Simon Whetham, Daniel Jones, Joseph Young aka field, Mike Blow
At Grey Area Gallery, Queens Road, Brighton Friday 20 March 2009
Mike Blow began his set by arranging repeating, pre recorded words like “passion”, “compassion”, “love” and so forth on his laptop, gradually processing them and then adding subtle tones and textures until the words slowly lost meaning and became indecipherable sonic artefacts. I initially found these changes taking a little too long to evolve for my liking with the repetition of the spoken words a little too much like an easy route to some kind of stereotypical sound-art trope. However, as the piece progressed, it gradually and unexpectedly took on the form of a mutant techno track with sullen sub bass and mysterious mid-tone activity. I must say I was somewhat surprised by this natural-sounding progression. Again, once this decision to morph into “dance music” had been made, Mike chose to rely on repetition to get his ideas across. Toward the end of his circa 25 minute set, he employed a mic’ed up home-made circuit-bent potted plant contraption which produced a variety of lo-fi electronic tones as he enthusiastically held his fingers down on its leaves in time with the beat.
Joseph Young aka Field also works with words, but in contrast to Mike Blow’s playback of recordings of spoken words, Joseph performed his own self-created texts in front of us; subtly amplifying his voice, mixing it to great effect with his i-pods and vinyl by means of a discreet lapel microphone. This was a canny approach as it allowed the very pleasing effect of being able to hear his voice both acoustically in the small gallery space and simultaneously mildly amplified, thus cementing its placement within the PA mix. It struck me that Joseph Young aka Field may work within a sound-art context rather than a specifically music-based one, although I had no opportunity to find out his intentions straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, as he exited the venue quick sharp after packing up his equipment directly after the end of his set. (I have since had a look at his website and discovered that “current practice is concerned with the transformation of noise and the mapping of the urban landscape through sound”, which certainly tallys with his strategies later in his set). I have the impression as I write this, that he may have performed two distinct pieces, although it could equally have been one long piece as I recall no obvious gaps. The first (perceived) part was made up of a background of field recordings of crowds, high streets, shopping malls and the like emanating from a pair of i-pods while BBC sound effects vinyl records containing more speech based recordings were played over the top. While mixing these pre recorded outputs, Joseph was simultaneously reading texts from a large bundle of A4 sheets of paper. I can categorically say that no matter how hard I tried to make sense of his clear, well spoken delivery, in a kind of perverse, surreal, almost Joycian manner the writing seemed to be deliberately nonsensical, perplexing and impregnable. The second part of his performance reminded me of The Bohman Brothers’ performance at Instal a couple of years ago in which they presented a spoken piece entitled “Five Leaflets” whereupon they utilized their own bastardization of William Burroughs’ cut up technique to produce a novel and highly entertaining amalgam of texts from what sound like a Chinese takeaway menu and other anodyne free advertising they found in their letterbox one day. Joseph put his own spin on this concept by seemingly at some point in time prior to this performance having taken a stroll through Brighton’s North Laine shopping district while obsessively scribbling down every bit of signage he passed by, (shop names, parking signs, notices in shop windows etc), to most entertaining effect.
Daniel Jones is a sound maker concerned, at least in part, with silence and how silence interacts with quiet sounds, static noises, (and sometimes what sounds like actual static), and the low-level acoustic output of domestic electronic devices. Daniel’s kit this evening included a small mixing desk, a turntable conspicuously used without any records, a device that looked to me like a small telephone transducer and an i-pod or similar mp3 player. Or a mobile phone; I’m not certain - it was quite dark. So a fairly minimal set-up compared with the last time I saw Daniel play. For me, Daniel’s music suits this type of event; a small but attentive audience in a compact, non-reverberant low-ceilinged space with high quality sound reinforcement. The volume was not overpowering, but allowed the noisier sounds of the outside world, (a Friday early evening’s revellers fresh off the train heading into the centre of Brighton; and the inevitable ambulance and police sirens), to occasionally integrate into Daniel’s soundworld. Combining electronic micro hums, clicks, low register tones; particularly interesting when amplifying the ipod, Daniel’s approach was measured, deliberate and yielded compelling results. It’s tempting at this point to use the well-worn cliché “you could hear a pin drop” to describe the audience reaction to Daniel’s explorations; but so clear and well spaced were his gestures, if indeed Daniel had used pins and gravity as additional sound making tools I’m sure they would have been supremely audible.
Bristol based field-recordist Simon Whetham completed the evening’s entertainment. I understand that he was also responsible for organising the event. Armed only with a laptop with which to manipulate his selection of field recordings, Simon nevertheless set about constructing an absorbing 25 minute sound journey. I’m having trouble thinking of ways to describe Simon’s music so perhaps instead I should probably concentrate on describing how it made me feel. Personally, I am always ready for an immersive listening experience, and this Simon delivered in a big way. An interesting musical dynamic was created by his use of abrupt endings to each piece of field recording, rather than simply fading one recording over the next. There may have been elements of overlaying of separate recordings here and there although now I think about it, I couldn’t be absolutely sure I’m not imagining it. The nature of memory being what it is...
In a way, memory is a commodity that Simon Whetham deals in. While he was performing, the sounds he had selected put me in mind of the sounds of my own travels, the places that I have lived, and visited; I recalled the sounds, smells, past events, old friends...
A little bit of aural transportation far away from the everyday and the mundane detritus of modern living is to be encouraged in this day and age and I for one am really looking forward to being present the next time Simon performs in our city.
Simon’s performance is due to be released on The Slightly Off Kilter Label in September this year.