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Review Tue Jun 14 2011

Neon Marshmallow Night 3 wrapup: The Day the Grumpy Old Man Liked Everyone

NMF Logo 2011.jpg

Night 3. It's all over. While it's clear that I was far from enthused with everything that passed their year's Neon Marshmallow stage, Sunday was the kind of straight flush seen maybe one or twice in a poker player's life. Everybody on tonight's lineup kept the crowd on its toes, and the usual night three exhaustion didn't seem to creep in as it did last year.

Tiger Hatchery were deployed while the sun still cast through the windows, their bulldozer-jazz seeming especially profane in the daytime hours. A trio of sax (and occasionaly synth), bass (both acoustic and electric) and drums, the band plays very rockish progressions, one or two chords, but with a BorBrotzBetomagMan-ian bullishness that pushes through. Tiger Hatchery flutter and pound in lockstep, but it's their visceral directness and buoyant energy that should be the envy of more 'complex' players here in town.

Beau Wanzer played dance music. No, no, easy, easy, I liked it this time! Was I finally relaxing after three days? Nah, this was just good! Wanzer's drumbox and emergency-siren syncopations reminded me more of clonky early-'80s industrial dance, right at that point when industrial moved away from all provocation (TG, Cabaret Voltaire) but before Wax Trax! hammered the 95 Industrial Theses onto the front door of EXIT. Think Konstructivists, Portion Control, or Bourbonese Qualk. Portion Control, esepcially...a lot like this track, actually. A genuine pleasure, and at least sort of close to the 'experimental' music the festival promised.

From there, the night just ascended. I've seen Sick Llama numerous times in the past five or six years, and this was the best set I'd seen. There was an excquisite control of the tonal palette and great insticts with the shifting layers in the mix, and with an economy of motion, Heath called in small transmissions of radio wash and tape grind, adding creatively distasteful blurts of of distorted snake-charmer clarinet.

Mike Shiflet has augmented his gear quite a bit in the last few years, his guitar and laptop now joined by a couple of those slate-gray Trogotronic boxes with a dozen or more knobs that are completely incomprehensible to the lay person. Performing to a backdrop of homemade visuals (first it was closeup of budding tree branches, then an oscillating decibel meter, then closeup of the skin of a hand, and finally closeup of nettles on stalks), Shiflet created one of the few audio events that I felt didn't just warrant, but required multiple listens to grasp it fully. The final pulsing chords and resonant frequencies echoed in my head for several minutes after the piece was finished, and I found myself wishing I could jump back to certain key transition moments in the piece to experience them again or try to determine the logic behind the jumps from delicate tonal immersion into creation of Zbigniew Karkowski-an abstract monoliths. Somestimes, experimental music really is easy -- you know the punchlines, and you just wait to hear the timing that's used. Other time, like here, a piece runs on unexpected logic, and that's when it's the best. Top 5 candidate.

Telecult Powers used the same tools they did last year -- a classroom-style film projector, reflected into a mirror in order to expand it enough to cover a large white screen (though also rendering all the text backwards), pulsating synths and tape loops, and a strange, ritualistic air that included bringing the drummer of Tiger Hatchery to his feet and shaking a rattle around him. The film, I was later told, was about photosynthesis, though my initial guess was petroleum, since there was a gas-powered lamp shown. Telecult is one of those rare bands where the sum of the live experience is more potent and necessary than just the sonics. Without the strange, stretched science visuals, the two men sitting on the floor with their hand-sewn sleeveless jean jackets and their intentionally theatrical gestures, the sonics would be merely good. Taken as a whole, Telecult Powers ably held its own on a very potent night of sound.

Pulse Emitter is yet another vintage analogue synth guy. He seems equally at home in the realm of simulated "Music For Relaxation"-type new age gestures as more forceful '70s synth guru style. While Saturday's performance by Outer Space was the most professional, to the point where a record deal seemed immanent, Pulse Emitter's sonics were the most precise, and his transitions from mood to mood enhanced both sides of the equation.

