A Confluence of Musical Memories

Wheel of Death

Audience member plays the off-center wheel of death after the final performance of Schick Machine. San Francisco, CA. march 2011.

Way back in the mid-1980’s, when we lived in Fresno, Sarah and I came to be friends with Steve Schick. At the time, Steve was percussionist and young professor in the music department there. And for awhile we shared a circle of friends, local music events, reading and listening groups, and generally hung out.


Meanwhile, Sarah and I were in the habit of coming up to San Francisco to see music and performance works at what was then Theater Artaud, a fantastic space devoted to avant performance works of all kinds. And it was there that on one occasion we saw Paul Dresher Ensemble with Rinde Eckert perform Slow Fire. I’ll save the life-changing details for another post. Let’s just say we were blown away and a lot of things were fixed in our young minds about what was what in contemporary performance.

Eventually, Steve took a job at UC San Diego, and his career and reputation grew as a solo percussionist and champion of contemporary composition. And the rest is history. We moved to Seattle where I stuck my nose in the philosophy books for the better part of a decade. We generally lost touch with Steve, but did connect once or twice after we moved to the Bay Area in 2000.

Today, we experienced an interesting and joyous alignment. We went to see Steve perform Schick Machine, a percussion/theater work written for Steve by Mr. Dresher and Mr. Eckert, at the former Theater Artaud, resurrected a year ago as Z Space. The piece was a fabulous, sprawling cacophony of rhythms, looping textures, words, and visual delights issuing from a stage full of homemade percussion instruments and self-propelled noisemakers. There was a homemade pipe organ, a hurdy-gurdy, sheets of metal, spinning disks, steel hula hoops, slit drums, bottles, cans, alarm bells, and more, all mic’d and looped. We had seen the piece performed almost two years ago at Stanford. Since then, it has changed quite a bit, getting better and more focused. And seeing it in this space somehow made it all the more compelling. Maybe that’s just me and the history it has for me.

We went with friends and all brought our kids to this, the last matinee performance. The kids loved it. As it turns out, there were a total of 19 performances, with many matinees just for school classes that came over the last two weeks. And today, just like as with the school classes that attended, everyone was invited up after the performance to play with all the crazy instruments. Kids and adults alike had a blast.

Reconnecting with an old friend, a former fave venue, and the performance world all in one day. That feels good.


Audience members play the hurdy-gurdy after the final performance of Schick Machine. San Francisco, CA. march 2011.

Organ Wheel

Organ Wheel