Back in 1992, I was a student at TPAS, and operated the sound board for the mainstage show under the supervision of Bill Palladino, a man who cut his teeth at MPR -- and he even met his wife there, folk singer Claudia Schmidt.
Bill also had an amazing CD collection, acquired during his radio work. Fargo was a dull void of music, limited to either Rock or Country, with a few highlights piped in from the Cities by public radio. Bill's CDs were a fine mix of folk, jazz, and world music, which he played as entry music before the shows: one of the groups on his CDs, Trova, was even scheduled to play in Fargo that summer. They appeared twice in front of a small audience (of which I was a large portion for both shows) on a slow Sunday afternoon. During the break between performances, I approached the stage to buy a copy of their self-titled CD. As I wrote out the check, I spoke briefly to the singer, Ruth Mackenzie, who had retrieved a cellophane-wrapped brand-new CD from a nearby cardboard box for me. I'd heard all of the songs before, by listening to Bill's copy. Many were written for the group itself, but several were from a pair of stage-plays written by Steven Dietz and Eric Bain Peltoniemi, Ten November and Happenstance.
Now, there's a 10-year interlude.
Fast-forward to the early 00s, and I am unable to leave the bathroom at work. No, nothing medical nor obscene: I often had these moments due to the building muzac. It was composed primarily of 1970s easy-listening music, and often songs came on that I remembered from my distant youth -- when such an event occurred, I was forced to stop what I was doing, and listen closely for a unique string of words that could be put into Google, to determine the title of the song for downloading later. This bathroom event produced one title: The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot. So, I downloaded it, and found I really enjoyed the song.
A few years later, I sent my girlfriend (and future wife) a mix CD that included the Lightfoot song. Now, light-hearted mockery is a talent of my wife, and she chose this odd song as a target for her sarcasm. Despite her mocking, she did choose it as the reason to buy me one of the first gifts she ever gave me: One day, the postman brought me a copy of The Edmund Fitzgerald, an illustrated children's book by Kathy-Jo Wargin. The Edmund Fitzgerald has become an icon of the loving mockery we have for each other: my wife mocks my loose attachment to the sunken ship, and I mock her lack of understanding of Gordon Lightfoot and Lake Superior. Both my attachment to her and the SS Edmund Fitzgerald have grown over the past few years.
Today, Bill Palladino's wife Claudia Schmidt is on MPR to talk about a new project she's participating in, along with Ruth Mackenzie of Trova, and Eric Peltoniemi -- an adaptation of Peltoniemi's musical Ten November...a musical that recounted the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The Gales of November, this new show, will be performed around the anniversary of the Fitzgerald, around the state of Minnesota.
Since the last 15 years of my life all seem to be leading towards seeing this show, I suppose I better start looking for tickets for the Fergus Falls show. That is, if I can get them without too much mockery from my wife of my pursuits: I suppose it would be a reasonable punishment of her comments for her to be forced to watch the play. Then, I suppose, everything will have gone full-circle and this annullet of my life will be done.
We have never met. We've mailed letters and gifts, emailed and commented to each other, but more than a thousand miles separates our families. No matter: modern communication bridges the gulf.
This explanation is so you understand the dynamic involved. A project started on 7/20/2005at I Am... somebody linked to a photo of sprouts growing from between their keyboard keys. This visual struck Busmun with such force that he tried to recreate the image, then wrote me a letter about his first attempt. He had tried simply using water and seeds; not a bad idea, but he did not have any success. The seeds and water did fit between the keys into the underlayers, but the seed floated around in the water and did not germinate well.
His attempt planted a similar seed in my mind: I considered experimenting on my own, cultivating keyboard crops in my own spare time, but couldn't work it in my schedule. Options and possibilities rolled around in my head, but I had no proof any would work.
On September 20th, I found myself at I Am..., reading of another creative Busmun project, so I began to ramble about the keyboard crop ideas.
See, most keyboards have a 'tray' built into them, making it difficult for gunk to actually fall through the keys onto the sensitive circuit boards -- so, I suggested pulling off the keycaps and filling that tray with a mix of dirt and seed. Then, the keycaps could be snapped back on, and the keyboard could be misted regularly to get the seed to sprout.
The next day on I Am... Busmun thanked me for my suggestions. Two weeks passed, and over the weekend I recieved an email documenting the finished project:
" Dear Derek,
I had a friend take a few shots of the alfalfa keyboard I planted. Thanks for your suggestions, they really sped the project up. Yesterday I brought the keyboard to work with me and put it on the floor next to the drivers seat of my bus. (This put it at eye level of passengers as they were boarding the bus., foot level once they were fully on the bus)
Of the 1,000 or so humans that got on the bus: many didn't react to it at all, or see it. Quite a few noticed it and looked confused. A doz. looked at it and started laughing immediately (I joined in, of course). One woman stared at it for 5 seconds and said,"I won't even ask..." 50 smiled and checked to see if I was smiling. One guy stood right next to me and we had a long conversation about art cars. Two passengers compared it to a Chia pet.
It livened up my afternoon and made me appreciate how rare it is to see something new-under-the-sun, maybe this was what Marcel Duchamp was getting at when he put a urinal in a museum and said,"Art is whatever the artist says art is." You mess with context and create a joke, or a Luddite diatribe, or a jumping off point for improv comedy (picture an author with a really bad case of writers block), or a pleasing composition of green against white that needs tender care to exist at all.
thanks, here's to rows of silage, alfalfa, timothy, clover, odd connections that feed our minds, Dave"
Congratulations, Busmun: it worked far better than I expected, and the reactions of your riders more than rewards the effort.
The internet is often chastized for being the domain of uselessness: the Receipts were often held up as example of such, but that diadem quickly passes from head to head (which pretty much proves the internet's uselessness), However, without the internet and it's 'uselessness', would Busmun have ever even tried such a project, let alone succeeded? Of course not...what some people call useless, other call creative. Creativity is rarely useless, having been based on the word 'create;' it's always productive. Imaginitive creativity is an outlet, an escape from rigid industrious practicality. Why not figure out how to grow sprouts in a keyboard and then do it? I'm sure there's sad, bored people who have never put as much effort and thought into anything, and for that they'll stay sad and bored for the rest of their lives. Hopping on the bus, only to find your bus driver stepped outside of what's expected from him and produced this beautifully strange wonder to observe, discuss, even touch...maybe you'll stop and think about what logical groove you're stuck in, and be a bit more creative on your own.