The Rita was, along with Sickness and a few others, one of the few full-on noise acts this year, and inarguably the loudest and most physical. While Sickness attacked from several different sniper towers at once, The Rita's Sam MacKinlay shot the audience with riot cannon-grade audio intensity from the front, his multiple distortion pedals and fierce crackling textures filling body and mind through the augmented Bottle sound system. One could feel the sonics seeping up through the feet, while the face-forward attack was so potent, I felt myself bending backward like bamboo in a gale-force wind. Jumping back and forth between prickly popping noises and cascading sheets of timbrally precise static layers, The Rita live experience does exactly what it says on the can: it's harsh noise for people who like harsh noise. If you were a guy of roughly my height and build at the venue that night, you were probably last seen grinning ear to ear around this time, saying things like "that set made up for all of Friday!"

The final set of the night, by the legendary Morton Subotnick, was obviously the focus of everybody in the room. As Subotnick fiddled with his equipment during soundcheck, you could've heard a mouse fart in that room -- a first for the entire weekend! Even during what was obviously a soundcheck with extended periods of non-activity, the crowd was DEAD SILENT, ready to pounce on every sound coming out of Sutotnick's Buchla synth. We heard a lot of vintage (and vintage-style) synths over the weekend, but for all the great sounding Arps and Moogs and Korgs on stage, the sounds riccocheting out of this Buchla were on a different grading scale entirely, with its woody tones, crisp pings, and comfortable clarity even with multiple layers.As promised, Subotnick's piece incorporated elements of Silver Apples of the Moon and A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur, but with new elements added as well. It's multi-rhythmic (not polyrhythmic) layering of pulse-beats and squinchy textures was dense but comprehensible, and while I'd never be able to map the piece's sonic architecture even with a schematic, it was obvious to the ear and mind that there was no randomness to the sounds. The closest comparison I could come to in my head was Anthony Braxton's multi-language musics, his pieces where two and three compositions are layered togeter to create "sonic universes" in which each constellation has its own orbit which may or may not overlap with any of the others. Subotnick triggered his new elements with the Buchla's touch-sensitive keypad, and did so with great flourishes of the arms; he was clearly having a ball. At the end, the crowd erupted into a least a solid minute of applause, which Subotnick clearly appreciated. The crowd seemed to disperse quickly, it being Sunday and all, and perhaps because we all needed time alone with our thoughts.

After last year's exhausting but damn near life-altering festival, it's hard to give this year's fest equally high marks. While the addition of the word "Music" to the event's title (Neon Marshmallow MUSIC Festival) should have been a clue, I was genuinely surprised at how much of the weekend's sequencing was given over to audience-friendly dance music, and not even the kind of music you dance to while the empire goes up in flames, but just regular ol' escapism. It really put me back on my heels. Whether it was Altered Zones' influence, or just a shift in interest on the part of the organizers, I had a hard time trying to discern what the fest was about this year. Perhaps because the lineup was so truncated, the wide differences in style were more jarringly contrasted. Perhaps without dreck like Oneohtrix Point Never or White Mountains on the bill, the fest might never have made its money back. Perhaps I'm just cranky and want things to be my way. But the thing that kept coming to my mind throughout Saturday night was, "if you invite bad bands, you're stuck with bad audiences." That's why you get snickering idiots in the front row while Bill Orcutt opens a vein and pours it straight into his guitar.

Matt and Dan will no doubt continue to program their festival any way they see fit, and I wish them well in this. At the same time, after the brilliant conceptual continuity of the first Neon Marshmallow Festival, I left this year's event unable to imagine what happens next. I hope they can.

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Joel / June 15, 2011 4:18 PM

Thanks for the great reviews! I wasn't able to make it to this year's marshmallow, so being able to read about it was cool and made me wish I had been there, in spite of all the shitty dance music.

Joel / June 15, 2011 4:20 PM

Though I disagree with oneohtrix point never being classified as dreck

Chris S. / June 16, 2011 10:41 AM

Fair enough.

david / June 16, 2011 12:46 PM

Quality over quantity.....this year definitely surpassed last year. All the acts were different and had their own charm....whether it be rhythmic or straight up noise. The only act that I considered dance music was white rainbow....everything else was way to weird/abstract.

Ben / June 17, 2011 3:19 PM

Well, I gotta chime in and say Tiger Hatchery has no synth... just sax/bass/drumz. cool review though, chris!

Chris S. / June 17, 2011 4:19 PM

Ben: Mea culpa! I thought that was the case as well, but when I got there, Forbes was standing in front of a rack of synths with his saxophone. Since I missed the first few moments, I figured I just missed that part.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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