Lather, Rinse, Repeat

The Ad Nauseam Project brings together 25 of Tucson's finest musicians for a minimalist music marathon

The noted modern musician/philosopher/poet/sex machine Prince Rogers Nelson once observed--in a song that references another song whose duration is "a year long"--"There's joy in repetition." To prove his point, he repeated the notion over and over and over again in the span of not quite five minutes.

While local musician Jeff Grubic's (aka Mr. Tidypaws) ongoing Ad Nauseam Project falls somewhere in between the concept of joy in repetition and putting that idea into practice via the performance of a day-long song, its own concept and execution is not all that far from either.

Billed as "a minimalist music marathon," the idea stems from the work of minimalist composers such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Terry Riley and, especially, La Monte Young. "He would do pieces that were 24 hours long," explains Grubic, "and just one or two tones slightly shifting--you could barely even hear the tones shifting. ... That might sound too pompous, but that's where it came from, really. It's such a simple idea, just repeated over and over and over again."

Grubic says he came up with the concept when he was in between bands while living in the Bay Area. "I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next," he recounts, "so I started this as an exercise ... of writing a song where it had to be in (a certain time), at a certain beat, in a certain genre, and to see how long I could make it last."

He assembled a group of musicians and performed three or four versions of the Ad Nauseam Project there before relocating to Tucson, bringing the idea with him. The performance at Club Congress Wednesday, Nov. 17, will be the eighth Tucson installment.

While early performances consisted of a single chord progression, repeated for three or four hours by musicians who would play in shifts, the current version has morphed a bit. For one thing, it has been expanded to five hours. But perhaps more importantly, there will be five different sections of music that will be gradually layered upon each other as the night progresses.

"First, I get a group of musicians together--in this case it's going to be about 25 people," explains Grubic. "I try to imagine which musicians will work well together, things like that, and I pick their part. I give each musician a CD or a recording of the part they're supposed to play, and we don't rehearse at all. ... I have a flow chart that has five musicians who are supposed to start playing what they got on their CD together. So, they start playing and then another five come in, playing something slightly different over the top of what (the original five) are playing. And then another five, and so on. ... It gets layered and layered, and by the end it should kind of mesh.

"By the end, there should be about 20 people on stage. Some people have said they don't want to play the whole time, or they want to have a little break, so that's kind of why I'm doing it that way this time--so people don't have to play for the whole five hours."

To execute the project, Grubic has assembled some of the finest musicians in Tucson, including Al Perry, Lucas Mosely, Joey Burns, Tony Rosano, Naim Amor, Jefferson Keenan, Andy Gardner, Tom Walbank, Mike Bagesse, Mona Chambers, Danny Walker, Gene Ruley and members of Mankind, Galactic Federation of Love, Hipster Daddy-O and the Handgrenades and George Squier Orchestra.

In addition to the musical performance, there will also be several other components that complement the theme. Dag Weiser, an artist from Santa Cruz, Calif., will be displaying silkscreens of multiple images of German immigrants, and there will be performers doing repetitive acts, such as stamping documents with the words "ad Nauseam" and making buttons to hand out to the audience saying the same.

Wednesday's performance also represents the first transatlantic Ad Nauseam Project. At the same time it's being performed at Club Congress, a group of musicians will be performing their own version in Nantes, France. Original plans included a satellite feed from the French performance that would be projected in the club, but technical obstructions may prevent it.

Grubic intends for the project to be more than a mere exercise in musical minimalism, seeing it as a cultural statement, as well.

He explains, "... I made it to show the emptiness that's now in commercial music, by just doing this stupid, repetitive thing for a really long period of time. It kind of criticizes the state of music today, or something like that. I don't know."