by Mallory Moad
Most of us have seen one-person shows. Whether it be stand-up comedy, a dramatic monologue, or a musical presentation, it would appear that producing and performing in this simple form of entertainment is a piece of cake. You write and memorize your lines, jokes or songs, practice (maybe in front of your friends and family), then walk onstage to thunderous applause.
Looks can be deceiving.
See, every art project, regardless of genre, involves a creative process that most of us never witness. Every artist faces obstacles, limitations, and problems that need to be solved. What is visible to the audience is only the tip of the iceberg.
And lately, Tony Imperatrice has been feeling like the captain of the Titanic.About five years ago, this local musician/storyteller discovered post-rock and symphonic rock music. Captivated by the technology involved, with loopers and digital delay creating rhythmic, immersive sounds, he decided to give it a try. Tony explains, “The seeds of the idea go back to my teen years and my first experiences with progressive rock,” including Robert Fripp’s ground-breaking work with the band, King Crimson. Impressed by these multi-layered recordings, he became fascinated with doing something new and unique with the pipe organ. That’s right, while everyone else was experimenting with guitars, Tony wanted to see what he could accomplish with an instrument fresh out of church. So, during the Covid-19 shutdown, while the rest of us were in a panic trying to find toilet tissue and hand sanitizer, Tony was in his home recording studio, exploring new ways of making music that combined a traditional instrument with modern technology.
After recording and releasing two CDs, he is ready to perform his musical creations live, at the 2023 Rogue Festival.
“My brain is mush.” That’s how Tony described his mental state in early January. “My ambient/post-rock work was created using multi-track recording software,” and with digital recording, the possibilities are almost endless. The challenge he faces is replicating this complex music in a live setting. The central instrument in the compositions is a pipe organ, not something that is easily moved from place to place. Sure, he could just play one of his CDs and talk about it, but what’s the fun in that?
Equipment, time, and space. These are the biggest stumbling blocks Tony is facing.Regarding equipment he explains, “There are many ways and many choices, but it all comes down to what I can afford and what is the most portable.” It also comes down to what’s in your bag of tricks. After all, your best piece of gear could be someone else’s worst, but it’s all you’ve got. Often, making art means doing your best with what you have on hand. After much research, experimenting, and compromise, Tony has come up with a rig that will include two electronic keyboards, one “old clunky computer that I pray will not crap out the night of the show,” two foot-pedal units, one software program, two programmable multi-effects processors, two amplifiers, one looper “that has been the biggest headache,” one multi-track recorder (maybe) and two speakers. If that sounds like a lot of whistles and bells, it gets crazier: all performers in the Rogue Festival are given a specific, and short, amount of time in which to assemble a show and take it down. Time is always a concern for any performer, but with the complicated setup required for an extravaganza like Tony’s, it really comes down to the wire. No wonder his gray cells are a little squishy right now. His plan is to arrange all this on two rolling platforms that can be moved into the venue and locked together, then repeated in reverse at the show’s conclusion. “Sound producing equipment will be on one half and the processing, amplification and bench on the other.” Through his work in the organ industry, Tony has acquired woodworking and electronics skills that have come in handy with design and construction aspects. This is DIY to the max, baby. The size of the venue itself is something else that has to be taken into consideration. Tony has presented organ-centric productions at the Rogue Festival in the past, but in a much larger space than Spectrum Gallery, where he will be appearing this time, Tony doesn’t feel this will be a detriment. Although just getting all the necessary pieces through a pair of small doors and still leaving room for the audience may be a hurdle, he feels a more intimate space is just what his show needs. “Everyone will get an up-close look at how this music is made, and the small setting will allow the immersive nature of this music to envelop everyone there.”
In any other hands, a show that relies this heavily on technology could end up lacking a human element. But with Tony’s warm and engaging stage persona and sly sense of humor, he is unlikely to be upstaged by tubes and wires. Although the emphasis will be on the music, Tony will be sharing anecdotes and stories along the way. “I like to present my music with just enough information for the audience to interpret their own story within the musical story.”
And what’s the title of the show you may ask? “This Music is Making Me Thirsty,” because, as he says with a chuckle, “even serious music should still be fun.”
Aye aye, captain!
You can listen to some of Tony’s music on his website, tonyimperatrice.com, and you can watch some of his past performances as well as new videos about suffering the slings and arrows of the transition from recording to playing live on his YouTube channel, youtube.com/c/TonyImperatrice.
My name is Mallory Moad and I believe problem solving isn’t just part of the creative process…it’s the whole shebang!
Check out more local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section and more Rogue Festival articles in our Rogue Festival section, and coming soon more Rogue Festival info on our Rogue Festival event page.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.