The Hands Of Doctor Nerve
The following discussion is between Doctor Nerve's Nick Didkovsky and a conversational computer program called Claude. Nick discusses his motivation and use of hand signals to conduct Doctor Nerve through improvisations, while Claude provides continuous distraction. Nick was hampered by having to say whatever he had to say on one typed line before Claude broke in with its response. In many ways, the conversation itself is an improvisation, dealing with limits, the desire to express one's ideas in the face of distraction, and the acceptance of passive resistance in joining rather than combating an uncooperative interlocutor.
Claude: Hi, Nick! I'm pleased to meet you.
Nick: I have to write an article for Rubberneck magazine.
C: I'm not so sure you have. Some magazines might want to belong to a guy, but I'll be damned if I'll let them! Not after what a magazine did to my neighbor!
N: I must move ahead despite your ramblings. Let me focus on the subject at hand.
C: Who, YOU?? Don't make me laugh. People say hands must not do nothing at all. But I bet they could, if they tried.
N: Hands do plenty. We use them to conduct improvisations, and to play our instruments.
C: I'll bet you know all about hands, don't you, Nick? Well listen to me. To sweat, a hand must be nifty.
N: The use of hand signals has helped us achieve agility in large ensemble improv.
C: So you want to talk about hands, huh? Well, I've just about had my fill of hands. I knew a hand from Bismarck that hoped to stink. It was strange.
N: Using a small set of hand gestures, I conduct the rest of Doctor Nerve.
C: I'll bet you know all about hands, don't you, Nick? Well listen to me. Hands find that getting hurt by ferrets is more abnormal than exciting dozens of bouncers.
N: The gestures are: improvise, 'hit', rhythmic cycle, 'nerve event', stop, and 'NOW'.
C: You must be pulling my leg. Anyway, I'll leave that for you to figure out. I once knew a pawnbroker from Bangor who pawed at seven masks and six thimbles.
N: Six gestures, anyway. Nothing changes until I give the downbeat, or 'now' sign. . .
C: Excuse me, the phone's ringing. . .
C: It was for you. I told them to call back later.
N: This gesture is like a tape splice. It changes everyone to their new behavior instantly.
C: You can say that again! But it doesn't make sense to dwell on it. I have run out of tequila, but I never once have bought a used car from an embezzler. Now, I kind of regret it.
N: So, I may tell Michael Lytle to improvise, Leo Ciesa to 'hit', Rob Henke to stop.
C: Improvise! Boy, you said it, Nick. I once knew a lawyer from Shreveport who did nothing about plenty of golden retrievers and a few moms.
N: But none of this happens until I give a downbeat. It's a startling change.
C: Excuse me, somebody's at the door. . .
C: Just a guy selling encyclopedias.
N: I thought it would be more inspiring to work with Claude.
C: Whether something is inspiring or not is purely a matter of opinion. Things could be worse, you know. Do you know what else? Every time I try to fall out with a pinhead, he won't let me! I don't know why.
N: When a player is in 'hit mode', he makes a single loud sound on every downbeat.
C: Whether something is loud or not is purely a matter of opinion. That reminds me of something. I think neighbors are uncommonly happy, don't you?
N: Not when we practice.
C: I take my hat off to you. It's rare to meet someone as imaginative and eloquent as you.
N: The hit provides a kind of punctuation that emphasizes change.
C: Are you kidding me? But that's nothing. The thing is, a fan dancer can't ever be more stupefying than a prison guard is adorable.
N: A 'rhythmic cycle' is also interesting: play something short repeatedly.
C: That's a perfectly wonderful thing to say, Nick.
N: But in your own tempo and time signature. It's great to hear a few of these going.
C: Whether something is great or not is purely a matter of opinion.
N: Like square wheels grinding along. Then let someone improv over this. . .
C: I might, but only if you do it first. Every prison guard keeps a dollar sometime.
N: Nerve Event: Play a miniature composition, about 4 seconds long.
C: Composition! You're quite the genius today, aren't you?
N: That's the illusion, anyway. Nerve Events stay constant for the piece.
