THE IMPROVISOR, THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF FREE IMPROVISATION
Volume XI, 1996
'A MIca Bunker, a History' (excerpt)
compiled & organized by Judy Dunaway
HOW THE BUNKER IS BOOKED
Amica Bunker has, from the beginning, had an open booking policy. That means that if someone wants a gig they can have it--no demo tapes, no auditions. However, over the years a delineation was made that it had to be improvised music. . . . Here are the names of (some of) the people who have booked the Bunker through the years:
At Alchemical/Anarchist Switchboard, East 9th St., 1984-90--Chris Cochrane, Zeena Parkins, Cinnie Cole, Paul Hoskin, Doug Henderson and Matthew Ostrowski
At ABC No Rio, Rivington St., 1991-94--Judy Dunaway, Blaise Siwula, Marc Dale, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Reuben Radding
AMICA BUNKER AT ALCHEMICAL THEATRE AND ANARCHIST SWITCHBOARD
PAUL HOSKIN (bass clarinetist & Bunker Booker spring 1987): The Improvisers Network was started in NYC in the early 80s. The people who met included myself, Mike Vargas, Sue Ann Harkey and Chris Cochrane. It had gone defunct by 1983--the last address was Lesli Dalaba's apartment. Chris had decided to revive it, and arranged a few Improvisers Network performances at the Alchemical Theatre Lab on East 9th Street. Then Chris and Cinnie Cole started booking an Improvisers Network series at 9th St.--it wasn't called Amica Bunker yet. Later the name "Amica," which came from the Alchemical Theatre sign out front, the letters having fallen off to spell "A----mica-," became the name of the series. The "Bunker" part was added around 1987. Around 1985 the Alchemical Theatre Lab moved out of the space and the Anarchist Switchboard moved in.
AMICA BUNKER AT ABC NO RIO
JUDY DUNAWAY: After about a year at the Generator, Ken Gen had to close it down, and we once again had to seek a new home. I was friendly with Lou Aciemo (an old friend of David Shea's) at ABC No Rio, and so Lou took us in. ABC No Rio is on a very dangerous street with a reputation for heroin dealing and anti-young-white-artist sentiment. In our years there a few people got mugged, and a few more endured harassment and scary moments.
EVAN GALLAGHER (musician): Once, at ABC No Rio, while George Cartwright and I were playing duets, a guy came in from off the street with a paper bag over his face, sniffing glue. The glue guy sort of wandered up to the front of the stage and George stopped playing. Then the glue guy came over to the keyboards; he and I ended up doing a duet.
MARC DALE (dancer, bassist & Bunker Booker): What I remember of Nancy Campbell is that she was quiet, peaceful, and favored playing in C# on her tenor saxophone. I gathered she was a beginner, or maybe a polished style just wasn't her thing, but either way the few jams we had in the basement of the storefront where I lived did result in some interesting stuff, owing to our combined focus on the "power of creative accident" to lead us from one end of play to the other. There was something to be said for playing with someone not a "chops-jockey," though I suppose there are all kinds of levels of the "creative accident."
I visited her for dinner once, and recall that the place where she lived, somewhere on one of the side streets east of Tompkins (Square Park), had that aura of settled tranquility I always marvel to find outsdide of, say, a Japanese restaurant. The closest I ever came in my home to recreating that kind of duet is in not turning on my vacuum cleaner, but that's another thing. Anyway, beyond that, I saw her on the streets occasionally, maybe three times, riding her bicycle, doing the same thing I was doing, messengering, though with visibly more serenity, to her credit. I never called her attention then because I wasn't in much of a mood for chat and just figured I'd see her later some time. Then Judy and Evan came over late one Saturday and told me otherwise.
Drowned in the tub from an epileptic seizure. And I still wondered, like friends of suicides, if I had done one thing differently, if I'd done one of those chats, would she have taken her bath another time, or taken her medication another time, would her seizure have happened at a different time, or at all, and on and on . . . . I mean, if that butterfly theory of chaotic effect is right, it all goes together that way doesn't it? But then that sort of thing is not for us to know, they say. So later, at a sprawling "do" with a bunch of musicians ( I think the dancers came on a later date but I'm not sure) I set up at ABC No Rio for a Bunker night, I set an empty chair aside in her memory, as i was given to understand that that is what one does in situations for one's peers. I hadn't known her long, but she was good people and was willing to play, and in the porous boundaries of our erstwhile community, I felt she was one of "us."
