PowerPoint and power-pop

 

Friday night at The Vogue, visual arts and music will join forces. First up, a music-centric

edition of Pecha Kucha, a timed PowerPoint format that challenges presenters to get across their ideas quickly and effectively before a drunken, distracted audience. Then the reunion of The Pieces, an excellent power-pop trio that can now

be called one of the best local bands of the last decade. We'll consider the

two separately, in order of appearance.

Pecha Kucha

It's 2007, and John Beeler,

employed under the official job title of "Resident

Historian/Technician/Stay-at-home Dad" at the independent art music label

Asthmatic Kitty Records, is taking a break from the kids and reading through

the latest issue of Wired. He

comes across a piece in the Tech Biz section: "Pecha Kucha: Get to the PowerPoint

in 20 Slides Then Sit the Hell Down." He is intrigued. He reads on.

"Let us now bullet-point our praise for Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, two Tokyo-based architects who have turned

PowerPoint, that fixture of cubicle life, into both art form and competitive

sport," writes Daniel H. Pink. "Their innovation, dubbed pecha-kucha (Japanese

for "chatter"), applies a simple set of rules to presentations:

exactly 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each."

And now Beeler wonders aloud

if this phenomenon — later summed up by Beeler as "ideas+beer+powerpoint"

— would work in Indianapolis. So he calls up a local design firm KA+A.

And they are intrigued as well. And thus begins Pecha Kucha's life in

Indianapolis.

The first iteration was held

at The Harrison Center, then more followed: at Big Car, at a yoga studio and, last

November, at IMA's Toby Theater, which hosted the most well-attended Pecha Kucha

to date. "We've had one

in an unfinished office floor; we had BBQ at that," Beeler recently told NUVO.

"I can't say why those two things are related but it fit."

Beeler

fondly recalls one presentation by Joe Molinaro, who will present Friday at The

Vogue. "[He] cracked eggs over his head during the presentation while the

PowerPoint flipped through pictures of well endowed women in swimsuits. His

point was that performance art can trump the banality of the internet any day.

Or at least I think that was his point. That volume was at the Harrison Center

and a wedding the next day complained of a rotten egg smell. It was like his

presentation never stopped presenting."

And Beeler

himself is one of those repeat presenters. "It's

easy and hard at the same time. Twenty slides is nothing really. But it's a

challenge to distill an idea so that it fits into 6 minutes and 40 seconds. A

big part of it a good Pecha Kucha presentation is

entertainment, true, and we've heard that criticism before. But no matter what

you do in your career or life, you're going to have to share an idea with

someone that doesn't know what the hell you're talking about. And you're going

to do it while competing against whatever is swirling around in the other

person's head. PK is a microcosm for that. The chitter-chatter, the beer; these

are your competitors."

Beeler essays an explanation

for why Pecha Kucha has taken off. "I think it's become popular because the format is so

beautiful. It's like haiku; when a presentation is solid and the visuals are

striking and the presenter is confident the result can be really quite

remarkable and powerful. So I think PK speaks to the possibility of a universal

language of ideas, a ideal that the most brilliant parts of all our disciplines

and interests can be shared and gleaned from."

The Pieces

Back in 2003, the town was

abuzz about The Pieces. The trio seemed to have breakout potential, behind a

debut full-length produced by Mahan Kalpa (aka Paul Mahern, the Zero Boy turned

Buddist rock band mentor) and released by Benchmark Records, a local label

presided over by Josh Baker and ready to push a band to national prominence.

The band's lead singer and

songwriter Vess Ruhtenberg was proud of the record and ready for mainstream

success after years as an on-call guitarist. Drummer Devon Ashley was working

for the first time in a rock and roll band, bringing his soulful feel to a

power-pop setting after years of playing R&B and gospel. And bassist and

keyboardist Heidi Gluck was living out her choice to become a full-time

musician instead of sticking around rural Manitoba.

And the full-length was

something special, infectiously catchy, moving from power-pop to R&B, with

a substantial, crunchy feel that wasn't accidental — "We kind of used

Queen as the template for the record," Ruhtenberg told NUVO in 2003.

But The Pieces weren't

destined for super-stardom. That's not to say the band was a failure, and all

three musicians eventually found other work — Ruhtenberg and Ashley in

The Lemonheads and other local bands, Gluck with the Juliana Hatfield-fronted

Some Girls. Reflecting on what might have been, Gluck doesn't have any regrets.

"I think that of any band

I've been a part of, this was the closest to one that could've 'made it,'"

Gluck told NUVO from her Kansas City home last week. "But at the end of the day

I am just so grateful that I can put on my Pieces s/t LP and remember how good

we had it and how good we were at that time. Could we repeat that? I

really don't know...It's one of those things that is a moment, just like when the

perfect song gets written. You can't really script out how it happens."

This reunion has been at

least a year in the making. The Pieces were scheduled to perform as part of

last year's Broad Ripple Music Fest opener. But Gluck broke her leg two weeks

before the show. She describes it as about "95 percent" back, 11 months after

the break.

Broken limb aside, Gluck is

still making greatest effort to make this show happen, given that Ruhtenberg

and Ashley still live in Indianapolis and still perform on a regular basis.

"I almost

never play music with other people but I do play in my living room sometimes,"

Gluck explained, adding that she "needed a break from music" when she moved

away from Indianapolis. "I had a baby, he

was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes when he was two, I began a career in the

corporate world which involved travel, and I wasn't playing music hardly at

all."

The self-titled album is

available for audition (and half-off purchase) at musicalfamilytree.net.

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