Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Anni Fentiman/Dave Webber/Brian Peters: The Road to Mandalay... Monday, 23d November, 2009...


Monday night: over to the Grand Union now that the rain has eased... an unusual gig, Anni Fenterman, Dave Webber and Brian Peters coming together for their take on Kipling's 'Barrack Room Ballads' and beyond via the settings of the late Pete Bellamy. Supported by the usual high level of singing from the floor and two veterans of the scene, Tim Garland and Geoff Halford, a veteran's veteran perhaps but still a deep power in his lungs and heart that belie his years.

A slightly different format for a folk gig and one that worked very well – contextual readings in between the songs to situate them in their time and to subtly point out the continuing relevance of the way that the 'brutal licentious soldiery' are still treated. Check out 'Tommy,' for example...

'For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot.'

(As if to demonstrate the continuing relevance of Kipling, I have seen this poem quoted extensively over the last couple of years – for obvious reasons).

Kipling was(is?) deeply unfashionable for years for a variety of reasons, locked out of the canon until some brave souls – and Bellamy was in the van – dug deeper than the cliches engendered by sadarse literary departments. Slowly the ripples went out and I can remember hearing many of the songs delivered tonight down the years, one here, one there as tastes slowly changed. Although – I see that Neil Gaiman was attacked recently when he disclosed his love of Kipling's work. The usual claptrap – 'fascist apologist for Empire' – by the usual thought fascists who have a limited conception of free speech and even less understanding of a man like Kipling and his time. See here... As Paris Nat Schaffer would have said: 'xxxxing schnorrers.' But enough of my diatribing...

The robust rhythms of the 'Ballads' lend themselves to musical settings and Bellamy's skill adds another dimension to them. Brian Peters mentioned the speculations that Kipling was writing with folk and music hall tunes in his mind and it's a reasonable bet – although I would wager more on the music hall side, not that it matters. Kipling had the rare gift of getting inside his subjects and channelling their hard, rough, often boring and frequently dangerous lifes. Capturing the elusive joys of hard drinking – and the consequences - in 'Cells:'

'I've a head like a concertina: I've a tongue like a button-stick:
I've a mouth like an old potato, and I'm more than a little sick,
But I've had my fun o' the Corp'ral's Guard: I've made the cinders fly,
And I'm here in the Clink for a thundering drink
and blacking the Corporal's eye.'

Or the harsh punishment that befell 'Danny Deever' for murdering one of his NCO's – a vivid portrayal of a military execution.

'They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round,
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound
O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin!'

This is hardball stuff, hardly glib hoorahs for imperialism, but a raw delineation of what a heavy load the Empire rested on the backs of the common soldiers. As brought out further in the biting ironies of 'The Widow's Party,' which balances the broader political narratives: 'We broke...goed' with the price paid by the anonymous dead and wounded of the Widow's (Queen Victoria) army: 'And the river's...flowed.'

'What was the end of all the show,
Johnnie, Johnnie?
Ask my Colonel, for I don't know,
Johnnie, my Johnnie, aha!
We broke a King and we built a road --
A court-house stands where the reg'ment goed.
And the river's clean where the raw blood flowed
When the Widow give the party.'

Loving a soldier was/is a risky venture... In 'Soldier, Soldier' the returning survivor gives sharp comfort to his comrade's sweetheart:

'E's lying on the dead with a bullet through 'is 'ead,
An' you'd best go look for a new love,'

and

'The pit we dug'll 'ide 'im an' the twenty men beside 'im
An' you'd best go look for a new love.'

A bullet in the head and tossed into a mass grave far away. Kipling catches the incongruities, the contradictions of a soldier's life, the savage reality of battle or the diseases that can be equally fatal, alongside the pride in being part of something bigger, the Victorian army and beyond, perhaps to the aspirations of Empire - however flawed that imperial endeavour seems with the benefit of hindsight. It's not one-sided, which gives his work such power, he's not trying to second-guess his subjects.

Kipling was proud of the Empire, in which he was but a man of his time. But he sounded a warning against petty jingoism and hubris in 'Recessional' which is often forgotten, again that point well-driven home tonight that empires also fall:

'Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget—lest we forget!'