FRED LONBERG-HOLM (musician): I started my term booking the bunker by improvising in a duo with the former booker, Marc Dale, and ended my term by improvising in a duo with the next booker, Blaise Siwula. During my term I organized the first Bunker Festival.
BLAISE SIWULA (saxophonist & Bunker Booker Sept. 92 - May 94): Once someone called me to complain about something about the Bunker, and I said, "The Bunker's just the Bunker." It means it's not the greatest or worst gig in the world. It's just a place you can come and not have to do something for a commercial audience, a place to experiment. The Bunker's never tried to get any notoriety in the press. There's a mystique about the Bunker. It's its own thing, not connected to anything else.
My favorite Bunker moment was the second Bunker Festival. It was a gathering of so many improvisors all at once--like having everyone from the Bunker be there all at one time. Seven hours of improvised music, with all the different approaches. Everyone had a different angle.
STEVE WAXMAN (bassist, saxophonist & Bunker door opener): The scariest moment at ABC No Rio was when, at a Bunker Festival, Judy was doing something in the bathroom upstairs and Chris Nelson was doing his thing outside, and he took a cymbal that was lying around and kinda loops around a couple of times and threw this cymbal kinda willy-nilly and it hit the bathroom (was kind of a stall). It hit the stall in a way that kinda flipped it up over it with it coming down 90 degrees straight to the floor and like it just turned like this: "ppphhhttt" for a couple of seconds and then the guitar kinda came back, "wahn, wahn, wahn . . ."
The first time I heard Tamio (Shiraishi), that was great. And also what was so great was that it was also the first time other people at the bunker were hearing Tamio. It's also for real, like the first time you get at everything, man. It was me and Paisley, and it was downstairs at ABC. We were down there and set up--like they have those big speakers--and so we spent all this time getting that worked out and then, when I went to play I remember I just had some knob that wasn't turned up or something, but you know I had like a whle of kinda fooling around and not getting any sound and my . . . Doug Henderson was just being you know, whatever, all snotty like "Well why don't you do something?" and finally when it happened, it was really cool because me and Paisley got this really great low rumble going on, for a while--like a really atmospheric low rumble coming out of those speakers 'cause the speakers don't really reproduce everything totally great so you get a generally rumbly thing. And then from the back of the room after like 20 minutes or a half hour of that, Tamio started playing and it was so perfect, like the subway. You know where you have this rumble, rumble, rumble and you have this squealing going on.
MARGOT OTWAY (Bunker audience member): These cookies were invented for Bunkerfest, and they've been made for most Bunkerfests since. The idea is to get tahini and ginger root into an oatmeal cookie, with nuts. The original variant involves toasted almonds and currants. A second and perhaps better one has peanuts and crystallized ginger--thus combining the virtues of cold sesame noodles with those of rolled oats.
- 1 stick butter (please not rancid, and if you use margarine, not some evil cheap kind)
- 3/4 cup tahini
- scant 1/4 cup dark sesame oil
- 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 3 or 4 tbspn. grated fresh ginger root ( I guess processor it or chop it to pulp if you don't have a ginger grater)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt or to taste
- scant 1/2 tsp. allspice
- grate of nutmeg
- 3 cups rolled oats (not the minute kind)
Either roasted, chopped almonds and currants to taste (say 8 oz. almonds and 6 oz. currants) or roasted, chopped peanuts (8 oz.?) and chopped-up crystallized ginger.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Beat together the butter, tahini, and sugar; beat in the eggs, vanilla, and ginger root. Combine separately the flour, baking soda, salt and spices; add to the liquid ingredients. Stir in the oats, nuts, and fruits. Put by rounded lumps on a cookie sheet and flatten the lumps. (Flattening is necessary because of the tahini, which owing to its starch content gets stiff when mixed with water.) Bake until done. Cool on wire rack.
