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Concert Sat Aug 21 2010
Back again with a day two wrapup from the Neon Marshmallow Festival at the Viaduct Theater (tickets still available for two shows today and one tomorrow). Friday was less consistent than Thursday, with a few great, unforgettable sets and, well, a few more forgettable ones.
I missed the first handful of sets — my apologies to Flower Man and Rust Worship — so that I could write up night one, and also so I could log a few extra hours in my sleep bank; me and three hours sleep are not a winning mixture. So, we pick up the story in progress...
I walked in partway into the Expo 70 performance, which was one guitar and two drummers — different from the synth-heavy lineups I'd heard to this point. Someone nearby told me that, had I been keeping up with Expo 70 on record, I would have seen this coming. I haven't. It was good — I've heard Burning Star Core do similar styles of improv. It makes me think of a film adaptation of a Joseph Conrad book or something — winding through a malaria-ridden jungle, deeper into the underbrush, unable to turn back until the task is completed. The drummers locked in nicely, but as is almost always the case with two-drum setups, it tends to slow the tempo down. I think that was probably Expo 70's idea in the first place.
Ohio's Skin Graft, last seen the night before in collaboration, played for about 45 seconds before abruptly coming to a st
Bhob Rainey, like his nmperign co-conspirator Greg Kelley, brought the audience in closer with his quiet, fiercely controlled saxophone overblowing, a series of small, pointed texture studies separated only to draw breath. It can't help but make you think, watching the crowd lean in to hear even as the sound from the nearby bar gets louder, of the bit in John Cage's Indeterminacy that goes, "Actually, if you run into people who are really interested in hearing sounds, you're apt to find them fascinated by the quiet ones. 'Did you hear that?' they say." Bhob's set was even quieter than Greg's, only reaching into long, high-pitched lines near the very end, concentrating instead on multi-tonal blurts and electronic-sounding interjections. Like an artist who spends all of life polishing small rocks, Rainey's commitment to the quiet, introspective side free sound is every bit as challenging and rewarding as the explosion that will inevitably follow it.
Speaking of, NYC's Explosive Improvised Device (EIC) explained his rig before his set: filter, small mixer, homemade metal device with springs and levers, and
four five distortion pedals. Despite what you'd think from such a rig, the set built slowly and carefully, with high-pitched amp feedback hovering and swirling before EID's Anthony Saunders yelled something about Germans "THE CHARGES WERE DROPPED BECAUSE THEY WERE FALSE" and opened up the engine. And PRRROOOOOOW, we're off! A bracing blast of harsh noise, occasionally cutting out to heighten tension, it was a style that noise fanatics have known for years, but that can always bring new enjoyment and reward. Sure, seeing a local bar band kick their way through "Won't Get Fooled Again" isn't breaking down the walls of invention, but, when done well, it can get you on your feet. This was harsh noise, and it was balanced, tight, and right on the money.
U.K.'s Astral Social Club (real name Neil Campbell) has been a constant through the history of England's experimental music scene from the late '80s to the present. Whether playing stunt double in the infamous Smell & Quim, pursuing more contemplative vistas under his own name, or exploring large-group eternal musics with Vibracathedral Orchestra, Campbell does everything with gusto, his shaved head bobbing ecstatically whether churning up buckets of corrosive audio bilge or coaxing metallic resonances from a lowly cymbal. ASC, named after a gentleman's social club in Leeds, we are told at the start, is Campbell's uneasy handshake with "dance music," though that term should be read in the style of Roger Moore, with one eyebrow cocked skeptically. Campbell slung a guitar over his shoulder, turned on a rhythm box or two, and set everything to butt-punchingly loud, staggering around the stage with the guitar (which I'm not sure was projecting into the audience in the manner he had planned) while the thudding beats got more out of focus, finally turning into something resembling the heartbeat of an elephant with arrhythmia: ba-DUMdumdum ba-DUMdumdum ba-DUMdumdum ba-DUMdumdum. The guitar, the times when it could be heard, sounded the way Richard H. Kirk's guitar used to sound on those early Cabaret Voltaire singles, which is to say, it sounded like someone had coaxed the chromatic scale out of an old transistor radio, more static than sound. A few sweeps of the hand across a theremin (or someting light-controlled), a few more goes around the guitar, and an anthemic finale later, and the crowd was on its feet. Well, they had been standing anyway, but they gave up the love.
