Le Weekend - Borbetomagus, Glenn Jones with Jack Rose, MV+EE Medicine Show, Pelt, MUTEK, Carsten Nicolai, Joseph Suchy/Jaki Liebezeit/Burnt Friedman
Almost midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Stirling is the ideal east meets west no man’s land for a festival like Le Weekend. Imbued with a loose-knit vibe, unlike the twin metropolises it satellites, it has no chips on its shoulder or sniffy airs and graces, simply because it’s neither here nor there. For seven years, such wonderful geographical incongruity has allowed Le Weekend space enough to breathe, and this year it stretched itself to four days.
This wasn’t enough, however, for Oval’s Markus Popp. Scheduled to perform with vocalist Eriko Toyoda as So at a fringe exhibition in the neighbouring Changing Room gallery, with flights booked, Popp got to the departure lounge but turned around at the 11th hour and duly went home.
Such pique doesn’t discourage Thursday’s opening act, The Hamid Drake Trio, a spit ’n’ sawdust free collaboration between the Chicago percussionist, veteran saxophonist Paul Dunmall and bassist Paul Rogers. Drake may have been billed as leader, but is content to acquiesce to Dunmall’s grumping bullfrog tenor and Rogers’ seven string symphonic medieval pluckings, which at one surprising point bends its way into appealing approximations of analogue primitivism.
Tame stuff indeed, however, compared to jazz noise veterans Borbetomagus, whose twin saxophone and FX onslaught from Don Dietrich and Jim Sauter marries Donald Miller’s prone but equally mashed up guitar for the ultimate threesome. With eight pedals apiece and an array of strap-on rubber hoses and plastic attachments, Sauter and Dietrich are a twin headed dervish forever in motion. In contrast, Miller sits with his guitar at a scarlet covered table, dropping weights on its neck like some stumblebum Hair Bear Bunch magician conjuring up equally deafening assaults.
When Dietrich drops a microphone into the bell of Sauter’s sax, then pushes the two instruments together, so their bells are effectively kissing, there’s a whiff of homoerotic intimacy only 25 years together can contrive. As Miller gets in on the action, forcing his guitar neck between them before falling backwards off his stool, the whiplash physicality of the sound becomes a gloriously visual knockabout routine.
Friday night’s New Weird America showcase is by far the most enticing proposition. Heather Leigh Murray’s solo improvisation for voice and pedal steel guitar deconstructs her instrument’s associations with deep-fried rinky-dinkness forever. Bathed in a crimson glow, Murray’s contorted spiral chimes and gossamer call and response builds to beguilingly eerie western wind crescendos that coo like keening sirens wooing sailors home to shore. As she repeatedly slams the flat of her hand down onto her guitar neck, Murray’s altered state becomes the purging storm before an exhilarating calm.
More homespun shamanic babble comes with The MV + EE Medicine Show, Matthew Valentine and Erika Elder’s rattlebag of stripped bare blues. With the look of a hobofied Peter Sellers and an equal feel for the ridiculous, Valentine’s savant witterings are over-ridden by increasingly urgent ukulele, banjo and harmonium that makes like Morricone deprived of operatics.
If MV + EE sound sired in the inbred savant Country twang of John Boorman’s Deliverance, Pelt’s slow burning singing bowl and strings raga drones awaken the countercultural spirit of Antonioni’s more hallucinatory Zabriskie Point, a film where an altogether more metaphysical East/West alliance exploded out of the wilderness.
Saturday afternoon finds eight local musicians, plus Don Dietrich, working with composer Peter Dowling on the project Music For Buildings, a two hour jam, sampled live, then diffused throughout the Tolbooth’s multi-tiered expanse. Despite slides into pedestrian avant Baroque whimsy, something near monumental occurs, and at one point in the cafe an amplified guitar and violin loop appears to reinvent French nursery rhyme melodies.
Things quieten down for the evening session with Japanese vocalist Haco, who performed her Ash In The Rainbow suite with cellist Hiromichi Sakamoto. Martial layers of sampled string textures pounding alongside Haco’s strident voice box manipulations make for high drama.
Abrasively kooky, her smile alone guarantees she’s in possession of at least one parallel universe Eurovision winner, as Hiromichi ends with a very Faust-like spot of welding.
More cello follows from Ernst Reijseger, whose System D project with vocalist Mola Sylla and percussionist Serigne Gueye is an ideal Fourth World junkyard soundtrack for a global village cop show. When Sylla and Reijseger prowl the aisles, the sweetest of unamplified blessings are invoked.
There’s final night disappointment as, due to illness, Loren MazzaCane Connors, set to play with Suzanne Langille, cancels. At three hours’ notice, however, a heroic Glenn Jones flies in from Boston to save the day. Looking goofishly bewildered, he dedicates his set of delightfully mellifluous guitar pickings to the late John Fahey. Accompanied on one number by Pelt’s Jack Rose on slide, insularity gives way to jauntiness, each served with charming downhome humility.