REUBEN REDDING (bassist and Bunker Booker): A horrifying memory was "No Rio" could get just unbelievably cold--and there was one night in particular I remember, where it was much colder inside the building than it was outside.It was incredibly cold outside anyway, but you'd go inside and it was actually colder where there was no wind, because the foundation of the building would just turn into this block of ice. We had this show there where Evan Gallagher was conducting a group of about 17 of us. He was doing a Philip Micol piece, and Philip was not even there; he was on tour. We did this thing and it was sort of like a graphic score meets "Cobra" meets God knows what. There were lots of really great people in that piece--Roger (Kleier) and Annie (Gosfield), Andrea Parkins, (David) Gould, Joe Gallant and Lynn Eshlemann was there. Geoff Dugan had his little electronics and autoharp and there were a bunch of horn players. It was a slew of people, but there were only three audience members. It was so cold in there, we were all wearing all our coats and anyone who could was wearing their gloves. Evan was conducting, and he made it bearable, but it went on forever. It was the longest thing; he just kept turning pages and turning pages and conducting us, cue after cue after cue. Two and a half hours went by, we were still playing. It was around midnight. It was colder than hell. There was this moment in part of the piece when instrument names would come up and Evan would point at you to play solo. Everyone was just completely exhausted and freezing and Evan points at Roger Kleier to play a solo and Roger's sitting on top of an amp, totally reclining and half asleep and starts playing the C major scale but stopping every time he gets to the 7th note of the scale. He repeated this for about a minute. We were just like--"this is summing up our feelings completely!" It was tortuous. We finally got out of there somehow.
My favorite memory of the Bunker was the festival where Michael Evans was doing a duo with Craig Flanagan and Craig saw this big hole in the floor at "No Rio" and stuck the neck of his guitar into it as far as it would go, and it made this great sound and then he disappeared and we were all like, "Where'd he go?" He ran downstairs, and then he started playing the guitar from the basement, with the rest of his guitar coming out of the floor. I think he was the only person in Bunker history to play an instrument that was in a different room.
LAURIE HEFNER (Hair stylist and artist): So anyway as I recall we (the audience and performers) were arguing, giving all the pros and cons, I guess trying to convince him to do it, even though he was the one who wanted to do it. Well as I recall Judy Dunaway was playing the devil's advocate and every time it was close to a decision she would say "Oh Evan don't give up your identity." There was a lot going on. I was sitting in the very back of the room by myself because I didn't want to partake in any of this arguing and what not. I didn't even want to do it in the first place, but I kinda got coerced into it. Then Nelson Simone came up and said to me "Maybe if you were more visible you would be more inclined to do it." I told Nelson I didn't want to coerce anybody to do anything and I was just there in case they needed me. And then Evan decided not to do it, and Johnny went up and said some really quiet words to Evan and then he's like, "Okay, where's Laurie?" And then I went up and got my equipment out and everyone started playing this music, and dancing around and it was like a weird like triangle, a very strange scene. People were wearing masks and I was trying to do this precision haircut with someone waving a jingle bell at my face. It wasn't easy, mind you. Somebody was blowing a trumpet in my ear, and someone was playing drums. It was kind of fun. It was interesting. So I did his hair and then we cut his beard. He bought an electric razor so I just trimmed it and then he, he shaved it. It was really a wild experience for me, and for everyone. But especially for me, being the one that was doing it to him. It really felt like he transformed. Like his whole personality changed and I felt a change in energy.
DAVID GOULD (drummer): My favorite Bunker memory is the very last night at ABC No Rio when Sean Meehan starts out playing drums and suddenly Ihran Elisha sort of takes over for him. And Sean doesn't really have a whole lot to do, and he's pulling cymbal stands out and blowing on them and Sean suddenly disappears and from behind the partition you see a hand with a flashlight charting down the room and then you see his drumstick go flying through the air that's obviously come from up there, which lands perfectly on target on a cymbal. This was my favorite Bunker moment.
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