18 January 2013

Not really jazz, but a tightrope

The locals do experimental, too. I’ve come to experimental music and free jazz through Richard and Shoeb and SoundOut and Smiths Bookshop and a few more connections. It’s not a popular form. It’s not even something I warmed to at first. I guess it’s got rules. It looks like it can be faked but the cognoscenti see through it. Skills make the difference and you can sometimes judge them. Some skills are just too far out of the mainstream for common recognition, like separated sax mouthpieces or playing underwater and the like. I can recognise bass technique, even if it’s unconventional, and also standard instruments played with trained technique. Similarly, I can recognise musical sensibility in the use of echo and processing and loops and electronica. It’s otherworldly but still human. And often, even without conscious recognition, but closing your eyes you can tell that something has structure or flow or harmony or tonality. This music is largely post-tonal so needs to be judged in its own context. So as I newcomer, I like to hear different approaches, different people, different skills and conceptualisations; to cover the waterfront. This night, at Smiths, before Philipe Petit, I heard three short sets and three groups: interesting and educational.

First up was Luke Pendeaux and Danny Wild. As I understand, Luke played sampler and sequencer (Roland SP404 and MC303) with Danny on laptop sequencer (Ableton live). This was rhythmic music an underlay of drone, heavy in repetition and minimal in change. Various samples were dredged up, edited and discombobulated, mixed with occasional voice that was similarly processed, the whole changing gently over time, with occasional squeals and whale calls and space ship launches and detunes and slow downs. I liked the slightly latin starting groove but wondered how we got to a shuffle swing at the end. I initially felt a sonata-like form in three parts - exposition, recapitulation - but then it seemed to continue to further parts. One thing that’s quite unique about this music is how it’s busily automated so leaving time for swig of a beer between thoughts. That’s civilised. When I go for a beer on stage, it’s usually an unholy intrusion.

Second was Shoeb Ahmad. He would have played duo with Philipe Petit but equipment availability intervened. His key instrument is the guitar, a telecaster with single pole twang, slow arpeggios, sustained chords. This is not a music of guitar virtuosity but of watery change. He uses a string of effects and a sampler. The twang undergoes watery change. But it overlays an unrelenting noise of notes without end. It’s overwhelming, threatening, other than human, throbbing. We felt lost, threatened, rolled by a tsunami of sound. Just breathing, throbbing with heartbeat regularity. But then human sounds like clap slicks, primitive, cicada sounds, and a final crescendo of sampler then strummed chords and silence. Unsettling music, dark despite the country twang.

Third was a trio of Andrew Fedorovich, Reuben Ingall and John Wilton. Their presentation was earthy, animal. These were calls in the wild from sax mouthpiece. Rugged slaps and windblown shudders, echoing and grooving like ants and bats in the night. Then decay, an electronic drop in pitch, like a plane falling or a perhaps a crow circling, aware, calm, observant. Then night nocturnal creatures, mystery and unknowingness, Sustained twisted, bent animal tone from sax and splashed of malletted cymbals to replace the regularity of mallets on skin. Then suddenly violence leading to slow decay and some relief. Here again I noticed the automation, laptop wielding Reuben able to take a swig while sax and drums were immediate, in the moment, living as in humanity.

How else to describe this music? I close my eyes and more than other musics, its soundscape expands and its logic appears. Its direct and unconventional and even uncivilised, and that can be good in art. Whatever, I’ll be hearing more, especially with the fourth SoundOut Festival of this music coming up in just a few weeks’ time. The performers were was Luke Pendeaux (sequencer, sampler) and Danny Wild (sequencer); Shoeb Ahmad (guitar, effects, sampler); Andrew Fedorovich (alto sax), Reuben Ingall (laptop) and John Wilton (drums). The location was Smith’s Alternative Bookstore.

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