Astral Social Club (Photo by Syd Ortega)
Dave Phillips, playing the second of his three shows at the festival, gave us the set tonight that I had expected last night. A video screen was pulled down, and for those who hadn't seen this set before, it must have been an unforgettable experience, for good or ill. I've seen Dave do this set at least three other times, and it's always impressive, painful, heartfelt and difficult. Inter-cutting brutal, unflinching footage of animal test, animal slaughter, bullfighting, wholesale whale killing, animals struggling in steel traps, and other assorted human-initiated maiming and mutilating of animals with terse statements of modern life ("AS LONG AS THE VICTIMS MAY BE QUIETLY BURIED," "DESPAIRING AT A NUMBNESS HANDED DOWN FROM A SOCIETY THAT IS TRAPPED IN FRACTURE AND BETRAYAL, DENIAL AND AVOIDANCE," etc.) flash in between. For his part, Phillips constructs a dense, violent, horrifying audio mix of human and animal hyperventilating, dogs howling in pain, slaughterhouse noises, piercing wails, and sublimated classical music swells, building to a frenzy over 20 unbearable minutes. Adding his own screams to the mix via a headset mic, Dave also ventures into the audience, blowing up balloons behind the crowd, building more tension (when will it break? Will he be right behind me when it does?). "HUMANS ARE FASCINATING FOR THEIR ABILITY TO CHANGE" is one of the last title cards as the images start to fade out, following by a subliminal flashing of the word "CHANGE" over and over before the sound dies, and the DVD player reverts back to the static dp logo. Regardless of your views on Phillips' view of the world, the gestalt effect of the performance is bracing, the type of visceral art that noise claims to embrace, but seldom achieves. I'd never say "it's a pleasure" to see this piece, but I'm always glad I didn't head for the door (as many did...I counted at least 12 walkouts).
Illusion of Safety was playing when I came in, and playing when I left. I like to imagine he's still playing, though I know this not to be true. You could see Dan Burke's thought process as he turned each filter knob and oscillator; each time a new sound came out, you could almost see the "aha!" light bulb go off over his head, leading to three or four more knob turns. It was an exquisite corpse that just kept going; at no point did Burke step back, staring at his equipment, unsure where to go next. He was visually accompanied by blurry, abstract imagery (a relief after Phillips' all-too-real documentary footage) that filled one entire wall of the room. I saw slow-motion carousel horses, maybe some cemetery footage, I don't know. It was a swell of pure electronics and associative images, comparable (if you need a modern correlative) to The Fortieth Day when they perform with Lisa Slodki and her Noise Crush videomontage project, though the electronics are less consciously filthy.
Joe Raglani had all of his gear stolen last year. His set at the No Fun Festival was marvelous, but the weekend was puntuated tragically when an entire car full of vintage electronic synthesizers and sequencers sped away right in front of him. He never did recover the equipment, but through a series of coast-to-coast benefit shows, Joe was able to recoup some of his equipment and last night's set was just as beautiful, clean, dense, and magical as any show I've seen by him. If you like the '70s Popul Vuh/Tangerine Dream/Klaus Schulze continuum of creamy, spacey synth sounds booping and beeping into infinity, you should check out Raglani with all haste, and check out some of his merch, too. (I especially love a tape he did in the duo Bryter Layter, but that might be long gone by now.)
Leticia Castaneda (California) was accompanied by Blake Edwards of Vertonen (who also provided DJ services, getting the crowd to its feet with everything from The Sodality's "And So You Shall" to Beyonce's "Single Ladies."). Their set was grounded in the monotone thumps and shivery keyboard/oscillator stabs of early '80s industrial music (think Esplendor Geometrico, no Nine Inch Nails). The two banks of electronic equipment fed back into each other, providing a nice range of textures and structures.
