Tonight was the last night of the Audiograft festival then, and four sets of music performed downstairs in the sold out basement of Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art to about sixty people at a rough guess. There were four sets, that I enjoyed to varying degrees. Its never easy writing about concerts just a short while after they happened, and this one was made all the more difficult by the fact that several of the sets involved people I consider good friends, but I shall try and draft out some thoughts all the same.
The evening began with a duo from Kostis Kilymis and Brett Gordon. While Kilymis is very familiar, I knew nothing about Gordon beyond that he and Kostis met on the same study course at Brookes University. Their all electronics set was a mixed bag for me, full of some nice sounds in places, mostly of a high pitched feedback variety, but also some obvious use of rhythmic parts, repetitive thudding and bleeping sounds that impressed me less. the structure of the piece worked quite well, with sections coming and going in nice, often well timed ways, but the highlight of the piece came at the end for me, when, ready to end the set Kilymis brought his contribution to a close, but as Gordon hadn’t noticed this, Kostis leant over and asked him to stop. More live sets should end that way.
There then followed performance by a trio named Uniform, whose music I am afraid I just found extremely hard to relate to. They used droning electronics, bowed electric guitar, a trombone, a couple of laptops, a lot of cowbells and no end of other effects pedals and other bits and pieces to make music that felt to me at least to be completely devoid of any real edge. To what degree, I am not certain, but certainly much of the performance was not improvised as the group moved from one section of sound making to another in a manner that felt thoroughly predetermined. I really don’t know what to say about it other than it seemed to all exist as one long, bass heavy drone over which we heard all of the other sounds, one after the other, until with a signal the group all started to rattle cowbells into microphones while the drone continued. I felt no sense of intensity, only one of witnessing something quite theatrical and hard to categorise but in all honesty sonically uninteresting. They are apparently a relatively successful group having collaborated with the likes of Lydia Lunch and Alan Vega but I am afraid on this particular performance they left me completely cold. I suspect I just didn’t understand.
After the break we had the pleasure of a full length set from Cremaster, the duo of Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ferran fages, who have for many years been one of my favourite groups. Right from the outset, when Costa Monteiro flayed a hand at a miked up spring to crash the performance into life it was clear this was to be a vicious, but beautifully sculpted set. The duo are just so damned good at what they do, able to create the most detailed, vibrant sounds with seemingly hardly any effort. Costa Monteiro worked mainly with a couple of large springs and a small handheld motor, all linked back to a mixer via contact mics. Fages on this occasion used mostly mixer feedback of one kind of another, and it all collided together beautifully, like a bad motorway crash in slow motion. The difference between this set, and other performances that use loud electronics and feedback was the sense of purpose in the music, the acute listening involved to understand the state of the music in its entirety and the use of sounds to shape the emotive qualities within it. This duo know each other ridiculously well, having played together as often as any duo in the music today, and this familiarity with each other, coupled with the immense experience and skill and above all, an urge to continually push and change things drove tonight’s wonderful, if flippin’ noisy performance.
There then followed the duo of Rob Curgenven and Lee Patterson. I had only heard Curgenven play once or twice before, quite enjoying his heavy, bassy drones, but I wondered how this duo would work, given Patterson’s need to play quietly, as so many of his sounds exist as acoustic events that can only be amplified so much. Curgenven really impressed me however by dropping the volume levels a long way and using three turntables complete with assorted vinyl created soft, still very rich layers of partly tonal sound, partly white noise. Into this Patterson went about his way, mixing the feedback from a handheld CD player, his mobile phone, and an electronic magnet with the sound of various items dissolving in water, from children’s popping candy powder to liver salts to the chunks of chalk we had collected from the hills of the Ridgeway on Friday. The set was beautiful, never silent, multi-layered at all times, but always also light and airy, the nicest elements coming front he way the smaller incidental and acoustic sounds would mix with the sustained elements. It was all very very slow as well, a factor highlighted by Curgenven who ended the performance with an old Handel 78rpm record playing at such a deathly slow speed it just sounded like a warm moan as Patterson mixed in the sound of buzzing electric toothbrushes perched upon a tambourine. not to be outdone by Kilymis and Gordon’s set ending, Patterson added a nice little embellishment to the set to bring it to a halt. As Curgenven let his last sounds die away, Patterson picked up the CD player and electromagnet, and with a dramatic flourish stopped everything with a sudden fizz of feedback. This little moment reminded me of the last throes of a Handel string quartet, that obvious last musical figure that signals the end of the piece.
So two great sets to end a nice evening and an excellent festival that has stretch dover four nights of concerts, numerous installations and ad hoc events and a couple of excellent gallery shows spread all across the city. Co-ordinating all of this has been an administrative nightmare that has been brilliantly handled by the SARU unit at Brookes University, lead by Stephen Cornford and Paul Whitty. Much credit is due to them for bringing such a varied and excellent event to the city of Oxford. Nice work guys.