Worse was to come when the imperial certainties of Victorian England were broken on the battlefields of the Great War. Using his army connections he helped his son, Jack, to enlist even though he was under age. He died at the Battle of Loos in 1915, which devasted his father:

'Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!'

Yet there was also adventure to be had, exotic warm places to visit, remembered fondly through the brute reality of leaving the army for drab poverty-stricken existence back home, wistfully captured in the last song, somehow fittingly 'Mandalay:'

'I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;'

contrasted with

'Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be --
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;'

Encored by 'Follow me 'Ome' which also served as a tribute to Johnny Collins, who died not so long ago, sadly missed by all present, describing the interpersonal bonds that hold an army together, which we non-combatants can only get a small glimpse of, the comradeship made all the more precarious when sudden death intervenes:

'There was no one like 'im, 'Orse or Foot,
Nor any o' the Guns I knew;
An' because it was so, why, o' course 'e went an' died,
Which is just what the best men do.'

A lot of quoting above – but I think that with the thickened layers of poetry set to music and a controversially misunderstood author, some textual setting is necessary to give a flavour of the richness on display. Fairly spartan backings from concertina and violin, the performance rested on the readings interlinking and binding the songs into a satifying continuum, done skillfully but informally. A small room like the Soar Bridge enforces intimacy anyway and with the formidable battery of singers in the audience to join in on the choruses you are up close and personal all the time here.

This intimacy also carried you along with the narrative, pulled you into an essentially alien world which is both exhilarating and disturbing. The crowd respond to the bugles and drums as it were, which can be uncomfortable if one analyses it. Not a glorification of war – hardly that – yet a small glimpse of the seductions of 'glory?' Maybe that is what Peter Bellamy saw initially, that folk music allied to a degree of theatre could still provide a relevant message to move people – certainly brought out tonight when Brian Peters read out a couple of contemporary parodies of 'Tommy' from serving soldiers in Baghdad a while back. Links inserted in an ongoing chain of resonance, given the disgraceful treatment of the contemporary army both abroad – ill-equipped and stuck in dubious conflict – and at home. Oddly, there was probably more consensus during Kipling's time for the wider aims of Victorian foreign adventures than exists now for our current entanglements/wars. But the world was a different place then... Yet: tonight's performance was not a museum piece, like much folk music has become, whatever the intention... there was an emotional edge that is often lacking in trying to connect to past experiences of a gone world, spanning quiet pathos, raw rowdy humour, vivid and often brutal description and something else - a surging power that came through especially at the end, that locked musicians and audience into a bizarre collective experience where one could almost feel a big marching drum beating somewhere.

'Oh, 'ark to the big drum callin',
Follow me -- follow me 'ome!'

As Bellamy said, in reply to the critics of his day: 'Rudyard Kipling made exceedingly good songs.' Tonight done great justice to by Webber, Fentiman and Peters, three stellar talents who subjugated their individual techniques to produce an ensemble performance of great subtlety, power and beauty...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weather... Folk Music... Kipling...













Had to go to Leicester for throat supplies - run out of valves (don't ask)... got wet going and coming back so not really in the humour to go out again this evening and re-enter the god-damned November weather - but glad I made it to the owld Soar Bridge Inn and Bill W's monday bash - this time up, Dave Webber/Anni Fenterman/Brian Peters doing their Kipling show - via the late Peter Bellamy's arrangements etc.  Stirring stuff - more to follow tomorrow... don't think I've ever been to a bad gig at the Grand Union... no links/exhausted... if in doubt, Google...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Magazine... Recognition...


Another project I have been involved with... co-editing the online/print mag Recognition with my compadre in Berlin, Mr Dominic Coutts... follow the link for details of free download of first issue... There is also a print version available from RawMusics...  Mixed bag of stuff - a long essay on Malcolm Lowry in his centenary year, photos from Palestinian refugee camps, poetry, fiction in German and English, a couple of reviews...
And we are looking for submissions for the next issue to be published May 2010...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mervyn Gould,,, RIP...

