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Monday, 28 November 2011

Active Crossover / Practical Electronica

Taking place in two adjacent rooms at Brighton’s Phoenix Gallery, free events Active Crossover / Practical Electronica showcased two complementary yet disparate sound/visual artforms to a capacity audience.
Due to my practical involvement with Simon Whetham’s Active Crossover component of the evening, I unfortunately missed out on both programmes of Ian Helliwell’s Practical Electronica film screenings. I gather the first programme consisted of films by pioneering film-makers including Fred Judd, while the second was a collection of Ian Helliwell’s recent film work. I recommend you take a look at for more information. Plus you can still catch Ian’s gallery exhibition Practical Electronica which runs at The Phoenix Gallery until the 18th of December 2011.
The idea of Active Crossover concerts is to pair up musicians who have not played together before to perform “crossover” duets where one player begins; plays for about ten minutes; then the second player joins in; they improvise for ten minutes and then the first player drops out to allow the second to complete the performance playing solo.
The first of the Crossover performances was by Simon Whetham and Bela Emerson. Simon opened his laptop in the darkened room and began with a selection of placid field recordings. I’ve always been impressed by Simon’s unorthodox presentation of his own recorded material. Where other field recordists can perhaps rely on a purist, unmolested realtime document of events or phenomena, Whetham is unafraid of the jarring jump-cut, unusual juxtapositions, layering, surround-sound manipulation, (occasionally his day-job), and presenting the unrecognisable and surprising convergences. I didn’t recognise a lot of the sounds he used but could have listened to them eyes closed for a lot longer than this Crossover performance allowed. When cellist Bela Emerson joined in, she presented an unusually delicate palette of extended technique for the majority of their improvisation. Gradually, her more recognisable melodic bow work looped out from her electronics but in quiet, gossamer strands rather than the bold, wide brushstrokes she employed during a recent solo set I caught at the Green Door Store. By the time Simon Whetham finished his contribution, Bela was firmly in the familiar territory of her solo improvisations but still grasping a fragility of sound not usual in her solo work. A deeply immersive collaboration by a surprising yet rewarding combination of musicians.
While the first instalment of the Practical Electronica screenings began with the audience relocated to the next door red room, the white room was prepared for Duncan Harrison and Paul Khimasia Morgan’s performance. Harrison is no stranger to improvised groupings as he regularly tours with drone outfit Plurals, and in a duo with Ian Murphy, plus he has performed in Brighton with acts as diverse as The A Band, HUH 5PIN and Adam Lygo. Paul Khimasia Morgan has performed at a previous Active Crossover with Simon Whetham, (this leading on to their releases on con-v), and is similarly interested in improvising opportunities. Recently, he has participated in groupings including Ryu Hankil, Seijiro Murayama, Jez riley French, Patrick Farmer, Daichi Ishikawa and Daniel Jones.
Both musicians had prepared weird assemblages of objects, devices and instruments; Paul on a tabletop and Duncan on the floor. Duncan began this performance, kneeling amid his equipment, starting by amplifying his jittery utterances into a long duration loop device while scraping and striking various parts of his array of sonic objects. I noticed about a dozen cassette tapes ready for use in his pair of portable machines, and quite a few small metal objects in his arsenal. What’s more interesting than Duncan’s unusual choice of equipment though, is the way he seems to genuinely and quickly attain a trance state in which to perform. It’s a fidgety, shakey physical trance which I’ve sometimes witnessed and been mildly disturbed by. In this state, Harrison seems to be genuinely troubled and using performance as a way of venting...something. I’m not sure this is definitely his motivation though – you’d have to ask him yourselves. As Paul Khimasia Morgan crawled under his table to commence the collaborative section of the performance, Harrison proceeded to crawl away into the audience clutching one of his portable infernal cassette machines.
Khimasia Morgan then presented a lurid and angry set of loud, scraped stones and gritty sand sounds, rattling, mains hum, buzzing motors, incipient voltage clicking with flashing lights while occasionally throwing insubordinate or unsatisfactory objects from the performance area in a claustrophobic demonstration of ill humour. More than once, almost-silences were rudely punctuated by extremely loud and gritty outbursts or preprepared samples of his previous experiments digitally rendered into harsh distortion. Perhaps the psychological fallout of Duncan Harrison’s approach rendered Khimasia Morgan’s usually restrained output down into its constituent rancorous parts. More please.
As the audience dutifully upped and bombarded themselves with Ian Helliwell’s final selection of avant-film for half an hour, then good naturedly hauled themselves back into their seats for Alexander Wendt and Slow Listener, an almost tangible air of expectation filled the white room. During the films, Alexander Wendt had busily constructed a soundart installation of small speakers set upon the room’s stage riser, amplified by two microphones suspended from the ceiling, swinging in small arcs across each speaker. Wendt augmented the resulting pulses of Alvin Lucier-ish feedback with clean, digital chatter from his laptop. Minimal but effective lighting rendered some interesting silhouettes of the movements of the equipment and Wendt onto the walls as he set about his work of making (what seemed to be) tiny subtle adjustments to his sounds.
Slow Listener countered with terse analogue crackling and dark monosynth grumblings that evolved over quite long durations compared to the evening’s previous musicians and suited Alexander Wendt’s somewhat austere material extremely well. Solo, Slow Listener’s drones kicked up into a more brusque and eager gear until he abandoned all his electronics completely and finished his performance by coming out from behind his table armed only with an unamplified bowed cymbal.

photograph of Duncan Harrison's equipment by Paul Khimasia Morgan.

