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PowerPoint and power-pop

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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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