Thursday, February 08, 2007

Where there's a Will...

So a week off from audtion meant that I could rest up on Sunday before heading into London for the first of two days consecutive concert-going taking in performances from Will Guthrie, the Australian (via France) percussion and electronicist, Cathnor recording artist and my nomination for one of this music’s all-round nice guy awards.

Unfortunately the first gig took place at the Red Rose in Finsbury Park, a venue I really hate for many reasons, the least of which being the area it is located in, Finsbury Park not being the nicest place to walk about alone at night.
However I got there safe and sound and met up with Will and we went for a quick Japanese meal before being joined by Alastair and then heading over to a worryingly empty venue for the show.

As the three sets of the evening progressed the audience grew in number, though Monday nights are never good nights for improv gigs in London. The night began with a solo set from Malaysian musician Goh Lee Kwang who played ‘prepared laptop’, an intriguing set-up whereby he mostly worked with motor fans, contact mikes and the like sat upon the keyboard of a laptop, working with the sounds of the objects themselves as well as I think the feedback generated from the miked up hard drive of the machine itself.
It didn’t appear that he was manipulating software a great deal, so possibly not at all, but the music generated was pretty good, a combination of Unami-esque rattles and clatter and rasping electronic drones, spaced apart nicely and allowed to breathe.
Hidden behind the open screen of the computer Goh Lee Kwang gave the impression of some mad professor at work, but the music he made was sufficiently interesting to make me look out for his name again.

Next up was the first solo Will Guthrie set I had ever witnessed. Guthrie’s table of detritus looks not unlike you would imagine a Keith Rowe car boot sale table might look like, but with a percussive slant. Springs, (including one giant vehicle suspension example) chopped up cymbals, assorted metal bowls with all kinds of stuff inside them, a radio, a dictaphone, endless contact mikes and a cheap throwaway camera (the flash messes with feedback signals) all played their part in making up the music.

Guthrie began playing whilst the audience were still settling, a metronomic tapping of metal on metal growing, met by a cloud of feedback and Guthrie’s repetitive striking of a deep cymbal to his side forming a basic structure that would reappear throughout the set. The collage of sounds was made up of a rich combination of metallic clatter and scraping, floods of static laced with the occasional hint of distant radio broadcasts and softer warm tones generated from a variety of places, including a series of tuning forks he struck on his knee before placing against a cymbal to create a brief rising swell of warm sound.

Watching Guthrie play adds a visual element to his music that builds on the slightly chaotic, yet beautifully controlled tension he works with, like a sculptor building something beautiful from scrap metal his work fits together perfectly yet retains dangerously sharp edges up close.
This was only the second live show Will had performed in quite a few months and at his own admission the music was rusty (no pun intended) around the edges in London, but with several more nights of a short tour to come it was a fine start to my ears.

The evening ended with a performance (performance being the operative word here) by Tim Goldie, a percussionist that goes by the name (for reasons I’ve never fully understood) of “” (sic) Goldie.
Set up on the stage whilst the other musicians had played to the side of the room, Goldie’s drunkit filled a large part of the raised platform, a full-on rock set-up with a table beside it with a single guitar amp on it and a snare drum.

Goldie is a frequent playing partner of Mattin, and when he strode up on stage dressed in combat trousers, a fedora hat and black CHiPS style sunglasses, casting a cape to one side as he went, his Mattin-like interest in Whitehouse became immediately apparent. I feared the worst as he sat behind the monolithic drumkit, but was then pleasantly surprised by his playing. He began by scraping a spinning cymbal against the head of a drum, increasing the pressure to change the pitch, and then moved into a well considered impressionistic set made up of similar methods, stroked drums and disjointed strikes, that was playing with no small amount of skill.

After fifteen minutes or so however, Goldie got up from behind the kit and switched on the amp, allowing it to omit a deep growling hum that vibrated the snare drum in front of it as it buzzed away. He then picked up the snare at intervals, and raising it to his mouth he screamed Mattin-like lines of incomprehension into the drum with no small amount of angst ridden drama sprinkled into proceedings.

He then pulled a second snare off of his kit and left the two drums in front of the amp which he turned up again to fill the room with an agitated roar. Goldie then climbed high onto a small ledge above his drum kit, striking a crucifix pose with a drumstick waggling in each hand before jumping down and reaching into a bag beside the stage taking big handfuls of drumsticks and hurling them at this set with a dramatic shout. He did this thee times, probably throwing around a hundred sticks in the end (God knows where he got so many from) before he strode across the room and straight out of the Fire Exit into the street to end the set.

In all this was highly amusing and when Goldie didn’t return I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be concerned for him as he left in shortsleeves and it was very cold outside. I’m really not sure how much of his set was meant to be funny, but after he stopped playing the drumkit and turned on the amateur dramatics I found it hard to take him seriously.

