The creative kick Chi had been on since spring continued through the summer, and the music he was composing was a distinct departure from what we have been doing to date. I was very excited about it, and while the ordeal of trying to figure out audio engineering on my own so we could record it was driving me to the edge of genuine madness as was still having him here in the house, I was game to keep going. 

Listen while you read to a very rough scratch recording of “The End of Pisces”, the opening piece in the Zodiac Suite, a set of pieces Chi composed in August 2013.

Late Summer – Fall 2013

So FINALLY, AT LONG LAST we began doing what I’ve been wanting to do for the longest time: select and focus on specific pieces and work with the metronome to perfect them with a view to getting them recorded instead of just running through our long list with no specific goal in mind other than just to keep this ridiculously vast amount of music under our fingers. Incidental to this, we made the amazing discovery that we work far more productively and peacefully together when we are rested and sober.

I was just beginning my ascent up the precipitous learning curve with our recording equipment and software and while experimenting with various combinations of recording software and gear I finally succeeded in getting a strong, clear monitoring signal into the headphones running off the Zoom H4 that I had been using as an audio input device with independent playback thru the reference monitor speakers, so that was huge progress. The glitch this time was “enabling multi-track recording” in GarageBand and it was not working. After a while I realized that using the Zoom as an input interface does not allow for simultaneous multi-track recording since it is functioning as a single input-output device. After more research I managed to wire our 8-channel Mackie mixing console we use for live performances into the Mac running GarageBand which not only bypassed the need for a MIDI input device but gave us the capacity to do multi-track simultaneous recording as well as take control of various mixing functions that are automated in GarageBand.

Nevertheless, given Murphy’s Law that every solution creates a whole new set of problems, since this setup required completely re-routing all of the gear and running all of my output sources off the Mackie, I now had no audio from the computer apart from the recording software, so we could no longer use the online metronome as a rehearsal click track when practicing.  This whole thing is so fucking complicated that my brain is about to explode, but it’s coming together step by arduous step.

Another massive problem was incurred in that having the Mac out in the living room meant that it was no longer in my office room, so I was having to make do with the decrepit old PC that is on its last legs to do everything else I use a computer for at home, so I decided to reconfigure the DAW again and switch back to the newer PC that Steven gave me that was running Acid Pro 7. I do realise that I am also making this whole thing needlessly complicated while giving myself a horrible case of cognitive indigestion trying to learn how to use different audio platforms on different operating systems on different machines all at the same time.

The problem with Acid, however, is that it seems primarily geared toward producers who construct music by collaging loops and samples together, which is a totally alien approach and environment for me. I am used to working with complex, through-composed music and going into a studio, getting in front of a mic with a completely acoustic instrument and playing an entire part in a single take and then layering on more, so trying to find my way through the loopy stuff I have no comprehension of and get to the essence of how to do what I want turned into yet another protracted, mind-wracking nightmare.

I finally had a major breakthrough in which I got all of the hardware cooperating, including patching in the very nice DBX 286A preamp we’d brought with us from Tokyo when we recorded our first project there and successful monitoring off the Mackie board, which is the point where I’d kept icing up and crashing until now. Scaling that peak, however, placed me at the foot of a much huger mountain of getting from being able to do *a* multi-track recording to learning untold millions of finer-scaled details in operating the recording software that will get me to a *Broadcast-Quality* recording. I also have a way to go yet with learning to mic instruments and set levels properly. Just as that was all coming together we had a couple more gigs and that totally threw me out of the groove with the recording.

This is why doing live shows has increasingly become just a disruptive pain in the ass that is not helpful to us. Granted, when they actually PAY us, the money does indeed help, but the one-step-forward, two-steps-back thing is extremely frustrating, especially since we are working on such interesting, challenging new music that I want to keep moving forward with and get recorded at broadcast quality instead of burning myself out and having all my time consumed running over and over through our long list of repertoire to keep ALL of our music under our fingers due to the way Chi insists on programming live performances. To top it off, income from performing practically never seems to work out to be enough to adequately compensate me for the loss of the only time I have to get anything done (household chores, work in the garden, food preparation, etc., never mind the endless shit I have to put up with from Chi whenever we get a gig, or do anything at all…just exist…for that matter), and my tolerance for that is wearing very thin.

