Concert kicks off monthly series at community college

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Eccentric cellist Skip vonKuske performs every Monday at Edgefield Winery and will collaborate with Sneakin Out this Thursday at Mt. Hood Community College.At one time, this band’s percussion instrument ruled the earth.

“I’ve had small children come up and ask what that was,” says Skip vonKuske. “It’s like a ubiquitous sound that was all over the world we heard as kids if you’re over 35.”

It’s not a kick drum or snare to which vonKuske refers — it’s a manual typewriter.

“This is what we wrote letters on before we had computers,” vonKuske tells curious children. That’s right, vonKuske’s musical partner in sonic adventure, percussionist Don Henson, bangs on a typewriter as part of his show.

“I kind of use it in place of a high hat (cymbal) sometimes, and sometimes I use it in place of something African-sounding,” Henson adds. “When I do the return (key) ... it really does blend in, in a way.”

Henson and vonKuske, a cellist, will play at Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St., from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4. The duo will be joined by David Gerow on mandolin and Mike “Cheddar” Schmitt on bass and also will employ djembe, glockenspiel, cymbals and CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Popular Portland act Sneakin Out is known for its adventurous takes on popular songs as well as its collective neck problems.

Henson, Gerow and Schmitt constitute the popular Portland band Sneakin’ Out, which has opened for k.d. lang, among others. Meanwhile, vonKuske belongs to the Portland Cello Project and Vagabond Opera as well as Will West and the Friendly Strangers and plays with Henson in Groovy Wallpaper.

The cellist also has his own one-man-band, Cellotronik, a laptop-cello-guitar set-up that combines improvised and written pieces.

“I sample cellos on the fly creating layers of sound you’d never expect to come from one instrument,” vonKuske says. “Both David Gerow and I are the type of players who try to stretch our instruments to sound like other instruments, from voice to saxophone to music boxes.”

The vonKuske-Sneakin’ Out collaboration kicks off a series of free shows set to take place at Mt. Hood’s college center the first Thursday of each month from October through June.

Seamless segue

The musicians plan to approach their upcoming show the way a nightclub disc jockey approaches packing a dance floor with moving feet, vonKuske says.

“We have a tendency to blur songs together,” he says. “Expect a lot of classic rock — Deep Purple, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Average White Band and Led Zeppelin.”

The musicians also will drop hints of Beethoven and Gershwin into the mix, he says, noting the mandolin takes the place of a vocalist and you might hear some famous guitar solos transplanted to glockenspiel.

The ad hoc quartet brings with it a host of musical ideas culled from paying tribute to various artists, including Pink Floyd, Henson adds.

His trio once performed the famous English rock band’s opera “The Wall” in its entirety at a Portland nightclub. They even had a children’s choir on hand to sing along with them — and as it turned out, Roger Waters heard of the Portland youngsters and decided to employ them himself when he staged “The Wall” here last May.

Meanwhile, vonKuske performs as Cellotronik every Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. at McMenamins Edgefield Winery, 2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale, often inviting guest musicians.

“Usually I bring an artist who has their own thing that they do well, and I accompany that,” vonKuske says. “I love it. I’ve been doing it for eight years now. I feel like I’m ‘interviewing’ artists with my cello, using to it create a point-counterpoint between me and the artist.”