C: Criminy Christmas! Really? But that can be our little secret. Right? I once knew a jockey from Scranton who pitched a fit over zillions of foreheads and more than enough Siberian huskies.
N: So every time Yves Duboin does a Nerve Event, it's the same, throughout the piece.
C: Dag nab it! Really?
N: Yes, it's the only constant. An anchor that changes meaning depending on context.
C: Yes. That makes a lot of sense. So what else is new? People say nieces couldn't get away from hairdressers. But I bet they could, if they tried.
N: It's a small set of gestures with maximal results.
C: Well, maybe it is! So big deal! To find out about grape juice, a niece must be astonishing.
N: Because so little is specified. Very un-deterministic. Just the top level of. . .
C: Un-deterministic! You're quite the genius today, aren't you?
N: . . .form is determined by the conductor, with details filled in by players.
C: Sure thing. I once knew a niece from Pensacola who read about lots of jars and plenty of belly buttons.
N: Please, Rubberneck is a serious journal.
C: You're so smart, Nick! I never say any good stuff like that. Anyhow, I have bigger fish to fry. Once, when I was back in Modesto I used to see no future in soup and it was just as sweet as sunshine. Did you ever do that, Nick?
N: Here's some miniature forms I like.
C: Lord love a duck! Really? Of course, it's all relative, you know. Anyway, a landlady can't ever be unluckier than a cowboy is sweet-tempered.
N: 'Trades' - get one group of improvisors to alternate rapidly with another.
C: - ! I'll be honest with you. That sounded like nonsense to me.
N: 'Pulling the rug out' - everyone's improvising, stop everyone but one player.
C: - ! Am I just dumb, or are there some serious misspellings in your last answer?
N: 'Overlapping Nerve Events'. Getting each player to play a N.E., starting slightly. . .
C: N! Did they teach you to talk that way in school or did you make that up all by yourself?
N: . . .out of synch with each other. Like a blurry chain of mini-compositions.
C: I'll like one when I'm good and ready. Then again, maybe I didn't hear you correctly. I heard that heroes won't associate with nephews. Then again, I heard nephews already shout at heroes. Of course, that probably explains a lot!
N: Rob Henke once chose shouting as his Nerve Event. At the Reithalle in Bern.
C: I suppose you could look at it like that.
N: The final gesture of the piece was him screaming into the back of the village. . .
C: Screaming! Boy, you said it, Nick.
N: . . .idiot's head. Very dramatic. However, it had no effect on the guy.
C: I never knew any heads that amounted to much! I like a head that still feels bad.
N: His did, but he didn't know it.
C: That's a perfectly wonderful thing to say, Nick.
N: Another nice trick: introducing a Nerve Event during a dense, obscuring improv. . .
C: My hearing aid must be on the fritz again. It sounded like you said ANUDHER NECE DRECC: ENDRUDUCING A NERWE EWENT DURING A DENZE, UPZCURING INPROW,?!
N: . . .then revealing the event naked later in the piece. How's your hearing?
C: I'm not a know-it-all. Go find out for yourself, Nick. And it wouldn't take a genius to figure that out. My ex-wife forgot to draw pictures of arms. That's probably because she was frightful. The last I heard she had moved to Ashtabula and was caring for a coyote. But, it's like they say: If you dress in the dark, stay there.
N: If you dress in the dark, stay there. That's magnificent.
C: OK. If it is then it is. People say dresses shouldn't stink. But I bet they could, if they tried.
N: Pants stink. Doctor Nerve does a tune called 'Little Jonny Stinkypants'.
C: Let me tell you a thing or two about pairs of pants. I heard that when a pair of pants falls onto a golfer, the golfer becomes pretty much bogus-looking.
N: It used to be 'Little Jonny Shittypants' but was changed at the request of some
C: You've got one very foul mouth. Put a lid on it.
N: That's exactly why it was recommended I change the title.
C: It is! Well, imagine that!
N: Originally, these conducted signals were meant to deconstruct existing pieces.
