Saturday, June 02, 2007

..waiting for the gift of sound and vision

A short report on a concert that happened last Monday, a while ago now at the start of a hectic week that included a lot of bother from work as well as the adrenalin rush and necessary hard work that a new Cathnor Recordings release brings, but a big enough speactacle of a show that it really warrants mentioning.

The concert featured three audio/visual performances, one each by Ryoichi Kurokawa, the AVVA duo of Toshimaru Nakamura and Billy Roisz and the duo of Sachiko M and Benedict Drew, working together for the first time. I should say upfornt that I often find this kind of multimedia concert hard to really enjoy, and this one was not really any different, although I made every effort to leave any prejudices I might have outside the enormous cavern-like room of the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in London where the show took place.

Irrelevant of the performances themselves, the sheer spectacle of this event was something very special. After some delay the show took place in front of what I estimate to have been between 1500 and 2000 people all sat on cushions in this main hall of the Tate Modern, the room that used to hold the main turbines years back before the building was converted from a power station into an art gallery. I think its safe to say that the likes of Toshi and Sachiko have never played to crowds of anything like that size before, the sheer number of people present testament to the pulling power of the Tate and the established artworld.

First up was Ryoichi Kurokawa, a name new to me but unfortunately not someone I'm going to be in a hurry to see again. Kurokawa's video work ranged from fluttering vector graphics that twisted and turned along with his laptop generated music through to lavish, polished computer graphics that reminded me of the work that accompanied Future Sound of London videos years back, full of spectacular processing power but very little interesting content. The music that accompanied the film inhabited an area somewhere between Mego Records style laptoppery and the more experimental yet still predictable end of techno, full of violent ruptures and the occasional hammering rhythm. The show went down very well with the audience, but left me as uninspired as any concert I've seen for a while.

Kurokawa was followed by AVVA, a duo I have always struggeld to connect with, despite the music side of the duo coming from Toshimaru Nakamura, one of my favourite musicians in a collaborative setting. The way that the sound created by Nakamura affects and distorts the colourful abstract geometry of Roisz's images is an interesting idea, allowing collaboration on several levels, but I cannot help but feel bored by the concept now after seeing the duo together four or five years ago and having spent some time with the AVVA DVD Gdansk Queen on the Erstwhile label. Toshi's music as a solo musician has never captivated me to anything like the same level as his fantastic work in collaborative settings, and effectively the audio element of AVVA is solo Toshi. Overall there is nothing to particularly dislike about AVVA, I just don't feel particularly moved by it either.


The great thing about the AVVA set though, and even more so the Sachiko M / Ben Drew performance that followed, was the sheer impact of the performance once the music was channelled through a huge PA into the massive shell of the hall and the visuals presented on a big flat screen towering above the audience. Sachiko effectively presented the already slightly bemused audience with what I think was just one sine tone, played very loud into the vast expanse. This sounds ricocheted off of the brick walls and flew about the space unpredictably, making the slightest move of your head change how the music sounds, creating artificial waves in the sound as your ears and brain struggle to process what it is presented with. Ben Drew's imagery was suitably restrained, a simple white on black image made up of intersecting lines not unlike a close up of a dew-covered early morning spider's web that gradually shifted in shape and tone as the performance went on.

This set was quite remarkable to experience if somewhat uninteresting musically. The audience response to this barrage of high pitched tone was to get up and leave, and the people moving about in front of you then caused further waves in the sound, leaving an almost nauseous feeling of imbalance that later saw me move to the back of the hall and eventually leave a few moments before the conclusion so as to beat the rush away from the building as I had a last train out of London to catch.

Overall the potential shown for events of this type to be held at the Tate Modern was very encouraging, and it was great to see musicians I like a great deal getting the opportunity to play to such a large audience, but I personally found it hard to connect to the performances themselves, perhaps even in part because of the lack of intimacy in the room.

One odd moment though, on leaving the Tate I walked along the South Bank of the Thames back to Waterloo tube station, camera still in hand after taking a few shots of the concert. I spotted some fairy lights hanging in the trees lining the walk back, and took a photo with a slow shutter speed as I walked along, no time to stop as I had a train to catch. Interestingly the photo came out not unlike an AVVA screenshot...

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