudor, Kosugi, Adams

Tudor, Kosugi, Adams

My method of making music is completely borrowed from David Tudor. I worked with Tudor from 1991 until his passing in 1996. Initially I was his Audio Engineer working with him as a part of the music crew of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. As time passed and David Tudor’s health diminished, I found myself in the position of interpreter of his music. The details of that transition is deserving of a dedicated post, but for now let’s just say he’s had an immense influence on how I listen to, perceive, interpret, and perform music.

In the picture above you’ll see David Tudor’s set-up… one of his last. It was probably one of his biggest (that I was involved in, as I’m sure he and cage has some massive set-up going back in the day). This was one of three stations for his work “Soundings: Ocean Diary” which accompanied the Cunningham Dance “Ocean”.

Set-up for 2017-01-06 performance

Tudor Table

To the right you’ll see the set-up I’m using for a performance in Halifax, NS (January 6, 2017). Comparing the two, you’ll see a mess of cables and a smattering of modular components. Many of the components are old vintage guitar effects that have particular and unique modifying qualities. Both Tudor and my set-up are centered around a passive matrix switcher that allows for a significant number of interconnections between the components. Ultimately the goal is to create a complex path for the audio leading to unpredictable and often unexpected results. Experimentation, improvisation, problem solving and listening are all important states that are critical to making this beast be musical. Over the years I feel like I’ve gained ownership of my set-up. I’ve collected and populated my array with components I’ve found and purchased (or made) and it’s become very personal. I can say with certainty, I would not have started making music this way if it wasn’t for those five incredibly mind blowing years I worked with David Tudor.

I hear-by dub my instrument the “Tudor Table”.

Here’s a short sample of some output from my Tudor Table…

John Cage 2012

John Cage came into the forefront of my life in 1991. My grad school professor Wieslaw Woszczyk called me one day after I graduated in 1991 with a phone number to call for a job opportunity in New York City. I was told to call it and ask for David Tudor. I did and John Cage picked up the phone. As it turns out I was calling John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s apartment in New York. David Tudor was there… hanging out, I suppose.

It wasn’t long after this that I got the job as audio engineer for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) and my relationship with John Cage commenced. At this moment in 1991, John Cage was the Music Director for MCDC so I guess that made him my boss… as much as John Cage could be ANYONE’s boss!

At that time John was no longer touring with the company. It was David Tudor who ran the “pit” while we were on the road (which was probably 6-8 months of the year). But certainly Cage’s living presence as Music Director was critical to the importance that was paid to the music element of MCDC repertoire. There was one tour he did come on. We were in Madrid performing and one of the pieces was Four3, which was performed simultaneously with Cunningham’s Beach Birds. This was my first experience performing Cage’s music with Cage present in the audience. I was nervous! After the performance he came to the edge of the pit where we would setup all of our music equipment and I asked him if he liked our interpretation of Four3. He did! So there you go.

Soon after joining the ranks of MCDC, Cage employed me to help him out on a new composition, Muoyce II. I was asked to collect traffic sounds from around the world as I toured with MCDC. While on the road, I’d find time to sling the portable DAT recorder and a pair of mics over my shoulder and I’d head out to find an intersection which had an interesting quality of traffic. Over a few months I had accumulated a fair number tapes. I thought maybe I had enough for John Cage’s needs, but I was asked to continue collecting traffic sounds. After another tour had finished, John Cage asked me to deliver the tapes to him at his apartment at 181 West 18th Street. He buzzed me up and met me at his front door. He seems quite happy to see me and invited me in. He had some other artists visiting to show him their work as he often did. As I walked past with John to his studio, I observed reams of numbers printed out on perforated computer paper. The type of computer paper that forms one big long piece of paper if you don’t tear the pages apart. Perhaps Mr. Cage wasn’t all that excited by this particular project and I was a welcome diversion. Who knows. Cage never did tell me directly what he was using the recordings I made for. I did find it interesting to find out that this piece was premiered in September 1992 just following his death in August.

August 12, 1992 was a sad day.

One other memory I have of Cage’s music is the interpretation and performance of “Sculptures Musicales”. The score consists of 88 words and there quite a bit left up to the interpreter. The version we performed with MCDC, along side the dance “Inventions”, I figured was the ultimate interpretation. One that was interpreted by the composer, David Tudor and Takehisa Kosugi… a heavy cast indeed. We realized it via 16 loudspeakers distributed throughout the venue. The speakers were fed from a 16 x 16 programmable analogue matrix. I created the score fresh for each performance. All the variables were determined by chance: duration, loudness, and when the sound sculptures were formed. With the roll of several dice, I determined all the parameters which formulated the 30 minute piece. Each performer was responsible for the source material and the volume (all the volumes were determined in rehearsal before the show).  I have to admit some manipulation of the chance operations. When a fortissimo sculpture came up on the dice, I usually manipulated it’s duration to be short. Cage really wanted an extreme dynamic range but there’s only so long you can maintain a fortissimo event (the sound that make up the sculptures have no variation and “each in a single envelope”) before people get disturbingly upset. I remember talking to one of the dancers about this piece. It was always nerve racking for them because they never knew when the loud events would occur… only that they would! Take a look and the score signed by John Cage.

