14 October 2011

Stoic and unrelenting

My week of free improvisation continued with a concert of Showa44, again at Smith’s. Showa44 is a renowned outfit with two highly regarded players: guitarist Carl Dewhurst and drummer Simon Barker. Simon is known for his studies of Korean percussion (there’s even a film made about this) so I wasn’t surprised to find Korean vocalist Bae Il-Dong sitting in, and another Korean, percussionist and WonkWang University Professor Dong-Won Kim, voicing just a bit of harmony. A larger band based around Simon and his Korean colleagues is about to tour the Middle East of coming months and we got to see a small part of this. And what a fabulously involving performance it was. I’ve heard Japanese drumming before, but not Korean, and it’s powerful and relentless. Simon suggested Korean drumming is even more unremitting: he mentioned performances lasting 3-days. Even I could pick elements of this in Simon’s playing: the matched grips, the resonant chimes, the delicate cymbals, the sustained but moving soundscapes, the persistent, vigorous, elemental matched sticks on skins, the sheer volume. Carl was an easy partner. I overheard Simon agreeing with a listener that they sought resonances between guitar and drums. I hadn’t particularly noticed that, at least not real audio-resonances, although there were obvious connections in the playing. I’d heard guitar as a soundbox, tapped, prodded, hammered, slided, amplified, vibratoed and tremoloed, echoed and distorted and modified to create repeating patterns of sound and little tonality, although with just a few occasions of chord shapes or some delicious wind-chime-sounding lines of arbitrary rhythm but repeating pitch. There were times I heard Asian gardens in all this: dripping water and rustling leaves. There were also storms of power and overwhelming, sustained intensity, but intensity with discipline and rigour and Stoic dignity. Then, occasionally, from the quiet, or leading or confronting the volume, came vocals with microtonal scales at intervals oddly chosen against the guitar’s tonal centre, at least for a Western ear, and screams and strong vibratos and gurgles and wide, open-mouthed vocalisations from deep within the body. Rich and expressive and elemental, and very, very different from Western-trained voices.

Thus it went for the first set of 60 minutes, and another of 50 minutes after the break. Two long and unnamed and presumably free improvisations (although I thought I heard what must have been a Korean song in there once). Two sets of variation, of relentless intensity power and delicate repose, of indefinite tonality and detailed Asian microtones. I, for one, was thrilled.

Showa44 are Simon Barker (drums, percussion) and Carl Dewhurst (guitars, effects). They were joined by Bae Il-Dong (vocals) and for just a touch of harmonies by Dong-Won Kim (vocals).

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