Wednesday 18th MayMay 19, 2011
So a briefish write up of the seventh annual i and e Festival in Dublin then that happened last weekend. I am writing a further review for The Wire, so I will try and keep this one short and a little different to what I will write for the magazine, to keep me from getting bored writing the same thing twice if nothing else!
The festival took place at the Ireland Institute, its home for the past few years and a nice, intimate little venue far enough away from the main street to keep external sounds at bay. the festival began with what what was probably the most anticipated set for me, the duo of David Lacey and Patrick Farmer. Now I have been able to follow Farmer’s work quite closely over recent months since he has relocated near to me, and so perhaps I’m the last person to be able to be completely objective, but I hugely enjoyed this performance. Although they have worked on music together from a distance, this was the first meeting of the duo, but it really didn’t show. Though both musicians began life as drummers and still occasionally work in that vein their performance was electroacoustic, Lacey working with electronics and vibrating surfaces on a drum, Farmer playing acoustic turntable, essentially allowing the spinning disc to rub against assorted objects held against it. The set was busy and bristling with event, often bursting into aggressive activity, sometimes flying off at angles, such as when Lacey picked up a hammer and hit a large fire alarm-like bell here and there. If the set seemed to slip towards a textural middle ground at any point one or the other would disrupt it, with Farmer in particular seemingly enjoying breaking up any sign of natural momentum at every opportunity. A great opening to the festival.
There followed the duo of Roy Carroll and Miles Perkin. Though both musicians now reside in Berlin, Carroll only moved there recently from Dublin, and Perkin is Canadian by birth. Carroll set up a system of many upturned speaker cones around the floor, into which he would drop stones, paper and other similar items, Unami-style as he set them vibrating by passing deep tones through them from his laptop. Perkin played double bass, sometimes channelling its sound through a tiny and tinny speaker at his feet. I had a few problems with this set. I wasn’t a big fan of some of Carroll’s sounds, which on occasions leapt into a kind of ugly, squelchy synth sound. I also found it quite hard to pull the two musicians’ sounds together in my head, perhaps as they were so different in style and form, as the groans and rattles of the speakers was matched with a relatively constant series of bowed scrapes and rustles from Perkin. I struggled to make the connection in my head between the two sets of sounds and so follow the interaction, which took quite a bit away from what was otherwise a nice performance.
Then we heard a solo of about forty minutes from the veteran saxophonist Lol Coxhill. Lol is one of those musicians who it is impossible to dislike. His charm onstage, even in his advanced years makes him a joy to watch and listen to. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of his music, but sat right in front of him friday night, listening to his mix of improvisation and versions on jazz standards was quite special, both as a break from the other types of music we had heard, but also as his soulful, expressive playing was a joy. Technically, his health and age get in the way of his playing slightly these days, but what he has lost in finger speed and breath control he has gained in presence and all-round musicality. Programming Lol here amongst this line-up was also a stroke of genius.
The Friday closed with a duo of daniel Jones and Seijiro Murayama, Jones working with electronics and turntable, Murayama a single snare drum. This was minimal, quiet stuff, with Murayama in good form, clicking into that trance-like mode, slowly tapping out metronomic patterns or scraping a metal brush lightly around his drum with similarly clockwork precision. Jones filled some of the gaps, left others empty, adding little in the way of colour but plenty in the way of grey textures here and there, sometimes sliding towards predictability, but then each time flipping his sound on its head just in time, shifting suddenly to something else just before my attention could wain. Daniel has an unnerving ability to look like he is doing next to nothing, clearly listening intently but apparently sitting quite still, only to suddenly change his contribution quite dramatically with the slightest of gestures. Here he worked well as the perfect foil to Murayama’s ascetic minimalism, a nice duo that could develop into something very strong if the pair could play again, but geography is likely to make that unlikely.
Saturday’s events began mid afternoon with a solo performance by Keith Rowe. He played a version of Christian Wolff’s Edges, overlaid by a ‘clicking’ realisation of a couple of pages from Cardew’s Treatise. This was a great, very intense set, realised with a menacing intensity from notes and plans Rowe had prepared in advance. Talking with him about the performance revealed multiple layers of composition, as we have come to expect from Keith, and while there was just too much to relay here I should say that the depth of thought and preparation that went into the piece was remarkable. It sounded more aggressive than anything I have heard from him in a while, full of broken up, jagged and often violent sounds and no real sign of a drone. the radio was put to good use, at one point picking up the weather forecast, which given that one of the evening’s sets was due to be performed outside was actually quite useful. One particular moment of typically Roweian fortune made me smile. A particularly brutal swipe across the strings of his guitar with something harshly metallic was followed by a snippet from a radio jingle announcing that the station was “making life sound better”. There was a dark, brooding sense of dissatisfaction to the performance that actually reminded me that life didn’t always sound so good, stirring stuff.