When I was at the Brighton Colour out of Space festival recently (see below - too tired to post more links!), I received a phone call to inform me that my dear friend Mervyn Gould had died from a heart attack a couple of days before, linked apparently to his diabetes problems.  I had only spoken to him on the Tuesday that week and taken a rain check (a phrase he would have hated! - 'An Americanism, dear boy!') on meeting him the next day because I was busy.  We agreed to convene on my return to the manor... this was not to be... Up until today I have not felt up to the task of writing about such a larger than life, irascible yet lovable, loyal, smart, wonderfully idiosyncratic person... But his passing needs a humble marker or two - at the least... Today, his friends came together for his funeral in Loughborough, vicar in attendance - as would be appropriate for Merv - yet oddly no hymns - and three wonderful eulogies were delivered that sketched out the variety, the depth and breadth of the man, his working life in theatre, academe (his years in the department he dubbed 'Stress and Trauma' - English and Drama -  Tee Hee - situated on the university campus of God's Little Acre), his energetic involvement with the Mercia Film Society.  Further - what stood out was the affection that people had for him...  Earlier, I had a phone call from a mutual friend who could not attend the funeral due to geography and work - he sent me an email which I was supposed to read out to the assembled... Due to the circumstances of the wake this proved to be impossible - people scattered across bars and no focal point - Merv would have loved the confusion: Fair Week in Loughborough, a Beer Festival on the premises, although the landlord kindly gave us precious space on an insanely crowded day - and Friday the 13th, for the superstitious.  (Include me in, to reverse Samuel Goldwyn - the succession of stupid accidents/fuckups earlier today is beyond mere statistics).  But Simon's comments deserve a wider audience - they convey the essence of our friend far better than I can achieve.  So here they are:

Simon Black

For those who know me, my profound apologies for not being here in person, since family commitments make it impossible for me to get away from Cardiff for this sad day. It was with great regret that I heard about the passing away of Mervyn Stockbridge Gould. A great leading light of the theatrical scene has gone out for good and remains forever dark. Of course, if he were here, he would be telling me off for using the word ‘light’. “It’s a lamp or a lantern, you stupid boy” would be the cry, for which misdemeanour I would almost certainly have to pay the price of the next round.I had the delightful experience of learning the technical workings of the stage under Mervyn’s tutelage at the Department of Anguish and Trauma at Loughborough University in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I also have it on good authority that it was Mervyn himself who coined the very term, which is still in use today. I also believe he is responsible for the term ‘shabby-genteel’.

There were a couple of us who steered clear of the bitchiness and backstabbing that came with actual performance of drama and tended to take on all the technical and back stage work on a regular basis.  Mervyn was always delighted when a student came forward in this way, since it freed his time up and gave him an opportunity to check on the flow levels of the hand pumps at the ESB bar.

Incidentally the ESB building at the University did have a small technical and lighting capability, which fell under Mervyn’s due care and diligence. It was on just such a mercy errand for a ‘special bulb’ with Mervyn that I discovered the ESB was the only bar on campus which still served beer from old fashioned jug handled glasses. These special bulbs required much diligent care and attention.

After university, I spent several years working as a stage lighting technician for a number of theatres including Nottingham Playhouse (which Mervyn lauded) and for a number of touring rock bands (which Mervyn derided as “new –fangled skiffle”). I would not have done this were it not for his support and guidance, and the all important three-fold rule of theatrical timing:

"Never forget, Black, that there are three vitally important times in this business: Opening Time; Closing Time and with appropriate brevity in-between ‘Show Time.’"

Mervyn remains forever in our memory – a light house in a sea of mediocrities, and one who sadly must remain bright only in our memories. Please raise your special bulbs to the last and finest example of the old school.

