The Arches, Glasgow
Boredoms, Cosmos, AMM, Merzbow, Ryoji Ikeda, Whitehouse, The Paragon Ensemble
When Instal’s all day festival of “Brave New Music” was launched three years ago in the murky subterranean expanse of The Arches — a converted railway sidings and a building still resonating with the burr of past arrivals and departures — it allowed its audience to drift through multiple spaces, absorbing sounds that often bled across each other, melding into an aural mass that moved in and out of focus. This year, it opted to occupy two of the building’s largest spaces and, while more conventionally contained, it remained equally iconoclastic in form and content.
The Paragon Ensemble, Scotland’s leading contemporary classical ensemble, opened proceedings with a ripped and stripped improvisation of scarified Baroque, marrying gossamer flute and cello scrapings to an impending laptop clip-clop before erupting into a gallop, obliquely referencing Gershwin and Highland drone en route.
In stark contrast, Whitehouse’s confrontationalist analogue cabaret came on somewhere between Beavis and Butthead and an Essex-boy Suicide. Fuelled by self-loathing and adolescent sneer as it was, hearing an orchestrated audience chant of “D’you believe in rock ’n’ roll?” - at Instal of all places - was far funnier and infinitely more shocking than their other material, however ironically delivered.
Then again, it was a strangely fitting prelude to Ryoji Ikeda’s performance of “CCI Sound System”, the musician and his laptop like diminutive foundation stones in a very rock ’n’ roll wall of Marshall amps. As it transpired, Ikeda’s technofied soundclash between the Marshalls and a state of the art Meyer system was akin to a 21st century version of secondhand shop vinyl showcases for stereo sound. Not unappealing, but not wholly engaging either.
Unlike Cosmos, the barely-there collaboration between sinewavist Sachiko M and vocalist Ami Yoshida. Taking concentrated sound to its purest limit, Yoshida’s series of butterfly kisses, newborn yelps and hairball squalls and exhalations, offset by a set of piercing, above-the-radar extrapolations from Sachiko, demanded maximum concentration. There were some who couldn’t take the strain, but for those who tuned in, the effect was mesmeric, made even more so by an apparent glitch in the railway timetable that left even more silent spaces above.
Following this with Merzbow’s extended sonic crunches was both perverse and inspired, even if he didn’t entirely live up to expectations. There’s undeniable craft to Masami Akita’s forcefield manipulations of the nervous system, which battered some into willing submission whilst waking others up; the bunker-like surroundings invited the apocalypse, but got something close to subtlety instead. That you could hear at least one idiot yapping merrily at the back of the room suggested signs had been misread.
In near gloom, AMM’s John Tilbury dedicated their set to German writer and musician Peter Niklas Wilson, a long-term AMM friend and collaborator who died recently. This seemed to set up an air of soporific melancholy for the performance that followed — a work of disciplined restraint and beauty — in which piano and percussion lines stopped so sharply it was as if they’d had the breath sucked out of them. Like Cosmos, the spaces between the music were immense, as they conjured out of thin air a slow motion improvisation of elegiac grace and beauty.
The act that followed couldn’t be further removed again. Japanese agents provocateurs The Boredoms - reinvented as the three drum kit V∞rdoms - kickstarted a rolling thunder so relentless as to inspire near euphoria amongst those who’d already witnessed Merzbow. With a portable box of tricks as his baton, leader and conductor Yamataka Eye set himself at the centrifugal heart of the group. Once into their stride, they pounded out their metronomic voodoo with enough accompanying squelches to suggest 1970s electronic jazz at its most dense. Before long, Eye is clambering astride the amps, a true savant genius virtuoso marching on the walls of Jericho, his regiment in tow. It’s a thrilling spectacle, which, in its intuitive understanding of the full potential shamanic power of performance, is designed to leave you reeling.
The Wire, issue 239, January 2004