Thursday, July 26, 2007

Et ainsi au samedi

And so to Saturday. The day started with a leisurely meal before we all made our way down into Parthenay's ancient old town for a solo performance by Angharad Davies that took place at the top of the Tour de la PoudriƩre, the only remaining and restored tower of a 13th century castle that otherwise sat as remains. The venue was beautiful but also proved somewhat problematic for this incredibly subtle, quiet set. The problems were created by the tiny narrow spiral staircase that brought people up to the top room of the tower. Every time Angharad looked to begin to play people appeared and took their seats, some of them music fans, others just tourists wondering what was going on. As the concert was free people came and went as they pleased.

This was the first time I've seen Angharad play a solo set. She sat in the centre of the round room with the audience sat 360 degrees around her. The music consisted of small two minute-ish sections in which she repeated single phrases, sometimes bowing, sometimes tapping, sometimes noteless. The performance resembled a composition, perhaps one by a Wandelweiser composer, belonging more to the classical oeuvre than any other, but I am assured it was entirely improvised. I really enjoyed this set. The careful, considered playing required real focus from the listener however as this was not "easy" music. Some of the sounds were very quiet, others less so, but at all times a respectful audience was required. Unfortunately the music didn't always get the response it deserved. Whilst most sat quietly some people whispered to each other, camera clicks were regular and on two occasions someone broke wind loudly, the second time followed by a chorus of stupid giggles. Such is life with a free concert.
As Angharad played she very slowly turned on the piano stool placed in the centre of the room. Over the course of the 42 minute performance she turned a full 360 degrees, stopping once she had returned to the position in which she began. This turning was almost imperceivable and I only noticed after having had my eyes shut for a while I repoened them to find her facing away. This motion obviously made no difference to how the music sounded but added a nice subtle twist to the concert overall. This was a really good performance by one of the UK's leading improvisors right now.

We then made our way the short distance down a hill to the Maison des Cultures de Bois where the duo of Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura were to play. This was the third time I had seen this duo play, each time two years apart from each other, and each time better than the last. I have to admit though that even though my expectations were high for this concert I simply had my breath taken away. Beginning with a thick, deep sinewave from Toshi with only minimal bursts of electronic crackle from Rowe the music dropped down into near silence, with only a very high almost inaudlble strand of feedback whispering from Toshi and quiet chirruping sounds and the occasional burst of static from Rowe. After ten minutes or so when the activity had fallen to pretty much complete silence a single strike on the strings of Rowe's guitar produced a deep bell-like sound that lead into a period of low level interplay with the volume never really rising above an intense murmur. Radio interference and the internal sound of a laptop hard drive were used with seemingly effortless precision from Rowe, with Toshi tending to stay in either the very high or low throbbing registers, allowing the odd cry of sound to escape occasionally.

This music and the space it existed in were filled with tension. The exchanges between the two musicians were almost visible in the darkened room, two improvisers with a fantastically deep musical relationship testing and stretching each other to create this dark, brooding field of restless activity. The reduced volume throughout seemed to increase the palpability of the tension, allowing the musicians nowhere to hide. The perfomance lasted just thirty three minutes but left me exhausted. Something special happens when Rowe and Nakamura play together and I'm so pleased to have been able to witness the latest chapter. Magical.

Following such a set was never going to be easy, and its possible that my intense negative reaction to the performance by a solo Andy Guhl was affected by the mental exhaustion brought on by response to Keith and Toshi. The rest of the hall seemed to like it, whooping and cheering as it ended, but I found very little to enjoy.
Guhl used video as well as sound in his set, using a camera mounted on a revolving platform to capture images from his table of electronic clutter and even the front row of the audience. These images then fed, with some rough effects added to a projector that placed the image onto a large screen in the hall. Guhl used perspex prisms to refract the image from the projector further and (I think) used a light sensor placed in the beam of light to drive some of the dirty, ugly sounds that made up the audio part of the performance. For me this set only had any appeal whilst I was trying to work out what was going on to make the images and sound. Once I had an basic idea of what was happening there was little left for me to enjoy. The music was made up of what can only be described these days as generic electronic sounds, all open circuit blasts of noise and roaring loops. I'm sure those jumping to his defence would suggest that as a member of Voice Crack Guhl was making similar sounds a decade ago, and indeed he was, but thats where the problem lies. While the addition of the video element has brought something new to Guhl's music its not that interesting a concept and the music doesn't seem to have come very far at all.

One rather nice pizza in a quiet part of town later we headed back to the Salle Diff'Art for the last set I caught of the festival by Trio Sowari, a group made up of Burkhard Beins (Percussion), Phil Durrant (Laptop) and Bertrand Denzler (Saxophone).I've been a fan of this group for quite some time and they produced another nice performance here, this time with all three musicians playing through the PA, something I'd not seen from them before as their intimate music previously lent itself better to acoustic settings in smaller rooms. The set began with a nervous section of jabbing interplay between the trio until after five minutes or so Durrant produced a loud drifting sine wave that was instantly joined by Beins' high pitched bowing of a cymbal. From here the sounds used were allowed to linger more, with the musicians imitating each other often, but never for too long, allowing the music to progress through different sections effortlessly. For me Trio Sowari are about the use of simple tools, uncomplicated sounds wound together in real time to create something greater. The balance between the three instruments is perfect, with no obvious hierachies in the music and a focus just placed on the combination of texture and dynamic to form a gradually shifting study using a muted palette of limited colours.

I didn't stick around to hear the last two sets of the evening, an audio/visual show from Texturizer didn't inspire me much, and my general tiredness leant itself better to wandering off for a drink long before Merzbow came near the stage. Before I am accused of anti-noise snobbery again I actually caught much of Merzbow's soundcheck earlier in the day and tried hard to grasp something in the music, but for the life of me I'm not sure what there is to grasp beyond a few rumbling textures blasted out at extreme volumes, sorry.

Overall the festival was great. Even when the music wasn't so fantastic (and it frequently was fantastic!) the opportunity to laze about in the sun in stunning surroundings chatting with some great people was gladly taken. It was nice to say hi to a few musicians I'd not spoken to much before and to catch up with others I knew well. Of the new faces to me it was nice to say hi to Jacques Oger of Potlatch Records who will I'm sure report back that I wasn't wearing odd shoes. :)

Thanks also due to Nicolas, the festival organiser for putting on such a great event.

3 comments:

Robert said...

Sounds like a great time Richard, consider me envious. Thanks for the report.

Jacques Oger said...

Great report Richard.

As you know, I attended NPAI only on the last day.
When reading it, I wish I could have been there the days before.
I probably would have seen you wearing these odd shoes then.

Richard Pinnell said...

Thanks Jacques.

it was good to finally meet you.
Thursday was odd shoes day, Friday was just odd music day!! :)