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Sunday, February 5

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« Review: Gruff Rhys, Y Niwl @ Schubas, 6/9 Neon Marshmallow Night 2 wrapup: Night of a thousand neck-mics »

Review Sat Jun 11 2011

Neon Marshmallow Night 1 wrapup: The Lord Of The Dance

NMF Logo 2011.jpg

One-third of the 2011 Neon Marshmallow Fest has already come and gone, and with a new venue and a new emphasis on different types of artists, there's plenty to talk about, so let's get started.

First off, the Empty Bottle was able, as ever, to accomodate a wide range of sonic and visual requirements. Slide projectors and LCD projectors are scattered through various rooms, projecting curated images on the walls -- tonight's visuals were by Loo Tapes, and they ranged from washed out slides to viscous purple and green washes of computerized texture. There was also a giant print of a cat's head on the wall near the bar that was reproduced, ad nauseum, hundreds of times all of the walls of the Bottle's (ad nauseous) bathroom.

As for night one, let me get this out of the way first: not everything is for me. A lot of the acts tonight, while perfectly good, are not my cup of tea. Friday night was not alright for fighting, but it was just fine for dancing, and dance the crowd (sorta) did. While some drone and the occasional burst of free improv abraded the ears, a lot of what was served up was accompanied by either out-and-out dance beats (White Rainbow) or sequenced pulses (CVLTS, Mountains, Rene Hell, Lucky Dragons). Some of it pulled me in, others not so much. The crowd was obviously having a blast, and fest organizers Matt and Dan roamed from room to room in good spirits. It seemed like everything went smoothly from a logistical standpoint.

I missed most of the Experimental 1/2 Hour film presentation owing to misjudging the time it would take to get to the venue in rush hour traffic, but it looked to be a well-curated batch of avant-garde short films with various approaches. The one I saw had a ghostly, stuttering quality, pulling in and out of surgical footage, fashion imagery, and other detritus that hits your eye too quickly to register.

C V L T S is a well-regarded project that appears to be sort of a flagship act for the Altered Zones website, which helped sponsor the fest. C V L T S is billed as a duo, but I only saw one guy on stage (a film screen obscured the other) playing a heavily overdriven electric piano and some supplemental electronics. He was playing chords and arpeggios simply but effectively, achieving a trance state indeed comparable to real-life cult brainwashing music, while the visuals focused on a couple sitting in chairs on a beach, holding hands, while a triangle (pyramid?) of human transcendence hovered before them in the middle distance. I'm not lying! See for yourself:

C V L T S - "ANGEL CHROMOSOME" from Zahid Jiwa on Vimeo.

I had to miss Spiral Joy Band owing to a sudden emergency that I needed attending. My apologies to them.

For me and my ears, the trio of Michael Zerang, Michael Colligan, and Jim Baker were the highlight of the evening. To call these guys "veteran improvisors" still seems to underwhelming -- their reputation in Chicago and worldwide for sonically bracing sound exploration is hard to rival. I've seen Zerang in performance dozens of times, but I've never seen him as focused on textures as I did here. Eschewing a full drum kit (to be fair, it's not a large stage) for a single snare drum used as a resonator amplifying small objects, Zerang created scratch music of high contrast and diversity, using wooden back scratches, small metal objects, and other unidentifiable items to create a gravel bed for the other performers, sounding more like a sonic outfit like Small Cruel Party or Hum of the Druid than a even the most non-idiomatic free improvisor. Colligan abused his block of dry ice with heated metal objects like tea kettles, keys, and large cans rolled and spun over the ice. Sounding like a one-man AMM, Colligan's dry ice screeched with metallic urgency, and combined with Zerang's tactile sonic approach, it's hard to separate who did what. In contrast, Jim Baker's high-speed electronic interjections brough a more direct electronic interface. I've seen Baker's electronic rig before in several ad hoc groups, and also part of the much-missed quartet Jumper Cables (with Zerang, Kevin Drumm, and Don Meckley), and it's always interesting to hear his mental process working mile-a-minute at all times. The first few minutes were slow finding common footing, but as the improvisation started, especially as Colligan and Baker stopped to listen to Zerang solo on a (perhaps mechanized) snare-resonated ringer, the group started lifting up, Colligan's hot teakettles sending the ice into spasms of pain while Baker flooded the canvas with thousands of blips and pulses. The trio told a story that only a few can tell, and the crowd thanked them for it.

James Plotkin, mastermind of dozens of projects from metal (Khanate, Khlyst, O.L.D.) to beat-heavy to droney, here opted for door #3, creating resonating drones occasionally puntuated with guitar chimes and other ornamentation. Enveloping and luscious, but not personally compelling to me.

Mountains are from Brooklyn, and their setup included synths and electronics, but also some guitar and other conventional instruments. As I listened, I kept thinking about Mike Oldfield, and however much his name's become a punchline in recent years, the comparison is no insult. The interlocking patterns of synth sequencers took simple chord progressions into evocative terrain, with a deep undertow of pastoral melancholy. Certainly, the way the puzzles pieces fit together reminded me of the middle sections of both sides of Tubular Bells, but equally of more gauzy works like Hergest Ridge. Pretty good! Or rather, Pretty! Good!

Rene Hell is the latest project from the creatively restless Jeff Witscher, who is also known for his harsh noise projects Impregnable and Without Belonging (the latter a duo with Jon Borges of Pedestrian Deposit), synth-based ambience in Marble Sky, and something in between those two poles with Secret Abuse. Rene Hell is Witscher's most song-based project yet, using synth sequencer patterns to set up catchy little melodies over which he interjects noisy squiggles that act as solos, catchy riffs that burst out into full-on songs. Again, there was a nice undertow of melancholy just beneath the chirruping arpeggios. The third song (of four, I think) skittered and tumbled like mid-period Autechre with a low drone centering the whole thing like a tambura beneath a raga. I laughed, I cried, I bought a tape.

White Rainbow was about one thing, and one thing only, and that was dancing. After a short, swirling intro, a bunch of big, dubbed-out beats rose up, and the crowd responded in kind by heatin' up the dance floor. Mr. Rainbow got on the mic several times to talk with the audience and thank us for "supporting the freaks," which I guess he thought he was. While fine for what it was, it was very hard to tell what this was doing on the lineup. Juno 6-style pitch bend solos were the order of the day, and that's that.

Lucky Dragons navigated similar terriain -- considering that they were the headliners, I was a little surprised they played so quietly. For the first few minutes, I thought the DJ was still spinning, but there they were on stage! Again, it was beaty and dancey, but it wasn't for my ears. And I knew that going in. Neon Marshmallow encompasses many shades of music and sound, from pretty pastels to shit browns, and tonight was largely centered around the former. However, with heavy-hitter noise acts like Sickness, The Rita, Sword Heaven, and Telecult Powers still to come, the spectrum will darken. And then your correspondent will smile again.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

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