The V. Vecker Ensemble

MORE AND MORE BANDS NOW EMPLOY THE LAPTOP. NOT JUST AS A WAY TO RECORD CHEAPLY, BUT TO ACTUALLY COMPOSE AND PERFORM THEIR MUSIC.  IN COMPLETE DEFIANCE OF THIS TREND IS THE V.VECKER ENSEMBLE, AN EIGHT STRONG GROUP THAT ENGAGES IN THAT OLD FASHIONED TRADITION OF PLAYING TOGETHER. THEY PERFORM IN THE MOMENT, LISTENING TO ONE ANOTHER AND RESPONDING IN KIND.  LEAD BY KEITH WECKER, THEY DRAW ON STRAINS OF FREE JAZZ, KRAUTROCK AND THE NEW YORK TOTALIST-ORCHESTRA SCENE OF THE EARLY 1980’S. ON THE EVE OF THEIR DEBUT LP’S RELEASE, ION SENT DANIEL COLUSSI TO MEET WITH WECKER, AND GUITARIST DANIEL PRESNELL, TO DISCUSS THEIR ANTIQUATED APPROACH.  

Keith, you initially played solo shows as V.Vecker but it has since ballooned into the current ensemble incarnation.  When did you start writing with a specifically maximalist concept in mind?

Keith: Probably the first piece would’ve been late 2008 or early 2009.  I mean, the main pivotal thing was playing with (composer) Glenn Branca in 2008 in Seattle. That was like, “Oh, there’s a way to achieve these sounds that I was hearing but not sure how to do.” And so the larger number was all of a sudden something I felt I could figure out.

What’s your approach to these compositions?

K: For at least the first composition, because of the guitar tunings that I was using  - which I sort of ripped off from the Branca stuff, which is ripped off from Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) – I could more or less play all the parts on organ and keep it sustained. There was a lot of sustained playing, so I could get an even tone, map that out on the organ pretty well, and then figure out that if these guys are playing this line in this range, and these guys are doing this in this range, then I can relegate which notes and which parts go where. I also use that in the various knuckle dragging ways, you know? It wasn’t like going in and rewriting a Ligeti piece or something like that.  

In preparing for the first show, how you did you convey the composition to all the players?  

K: Uh...with difficulty! The “Paint It Black” riff came out a lot, the “Black Betty” riff, some CCR, “Bad Moon Rising.” I don’t think anyone realized that I’d written it on a staff-notation. Everyone was like, “no big deal, we’ll get it no problem,” but then when I show up with these sheets they looked at me like, “I have no idea what this is.” So we just worked through it. The first piece had a lot of little experiments going on. I basically drew a wave form on the page and said, “I want you to make this happen without actually playing any specific note.” Daniel showed up with a screwdriver, and stuff like that, and that was perfect.

When you’re conducting, is there a degree of vibing out the room and judging when to it’s time to advance?

K: Oh, totally. And that’s what surprised me with how this piece ended up being written. It has a weird association with a live PA set. I can call in these elements, and bring them back out and back in. Not that I want to relegate any of the players into being a human MPC or anything! But it works really well, especially the way that the riffs are all situated. So, if something really nice is happening we’ll hold it for longer than we normally would, and then I can disrupt it and pull something out.  

It’s funny you bring up the reference to electronic/PA performance because that style has grown so much in last five to 10 years.  But what you’re doing goes against the current. Why not have the parts pre-recorded and just map them in and out yourself?

K: It’s true I could, but that shit sounds so fucking weak. Even fucking around with a midi synthesizer - the sound is small, and thin, and weak. This is more about creating a special moment. It’s about having an insane collaboration come together that is super stoked, making it happen. I think it’s really interesting to do something like this. V.Vecker Ensemble sounds like none of any of our other bands. Just attempting a semi-legitimate, semi-regular project that operates this way is really awesome.  

Daniel: And we all bond by giving Keith a lot of shit! I wouldn’t want to overemphasize it, but the process of the band getting together and figuring it out is really interesting. The improv community is large in this town (Vancouver), but also so cut off from everything else. This kind of thing has existed for a long time, the notion of applying these techniques using rock instruments. But you don’t really actually see it happening.

I imagine that the specific tones and textures of all these instruments is vital to the compositions, in a way that a midi or laptop approach wouldn’t satisfy.

K: Yeah, and the philosophies and the things that I’ve carried on throughout the development from what was originally a kind of guitar army thing, into this more composed stuff - all that is still on my mind and a very major part of what this group does and it’s great to see my version, as well as all of their versions, evolve as well. Because they just feed off each other, non-stop.

 

Photography: Owen Ellis

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