Asmus Tietchens and Thomas Köner’s Kontakt Der Jünglinge, Double Leopards, Nobukazu Takemura, Norbert Moslang and Jim Sauter, Masonna, Space Machine
Handing out earplugs at a festival designed to explore “the hidden wiring linking early experimental composition with the new wave of contemporary electronica”, as the programme notes have it, sends out some contrary signals. Then again, given that the all-seated interior of the über-minimalist CCA5 space looks somewhere between a sushi bar and a padded cell, an air of cautious formality is implied from the off.
This certainly isn’t the fault of the curator, The Wire’s own David Keenan, who has enthusiastically pulled together an ambitious collection of pan-generational avatars and mavericks, many of whom are making their Scottish and, indeed, their UK debuts. But with the Glasgow date of Nobukazu Takemura’s Contemporary Music Network tour seemingly grafted onto Subcurrent by the venue’s bums-onseats sensitive management, for all the coruscating power of everything else that’s on offer, spread out over three nights the fare feels a tad thin.
Nevertheless, Friday night’s spires and wires duet from machine age alchemist Norbert Moslang (of Voice Crack) and Borbetomagus sax player Jim Sauter accelerates from zero to 100 in an instant. Where Moslang zaps his targets dead centre, a hunched conjuror in search of secret formulas, Sauter blows lumbering zigzag patterns overhead, taking pot shots while on reconnaissance, his instrument becoming disembodied enough from its source to sound as gutturally unsax-like as possible.
There’s an impending physicality at play too. Moslang doesn’t so much flick his switches as swat them in a prolonged interrogation, first toying with, then battering his wires across the table, breaking the code with increasing force. Sauter’s bulky presence looms in constant twitching motion from the off, at one point giving the impression of a constipated bear dancing on his effects pedals, so intent is he on whipping up whooshing valleys in a meandering attack that’s only occasionally slippery enough to collide into Moslang’s own.
This is nothing, however, to the short sharp shock of Maso Yamazaki’s Masonna persona. A wraithlike black-clad dervish, he flings himself into an astonishing exercise in pure sonic terrorism that’s a smash and grab raid on the senses, cartwheeling into oblivion without recourse to either safety net or government health warning. Barking out an angry mantra, his giant shadow writhes and flails heroically across the walls. Then, in less than ten minutes, it’s over, and some in the rapt audience are purged enough from the experience to erupt into fits of liberating giggles. It’s a satori of sorts.
Mercifully, Yamazaki has recovered enough by the next night to offer an altogether more static presence to his analogue synth project Space Machine, as a familiar array of sci-fi swoops and extra-terrestrial squiggles divebomb appealingly but ultimately unthreateningly into the ether before projected swirls of orange and purple that meld lazily into one another.
Double Leopards are even more spectral, if altogether more traditionally meditative on their path to enlightenment. Down on their knees from the beginning, the two boys and two girls of this ascetic looking Brooklyn quartet utilise an array of playpen analogue white noise machines and guitar scrapings bent out of shape to distort the hush. Plugging into the pulsating scree left over from some eerie backwoods ritual, they then cautiously but meticulously beam it out to the middle distance and beyond.
Out of the gloop slowly evolves an all embracing languor, gnawed through with nagging little rhythms that are tongue-tied, primal and, after wonderfully prolonged exposure, the next best thing to holy. Towards their set’s climax, one Double Leopard even covers his eyes with his hands, like one wise monkey lost in the moment.
The odd coupling of 1960s veteran Asmus Tietchens and Thomas Köner’s Kontakt Der Jünglinge collaboration is an oddly soporific choice to close proceedings. Named in tribute to two works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, the pair sit impassively side by side, Köner in baseball cap, Tietchens stern in grey and black.
Awash with glacial motifs, the slow-motion peals of partially submerged debris that ooze their way into the nervous system are exhaustingly concentrated, however gently they stroke the audience into submission. Even a mobile phone’s rude intrusion (twice) can’t shatter the aura, despite Asmus Tietchens’ magnificently hawkish series of scowls. Beyond such audacity, the brooding chimes dripping across each other towards slow burnout provide closure of sorts, but little accompanying thunder. In all, 100 pairs of earplugs go unused.
The Wire, issue 242, April 2004