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Lisa Brimmer joins Lulu’s playground for the creation of a collaborative and unabashedly artsy work of music and spoken poetry.  This is new territory for all of us so we’re delighted/excited to see where the project takes us, and we’d like to invite our readers to follow along as it unfolds.  In fact, we’d VERY much appreciate if you’d post any/all ideas or critiques that you (the reader) have, even if you’re not musical/a poet yourself; if you love poetry and/or music, that makes you an expert audience member, which makes your opinions valid and interesting.  in my opinion.


Hello Folks! It is such an exciting privilege to be working with the talented ensemble Lulu’s Playground. I am a huge supporter of their work and collaborative measures hitherto and can’t wait to get in the ring with them!

About Lisa: I’ve been writing in St. Paul/ Minneapolis area for about 6 years now. Graduated from University of St. Thomas with a degrees in Sociology and English Literature. This past year I was a Nu Griots III ensemble member through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. As a poet I think my poetry is about questioning/ incongruities/ conflict. I love language. I love music. And I really love this new project.

About Lisa +Lulu’s: You can check out some of the poetry we are framing here. How now then, shall we proceed is/ will be one of our first efforts. I’m also working on some newer stuff (yet to be released! You’ll have to check out a show!  I’m interested in looking at the constraints of our individual instruments and languages and the ways in which we can reconstruct images for our audiences and fellow artists. I think this can only make sense in our own work if we make sense of it together. Have a conversation about it from an experimental and creative perspective.

About shameless plugging: You can check out my blog at and follow me on twitter: @2speakease.

The readiness is all.

–Lisa Brimmer

The following are excerpts of ‘Q and A’ from an application that we recently submitted for a residency at the Tofte Lake Center’s Emerging Artists Program, which will be this August (2010).  If we’re selected we’ll spend an entire week doing nothing but creating, canoeing and collaborating (we also might go hiking and do other fun things that don’t start with the letter C).

Describe the project you plan to work on at TLC:

The piece we plan to compose will explore combinations of musical textures and spoken poetry. The basic form will be similar to ‘concerto grosso’ form, in which the intended focus alternates between the soloist (Lisa) and the larger ensemble, with a relatively unobtrusive musical accompaniment during solo sections. We plan to begin with an instrumental, structured ‘free improvisation’ (free of meter and key center, and only loosely notated).  This will set the stage for the solo section, where Lisa reads the first section of her poem while the quartet provides an accompaniment. The instrumental/musical aspect will develop in tandem with the text throughout the piece, in the form of textures and motifs, as well as relationship between poet and accompaniment.

• Where are you in your process at this time?
Here’s an excerpt of our first stab at collaborating with Lisa – this is representative of about an hour of group discussion and a couple days of individual contemplation/interpretation of Lisa’s poem: “how now then, shall we proceed.”  Before we began playing, we decided on a handful of specifics/restraints: no strict key center, but a ‘focal pitch’ of F; a non-metered rhythmic pulsing, reminiscent of Jon Adams.  Greg has drawn up a musical sketch of the texture and motives he wants the introduction section to utilize, drawing off of what we synthesized in the improvised recording.  We will not necessarily be working on this specific poem of Lisa’s during our residency, but this work is representative of the early stages of what we plan to do.

• What are your goals and desired outcomes for your week-long residency?

What we are trying to accomplish with Lisa is to create something that is unique, artistically enriching and fulfilling. As composers/musicians we will have a chance to experiment with different kinds of interactions between spoken poetry and music, as well as develop our understanding of the interplay between artistic integrity and entertainment value.


Greg’s post about Springtime, an Improvisation touched on a lot of what I want to talk about here, and I think he did a great job of preparing the audience for a pleasant experience by providing background information and listening tips.  Although, rather than preparing the audience for weird music, I want this post to be about  what we go through preparing weird music for an audience – what draws in listeners and what shuts them out?

So before we can get into that, what do I mean by free improvisation?  The short answer is: “I don’t know.”  What people often mean when they talk about free improv. is something like “improvised music which avoids sounding like established musical genres at all costs,” but that’s not what it means to me, or to the best of my knwlege, my bandmates.  In fact, the name ‘free improv’ is  misleading since a fair amount of planning/structure goes into most compositions of this nature, and what does a plan  do?  It attempts to limit/control a process and make  the outcome predictable.  What’s so free about that, eh?  The best answer to that is an example: listen to the first 2+ minutes of our recording of I’m so Lonesome I could Cry (dedicated New Music Sundaes post forthcoming) and consider what genre that is.  I call it ‘free improv,’ even though the band agreed beforehand on a loose key center, the cello only plays drones, and there is some pre-conceived melodic material.  It still feels free to play, and I think that comes across to the audience as something ‘different’ and/or ‘kind of strange’ – but we’re also very focused on keeping our improv. engaging/fun/cool (not to imply that we always succeed).