Finally, New Zealand’s The Dead C, in their first ever UK show, whip up a grizzled storm of relentless self-destruction culled from Bruce Russell and Michael Morley’s sludge drenched twin guitars, Robbie Yeats’s pistol whip drum clatter and a suitably skull and crossbones emblazoned laptop. Here is a group that thrives on mutual suspicion, and only when set list confusion threatens implosion do they deign to acknowledge each other. As they find their bearings, out of the mire comes a thrilling purity that gels enough to define space and place, a perfect, sudden full stop to a long but not lost weekend.
MUTEK MONTRÉAL VARIOUS VENUES CANADA BY PHILIP SHERBURNE Shortly before he was to take the stage on the Sunday evening closing performance at MUTEK, Geoff White came walking through the crowd, white as an iBook and looking ill. “Are you OK?” I asked him. “Not really,” he said, and then pointed at the stage, where Burnt Friedman, Jaki Liebezeit and Joseph Suchy were spinning delicate cats’ cradles of guitar, drums and electronics, twining musical threads into a form of sparkling clarity, despite its rhythmic complexity. “This is as close to perfection as music gets.”
Admittedly, Friedman et al were a hard act to follow, but Geoff White, who performed as Aeroc, needn’t have worried. His set of laptop birthed crinkle beats and looped electric guitar, accompanied on several tracks by Ben Kaman, shone on its own. The rhythms were slightly punchier than on his recent Ghostly CD, Viscous Solid, and the infusion of live guitar lent jazz inflected harmonics without lapsing into “jazziness”.
This was the fifth instalment of the annual Montréal festival, which showcases experimental digital music and minimalist House and Techno. The line-up ranged from the click ’n’ crush of the
Raster-Noton crew to the uncommonly deep disco House of Montréal’s The Mole, who produced highlight after seemingly effortless highlight. Dividing this year between three venues — a theatre in the film centre Ex-Centris for experimental soundworks, the 2000 capacity Metropolis nightclub, and the boxy, cement floored SAT lounge — the five day festival felt like well organised cogent blocks of ideas.
There was the ‘pop’ night, featuring Junior Boys and Schneider TM (as well as live Techno deconstructionists Smith N Hack, who in a sequence of deft loops and live edits, undid everything that had come before them, turning the former artists’ flowery electro-pop back into a heavily pruned tree of spindly branches and nubby stubs). There was the evening of uncompromising sonic experimentation, featuring analogue aficionado David Kristian, Pan Sonic’s Ilpo Väisänen, and the duo of Vienna’s Pure (aka Peter Votova of Ilsa Gold) and New York videographer Johnny deKam. There was all-out, all-night dance party — had it been outside, you could have called it a rave — featuring a line-up of stellar House and Techno producers including Egg, Crackhaus, Isolee and The Rip-Off Artist, which concluded with Matthew Herbert spinning one of the most perfectly apropos DJ sets I’ve ever heard.
While more and more artists seem to come to
MUTEK prepared to break moulds and make bold statements, there were exceptions. The festival got off to an inauspicious start with a lacklustre audio-visual performance from Montréal’s Antmanuv. On their own, his drones and glitches might have created some sort of atmosphere, but they were overshadowed by unnecessary visuals that fetishised digital aesthetics without engaging in actual aesthetic work.
One of the most anticipated events of the week also disappointed. Richie Hawtin’s first Plastikman performance in nine years had been billed as an unprecedented multimedia extravaganza. But after a late start, with Minus Records’ Clark Warner DJing almost two hours of Ambient music, the Plastikman live show was merely a faithful recreation of his classic Acid work, and the much touted visuals failed to work for more than half the show. When they did, they offered intriguing, even engrossing fusions of sound and vision, but they hardly announced a brave new realm of AV culture.
But as always, MUTEK remained a resource for discovery, showcasing talented developing artists who have yet to gain much of a foothold in an international context. Among them were South African-born, London resident Portable, Montréal’s flippant minimal Techno provocateur Frivolous, and the astonishing duo Skoltz Kogen, whose longform audio-visual performances obliterate the lines between media, resulting in a kind of subjectless art that undoes everything you think you know about the relationship between moving pictures and sound. Chile’s Original Hamster practically stole the festival with a Hip-hop influenced set of frenetic, cut and paste House and growled vocals that had colleagues like Krikor and Isolee freaking in the front row.
It’s a good thing that Jamie Lidell was slotted last, or there might have been no festival at all. His hour or so of a cappella acrobatics — looped, processed, and occasionally relayed through a Marshall stack that gave his voice the quality of Heavy Metal guitars — veered from AM radio stylings to death gospel to an alleged Prince cover, cresting to climax after climax, leaving the audience weakened and transfixed. When, toward the end of his set, he asked, “Who’s next on the wheels of steel?”, it was the funniest joke heard that week. For a DJ to attempt to follow Lidell’s scorched earth soul would be sheer ludicrousness. Lidell’s appearance was less a performance of music than pure performativity; less expression than expulsion. In an unusual stroke for MUTEK, there was no after-party. When Lidell brought the curtain down, figuratively speaking, its weight felt like a leaden shroud. There was no question of further motion or further music.
The Wire, Issue 246, August 2004