Kind Regards

Simon Black

Well - closing time appoaches and the parting glass... One of the sadder ironies that I was made aware of earlier tonight was that Mervyn had just paid off the mortgage on Gould Towers at Blackbrook Court recently and would have had consequently enjoyed a reasonable measure of financial security in his property investment. He would have had a good few bob in his pocket... if he had been spared - which was a gag we had between us, old battered bohos that we were. In a year that is marked by much personal loss, I leave it to Simon's eloquence above and the last stanza of Yeats's 'In memory of Major Robert Gregory' below which expresses my feelings better than I can, sat here high up in the beatnik hovel reclension of the poet's tower, looking at the foul weather outside, storm and rain rattling the windows, surrounded by my ghosts, calling up my dead:


I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind
that shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind
All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved,
Or boyish intellect approved,
With some appropriate commentary on each;
Until imagination brought
A fitter welcome; but a thought
Of that late death took all my heart for speech.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Sunday 1st November, 2009...

















The last day. John Wiese and Karen Constance first up in the hall – big sound from the start: noisepower electronics at their dandiest. Full-blooded – the auralspace crammed with events, crushing smears of sound interspersed with what were either samples of quickcutting short wave radio fragments or done live - looped. On the outer edges of the mix scattershot punctuations, pops and sharp rips, like electro rimshots. A deep storm of bass rising steadily to sail it on with some higher tones held to give almost melody. Again – a set that uses the available time allotment to the full, content producing form just so. Boding well for the rest of the night, a very good start and mood setter.




 So: Hector's House for refreshment then back to position myself for Audrey Chen, whom I have heard a lot about so was prepared to get a good spot up close. Not to be disappointed – her performance was one of the high spots of the weekend. Cello, voice and some minimal electronics, this was more the acoustic side of improvising, nakedly so in such a crammed space. She came across as very poised, sure of her ground. Using what looked like a chopstick jammed in to the cello strings, flicking it to produce a clunky ostinato as she vocalised through a wide range of sonics, pure tones mixed with more distorted granularities from throat and lip movements. Apart from her orthodox musical training at the Peabody Conservatory in her home town of Baltimore, as Chinese-American, I wondered if her technique was enlarged further by the other half of her cultural background, the Chinese family of languages using a higher vertical range of sounds than English/American and subtle tonal shifts. With the bow, she utilised all the surfaces of her instrument beyond the strings, a vigorous rubbing that produced more extensions of sound. She also introduced two connected rubber/plastic balls – maybe a toy? - to scrape on the back of her miked-up cello to give further extension/possibilities – in fact, one could say that it is surprising how much variety such a basic set-up can produce. This was a sublime performance that held the tightly-packed audience for its duration, coming to final ground on a vocal shift nearer to the western orthodox, perhaps a slight hint of jazz/blues in the held notes?

Compelling and, for all the expertise and control, deeply and rawly emotional...



















Joseph Hammer sat at the back of the hall in front of his Apple Mac and other equipment, his left hand swathed in a white glove (which I assume was not some homage to Michael Jackson but needed to handle the tape spooling through the recorder he was manipulating), as his right focused on his laptop. He produced short snippets from various recorded sources one assumed, a voice here, a drum beat there, a shard of guitar, looped, processed and slowly moving to build a complicated piece, layers moving in and out, the minimal nature of the individual fragments and their slight duration when thrown together giving a complex carnival of sound that echoed earlier pioneers like Steve Reich. This approach tonight just made it to the end of the set without palling – the repetitions on the edge of needing more development. High wire – but great stuff...




Sten Hansen I had seen wandering around the festival over the weekend favouring a walking stick but tonight he gamely walked out on stage, with some obvious difficulty. A historical figure, self-taught as a composer, active in the electro-acoustic scene and beyond since the early sixties, a pioneer who is 'one of the forerunners in the field of multi-media art.' He spoke amusingly as he explained and cued off various works that exploded words and fired them all over the joint, speeding, slowing, spinning the recorded voice wildly and joyously through the space of the hall. There is a selection of his work available on Ubu .
Coming from the more academic side of experimental music, but his work never seemed dry or dessicated as much of that genre can be. A lot of fun among the intelligence here...


