Then we had a dramatic swing away to a different area of music again, and the baroque zither performance by Leopold Hurt. Hurt played a mixture of baroque scores by the likes of John Dowland and some contemporary works, one written by himself, and another by a composer whose name escapes me right now, but I will remember by the time I write the Wire review! I had mixed feelings about Hurt’s set. The baroque pieces were beautiful, and sounded so good on this extraordinary instrument, which was far bigger than any zither I have seen before, maybe four feet in length. the closing farewell by Dowland was stunning, a really lovely piece to send us out in to the Dublin sunshine with. The contemporary works though, which saw Hurt retune the instrument several times were less successful, perhaps only because next to the likes of the Dowland they sounded disjointed and lacked the sheer beauty of the older works. I struggled to keep up with what was going on in them, partly because I was tired after a late night the evening before, and when the set ended with Farewell it was very difficult indeed to not allow myself to be carried off into slumber by the chiming chords.
I got a bit of rest before the evening performances, which opened with a set from Anthony Kelly and David Stalling, two Dublin based musicians whose work I was only very slightly familiar with beforehand. They performed a set that consisted of a stream of field recordings, some of them looped over which they bowed, struck and scraped acoustic sounds pulled from a massive variety of items spread over two large tables and the surrounding floor. The music was essentially ambient in tone, all very soft and occasionally veering towards the new age, with wind chimes and looped birdsong each appearing throughout. There were some nice elements, the opening recording of footsteps trudging across what sounded like a stoney beach sounded great, but overall I was disappointed by this performance which felt like it lacked any sense of purposeful structure and just floated past without making any impact on me.
Next we all went outside to a balcony that looked down onto a small garden area decorated by four bonsai trees and a couple of hundred cigarette ends, in which Jean Luc Guionnet (alto sax) and Seijiro Murayama (snare drum) played. I really enjoyed this performance, which was split into four deliberately timed sections, each lasting about fifteen minutes. The music was an astringent affair, each piece based around a set of simple techniques and sounds that the pair built into very rigorously executed music. This was hard music to stay focused on, particularly as it had begun to get cold on the balcony, and the harshly ascetic nature of the music made it difficult to penetrate. Listening intently for an hour was very difficult, the exercise becoming something of an endurance test, though I use that word with care. Many people left their listening position as the set progressed, and Murayama also was clearly in some discomfort sat perfectly still in he cold for so long, but I personally found the performance more enjoyable as it went on, the act of bringing myself to focus and concentrate on such difficult music under difficult circumstances a rewarding one.
We then went back inside to catch the duo of Paul Vogel and Keith Rowe, introduced by some bumbling wreck of an idiot. This was a remarkable affair that resulted in only partially successful music but provided quite a spectacle for those in attendance. Rowe seemed to just go about his way, playing in a manner not entirely dissimilar to his solo the day before, but with more fluidity to it. he appeared to pay little or no attention to what Vogel was doing however, and didn’t seem to respond to a sound his colleague made at all. I’m not sure he looked up either, but if he had he would have seen Vogel coming as close to undertaking a sexual act with a monitor speaker as can be achieved with your clothes on. Vogel set some simple sounds running through his laptop, but rather than just let them come out of the speaker untouched he took to hugging, rubbing and what can only really be described as dry humping the monitor to alter the sound. He also used one of his trademark glass vases to adjust the speaker’s output, as well as generating sounds by putting a live contact mic into his mouth and sucking against it.
There was a serious volume imbalance in this set as Rowe drowned out much of what Vogel contributed, but even for just the visual spectacle alone this was a remarkable performance. I think i would need to hear a well mastered and mixed recording of the music to be able to decide if the actual music sounded good or not, as what we saw tended to get int he way of what we heard, but as entertaining and original performances go this was a great one.
The festival then closed with the Loris trio of Farmer, Jones and Sarah Hughes. I have been fortunate enough to have attended the majority of this group’s live performances and have taken great pleasure from watching them develop, but Saturday evening saw a further leap again, driven mostly by Farmer, who seemed to take up the role of disruptor. The opening ten to fifteen minutes of the set was beautiful, a series of very gentle, understated tones and textures that softly swelled and retracted in a thoroughly gorgeous manner. Slowly though little shards of abrasion appeared, until suddenly, about fifteen minutes in Farmer threw a box of odds and ends at a metal sheet on the floor and from there the safety of the music fractured and the trio entered a period of constant bristling, edgy cliffhangers, with Jones and Hughes responding very well, pulling it all together to keep things from breaking up entirely, but also allowing the shifts in the music’s fabric to bring a more raw, brittle feel to things. Compared to previous Loris performances, and their album on Another Timbre this was a far more eventful, occasionally almost explosive affair and it was all the better for it. A fine performance by three excellent musicians with Farmer in particular right at the top of his game, and a great way to close the festival.
All the usual thanks are due then to Paul Vogel and David Lacey for organising yet another excellent event. This was the seventh i and e Festival, and one of the best yet. Long may it continue.