One day in mid-August after annoying the bejeezus out of me kibbitzing at me as I was faffing about with the recording setup, we gave up on getting the gear to function and began our daily rehearsal/work session. This time we started with “The End of Pisces”. This is a particularly challenging piece, a good example of “modern music” in the crossover classical genre that Chi wrote just before he went to Arizona in July. He is obsessed with tinfoil hattery about mystery planets and comets and things, the end of the world, etc., (and drives me absolutely fucking BATSHIT with that nonsense!) and that’s what inspired the piece.

“Pisces” is a chromatic study that ventures away from standard tertian harmonic structure that forms the basis of practically all of Chi’s music into extended chords and tone clusters and further on into atonality. In the opening section the violin line is actually perfectly straightforward and simple and playable, except that for some obscure reason I am finding it incredibly difficult to mentally track. It is overlaid with a moody arpeggiated guitar part, and then the violin emulates the arpeggiated guitar part, which while perfectly idiomatic to the guitar and logical and easy to play on that instrument (except for the widely extended hand position), is so infuriatingly difficult and awkward to play on the violin that it will literally take HOURS of woodshedding just THAT ONE PHRASE to get it anywhere near right, but it is still a fascinating exercise nonetheless.

Another almost unbearable ordeal with learning “Pisces” was the condition of the score. In much the same way that “I can’t read what I can’t see”, “I can’t accurately read what is not written accurately”.

Score for "The End of Pisces" by Chi Saito, c.2013

Score for “The End of Pisces” by Chi Saito, c.2013

In many cases the part he has written is perfectly straightforward, but he sometimes writes things so bizarrely in terms of key signatures/enharmonics due to his spotty music theory background (he’s always been much more a performer and intuitive composer rather than a scholar or academician), notes not positioned precisely, etc., sometimes he doesn’t write the rhythm values accurately either, and doesn’t even write out very difficult passages that he wants me to transpose by various intervals!

Another thing that annoys me is that he often gets these ideas that are so stone weird that it reminds me of an autistic person armpit-farting at themself. But then again, isn’t that what true creativity and originality and experimentation is?  Not merely copying that which already exists and arranging it differently, but creating something totally new that hasn’t been done before?  Nevertheless, I find his insistence on sticking weird, screechy-scratchy noises as intros onto practically every new piece and ridiculously high-pitched violin parts fatiguing. This is another reason why I am eager to be free to work with other musicians and do my own stuff — so that his compositional mannerisms do not transfer on as my mannerisms.

Within a couple hours of writing this, the Paganini violin concerto started playing on the radio while we were eating dinner and it was full of ridiculously high-register passages and all sorts of aerial stunts and circus tricks, which, while the overload of tricky stuff did get fatiguing, Chi’s point was well made about how using the entire register of the instrument really does differentiate parts and add interest. I stand corrected….

The next day we began work on “Break Into Aquarius” — the sequel to “The End of Pisces” in the Zodiac Suite, and it’s a kick-ass piece!  It continues the augmented harmonic structure of “Pisces” and just needs a development section (and I need to hammer out an appropriately kick-ass solo for it). We also resurrected “S’ten-ten de S’pon-pon (Penniless and Naked)”, a piece Chi composed when we went to Thailand with his daughter just before we moved to California.

Chi’s daughter got bitten by a dog when we visited a temple one afternoon, and when we went out riding elephants the next day many thousands of bhat lighter after paying for S. to have a round of anti-rabies shots at the hospital conveniently located right next to the nice hotel we stayed at while we were in Chiang Mai, Chi composed this piece. He even spent $900 on a fucking banjo at a music store in Encinitas right after we moved to California to use on this piece, but we tabled it until we moved to L.A. and briefly worked on it a little bit, clarifying parts, but then let it sit again for a few more years. This is the first time we’ve touched it since then. This one should certainly be on a contemplated EP of our Latin-ish fusion pieces.

