Concert Reviews

Friday 1st April

April 1, 2011

IMG_0699So last night’s Entr’acte showcase then. A packed night of music at Café Oto that went on so late I frustratingly couldn’t stay for the last set of the evening, one I very much wanted to hear, but overall a well put together set of performances, some of which I enjoyed more than others.

The evening began without warning when Adam Sonderberg sat down at a mixing board and began to perform a couple of pre-composed works that he mixed live through the P.A. Throughout the evening this idea of the musician beginning without warning was repeated for each set, and while I quite like this approach it did get a bit annoying after a while as the first four or five minutes of each performance was buried under the noise of audience chatter and the clatter of glasses at the bar. Sonderberg only took a few moments to bring hush to the room however with a gaseous field of hissing static over and into which he laid additional layers of tone, buzz and hum, the origin of which I couldn’t quite ascertain. The sound built to a frequently shifting and changing drone of a quite majestic nature before cutting dead after around ten minutes. If this opener was in the rich, glowing style of his groups Haptic and the Dropp Ensemble, the second piece he performed, which began so soon after the first that only Sonderberg’s post set explanation identified it as a completely separate composition, was a quite different affair all together. Here he built up a dense, churning wall of computer generated creaks and groans and percussive slams that was very much in tune with other acts on the evening’s bill but not much like anything I had heard from Sonderberg before. This piece had a kind of insistent, searching quality to it, with the density of the music and maybe also the volume rising slowly as it progressed. I enjoyed the two pieces a lot, with plenty to listen to if not really much to see.

There followed a very nice, if also very brief piano set from Olivia Block, who somehow managed to make the somewhat dodgy Café Oto piano chime and ring out with a glowing clarity that not many people have achieved there. She set some kind of low-key field recording playing through the P.A, and then began to improvise into it, working mostly inside the piano with beaters, a bow and an eBow to conjure up bold, mini-orchestral swathes of sound. I’m really not sure that she needed the field recording, which seemed to undermine the clean, sharply defined nature of the improvisation, but the playing of the strings was excellent, with Block ranging from single heavy strikes at the instrument’s body through to heavy fire-alarm-like percussive shuddering of the strings, so filling the room with warm ringing. I just wish she had played for longer.

There then followed a curious, if somewhat overlong set from Keith Moliné, the writer and guitarist with groups such as Pere Ubu. The performance began with a laptop loudly playing back what appeared to be questions asked to Moliné in an interview, with any answers removed and a gradually increasing degree of sonic abstraction applied to the speech. Moliné began to play his guitar into this curious mix, adding what I think might have been a midi enhanced set of both growlingly abstract and clear tonal guitar sounds into the mix. For a while, as the spoken word parts became virtually impossible to follow, subsumed into the rest of the sounds, the set was really quite interesting, somewhere between Keith Rowe and Hendrix duetting with early Mattin. As this early section was interesting as it changed and so intrigued frequently though, Moliné’s set then seemed to stay in a similar area of gritty guitar noodling over laptop abstractions for far too long. It all got a bit showy and pyrotechnic after a while, and by the time the interview reappeared late on, towards the end of the set, I was struggling to maintain concentration. A case of a bit too much going on, all at once, and without much room for air then.

There then followed a second set from Block, who this time performed a pre-composed piece in a similar way to Sonderberg had, mixing levels and tweaking bits and pieces, but generally speaking playing back an already recorded work. the piece however, was great. A mix of instrumental sounds and field recordings in the vein of her most successful albums, it was great to shut my eyes and feel the sensation of layered, juxtaposed recordings flying across one another. Block told me later that the piece had anthropological influences amongst others, and throughout the piece an assortment of wildlife could be heard, ducks chickens(?) and apparently a group of flamingoes, who make a sound so similar to grunting, snorting pigs that I mistook them as such until all was explained after. I got the colour right anyway. Olivia Block’s music of this kind is not particularly original, but its very good indeed, with a feeling of acute craftsmanship throughout and a thoughtful, careful approach taken to how sounds are joined or layered together. While I suspect that I might still prefer to hear the piece played at home through a decent pair of headphones it was still very nice indeed to hear this music played at high volume into a room like Café Oto

There then followed a solo set from Lee Gamble, a laptop musician I have not heard play for quite a while. His own blend of quite aggressive, digitally created sound has become a little more refined since I last saw him, which was a welcome change, his aural assaults coming in small pockets framed by quieter, often even silent (or close to it) passages. If the sounds he used were perhaps what might be expected, glitches, bangs, screeches and a buzzing whine at one point that precisely resembled a very loud wasp caught in a jam jar, they were nicely spaced out and often very well used with no end of surprises. This area of laptoppery may not ever be my favourite, but I enjoyed this performance quite a bit, though when everything came to a stop at one point in the set I felt that the natural break should have signalled the end of the set. Gamble restarted the performance, and played on for a further five minutes or so when perhaps a little brevity might have served the set better, but if I had a fiver for every time I thought this about a live improvisation I’d be a rich man.

