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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.

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