Yet another thing that drives me totally fucking mad is the way that Chi periodically overwhelms me with loads of new material, and this time it is particularly difficult, challenging music, indicating that he has crossed a major watershed point with his writing, but I never have any opportunity or anywhere remotely close to what I need in terms of time and space and peace and mental clarity to be able to process it and work on it and develop it. He then insists on burning me down by making me slog through our long list of existing repertoire every day so that HE can remember HIS parts! (WTF??!! He sits in the house all fucking day while I am out slaving away to support the whole place and he can’t do his personal practicing then?!) This is why our vast body of repertoire remains under-developed, and I am STILL not able to perform probably a solid half of it at a satisfactory level despite the profusion of ideas my head is teeming with.

The foregoing notwithstanding, it was an especially good weekend for us. In fact, I had one of those exceptionally rare moments (or an entire stretch of moments!) in which I feel truly happy and content. A neighbour we met as we set out on a long walk to Echo Park, which had recently been completely re-done and the lake drained and re-planted with lotuses that were blooming beautifully along with other aquatic plants, told us enthusiastically about how our music is so mesmerizing and how much she enjoys it, and went on and on about what a lovely, perfect couple we are, making such beautiful music together, etc., etc. I am continually astounded at the yawning chasm between perception and reality. No wonder people do not see the distress flares constantly going up unless they are intimately familiar with the dynamics of Chi and my relationship or happen to be around when a major incident takes place.

In mid-September the recording operation and work on the new pieces got derailed again by a gig and another cruise ship audition announcement, so I had to shoot and edit yet another demo video to get him the audition, which took a few days. On the gig front, it’s reached the point that even when it’s for a repeat client we love and a fun event, I’m starting to resent the disruption and hassle of it so much and am so deadly sick of the additional and wholly fruitless ordeal of trying to promote it that I can’t even force myself to do that shit at all anymore!  I was in a bad mood preceding the gig and never pulled out of it on gig day. That confirmed that I am entirely burned out on performing, at least for the time being, barring a MAJOR change in conditions and life format. Is it just a mood thing, or am I ever going to want to perform again?

The next week, doors started to open and the lights came back on. The Zodiac Suite was progressing well and in addition to the progress with the music, some viable-sounding job opportunities started coming up for Chi: One position in Hawaii as the entertainment director for a nursing home for Japanese people and another seeking teachers for a “School of Rock”-like thing in Bangkok, Thailand, both of which Chi is ideally qualified for. While we were doing our daily rehearsal, even though it went quite well, he declared that whether he ends up moving to Hawaii or Thailand, the Panache Orchestra is over.

I didn’t react. Although I felt sick inside, I just rolled my eyes and whispered to myself, “what-the-fuck-ever”. If he feels that he must destroy the Panache Orchestra as a result of getting gainfully employed now that we are finally getting into a position that we could actually do something real with our music, then that is a textbook example of one of innumerable reasons why he has to fucking go. I cannot continue to be held hostage to pathology on this scale. I mentally reconfirmed my resolve to let the Panache Orchestra go if that is what has to happen in order to get him gainfully employed, out of my house, out of my immediate personal life, and off my balance sheet. By this point, he has sucked me completely dry financially as well as mentally, energetically, emotionally, on every conceivable level. If he does not land one of these gigs in the immediate future, the next step for me may very well be to have to declare financial and emotional bankruptcy and just fucking disappear.

In any case, assuming that (at least) one of these favourable case scenarios ends up playing out, whether it’s HI or BKK, that will give us a reprieve from having to make a decision about “officially” getting divorced and the legal harangue that may entail, and more importantly, Chi’s pathological need to go out in a fireball of mutually-assured destruction. So now the plot for this ongoing TPO drama is starting to flop around like a fish stranded on dry land by a high tide. I am really anxious to be free from this distressing, suspenseful purgatory of not knowing and not changing….

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