Which leads neatly to the last act of the festival and the night. Ju Suk Reet Meete and Oblivia, both members of Smegma, the wildly innovative Portland grouping and the wild eclecticism that fuels that worthy band is on display tonight. With a vengeance... one clumsily wrestles with words trying to tease out the mash of genre streams on display here... Oblivia (AKA Rock and Roll Jackie) resplendent in blue wig gave out on 'found sounds through modified and weighted turntables,' while Ju Suk did his stuff on cornet, some kind of lap guitar and a rig of sound processing equipment. They played against a stunning visual back drop, close-up images from nature – a bubbling tar pit/hot spring, barnacles on rocks by the sea – and a barrage of abstract and surreal juxtopositions giving an amazing density. Added to the music, you had a complete show that went the distance without flagging. Oblivia turntabling a variety of musics – at one point hillbilly guitar and violin hee-hawed through – as Ju Ju Suk alternated free jazz spluttering lines on his horn with slide guitar figures that evoked the blues, country and rock and roll. Hard to describe how all this fitted together but it did – maybe an object lesson in how Keat's 'Negative Capability' - 'I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason' meets Ornette's harmolodics, where disparate lines create enough space to both accept incongruities and resolve them on other levels. Mind-blowing, as we used to say and a fitting end to another great festival here.



Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The next instalment...



... of the festival review will be tomorrow.  Notes deciphered (more or less) and written up but overwhelmed with exhaustion.  In the morning hopefully...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Saturday 31st October, 2009...















Saturday – a straightener in old Hector's House then over the road for tonight's fandango. Starting with Chora – very much an acoustic improvising band with minimal electronics, violin, little instruments, clarinets – driven by supple and strong drumming to give them a steely yet flexible framework. A keyboard of some description (I assume – he was at the back of the stage slightly offsighted from where I was sitting) set up a drone some way in, coming in and easing back, providing a bottom line of structure. This was a well-paced set, using the time allotment efficiently to build to a crescendo of a clarinet duosquawling around each other before finally ebbing away. Superb – they should maybe have been further up the bill... There is a hand-hewn freshness to their work that pulls drones, free jazz rhythmic gestures and a folky dance into a unique space. I was thinking about when I first saw the Incredible String Band back in the back of the day at the Cousins club, how they exploded acoustic folk with so many different instruments and rhythms, the road that perhaps they did not travel, of further explorations into the free jazz explorations that were also such a feature of London and beyond in the late sixties, is one that fancifully leads to... Chora, who are doing it now...






Struggled into the gallery which was jammed for a related band via the Sheffield connection, The Hunter Gracchus' anarcho-collectivist counter hegemonic succour.' Blimey.  A trio, upended drums on the floor, a sax player, some kind of exotic stringed instrument. They seemed to be aiming for a ritualistic performance, as if trying to reinvent music from the ground up via rhythms, scrapes and breaths – the sax mouthpiece was utilised as a sound source more than the complete instrument was played, like a psychedelic hunting horn. I don't know if they were consciously named after the eery Franz Kafka short story but there was some attempt at calling up another world, something primal, going way back like archeologists of morning, maybe, to slightly bend that phrase from Charles Olson. At one point one of those Indian drone thangs that Allen Ginsburg used to intone over got a severe pounding - Omni Mani Padre...SQUAWK!  Ending up all crouched over the drum head blowing into several odd looking metal objects. The folk influence, veering away from electronics to produce raw 'natural' sounds? Good stuff – but again, I would like to see them in a more friendly space. Don't dig the gallery...




Back to the main venue for an epic performance by Simon Whetham, sat at the mixing desk to use the darkened hall as a canvas – a mix of electronic sounds and processed field recordings that used all the available acoustic area in a powerful set that truly evoked the name of the festival – colour out of space...

Always ready for a divertissement but Justice Yeldham was somewhat unlucky when his power supply kept cutting in and out – I couldn't hear a lot of what he was shouting to the nearby audience as he was off-mike, a lot of swearing it seemed, but he gamely tried to persevere with his bizarre act – using a contact-miked jagged piece of glass pressed to his face and blown on/manipulated with his fingers to produce, when it worked – some extraordinary sounds. It looked as if it might be somewhat dangerous – children, don't try this at home – and I think he smashed the glass in the end as the set was totally buggered. Shame – he almost pulled through by sheer personality – well, if you're going to blow through broken glass it implies a certain wry take on things. Cue for mucho H and S activites as several people earnestly swept the stage to remove all the fragments. One shouldn't laugh...