The Haters, those lugubrious lovers of loud lawlessness, started on a low-key note. We've seen funnels ground into nothing, ditto calculators; shovels have dug holes, grains of sand counted (atomizing a beach), holes punched in paper, staples shot into piles of LPs. If there's a way to destroy something and mic it, The Haters have found it. This one initially made no sense. GX Jupitter-Larsen and his lovely assistant (sorry, her name escapes me), dressed in matching black hoods, held two old-style suitcases (metal clasps, faux-leather sides), both with cables running out of them, which they good-naturedly bounced against one another, creating little bonk-bonks through the monster sound system. What the hell was this? What entropic principle was being employed here? Turns out, this was just a little prelude. Special guest Hater Steve Makita (of Lockweld and others) jumped up from his prone position on stage, holding a third suitcase and an angle-grinder (Makita's audio/visual weapon of choice). Said grinder being amped and plugged into the system, Steve laid machine to metal suitcase fastener. BRRRAAAAAAAAP!!! Sparks flying, audience members jumping back, cheering, but still backing away. BRRRAAAAAP! More sparks, the crowd going into primate gyrations. Even a small mosh pit broke out! Grins everywhere, older folks like myself stepping back a few steps. Meanwhile, the other two suitcases continued to bonk-bonk against each other; rather adorable, really. (Jason Soliday thought we were seeing the first-ever example of suitcase-fucking, but where I was standing, it looked more like little more than a mild case of suitcase frottage. Kids will be kids!) The smell of sparks and heated metal filled the room for several sets afteward. The Haters: noise that looks good, sounds good, and SMELLS GOOD.
Chicago's Ohio's Pete Fosco played "Watermelon in Easter Hay"-styled guitar emotions with a bunch of effects pedals smudging the picture. Very pretty!
Keith Fullerton Whitman played the same equipment on night two that he played on night one...a giant suitcase with so many knobs and patch cables, I couldn't even imagine what he was doing to make the sound. (I imagine its a synth much drooled over by people who frequent the Vintage Synth website.) Whitman seemed to have to fight his machines a bit more tonight, even admonishing them a few times ("no...you're supposed to continue to pitch downward, STOP BRIEFLY, and then start up again, not just stop!"), bonding him to the crowd. As the night before, I feel like his current setup is like "The Waste Land" of modern electronics — I can hear (even with my very limited knowledge of vintage electronic records) references to sounds and processes of past master at all turns, just as you can enjoy and marvel at "The Waste Land" as a collection of words, but which reveals even deeper truths the more you know about all the major religions and mythologies of the world. Bonus points also for Keith's shirt, a picture of a turtle playing a synth with the words "SLOW JAM" underneath.
I was as enthusiastic about Sunglasses and their set as they were. (I've since been told that I need to check them out on one of their recordings. I will.)
Puerto Rico's Cornucopia played in darkness, just a mixer and laptop that summoned deep storms of ultra-loud droning electronics. The sound of an ocean quickly being vaporized, a loud hiss above an unfathomable, watery deep.
Disgust appears to be a new power electronics group made out of other Chicago projects. Jason Soliday, Jim Haras (Deterge, Pyrrhic Thanatology Monger), and others (the project is listed as being from New York, so I'm guessing that I'm missing a member or two) blasted, screamed, started fistfights (really!), and all-around bullied the crowd for about 20 minutes. I enjoyed it, but I stood somewhere with easy access to the exit -- god help the people stuck in the bleachers during this one. (EDIT: apologies to the actual, full members of Disgust for naming the assistants while neglecting the owner/operators.)
Disgust (Photo by Syd Ortega)
Ryan Jencks (aka Sixes) again played under cover of darkness, burrowing even deeper into the low-end sound terrain. A menacing, but overall not very violent sound, a little souvenir for us to sleep on after another long night.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm missing day three to write this — more info tomorrow!