Makin' the Scene

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Mike Martini was fooling around with a guitar effects pedal when he found the mutation that sparked his experimental rock project Nine Ninety Eight. Properly tweaked, the pedal emitted a seemingly random flash of sound. Martini, a 29-year-old art school dropout who lives in Chardon, then had the idea to play a compact disc through the pedal. "Every time I'd hit the effects pedal, I'd get this little blurb spit out at me."

Martini loves blurbs. After turning a spare bedroom into a recording studio, he cut and pasted his favorite noises onto an eight-track recorder. Released under the name Nine Ninety Eight, his debut CD, Buy Buy Buy, is like the space-rock album Tom Waits would make were he bitten by the Casio bug. Martini shifts from driving techno to floating ambient to hillbilly deluxe to Blue Velvet dialogue samples without a care for stripping the gears. It's the year's (OK, it's only January) most rewarding local release. "I was trying to make some interesting music and stuff I would want to listen to," he says. "I like writing songs."

Martini wrote, produced, and played most of the instruments, some of which he picked up at rummage sales. Greg Golya, who's played with the Frans and Out of the Blue, lent a hand. The two had collaborated on a little-heard cassette under the name Green Merchant. Before that, Martini played guitar in Unified Culture and learned the frustrations of coordinating rehearsals and gigs with other musicians. "I almost became forced to doing it myself."

Guys who count Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, and the Butthole Surfers among their chief influences probably should work alone. Infatuated with turning noises into instruments, Martini is like a conductor of inanimate objects. "I randomly pick an album and randomly pick a track and try to turn it into a song and make it sound like an instrument," he says, describing one of his songwriting methods.

His everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach carries over to his lyrics. On "Celebrity," Martini sarcastically encourages fame-seekers to "Get a facelift/Change your pigment/Grab your crotch or something just as ignorant." "Tornado" is told from the perspective of a truck driver who hauls pigs and does well with the ladies. "Who Cares" ridicules the worship of statistics by reciting real and phony facts ("Forty percent of our greatest leaders were mama's boys").

Martini left his job in a law office for work befitting a real rock and roller: He's staining skin at Generation X tattoo parlor.

For now, Nine Ninety Eight can only be experienced on CD. Martini's looking for a few musicians to take the act live.

Rotten weather and sundry catastrophes have led to a rash of show cancellations and postponements this month. Among them:

* Andy Dick's New Year's Eve rock and roll opera at the Palace Theatre was bagged because of "scheduling conflicts."

* A winter storm trapped David Allan Coe's bus in Cincinnati, canceling his January 6 Peabody's show. The show will be made up April 7.

* The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame canceled the January 9 Elvis Presley symposium and the January 10 screening of the '68 Comeback Special because speakers had trouble flying into town. The hall will try to reschedule the events this spring.

* Ticket-holders of the January 10 Method Man/Redman show were turned away from the Agora. Method Man, allegedly, was under the weather. But the Agora's Johan suspects the rapper was simply looking for a reason to beat it out of town so he could be minty-fresh for the next night's American Music Awards. "The excuses changed all night long," he grumbled.

* A bout of pneumonia kept Wayne Kramer from his January 12 date at Wilbert's, forcing local openers 3D to headline. Kramer is booked to return March 16.

* The Grog Shop 86'ed Big Rude Jake's January 13 show when a water main broke. The bar did without water, then lost its power. "Everything's fine," said club owner Kathy Simkoff Saturday night, "except our phone line's out now."

*G.E. Smith's January 23 show at Wilbert's was dropped because of a change in tour plans; in his place, Buckwheat Zydeco was slated. That show was canceled when bandleader Stanley Dural Jr. entered the Vanderbilt University Medical Center to have lesions on his vocal cords surgically removed. Dural is expected to sing again in ninety days.

* Brian Wilson's March 1 show at the State Theatre was postponed when a member of Wilson's wife's family became ill. (Mr. Wilson doesn't travel without the missus.) Look for a rescheduled date in April.

To prime the release of his new CD, Destiny, composer/pianist Jim Brickman will meet and greet his hometown fans at three area retailers Tuesday, January 26. Brickman will visit the Beachwood Borders from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Westlake Borders from 4 to 6 p.m., and the Camelot in the Great Lakes Mall from 7 to 9 p.m.

Six bands advanced to the High School Rock Off finals last weekend: Mystery Machine, Vitallus, Honeylove, the Baby Moons, Indecision, and Circle of Willis. Incoherent, Accelerator, and the Mods qualified January 10. The finals are Saturday, January 30 at the Odeon.

Ex-Cherry Bomb bass player Rose F. Khule has joined Hellvis. Frontman Ted Laskowski says the band plans to record this spring.

Queenie and the Phase V Band throw a CD release party at the Savannah Bar & Grille Saturday, January 23.

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