In a recently, (regrettably), diminished performance area at Coachwerks, are squashed the table top tech of the five acts for the night. The rest of the space is crammed full of even more chairs than there were last time I was here. Good thing there are as a constant stream of experimental music lovers file in even before doors are officially open. Seated, this created a cosy, intimate environment.
First to perform are the recently expanded Anthony Murphy Quartet. No longer a trio; in addition to Murphy’s spoken word, Adam Lygo’s noise guitar and EMB’s zither and sampler combination is laser thereminist Jet. Jet’s contribution is substantial; not only visually, (his laser theremin is about six feet tall), but in having the ability to process Murphy’s vocals through his laptop, the Quartet have really hit their stride creatively. Their music is still improvised, Murphy’s poems still rigidly formatted but with a fourth element there is more space for everyone to relax a little more than was the case with the Trio. The resulting maelstrom of guitar clanging, organ drones, digital bit-mangling, manipulated voice and poetry moved dynamically and rhythmically through a twenty minute cycle of quiet/loud with propulsion and edginess.
After a short break while Jet breaks down his laser device, we are presented with his guitar/drums duo Twofold. An expanded live loop manipulation outfit utilizing guitar, bass, drums and vocals at various points of their performance, Twofold produce at times material reminiscent, (to me, at least), of Kid A-period Radiohead, or late 90’s Tortoise’s quieter moments; all with a dubby feel provided by the looped bass parts. It seemed that most if not all played parts were captured and then processed and looped by Jet’s bespoke digital processing equipment; many things were pitch shifted or sped up or down but occasionally a sound emerged that I was at a loss to recognise as an instrument. Intriguing. The idea of bringing the concept of the recording studio into a live performance is not a new one, but Twofold seem to have achieved it in a relatively portable and trouble-free way and thus given themselves the space to play with sonic ideas in real time.
Mass follow this with a more subdued performance than the one I witnessed late last year. Lygo again, this time paired with HRT member Russell. Both on guitar processed with various electronic devices. A more floating sound overall, more like a slightly more aggressive Invisible, (another Lygo project), performance rather than Adam Lygo’s trademark brutalist solo digital howl.
Up next is solo vocalist/visual artist Ever Orchid. Unfortunately, Ever is plagued by technical problems starting with incompatible cables for her projector, forcing her to rely on the screen of a laptop to display her exquisite visuals. Ever began with a piece composed of vocal harmony, soft wails and acoustic guitar backing; dark, brooding. Ever stood, cowled, behind her laptop in low light which overall looked great. Trouble soon raised its ugly head and after about two thirds of this first piece crackling started to become audible pre-empting a total cut-out of sound from the laptop. Ever continued to sing, ending the song and the audience seemed not to mind. The second piece passed without incident; this time a bed of multiple vocal parts allowed Ever to improvise a melody part. Mysterious surging synth noise and a clanking guitar sample were added as the piece progressed. The third piece, however, seemed to be too much for the ailing processor in the laptop. A jazzy upright bass sample and moving water sounds complemented Ever’s vocal and occasional violin for a couple of minutes before the soundfile gave up the ghost completely. Frustrating for Ever and for the audience who had been visibly enjoying the music up till this point.
Rounding off the evening was the ever-fascinating Duncan Harrison [pictured above] who conjured up a cacophony of close-mic’ed noises from a baking tray before ordering some ethereal drones from a four track tape recorder. I like his minimal use of delay as well – its easy to get carried away with certain effects, but Duncan uses all of his objects and devices in the same way a painter uses paint. Later, he uses a loop sampler to manipulate his vocal groans, huffs and tics; again in a very light and delicate way. The overall result of his actions, however, is far from delicate. A miniature dulcimer-like instrument is riffed and then processed to sound really, really dark. Other components follow: bells, gruff vocal incantation, a proggy synth/tape tone, overloaded signal, crackling, more vocal huff. And an abrupt stop all too soon. Classic Harrison. I could listen to his stuff for hours.