It includes an annotation: “The dark side of silence”.  It was indeed one of the most controversial pieces we performed.

John Cage sincerely believed in what he did and how he did it and had a an amazing curiosity about what was going on around him.

Cage, Cunningham and Music

The closure of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC), brings an end an important era for the commissioning and live performance of new and experimental music.

The world will miss the regular performances of Merce’s incredible dances, but over the last 58 years, John Cage and Merce Cunningham have commissioned music by many, many composers: David Tudor, David Behrman, Pierre Boulez, Earle Brown, Stuart Dempster, Morton Feldman, John King, Takehisa Kosugi, Gordon Mumma, Pauline Oliveros, Michael Pugliese, Yasunao Tone, Christian Wolff, La Monte Young, and Walter Zimmermann to name a few (the whole list can be viewed here).

Tudor, Kosugi, Adams

I reflect on the music side of things as I had the privilege of working with with MCDC from 1991 – 1996. While an employee, I acted as Music Coordinator, Audio Engineer, Recording Engineer composer and performer. What an incredible opportunity I was given (at the time) by John Cage, Merce Cunningham and David Tudor. I worked with the pioneers of modern dance and experimental music, toured the world and worked in an atmosphere of pure creativity and imagination. There was no economic goal to produce a profit…. only good art. Oh and the people I met! Incredible and unforgettable. I felt welcomed, and respected as a participant in the making of music on the fringe. There were never too many of those jobs in the world, and now, with the Company’s doors closed, I can’t imagine there ever being another salaried job in experimental music production and performance. Ever. In our world of overpowering corporate influence, it just seems like these serious non-for-profit organizations (like MCDC was) just can not possibly survive. What a sad state we’re in for this to happen.

I want to honor what Merce Cunningham and John Cage created in 1953 and pay special attention to how this has influenced the creators of the music. Those commissions have provided work and audiences to a very specialized form of music.

All of us who continue to be active in the field of modern / experimental music will dearly miss the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

New Home, New Community

I must say, it did feel somewhat surreal driving into Mahone Bay, NS for the first time knowing it was to be where me and my family will call home from now until who knows when. Erin looked over at me and chuckled to herself. I inquired as to what was amusing her so: “You have the same crooked smile on your face that you had when we got married”. Totally describes the feeling! Happy, Excited, Anticipation, Nervous.

So after a meeting with our youthful lawyer and a walk-through of the property (making sure water comes out the taps and the like) we got the keys to our little 100 year old house and new build studio. Now come the task of getting up and running (both domestically and business wise), setting up our home, and sliding into our new community. Erin and I came a day before Grace and Norah and as we walked around town I spotted the bike shop. B-line. Met Alan the owner (I presume) who seems around my age, asked him about trails in the area, asked him about bringing my bike in for a tune up. It’s weird meeting someone new and wondering “is this person going to be my friend?”. We’ll see!

The day we got our keys and the truck arrived to drop off our belongings, we were met by a MASSIVE electrical storm. Serious sound. I immediately thought of Pauline Oliveros and Ione. At a Deep Listening retreat I attended with Erin and Grace back in 2000 (in the Halliburton Forest) there was a session we did which involved each participant “randomly” selecting a card for a deck that Ione passed around. I selected a card that had Thor, the God of Thunder on it. The next day during the performance of a piece that I composed and presented at the workshop, a thunder storm commenced to accompany my piece. The day after that Pauline and I were standing looking out over the still lake before us and WHAMMO a hug bolt of lightening hit the lake right in front of us. So it only seemed appropriate that on the day the marks the beginning of something new for us that Thor was there to to help celebrate.

We’re really excited to be here. I’m a feeling resonance with the environment we’re in and the people we are around. This is somewhat comforting knowing I really don’t know a soul yet! I like having a little bit of land (1.7 acres) around us and look forward to bush whacking and familiarizing myself with the lay of our land. IMPORTANT: there are maple trees.

I’m really, really looking forward to setting up my studio where I will practice my crafts and earn my keep. I have room, space and independence from my domestic life which I think will benefit both family and work. Speaking of family, I have to say, again, it is amazing to be around and feel the support of family. My Mom and Dad have been lovingly taking care of Grace and Norah as Erin and I have been zipping around attending to all the details of moving and purchasing property. Erin’s Mom and Dad (and sister Tara visiting from Toronto) are there with smiles on their faces, hugs in bodies and asking the question: “what can we do to help?”. I can’t say how great that makes me feel. Yaaaa Hooooo!

