Klimchak conjures ‘Nostalgia for the Future’

Iconoclastic percussionist creates multi-layered musical adventure

If you don’t know Klimchak’s music, you’ve probably seen him around at a club, concert, or art opening. He’s the pale, middle-aged Caucasian guy with a shaved head, wiry goatee, and clear-framed glasses, often wearing a brightly colored tunic and sporting a fez or Asian peasant hat. Working primarily as a soloist, David Klimchak plays an assortment of percussive and offbeat electronic and custom-built instruments — think nose flute, theremin, PVC pipes, garden utensils, and the rare Marimba Lumina. He’s an accomplished composer and performer of scores for theatrical plays and puppet theater productions. His latest album, Nostalgia for the Future, is a thoroughly entertaining journey through his vivid imagination. In six tracks — each one recorded straight-up with no overdubbing, sequencing, looping, or post-production — Nostalgia ... conjures a multi-verse of styles ranging from country, folk, jazz, and blues to Irish jigs, Tin Pan Alley novelty tunes, and Chinese court music.

This month, Klimchak will perform selections from Nostalgia for the Future at Theatrical Outfit, as well as collaborative works accompanied by Stuart Gerber, Olivia Kieffer and Brandon Dodge. Also on the playlist is “Punch,” a composition for jal tarang, a South Indian xylophone made from rice bowls tuned with water. Klimchak’s DIY version of the instrument features clear glass bowls with holes in the bottom out of which drains an alcoholic beverage. When the bowls are empty, the song ends, and the audience and composer share the punch.

Before the shows, Klimchak answered a few queries about his life’s journey as a musician and the painstaking production of Nostalgia for the Future.

Describe your early musical education.

I was born in 1954 in Louisville, Kentucky. I come from several generations of drummers, all of whom gave up their careers to have a family. My dad, who was my major teacher, played with Nat and Cannonball Adderley before they were well-known. I came to Atlanta in the ’80s to attend Emory University for law school. After figuring out that was the wrong path, I went to grad school at FSU for a year, basically marking time and practicing to get my chops back up. In the early ’90s, I came back to Atlanta to make a career in music.

What are some of the most memorable bands you have played with?

First there was RuPaul and Wee Wee Pole around 1982-83, then came Fab Area from 1984-1987, and Bruce Hampton’s Profit Omega and the State Birds, which lasted about a year between 1991-‘92. Since then, I’ve mostly been doing the composer thing rather than bands.

What were some of your formative musical influences and experiences?

Seeing the Art Ensemble of Chicago in the late ’80s marked the moment when I understood that being able to play a LOT of instruments and improvise could be a career path. I’ve never wavered since.

In 1984, I saw Laurie Anderson at the Peachtree Playhouse. That show made me realize I could blend my background in English/theater with performance and playing music in clubs. Also, her drummer, David Van Tieghem, played Simmons electronic drums. The next month, I saw Ornette Coleman at Piedmont Park. His son, Denardo, was playing Simmons drums. These two concerts showed me the future of electronic percussion and its range of possibilities. I got my own set of Simmons soon thereafter and never stopped having electronics as part of my rig.

Describe the concept and production behind Nostalgia for the Future?

The CD is primarily a showcase for my performances on the Marimba Lumina. The instrument’s creator, legendary synthesizer inventor Don Buchla, has described the Lumina (only around a hundred of which were made) as “an electronic MIDI controller that brings an extended vocabulary and range of expression to the mallet instrument family.” Using four separate mallets, six foot pedals, and a breath controller, I can perform live music that would normally take at least four musicians.

You’ve said that Nostalgia for the Future is the result of years of planning and work. What was the most difficult aspect of the process?

The composing process involved working, performing, getting feedback, listening to recordings of the performance when available, rewriting, rehearsing in the new format, and repeating these tasks for several years. In some ways, it’s harder to work at a piece of music that is open-ended, rather than written down, because you have to accept the notion that it can never be finished. Even though now I have recorded “definitive” versions of the songs on Nostalgia, they will continue to change in performance, hopefully for the better.

Each piece was recorded at least 50 times at Martian Manor studios during 2012-13. Then I had to choose the best one. In many cases, parts of one take were great, but other parts sucked. The best thing for me was that, at the end of the project, I tossed all of the recordings that were not used. I didn’t want to take the chance that either I, in a moment of weakness, or someone else after my death, might decide to blend portions of different takes together, even though doing so could result in a better version of the music. That would violate the primary rule of this project, which is based on one “live” take, for better or worse.

What can the audience expect to encounter at the Theatrical Outfit shows?

This show has become an annual event for me. It’s like a “greatest hits” performance. I write some new stuff, and also do some older, more obscure material. In addition to selections from Nostalgia for the Future, there will be two or three Lebeato Lounge pieces, which were inspired by your suggestion to figure out a way to perpetuate the Beltline duet concept from 2010. All of the pieces are performed on invented instruments in semi-darkness and using light as one of the integral elements. The only electrical power is supplied by batteries.