Some free jazz... Steve Noble/Alan Wilkinson unfortunately playing without the mighty John Edwards who was indisposed. But a stunning set nevertheless, coherent free improvised jazz with the pair coming straight at ya – high-powered blowing on baritone sax and splattering drums, interspersed throughout by Wilkerson's vocal outbursts of wordless wahoo – giving me the fanciful thought that he was like an avant garde version of the late Lennie Hastings ( a reference that will only make sense to older Brit jazz buffs – 'Ooyah Ooyah!'). The vocalising sound poetry gave a broader line of attack which linked up to many other acts over the weekend – an intelligent move – and also fitted seamlessly with the movement of the music, jazz sax playing being particularly close to the human voice, if you think about it. Noble parried, prodded and accompanied as the sax player switched to alto and back – demonstrating a sure technique on some rapid yet accurate high-register blowing. Hi-energy stuff played with fire and some wit, yet more than just scattered squalling – some fascinating development and interplay here. Went down a storm to a packed house...



































Then ├╝ber-weird jumped in... Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer, rigged out in cod-tropical knaki and pith helmets, gave a shattering deconstruction of the old pop song, 'The Lion Sleep Tonight.' Deconstructed? They smashed it to pieces, in the old phrase, 'from arsehole to breakfast time,' and scattered the bloody fragments far and wide – and long... long... long... Jesus, the Kommissar hurled himself about on stage re-iterating 'Wimoweh,' over and over for what seemed like eternity to the point where I wanted to kill him... His partner similarly writhed about the stage singing(?) mangled bits of the song, howling, shrieking... against a hilarious yet somewhat poingnant film projection of a bloke in a scruffy lion suit walking on and on through some black and white shoreline and scrubland. On and on and on. Very funny and very clever and it pushed the joke to the utmost – and then some. The relief was palpable when bloody 'Wimoweh' finally stopped...

A lot of anticipation for the final act, guitar and drums duo Bill Orcutt/Paul Hession. Master percussionist and six string hero – Orcutt, ex Harry Pussy, given a big write up/review in the current Wire on his return to the scene with a highly rated solo album. I wondered how this would work out – interestingly, there are many links with free jazz and the punk/noise underground, which were played out here. There was a nagging thought that Orcutt might not have quite the chops needed for this level although Hession's open polyrhythms gave multidirections to move about in with plenty of space to float or dig in. A certain amount of repetition developed – maybe intentional as rock works more from repetition than free jazz. Yet overall an interesting experiment. Orcutt is certainly a fluent guitarist and it proved that the barriers are more artificial perhaps than real – free jazz, which does not spin through cycles of harmonic changes that force certain directions and techniques, by its openness should be well capable of mixing with the rawer, more avant rock/noise without either side compromising (a spectre of 'jazz-rock' looming from the old days – 'let the shipwrecks of others be your seamarks,' what?). A thought I had – another guitar would have been interesting and someone like James 'Blood' Ulmer who does the new voodoo folk blues and can also rip it up on side orders of bebop-inspired chromaticism that takes his playing into provocative areas.

But leave us not carp – another act I'd like to hear again to see how they develop. And they went down mightily...

Back the hotel through the madness of Halloween on the Brighton streets. Ah-woo, Werewolves of Sussex... Soundtrack in the bar tonight – Funk – James Brown to Chic. Up on the one, y'all...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Friday 30th October, 2009














The kick-off – I missed the beginning of the first show  – a selection of Fabio Roberti's dryly hilarious spoof movies - because I was over the road in Hector's House, but caught the one with the goateed dark glasses beat poet accompanied by sax and bongoes which was a hoot – the film stock deliberately stressed to make it look as if it had been shot in 1958, complete with out of synch moments and copious cigarette smoke. Good fun...


