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Music director David Traver goes behind Blue Man Group 

Combining elements of the visual arts with comedy and music, Blue Man Group has become a national touring force of entertainment. As with most things, though, there is more than meets the eye. I recently spoke with musical director David Traver by phone from a tour stop in Delaware about the new Blue Man Group tour and what people can expect this time around.

Creative Loafing: Are you guys pretty consistently on tour at this point, or how does it all work?

David Traver: We've been out on tour for about seven months and it goes back-to-back. It seems like we've played 40 or 50 cities at this point. It gets stacked up for about a year and then it's gonna go out again for another year.

How often do you put a new show together?

It depends. We don't really have a set time period. It seems like every four or five years, we start to look at the shows and come up with new ideas. It's been a consistent five years or so, but it's not something we really follow.

Is it something you look at — let's change it up before we go back to a particular city?

No, we don't think about it like that. This tour is brand-new. This tour hasn't really ever been out so, so far we haven't had to think about it because we haven't doubled up yet. Because of the way we write these shows, we like to improve on things and update things so it could be a new show each time in the same city after a year or two.

When you're working on a new show are there elements that you keep in, or ones that you take out? Do you start from scratch?

Most of the material in our shows is written in New York by our direction staff and writing staff at the production company. They prepare for the upcoming tour and they have their list of the bits that will be in the show, they have ideas and we basically go to the city where we're going to test and see how it all works. We can put all these ideas together and it can be great or we can see what needs a little bit of work. It's pretty cool because everyone finds themselves writing the show together before we put it out. The crew is learning how to write their track backstage, the band is learning how to treat the music, the blue men are learning — it's a pretty collaborative effort in trying to make the best show possible. It's pretty fun.

What can you tell me about the new show and current tour?

This new tour is a different tour. The way that we like to think about Blue Man is that we like to think of ourselves as the show that changes to remain the same. We like to update our shows and see how they work in the present time. We've written a show that we feel fits into the way that the world is at the present moment. It's a lot of new material, but a lot of material we had in our old shows as well. There is a lot of new technology and a lot of playing with the technologies and topics of today — how technology is so important to us today. It's a mixture of old and new. People who have seen the show and those who haven't seen the show will love it just the same.

You've got a band backing the three blue men — do you write the band's music first or do you work something out on the strange instruments they use before writing something behind it?

When the music's written, the people who write the music play the instruments. We have a studio where they have all the instruments that are in the show and the guys who write the music have been in the show for years and know how the instruments should sound. It's like how a composer would write for an orchestra. Even though the instruments are a bit wacky and out there, they know exactly how the orchestration should work and sound.

I guess they take into account — hammering away on oil drums covered in paint, they have into account how the paint will affect the sound.

Definitely. We have to take into account the different materials on the instruments or what can get in the way or the amount of time we are playing a certain verse has to allow the Blue Man to go into the audience and do what he needs to do. We often times have to manipulate the music to fit the theater that we're playing. It's cool for us because we have to be a little bit more open because the show changes.

It allows for improvisation.

There's a lot of improvisation in the show, on the music side and on the blue man side. None of our music is written, we memorize everything. If a Blue Man gets a certain feeling about how a part of the show can work better on a certain night, they're allowed to do that. That's why the show changes pretty much every night.

Does it feel like a concert for you or does it feel like a performance where you're trying to perform a backdrop to what's going on?

It's a little of both, really. At times it feels like you're out there playing a concert and then the next piece you play you're manipulating things in real time — playing to a Blue Man walking around doing crazy stuff. Your mindset just changes back and forth which is something that I loved about it from the beginning.

You play guitar and zither?

I play all of the strings in the show. Also bass guitar.

Do you mess around with the other instruments for the fun of it?

Most definitely. Much to the annoyance of the drummers, I do. Like any guitar player, you dream of sitting down and being John Bonham and then quickly step off realizing you have no talent.

Do you have an artistic background that drew you to this?

I went to school for electronic music at Northeastern University in Boston. That was basically a composition degree using computers and I had a lot of classical and jazz composition experience. I started with Blue Man when I was 19. It opened a whole new world for me as a musician. I've been with them now for about 12 years. One of the great things about Blue Man Group is that we foster people as artists. It's one of the greatest gigs you can have as a performance artist because it lets you maintain a career outside of it.

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