Monday, June 05, 2006
Review of the Club Sporadic Festival, Saturday, 27 May, 2006...
A grey, wet misery of a day to start with... not very welcoming. But the musicians and artists proceeded to gather in the performance space and set up – not too many wry glances (that I noticed) when the projection screen was put into place – the (in)famous Club Sporadic white sheet. First up, bravely, was Tristan Burfield, a young composer/performer of electronic music who offered a fascinating score to the silent film classic 'Blood of the poet' by Jean Cocteau. Almost a punk film in its day (to match the screening) – the combination of flickering black and white images and a variety of electronic styles from folky techno through looping synths and loud metal to more abstract granular glitch offering a fascinating new perspective on Cocteau's surreal movie... although I use the adjective advisedly – Cocteau tried to put some distance between himself and the Surrealists – read his fascinating article here...
A welcome return for Liquidiser, based in Northampton: Richard Powell on sax and percussion, Nick Hamlyn, guitar and midi guitar, James Smith, laptop and Lee Mapley on laptop . A different feel to their performance from the last time I saw them on their home ground – the five films projected and commented on in real time improvisations seemed to focus them in a different way – aware of the relatively long time frame involved – over an hour – maybe? A controlled performance where much was held back – to provide a flowing narrative. Commencing appropriately enough with a film of a car journey through a foreign city, the music embarked on a long arcing complementary journey that would comment on and interweave with the images as they mutated into more abstract colours and shapes, a black and white film of a jazz band, night scenes from a city, flashing numbers and co-ordinates (faint at times when the sun at last and perversely decided to shine – through the sheet/screen). The last film: fast flashing streams of numbers and words, sporadic narratives, secret algorithms that brought the performance to a satisfactory conclusion. The music: electronic screel and squark, foot-pedalled looping guitar delays, elegaic and mournful, abrupt and longer fluttering saxophone lines, defined rhythms and more free looping time. The spatial lay out of the musicians was interesting – with Richard on sax and electronic percussion sitting away from the main group to the side – it spread the sound out in a fascinating way - when he interjected sudden bursts of rhythm or abrupt drum/cymbals and sax, for example.
The Plexus Trio came on after... yet another new journey. As one of the performers, I can't really review our music – just to say that it was visceral and abrasive and loud as Murray and Dave essayed a two guitar assault that used mallets and bows to take us in a different direction from the laptop loops we've been exploring so much – at the laptop myself I reigned back a distance, dropping in more minimal comments than usual - the guitars were doing the talking...
The acoustic section of the day brought back two more favourites – Stephen Linehan, who debuted for us a few months ago in the company of free-noise scronk from The Good Anna and ourselves – a brave move for an acoustic musician. Stephen has an assurance to his presence – backed up with a wonderful, emotionally pressing voice that soars and sears. His set – as before - went down extremely well. Saeta...
Jake Manning played on the first Club Sporadic all day-er last summer. He crafts quirkily brilliant and cleverly understated songs, staged with a gentleness that doesn't totally obscure the firm steel beneath, firmly bolstered with accurate, strong picking on twelve string guitar. The harmonica rack came into play on the last song – an iconic artefact whose usual resonances of acoustic Dylan past were bent towards Jake's own freewheeling vision and used with great skill here as extra colouring. Two very different acoustic performances: performed with elegance and soul.
DJ Whitedog contributed sporadic ambiance throughout the day... after the acoustic set laptopping an extended mix that flashed up on the VA's 'Heroin' leading into...
The surprise of the evening? The Failed Nasa Experiment Mega Band have never played live before – born out of a couple of late night rehearsals apparently, Stephen Linehan came back onstage to join Murray Ward (of Plexus/Club Sporadic fame) on guitar and laptop and Dave Whyman on bass. A long howling, reverberating, feedback-encrusted set of glitchy chaotic brilliance. More please...
The Murmurists are Roger Bullen – drums & bent drums, electronics; Anthony Donovan – 6 string bass, keyboard, laptronics, contact mic, electronics; Lee Mapley – guitarsynth, bent drums, electronics and have also played for us before – see my review here... Tonight they came equipped with visuals to further expand their broad vistas of sound. I have previously described them as 'cinematic' - widescreen performance with densely packed detail – the washes of mainly abstract film open yet another window of expansion. They offer a fascinating mix of straight(ish...) intrumental technique and the warped-out electronics/circuit bending. Probably demonstrated by the sonic distance between Roger Bullen's stripped-down acoustic drum kit: two cymbals, a tom and snaredrum and a new instrument that Lee was manipulating: what looked like an electronic washboard – the skiffle revival starts here?... (or the world of 'found' objects meets electronics/improv... given the earlier Cocteau film and distant echoes of the old French avant garde, maybe we should go out and get a urinal to mike up and abuse... just a thought...)
Another facet of their performance that I find intriguing and something they have in common with a lot of contemporary bands (especially those grouped under the broad banners of 'free noise') is the way they will sit or squat on the floor to play/manipulate instruments and gadgets. This has the effect of breaking up the old visual patterns and hierarchies of group performance – due to the sheer amount of instrument switching that they and those other bands (us included) engage in – and gives an easy-going informality that contrasts with the seriousness of the music. And also provides a further spatial/architectural metaphor, the musicians wandering through their on-going creation. The introduction of visuals lays another parameter on the performance: although totally improvised the duration is strictly dictated by the time-line of the film. To match to this, the musicians must be more aware of the arc of improvisational time than in a usual set where, given an approximate period of performance, you can stop earlier than planned– or overrun if the muses have driven you that further distance. Yet no matter how abstract their music may become, it is always rooted in rhythm – and melodies, however fragmented... which provide entries into the often dense maze of sound. A very distinct presence.
They topped off the day in fine style.
A final vote of thanks to all who gave so generously of their time and inspiration.
The Club Sporadic Roll of Honour:
The Liquidisers: Richard Powell, Nick Hamlyn, James Smith, Lee Mapley
Plexus (Rod Warner, David Teledu, Murray Ward)
The Failed Nasa Experiment Mega Band (Steven Linehan, Murray Ward, Dave Whyman)
The Murmurists: Roger Bullen, Lee Apsley, Anthony Donovan