At this point I had to leave, a little while before John Wall and Alex Rodgers performed their live laptop / spoken word improvisation set. I’d have loved to have heard this, and having spent some time today with an advance copy of their Entr’acte album together I feel even more bad that I had to miss it. Still, as much as I’d have liked to have heard it, sleeping in my bed rather than on Paddington Station is a much more preferable option.

So a nice showcase for at least a little bit of what Entr’acte has to offer. The label has released a real wealth of interesting material in a relatively short period of time that while not being easy to categorise has a particular feel to it and a very high standard of creative invention crossing a wide range of genres from field recording to experimental hip hop. The visual sense of the label is also thoroughly original and intriguing, bringing the early days of Factory to mind, even down to the way that everyone attending last night was stamped with the catalogue number given to the event. One of the most exciting and interesting labels in the world today, well worth keeping an eye on.

Comments (2)

  • lawrencedunn

    April 2, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Didn’t make the concert, but Adam Sonderberg spoke a little about his piece at his talk today. The sounds were collected from recordings of his dining table, adorned with plates, cutlery etc. These were placed through a gate, removing smaller noises, leaving more articulated sounds, which he stressed were subject to a certain amount of stochasticity. This layer was, in parallel, digitized in ableton live, forming a loudish digital crunch backdrop, as well as another layer going through a low pass filter, making a kind of bass. These three layers are then mixed and eq’d in real time.

    I guess that makes it pre-composed, but then again (and maybe you could advise me on this Richard), this amount of work perhaps is similar in scope to the ‘cracking’ of a piece of electronics so it can be improvised with; or the preparation of a laptop patch(?). Both these processes can sometimes result in a fairly predictable outcome determined in advance, with a few alterable parameters that can be fiddled with in a live setting; a laptop improviser in the latter case could quite easily describe it as an ‘improvisation’ and we would be none the wiser to criticise. Certainly, in this sense, Sonderberg was ‘improvising’ with mixer knobs, but maybe this isn’t really improvisation, I don’t know. Sonderberg, from his talk, appeared to greatly admire improvisers, though he regarded himself as lacking the sufficient ‘musicality’, and doing something like this–setting himself up, as it were, for a unique live performance with a certain amount of prior control–seemed to him to be ideal at this point in his musical development.

    I find it interesting your use of the phrase ‘pre-composed’ in an almost derogatory sense, (‘There then followed a second set from Block, who this time performed a pre-composed piece in a similar way to Sonderberg had […] the piece however, was great.’) though, as far as I can tell, the possibility for musical interest is fairly evenly spread between music that is planned and music that isn’t. Or to put it another (more accurate?) way, its just as easy to compose boring music as it is to improvise it.

    Otherwise, hope you’re well! (Sorry if I’m unnecessarily repeating anything Patrick has relayed to you since Adam’s talk.)

  • Richard Pinnell

    April 2, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Hi Lawrence, thanks for the details on how Adam’s piece was performed. I couldn’t make his talk, but I am off out to meet up with him in a few minutes (and hear him improvise I believe as well!) so I will get to talk it through with him then.

    I certainly did not mean to use the term ‘pre-composed’ (which is actually a ridiculous term anyway, it means the same as ‘composed’) in a derogatory manner. Certainly I would consider a playback /live mix of a composed electroacoustic work as (at that moment alone) less of a creative feat than improvising the same piece in front of a live audience, but then quite frankly if Olivia had come up with her piece Thursday night via improvisation that would have been one hell of an achievement.

    I generally do have some problems with the straight playback of recorded work in a live setting, and as I stated in the review, I still suspect that I’d prefer to hear Olivia’s piece at home over headphones, but preferring one way of working to another does not necessarily mean I only value one approach. Perhaps it would be good to view it this way- of Olivia’s two sets, I suspect that I would much prefer the second, electroacoustic work if recordings of both were included on a CD. However in Oto on Thursday I think that the piano improvisation worked much better as an overall experience. There was more to take in than could be captured in a recording.

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