For some time now, the University of Edinburgh-based Dialogues initiative has hosted residencies by a stream of major international figures in experimental music. The likes of guitarist Fred Frith, saxophonist Evan Parker and sound recordist Chris Watson have all worked closely with composers and musicians from the University prior to concerts which has seen them play solo as well as with the group now styled as Edimpro. The latest of these featuring veteran improvising vocalist Phil Minton with double bassist and long-term collaborator Simon H Fell was a game of two halves. The first opened with a chirrup and a whistle, as Minton, perched on a chair with his legs dangling, launched into a tightly wrought set of shrieks, yelps, gurgles and howls that moves language beyond words to something more primal. There's a call and response of sorts with fell, who at one point uses to bows on his instrument to create a self-reflexive counterpoint that's feverishly controlled, rising and falling with Minton's own guttural utterances. The second set finds Minton and Fell leaving generous swathes of space for a ten-piece incarnation of Edimpro to navigate their way through. Saxophone and bass clarinet, laptops, guitars, drums and two pianists who bob in and out of view as they concentrate on their instrument's unseen underbelly weave around and across each other, each taking their turn in fits and starts until Minton and Fell conjure up a raging calm to close with. A new generation of artists using similar strategies to Minton has grown up over the last decade, with the likes of Edinburgh duo Usurper and Blood Stereo's Dylan Nyoukis lumped in with the ever-fecund Noise scene. It was coincidence that saw Usurper's Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson join forces with Nyoukis and NOB's Norman Shaw the same weekend as Minton, Fell and Edimpro's performance for a Saturday lunchtime show that turned out to be the ultimate in family-friendly fun and games. Following an intensely nuanced sax and electric guitar duet from Muscletusk's Grant Smith and the Edinburgh-based BOAR collective aligned Tina Krekels, Duff and Robertson sit alongside each other in the centre of the floor with a cassette recorder and cassettes between them. In a semi-improvised exchange, the pair mutter some spiel about ventriloquist dummies, before proceeding to 'bring out' Shaw and a be-wigged Nyoukis and perching them on their laps. Switching between assorted cassettes, the 'dummies' lip-synch their way through proceedings, before a power struggle takes place and a wrestling match of sorts collapses into a mish-mash of collapsing limbs. While Shaw offers up occasional outbursts of “Indefatigable”, a prone Nyoukis babbles a potty-mouthed riff of tabloidese unpleasantries before things finally phutter to a halt. The routine is a gonzo variation on time-served robots-rising sci-fi techno-fear by way of schizoid psycho-thrillers where the voices in the ventriloquist's head become too much. In this particular quartet's hands and mouths, it also becomes an absurdist parody on power, both in the Duracell bunny kind of way, and more insidious forms of control. “Autonomy” is the last word spluttered Shaw's rebellious puppet as Duff drags him out the door. It's a word that speaks volumes.
The List, February 2014