So now that I’ve established a completely nebulous and subjective definition of free improvisation, I’d like to explore how musicians draw in their audience with this ‘non-genre.’  Turns out that many rules of ‘western composition & arranging’ work – even without a strict key center/groove/written directions.  Form  is a huge part of ANY music that’s intended to hold an audience’s attention; people get bored fast, and the gradual development of a texture/melody can only hold their attention so much longer before they want the music to ‘go somewhere new.’  This is a difficult  issue to address without any written music or an underlying meter to follow, so the easiest solution is adding/eliminating players, which not only changes the sound quality/quantity, but adds/subtracts the subtleties of individual players’ tendencies and mannerisms (which are hingly emphasized in free improv).

If someone gets bored listening to music that he doesn’t know much about, it’s easy for him to assume that he just doesn’t “get it,” and  as a musician that’s the last thing I want.  I’m all about being entertaining and communicating with listeners, and one easy way to do that is by playing something recognizable. In this case a groove, melody or even a texture will do the trick, but you can also achieve a similar effect by introducing and developing something new to the audience, taking it away and then bringing it back – 99% of  music incorporates one of these two strategies, and most of the remaining 1% is intended for something other than entertainment.

Oh boy, this post is already too long, but there’s so much more to talk about!  If anything is missing/unclear, or if you have any questions/comments please share!  Help us make music that you’ll like – you won’t regret it.


Boomshakalaka.  This weeks music sundae is a little late, but that couldn’t be helped because the blog was just so recently created.  We spent the first big chunk of rehearsal working on a really cool Shostakovich fugue that Greg transcribed directly from the original piano score.  We’re almost ready to post a recording, but there’s still some balance and phrasing problems to work on (at least this time I’m drowning out Greg and not the other way around – damn accordion).

Anyway – this post is about the piece we did record, which is Stolen Moments, by Oliver Nelson.  I hope the other guys will comment on this post and pitch in their ideas, because this kind of music is far from my specialty.  That said, my take on what we’re trying to do here is kind of a mixture between Footprints (the Miles Smiles version) and Li’l Darlin’ (as played by Count Basie).  What I’m focusing on the most is blending the tone of the cello to disappear into the trumpet sound, which means not only precisely matching articulation, cutoff, intonation and volume, but also feeling the time without any rhythm section (no downbeats!  bah!).  It’s enough to focus on that I no longer feel self-conscious making weird facial expressions (which usually yields the best musical results, in my experience).

As far as form goes, this is the kind of tune that everybody wants to solo on, but we didn’t want it to be 15 minutes long so we had an arm-wrestling contest to see who got to solo – Adam and I obviously won (I only beat Greg because his arms were fatigued from playing accordion, and I p0wned Evan by slapping his new forearm tattoo really hard).  I think it was Greg’s idea to have one solo over traditional minor blues changes, followed by a free solo, which really adds to the “where the hell am I?” vibe of this arrangement.  All in all, I really feel like this piece takes full advantage of the exciting-sweetness-of-sound we’re capable of, sort of like blue velvet charged with static electricity (especially the part where the accompaniment does the chromatic swell).

What we could use the most input on, I think, is the overarching form of the piece: does it keep your attention?  does it feel complete?  are you left wanting more/less of anything in particular?  is the flow of energy natural?  what color socks are you wearing, if any?  your social security number?

Here’s another link to the tune: Stolen Moments (by Oliver Nelson)

Thank you so much, and I hope you stick around and check in on future ‘New Music Sundaes’ with Lulu’s Playground.


I thought I might start off with a synopsis of what we’re currently working on and what we’re thinking, or, what I think we’re thinking….  So, from talking with the other guys I know that I’m not the only one who’s thrilled to have this combination of instruments and their respective players.  In fact, the sonic possibilities seem endless right now, and I find myself curiously listening to all kinds of genres of music and imagining the music with our instruments (kind of like picturing your head on somebody else’s body).

It might be better for us to pick one style of music and really stick to a cohesive sound, but I really don’t think we’re considering any limitations at this point – we’ve got a pretty good variety recorded so far, all the way from free improvisation to a waltz by Shostakovich (more of both on the way, for SURE).  Lately I’ve been absolutely hooked on the Shostakovich string quartets (especially 7-9, and 11) and can’t stop thinking about how different lines will beautifully feature trumpet or accordion, and how one part will sound badass on electric guitar…I really think that with our instrumentation it’ll end up sounding like a fusion of Shosti and Piazzolla.  We’re also looking to flesh out the Shosti jazz suite with the remaining 2 movements – Evan and I decided that we should be a Shostakovich cover band and tour Russia for a living.

For a while we were all about arranging pieces by Tin Hat Trio and Dave Douglas, and I’m still way into that direction, but I’m just obsessed with bringing our sound to some more classical music.  The only problem is, and Adam put it really well when he said that, “this crap is really hard to rehearse.”  That is the only specific direction we’re heading: music that’s hard to rehearse (free improvisation with an ensemble is really time-consuming and difficult to rehearse effectively too, turns out).