More to come.

landed in Atlantic Canada

I left off in my cross Canada ramblings having departed from Toronto, loaded up with Erin’s Musser M-55 vibes and a bunch of my mic stands which had been sitting in a basement for the last 4 years. I had a leasure drive to Montreal where I stayed with my great friends Anne and Julian and their cutie Tessa. They are wonderful and seem to have become my default hosts when ever I’m in Montreal. The next morning Anne scooted out to St. Viateur to grab 3 dozen bagels. 1 dozen to eat for breakfast (there was a remainder there) and 2 dozen to take back with me to my Montreal bagel loving family. The sweet smell of fresh bagels emanated throughout the car for a good portion of this days drive. I’m not sure what Furnando the hamster must have thought about this. Oh wait, he was asleep the whole time.

My driving goal for the day was to finish off the the epic driving portion of this adventure and land on the Long Reach, Kingston Peninsula, NB.

There Erin awaited my arrival… Grace and Norah had left earlier that day to hook up with their cousins to go see Anne of Green Gables on PEI. As soon as I crossed over into New Brunswick, a wicked electrical storm hit. I had to stop as the visibility was terrible with the pounding rain. When it let up I hit the road and the sky quickly opened up. One thing about New Brunswick is the sky is incredible. The variety in texture and colour when you look up is amazing.

Erin, Bill and Geri (Erin’s Mom and Dad) greeted me when I arrived. I’ve rolled into the Long Reach many-a-time before and felt elated to be there… but this time was different. I was arriving in the Maritimes which was about to become my home one again. I left the maritimes in 1987 for Montreal. Almost a quarter of a century later (yikes!), I return. Never thought of it that way. Makes me think of what I’ve done in the last 25 years! A LOT!

What better way to arrive in a region that will become your next home, than by family with big smiles on their faces: My Mother and Father in law, the next day My Mom and Dad, my kids, my nieces and nephews, my sister (visiting with her family from Bangladesh), my brother and their partners. What a welcome.

Now that my drive is done I’m wondering where this blog will go. It’ll certainly go in a direction that will reflect and comment on the new home Erin and I have chosen. We move in on August 2nd and there are a million little details that need to be figured out and sorted away before really feeling grounded. Actually I take that back. I already feel grounded. Grounded by familiarity; grounded by Family.

Longest drive of my life

This was an insane amount of driving to do in one day. As a result of my previous days lolly gagging I didn’t get as far as I wanted. My plan was to make it to Toronto by July 10th. This meant passing through 4 states: North Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. After all the relaxed prairie drive as I approached Chicago I sensed a heightening of driving intensity. I white knuckled it though and made a b-line to Flint, Michigan. There, I stopped at a Kroger and as requested by Erin, bought a pack of yoghurt tubes… the ones which have jokes printed on them. Yup, Erin got a gig writing joked for kid’s yoghurt tubes. I thought it was somehow appropriate that I stopped in Flint to pick them up. The store seemed empty.

On my way thorugh Canada Customs / Immigration the border guy asked me where I live. I had to think about it for a second. I said “Nova Scotia” although I was thinking to myself “I don’t really have a home at this moment in time.” Probably a good thing I didn’t verbalize that thought.

After 15.5 hours of driving, I finally stopped at Mitch and Janet’s house: cold beer, whiskey, and dear friends make a good combo. You know how you have some friends who are as familiar and +++ as family? The McBurney / Lewis family are like that. Even the pets were bonding (although I’m wondering if the lizard wanted to eat the hamster).

I miss my girls.

Weird “statue”:

I’m tired

Family and Driving

I’m posting from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I really wanted to stay in Elk Mound, but there didn’t seems to be any roadside lodging… only an adult specialty shop!

I made my way from Medicine Hat to Minnedosa Manitoba with a quick stop in Moose Jaw to return this dumb iPhone FM transmitter I bought. It sucked and TOTALLY didn’t live up to my fidelity standards. Luckily I bought it at The Source in Medicine Hat and I returned it down the road at The Source in Moose Jaw. I decided I’d spare Fernando the hamster the anguish of listening to my mixed up mish mash of music: I had the Jensen sisters playing, The Hearbroken, Ozzy, some unknown Irish music that Dave Whitla gave me, Jonsi, Bjork (gotta get those wacky Icelanders in there), The Police, Bob Marley. I cracked out the Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones. Decent isolation from road noise and superb quality! I also stopped in Grenfell, SK where my great uncles used to live (actually their farm was in the middle of nowhere but Grenfell was the closest town).