The following morning I set off in the car for Nottingham, a couple of hours drive to finally meet up with Will and a whole bunch of other people prior to the night’s show at the Rose of England pub in the City Centre. The concert was organised by the quite ridiculously young looking Patrick Farmer, who has managed to turn Nottingham into a great place to see music, having put on recent shows by Jason Lescalleet, Wastell/Beins and Le Quan Ninh to name just a few. A good forty or more people attended the show, with a very low average age across them, an inspiring turn out in these beleaguered times.

Will Guthrie opened the show tonight, sat at a table amongst the audience, and again he began playing without warning, the same metallic tapping sounds slowly quieting the crowd as they realised that things were underway. From there on the music took on quite a different feel to the night before however, with a more gentle, spacious feel to it, the details in the sound allowed to come to the surface better. In places the spaces in the music really opened up, allowing sounds to develop a little rather than becoming consumed in the deep collages of the night before. A faint recording of what sounded like an old jazz record seemed to appear at one point, and throughout the set there was a feeling of pre-recorded material drifting in and out, but the sounds remained so poorly defined it became hard to tell them apart from the acoustic sounds Guthrie worked with, or they may not have existed at all.

About two thirds through the set a swell of electronic noise was allowed to suddenly fill the room, sitting there for a few moments before subsiding into the rubble again, a moment that shattered the fragile structure of the music quite deliberately, causing the audience to readjust their ears before rebuilding the piece again.
Guthrie’s approach to music feels almost cubist to me. There is a sense of different parts of other music and eveyday life forced together alongside each other, holding together but with an internal tension. There is little layering in his music, with small events happening in succession creating a bustling sense of momentum rather than a drone carrying things along, much of the impact of the music coming from the juxtaposition of different sounds.
This second show was much nicer than the set the previous evening and was one of the best live sets I’ve seen in a quite a while.

The tone was changed quite dramatically with the following performance, a series of short solos by Korean born, New York based cellist Okkyung Lee, a musician that has played often with john Zorn and appears on a number of Tzadik releases. Lee’s playing came straight out of the downtown NY jazz scene to me, fraught, urgent attacks on the strings and some softer high pitched passages I rather enjoyed, but always playing the strings, working with the natural vocabulary of the cello rather than trying to go beyond.
She was then joined by Oxford based bassist Dom Lash for an energetic, nicely nuanced duo in two halves. Whilst Dom has recently worked with different approaches to improvised music, this set sat in an area I generally don’t listen to much these days, leaning as it did towards more traditional areas of free improv. On this occasion however, it was very nice to take in after what had come before it. Whilst the music trod old paths, the wonder of watching two musicians that haven’t played together before find a common language in front of an intimate audience remains as special as ever.

The night ended with a duo performance of Lee Patterson and Jez Riley French. Both musicians generally work with a mixture of field recordings and live manipulations of acoustic events. I have never seen Riley French play live before, but having had the opportunity of seeing Patterson several times recently I was looking forward to this set.
They played for just over half an hour, and in all honesty the first twenty minutes were really uncoordinated, with Patterson feeding two or three field recordings together, the sound of an egg frying at one point mixing with water sounds and other natural phenomena, but Riley French didn’t seem to be contributing much at all. A large upturned battered cymbal sat before him and he occasionally stroked it with a beater, but if anything emerged sonically from this exercise it was lost on me.

Riley French then dropped something heavy off the edge of the table with a thump, and this accident somehow seemed to provide the catalyst for the set to move away from merely a blend of Patterson’s field recordings. The final ten to fifteen minutes saw Riley French produce a deep rumbling sound from the cymbal, and some recordings he seemed to be playing resembled doors opening and closing, and these occasional inputs sat nicely with Patterson’s very quiet, unidentifiable sounds resembling electronic chatter .
This music slowly broke down towards a charged silence when small interventions from Riley French appeared every so often, and Patterson lit a flame beside a contact mic, with the faint crackle bursting forward very so often to provide the set with a very nice gradual ending to the piece as the duo slowly let their sounds die away and the cars passing by outside the city centre location took over from the music as the room sat in silence. A very nice ending to what started as an awkward performance.

So I spent the night in Nottingham, then went for a wander early next morning before meeting up with the musicians at a very nice little tea house that proved to be the saviour of an otherwise pretty awful city centre. Particularly impressive was the tea shop owner’s ability to keep a straight face when he brought me my plate of marmite on toast along with a great cup of Sencha…

So a good few days all round and some fine music. This weekend I get to take in even more if all goes to plan.

4 comments:

Alastair said...

How could you taste the sencha after eating marmite on toast?

matt said...

Re. Tim Goldie's set: you're not alone in feeling unsure about how 'seriously' to take some aspects of what he does. but his tongue is firmly in his cheek when he does his Bono-style posturing. Or it would be, if that didn't imply some kind of smugness that I don't detect in his performances. I've always found them to be methodical and satisfying, and the theatrical/comic stuff sits entirely organically with the music. He ought to play more often.

Richard Pinnell said...

Hmm, well I guess its a personal taste thing really. I prefer to be able to listen to music without the need for the accompanying sideshow. What disappointed me most was that the music didn't sound anywhere near as good when he stood up and left the drum kit, otherwise I wouldn't have been so bothered.

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