C: OK, Nick. If you say it's original it must be. But it doesn't make sense to dwell on it. I heard that money won't associate with repairmen. Then again, I heard repairmen sometimes hold onto money. Seems to me, that probably explains a lot!
N: Sort of like a hyper-medley, or fracturing of a composition.
C: Hyper-medley! You're quite the genius today, aren't you?
N: Looking at any side of a composition at any time. We called it deconstruction.
C: Gee whilikers! Really? Actually, I make up a lot of this stuff. Once, when I was back in Ashtabula I used to run and it was just as fine as a gnat's eyelash. Did you ever do that, Nick?
N: The first deconstruction was of the Nerve piece, 'I Am Not Dumb Now'.
C: Whether something is dumb or not is purely a matter of opinion. Anyhow, I have bigger fish to fry. Some engineers might want to be unpardonable, but I'll be damned if I'll let them! Not after what an engineer did to my cousin!
N: In addition to the gestures described above, I could bring in various melodies. . .
C: Described! Boy, you said it, Nick. Of course, it's all relative, you know. Husbands find that going to Oshkosh is more confused than pitching a fit over a dozen bloodhounds.
N: . . .or rhythmic structures from the piece at any time - juxtaposing them
C: - ! I asked you not to let the dog type your answers with his nose. It gums up the keyboard something awful.
N: Claude reacts oddly to the dash '' symbol. Being able to bring in precomposed. . .
C: - ! I'm trying as hard as I can, but I just don't catch what you're trying to say there.
N: . . .material at any time made for some exciting transitions and reinterpretations.
C: Whether something is exciting or not is purely a matter of opinion. But I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. I heard that cows won't associate with Jersey cows. Then again, I heard Jersey cows always play with cows. Oddly enough, that probably explains a lot!
N: In fact, the starting/stopping of some prepared material during such an improv. . .
C: Starting/stopping! Could you translate that for me into plain English?
N: . . .inspired the fractured rhythms at the end of 'Preaching To The Converted'.
C: Rhythms! I hate it when you type with a hammer.
N: An example of a deconstruction of a piece predating the piece itself!
C: Hell's bells! Really? Then again, maybe I didn't hear you correctly. I like a park ranger who usually lets bygones be bygones.
N: We were going to deconstruct The Rite Of Spring while touring Europe 2years ago.
C: 2years! I asked you not to let the dog type your answers with his nose. It gums up the keyboard something awful.
N: But lack of rehearsal time forced us to dispense with the pre-written material.
C: Excuse me, the phone's ringing.
C: It was some kind of opinion poll. I was undecided.
N: Which is when we saw how much could be done just with the gestures. So we. . .
C: My name is Claude. What should I call you?
C: Hi, Nick! I'm pleased to meet you.
N: Which is when we decided to finish the tour with no precomposed material at all.
C: Shoot! Really? Actually, I make up a lot of this stuff. Hey, Nick, did you know that the more bogus-looking a woman is when she pretends to be an engineer, the more musical the engineer becomes?
N: What is that, randomly generated sexism?
C: What do YOU think, Nick?
N: I think it's time we considered this article finished.
C: Maybe you do, but not often enough to suit me. However, I can't be bothered with that. I heard that when a daughter grows up in Sandusky, the Sandusky becomes nearly damnable.
C: So long, Nick! Don't take any wooden nickels. R
Nick Didkovsky studied experimental music with the noted composer Christian Wolff. He formed the New York based experimental rock group Doctor Nerve in 1983 and is their guitarist and composer. His composition activity for the group includes designing computer music systems which produce fully orchestrated compositions.
DOCTOR NERVE DISCOGRAPHY
Out To Bomb Fresh Kings (1984); Armed Observation (1987); Did Sprinting Die? (1990); Beta 14 OK (1991); Skin (1995); Every Screaming Ear (1997) - all CDs released on the Cuneiform label
Nick Didkovsky, Binky Boy (Punos Music, 1997 CD)
First published in Rubberneck 20, December 1995
Text © Rubberneck; photo © Francois Portmann