Travellin’ Light

Michael Zerang
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Chad Taylor
Michael Zerang                                                                                                      Courtesy of Michael Zerang

Michael Zerang is a Chicago-based composer, percussionist and performance artist. He has co-founded and performed with sundry ensembles including The Neutrino Orchestra, Pappas New Instrument Ensemble and Musica Menta. Additionally, Zerang has performed with many jazz and improvised music luminaries, including Fred Anderson, Peter Brötzmann and Hamid Drake. His discography includes albums recorded for Okka Disk, Quinnah, and other North American and European labels. Many of Zerang's projects entail collaborating with choreographers, theater companies, performance artists, and film and video makers. Zerang also works extensively in puppet theater. He has been a guest lecturer performance technique, rhythmic analysis and sound design at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Dance Center of Columbia College and Northwestern University; Zerang also holds workshops and teaches privately. Zerang has been an active programmer since the 1980s, founding the Link's Hall Performance Series and curating performances in venues ranging from Club Lower Link's and Urbus Orbis Theater. Zerang has received grants from The Chicago Artists International, The Illinois Arts Council, The Chicago Office of Fine Arts, Arts Midwest, and The Regional Artist Project Grant administered by the National Endowment for the Arts. 2010 will be a busy year for Zerang: European tours with Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet in May and October; March concerts with Raphael Roginski in Poland and with Alberto Braida and Edoardo Marraffa in Austria and Italy; and performances at the IRTIJAL festival in Beirut in April. Zerang and Drake will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their Winter Solstice Concerts in December. For more information about Michael Zerang, consult: and

What is the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment?

It's like playing roulette. There doesn't seem to be any standards when it comes to musical instruments, rather it's up to the person you're dealing with when you check in. In general, it's a real pain, but every now and then, it's no problem. I know that SAS has recently started a policy of charging extra for ANY musical instrument. But it seems that the people at the check in counter are too embarrassed to enforce it!

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

I usually fly overseas and I find that most flights are booked solid, so all of them are terrible if you are back in the cheap seats. Unless you are seated in business class, the food is always wretched. Pack your own when you can…

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

I don't like deGaulle in Paris.
What is the most important thing you ever forgot to pack?

I travel with so few things that I rarely forget anything. I did forget my Tea Tree Australian Chewing Sticks once and had to endure plain old toothpicks for an entire month!

What is your worst lost baggage story?

I usually check my instruments – cymbals, sticks and toys mostly, and of course the airlines are losing them all of the time. I have been pretty lucky in that I get them back in time for the gigs. Once however, when I was playing at a very large festival near the North Sea, I still didn't receive my gear, but since I have drums provided by the fest, all I need were a few cymbals, which they had anyway, and some drumsticks, which they didn't have. I begged the stage manager to find me some sticks and mallets, and a half hour later he returned with one pair of drumsticks! I was rescued by a fellow drummer who gave me his entire stick bag to use.
What country hassles musicians the most at customs and passport checks?

Being a US citizen, it's awkward talking about being hassled when entering a country, since we are now NUMBER 1 when it comes to hassling visiting musicians. Canada and England are tied for NUMBER 2!

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

Warsaw… they really take you for a ride!

What is the best hotel that a presenter has provided for you?

When I play at the IRTIJAL festival in Beirut, I stay at Chez Nayla, where the hospitality is out of this world.

Do you travel with a laptop or a PDA? If so, how many times a day do you check your e-mail?

Yes, I've been traveling with my Mac Power book for the last 5 years, and just recently switched to an iPhone. I check my email at least once a day when I am traveling – more if there is free wifi.

Do you listen to music on the road? If so, what device do you use?

IPod mini (I know, it's for girls…)
Do you do your own laundry on the road?

Every night after a gig, I wash my stage shirt in the bathroom, and every 7 days or so, I try to do laundry somewhere. I don't bring many clothes so it's important to wash what I have regularly.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Some rock club in Helsinki. The engineer had never seen a darabuka before and, even after an hour of working on it, he still managed to make it sound terrible. Every time I would make a suggestion, he would get very defensive, and it would seem he would do the opposite of what I recommended. Nightmare soundcheck = nightmare gig!
What is the scariest food that has been laid out for you backstage?

There's supposed to be food backstage?
What are your three favorite venues?

Alchemia in Krakow, Poland; B Flat, Club der Polnischen Versager in Berlin; and Hideout in Chicago.

Which cities have the best restaurants for late after-gig meals?

Beirut, Vienna, Chicago, New York City. At least in large cities something is open!

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?


What is the best city that closes down too early?


What is the best locale to have a day off?

Beirut and Berlin

What is your cure for jet lag?

Jet lag is a problem only for people who sleep.

What is your best tip for the novice?

When you are traveling, enjoy the people you are with, be patient when the inevitable delays and mishaps occur, and no matter what, DON'T COMPLAIN to your traveling partners!

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