Monday, 21 November 2011

sok040 GIMLET EYED MARINERS - Dark Secret Love

Gimlet-Eyed Mariners hail from Wiveliscombe, Somerset. The duo was conceived in early 2009, but various other projects involving its members delayed its birth until the late summer of that year, when the first official recorded session, Leopard Slugs, was cut. This session produced “In the Howling Storm” and the title track of their release, Dark Secret Love, on The Slightly Off Kilter Label.

The band was formed to create the kind of music and soundscapes that its members wanted to hear, but seldom could. The Mariners’ music can be categorised as electro-acoustic, acousmatic total-Improv, concerned primarily with colour, texture and dynamics, spontaneous interaction, and the organic, unpredictable evolution of each performance. Their improvisations start from scratch: the players never rehearse in the sense of working on a piece until it evolves into something “presentable”. In the studio they reject editing, over-dubbing and re-mixing: if a performance is not working, it will be abandoned, and the duo will move on to a new improvisation. Accidents are part of the adventure: they do not consider this approach as foisting unfinished “product” on the audience, but as an invitation to their listeners to join them on a journey of discovery.

An improvisation by the duo may incorporate hypnotic, densely-textured, multi-layered constructs, evanescent drifts of colour and insubstantial texture, mysterious and ambiguous sonorities, eruptions of viscera-endangering industrial noise, compulsive dance beats evoking music from the remotest reaches of the globe, or, often, all of these simultaneously.

Although they arrived at it from somewhat different directions, the two Mariners share a vision, and have a common admiration for musique concrete & electronic music pioneers like Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, Pierre Henry, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and the great Tonmeister, Stockhausen.

Michael Fairfax is a sculptor and designer who studied under the tutelage of his grandfather, Ernest Berk, a pioneer of musique concrete, cutting and splicing recorded tape, toying with oscillators and generally playing around with sound. During his career as a public artist he created a number of sound-works using computer technology, before embarking on adventures in music in its own right, firstly with Tapes+Ashes and now with Gimlet-Eyed Mariners. The exploitation of sound as an improvised unit gives him the space and expansiveness that is the antithesis of public art.

Barry Witherden was also a member of Tapes+Ashes, and began tinkering with low-tech, tape-based collages when, in his late teens, he discovered Schaeffer and Henri. He is a freelance music journalist currently writing for The Wire, Jazz Journal and BBC Music, and has been a regular contributor to Jazz Review, The Gramophone and Classic CD. His writing has also been included in The Wire Primers: A Guide to Modern Music, The Rough Guide to Classical Music and The Guinness Who’s Who of Jazz. His inspirations include Morton Feldman, the early process/systems pieces of Steve Reich and the work of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

© Barry Witherden, July 2011

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Friday, 11 November 2011

right place right time

Last friday, the 4th of november 2011, i blundered into the Green Door Store under Brighton Station in a state of post-work bewilderment to witness some amazing acoustic quiet improv courtesy of Diatribes.

This was the final night on a seven date uk tour for this grouping under the Diatribes moniker, (Cyril Bondi & d'incise being the lynchpins), featuring cellist Hannah Marshall, double bassist Dom Lash and percussionist Patrick Farmer.

The decision to perform acoustically was to prove an exceptionally good one as each player's output was equally discernable with no-one overpowering anyone else and i'm guessing making it easy for all players to listen to each other effectively. The audience very quickly settled into a quiet and very attentive state after loud, dense amplified sets from supports Bela Emerson and Noteherder & McCloud who utilized the venue's powerful PA system.

If i had to point out my particular favourite elements of Diatribes' improvisation, i would have to say i enjoyed witnessing Dom Lash's deliberate and fascinating bass playing for the first time, having heard him on just a handful of his substantial recorded output. Cyril Bondi, to whom i stood the closest, employed a large selection of tiny metal bells, chimes and cymbals, applying them to the head of his single large tom drum which sat neatly on a side table in readiness, and of course its always a joy to see the spectacle of Patrick Farmer who abused a pair of small hi-fi turntables by way of striking and dropping them, rubbing them with styrofoam, and even upending a cup of tiny stones, (perhaps filched from the beach earlier in the day?), from an upstretched hand. Beautiful, beautiful...

Bela Emerson produced a pair of dense, bucolic cello improvisations and Noteherder & McCloud wove a tapestry of drone electronics and extended saxophone technique including some guttural voicings through the sax in a kind of growling circular breathing attempt, nicely.

Thanks to Club Zygotic for putting this excellent show together.