My reason for popping up north of the Trans Canada to Minnedosa was to visit and stay with my Auntie Gail and Uncle Vern. I also was really happy to see my cousin Nancy and her 2 kids whom I’d never met before. That was fun. As a kid I’d spend a decent amount of time in Minnedosa as this was where my Gramma and Grampa Southern lived when they were alive. Gail and Vern took me for a little tour around town to see all the familiar spot. They also took me to the cemetery where Gramma and Grampa are buried. It was really nice to see their headstone and say hello.

Gail and Vern run a farm with 300 acres and 30 head of cattle (I think I remember that correctly). They used to have much more but have been scaling back as time goes by. They are beautiful people: strong, hard working, content and generous. Vern uses Monsanto seed for his Canola crop. I’ll have to get into it with him next time we’re together!

I miss our friends in Banff.

Today I took some time to stop and look around. It felt good but now I have to go like crazy to get to Toronto to hang with friends. Here’s some stuff I saw:

Fernando is going to have a long day tomorrow so I’m currently letting him run around in his hamster ball in the hotel room.

Bye for now.

Packed up and on the road

Man, moving is such effort. We did it. We packed up our Banff apt and got it all on a truck… not without some drama, though. Here we were, waiting for the truck to arrive the morning of July 6th and the phone rings. It’s the moving company we hired. “The truck got into an accident and won’t be able to make it”. OK, whatever you say, but when is the truck arriving? They subcontracted a moving company out of Canmore to pickup our stuff and take it to storage until they “fix” the truck. What is it with moving companies?! No matter how much you research and use one’s instincts to pick a outfit that won’t burn you for every penny you have, something will come up and they can’t deliver. Oh well. We loaded up the car and drove to Calgary to have dinner with Tiffany Stones.

Can’t forget about the night before, though! Our friend Stacy-Jo set us up with a fancy suite at the Rimrock hotel (where she works) for our final sleep in Banff. On our way up from a long day of packing and stress and not enough food, I’m totally zonked. We walk into our room and there is Stacy with a chocolate cover strawberries and champagne on ice. Wow! That night we had a few friends over to our room and had a great time. We’ll miss our friends so much.

So Tiffany fed us and sent us on our way. Erin and the girls to the airport for a red eye to Saint John and me on the road to get a a head start on my drive across the country.

Oh, it’s not just me driving across the country. Furnando the Hamster is coming with me. That’s him in his abode.

I left Calgary around 10pm or so with the goal to get to Medicine Hat so my drive to Manitoba isn’t to crazy long. Made it. Saw a cool electrical storm off in the distance as I was driving…

One missing element – Music. Music will be an important part of this drive. In order to efficiently realize this in my somewhat technologically vintage 2002 Honda CRV, I ordered up one of those FM transmitter that can plug into my iPhone to get into the car stereo. It never arrived so I need to go hunt one down before I leave the metropolis of Medicine Hat. My one big concern is how will Furnando the Hamster deal with the music? I might be cranking it at times. Will he be disturbed since he sleeps during the day? Should I ease him into the music by introducing him to the idea with a little Jazz then as the trip progressing get into the Ozzy?

We’ll see.

Farewell, Banff

I begin my personal blogging with a post logged a few days before I end a fulfilling chapter of my life and embark on a new and somewhat unknown chapter. After 4 years and 2 months of living in Banff, Erin, Grace, Norah and I are trekking over to the other side of Canada to Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia to set up shop. There, we will be closer to family, closer to the Atlantic ocean where we both grew up, and ultimately where we will pursue a dream. One that will allow us a rich environment of family, nature and education. It also affords Erin and I an expanded space for work… after year and years of operating our independent artistic and business pursuits out of our home space, our new homestead in Mahone Bay has a separate out building which will be our work studios.

Banff… There is so much we are moving away from: friends, community, environment (complete with bears and cougars), mountains, beauty. We found a comfortable place in this unique town. We found people who had similar values; People who had lovely families; People who liked what we liked. We had an amazing home for the last year and a half perched up on top of Harmony Lane with our mountain views and on board hot tub. Yes, we will miss Banff. You know, it’s leaving the people which makes me even question the decision Erin and I made for our family. Why would we do such a thing? Why would we leave such a beautiful place? Why would we choose to leave this lifestyle? These are questions that rattle around in my head every day. I guess what ends up distilling out of all that brain chatter is an instinctive feeling of hope for something better. Not better people, but a more rewarding life. Risky, eh?! When we land in Mahone Bay in August we won’t know a soul but we dearly hope to connect with those people and families that welcome us, converse with us about meaningful things, make us laugh, make music with us and give us and expanded sense of self.

Bye Banff. With all your quirks, with all your beauty, with your proximity to nature and outdoor fun, with your amazing view of Rundle, with your corporate predominance, with your convenience, with your over abundance of tourists, with your bears, cougars elk and dear, with your school cut backs, with your hot springs, with the amazing friends you’ve brought me together with. Bye Banff. See you later.