Next up Duncan Harrison and Ian Murphy. More serious fare here – starting with a high tone drone against crunchy electronics, adding voice sounds through a mike to mingle with what resembled scampering scratching march-like robotic insects. A whistle added, looped and processed – good mixture of noise and human processed sound.

Into the gallery part for HereHareHere – whom I could not see as the room was always full throughout, with the tall people at the front! A spartan sounding duo – just two voices moving with and against each other using extended vocalising techniques – ullulations/throat granularities etc. Came out sounding like a mix of Jewish liturgy and East European folk music in places. Interesting stuff – would like to hear them again in a more sympathetic setting. Re this: the success of the festival in part relies upon the alternating of the main hall and another performance space – last year in a large marquee outside at the back, which was slightly scuppered by the rain and mud underfoot but at least gave plenty of room to wander into – so that each act can change over/sound check efficiently and the schedule runs more or less on time. Unfortunately I missed much of what went on in the smaller room because it got too crowded... but that's always a problem at festivals, when so much is on display –plus: ya gotta eat – and drink... Hector's House over the road has a wider selection...


Morphogenesis next in the hall. The jumble sale ethic, ho ho... Four guys sat at tables piled up with their various electronic/music producing equipment. Adam Bohman stood out visually stage left, a jovial presence as he manipulated his plunderings of the curio shops – glasses, bowls, various unidentified objects – which he scraped, bowed and struck. They eased into their long set, slowly building a powerful momentum – added to by a bearded figure lugging some kind of portable amplifier and mike to just below the front of the stage among the audience where he variously squalled, hooted and howled in and out of the progressing sound stream. A bass throb coming in to almost ground them in a set rhythm. Maybe they went on a tad too long as some of the sounds produced started to be a wee bit repetive. A small criticism – I enjoyed this very much,  the fragile sonic world created, a good balance between the participants holding it together well.



Damien Romero, moved over from sunday night, for some reason. Power acoustics, tough stuff, the way I like it... Long drone that slowly built in force, crossed with syncopations/twists of rhythm and sudden jagged shards. Wild stuff but intelligently paced/structured... the night was building well...

















To be really lifted up by Kodama, who were awesome. A two piece, another mix of flutes/recorders/home made instruments fed into various processing units. They were set up at the back of the hall, with the sound coming from sources in front of them and from the pa on stage to produce a strong immersive experience. Some way into their set Michael Northam produced an instrument that looked as if it had fallen off the back of the late Harry Partch's pickup truck, a zither from the ninth dimension perhaps which produced sounds to match. Hitoshi Kojo countered with a length of what resembled plastic piping which he blew into mightily.  Come to think of it, plumbing would be a lucrative day job for a struggling experimentl musician - and provide material for instruments... They produced – I don't know, a kind of folk music for the 21st century, in that it was organic, made on simple/self-constructed/appropriated instruments and hot-wired into digital tech processing – I spotted my friend the Boss Loopstation in among the effects. Intelligence and emotion combined. They were fucking brilliant and I just did not want them to stop...

Ending on: Trevor Wishart. Who came on stage and did a solo voice thang, which demonstrated his years in the avant game well – tongue/throat twisting streams of words and sounds that resembled a selection of languages – I made out German, Dutch and Japanese – led by his bodily and facial gestures to hint at meanings – sad, happy, quizzical etc. Clever stuff as a demonstration of how meaning can travel across linguistic barriers – or be manipulated by visual cues which may or may not be accurate in their leading to order. Then he disappeared – leaving the stage to retreat to the mixing desk at the back and fill the darkened hall with a dizzying barrage of sounds: 'Globalalia' – 'universal dance of human speech as revealed in twenty tales from everywhere, spoken in tongues. 26 different languages' apparently. We were surrounded and dunked in a massive conjuration of choirs and populations, stretched, bent, teased, the LOGOS invoked in the infinite variations that the human voice is capable of. A great end to the first night.

















Which continued bizarrely at the hotel where I sat overlooking the pier and the late night crowds over Guinness and Jameson while the sound system pumped out a retro selection of Doors/Monkees and some vintage ska... not a bad way to finish the evening.