Early summer fireworks and the art of bat detecting.June 21, 2007
Last night I shot into London to drop a CD off at The Wire offices, but also to catch an intriguing little concert by Lee Patterson and Ron Mullender as part of the badly named but quite interesting Soundwaves exhibition running at the Kinetica Gallery, a space I was previously unaware of. There were a lot of shows happening in London last night, five I think all told with a lot of crossover between audiences, but I think I might have picked the best one to attend.
I arrived an hour or so early just to figure out where the gallery was before going to find some dinner, and was pleased to discover Lee and Rob setting up outside the gallery, which is situated in the middle of Spitalfields Market, an old, but still fully functional busy market in a now trendy part of London. The market itself is basically a very large metal and glass shed with open sides, so allowing sounds in from outside, but amplifying them around the vast space that is full of metal scaffold and at that time of the evening empty market tables, with workers sweeping and cleaning up at the end of the day.
As the market is close to the city’s thriving financial district half of the market area is now made up of trendy restaurants and bars, and right into the evening the area was buzzing with massed conversation, laughter and the crash and bang of working kitchens. Lee and Rob set up their tables in a corner of the market away from the hustle and bustle, but close enough for the sounds to provide a backdrop to the music and for passers by to wander through proceedings.
One pretty bad chicken pizza later I returned for the concert, which had attracted a small but under the circumstances impressive audience that was boosted every so often by intrigued people in suits making their way home from the office, along with the market cleaners who seemed to be as bemused at the goings on as they were annoyed that the throng of people were in the way of their evening’s work, and anyoone else using the market place as a short cut to the next nearest bar.
Lee and Rob both work with naturally occurring phenomena to produce sounds that they then amplify and blend together to make music. I was unfamilar with Mullender’s work before last night, and I am still not sure if he has any music released on CD, but he was the perfect accompaniment for Patterson, bringing a more acute, direct set of sounds to Lee’s generally quiet, gradually developing soundworld. Mullender worked with assorted objects that created all kinds of invisible soundfileds and radio signals that I won’t claim to understand. A bat detector was amongst the table of odds and ends, a curious device used either to track down flying rodents, or to amplify everyday ultrasonic sounds so they became audible to the human ear as part of an improvised msuic performance…
Knowing Lee Patterson’s music quite well now, many of the methods he uses to create his infinitely detailed sounds are familar to me, but it was nice to hear them in this setting, with the rhythmic brushing of the cleaners sweeping the market and the loud interventions of several paasing emergency vehicles blending into proceedings. Lee began the set with the miked up wine glasses filled with hissing and fizzing Liver Salts that have become something of a totem for his performances, before moving through fireworks, cooling glass bottles placed on a contact miked metal sheet, a series of small flames affecting light sensitive sensors, and probably dozens more tiny events taking place around his table.
The best moment of the concert though happened when one of the market cleaners walked into the centre of the audience and shouted loud at the musicians “When does it go off?” At this point in time Lee had just lit a number of small flames on his table, so I’m not sure if the cleaner was referring to some kind of imagined explosion, or if he just wanted the concert out of his way. Either way he got no response from anyone and so wandered off again. As the music progressed, people walked past, often busy in conversation, heels clattering over the concrete floor. Cars passed, airplanes went over and the sounds of a busy market coming to a halt remained.
This performance felt more like an open air Cagean experiment than it did a concert of improvised music, but thats not a bad thing. Sitting quietly taking in everything happening around me was a lot of fun, and a very pleasing experience. About six hours later when Lee had finally managed to pack away his equipment we sunk away to the pub, where I discovered one of the audience members was Jonathon Coleclough, a musician whose music I have never really investigated enough, but as it turned out he lives not that far from me in Reading we shared a train journey home and had a very enjoyable conversation.
A great way to spend an early summers evening…