Thursday, September 22

Pre-Festival

Pita at the Tonic

I missed the openers for this show, arriving at the Tonic about 5
minutes before Pita’s set. He was up on the stage with two laptops on a
table. He started off with washes of sound building in volume quickly.
The sounds were typically solo laptop; washes of sounds, hums and
clicks. Never any silence but going more towards pure tones later in
the set. There were some buried samples, voices and sounds but none
recognizable nor overtly engaging. Overall a standard laptop set that
was nice but nothing special.

Friday, September 23

ErstQuake Day I

Mark Wastell/Tim Barnes

Barnes and Wastell were setup with two large gongs facing each
other with an arsenal of percussion items at their side. They started
off quiet with some gentle bowing and tapping but soon building up to
greater volume with both of them pummeling their gongs. They backed off
from this and returned toward quieter territory still primarily working
the gongs. Barnes then brought it up to the loudest volume yet, beating
the gong with two mallets in one hand while he held a metal object
against the gong. Wastell laid out completely during this, which due to
the setup Barnes was ignorant of. Eventually he brought it back down
and began a gentle, jingling sound in which Wastell returned to the
field with rare strikes on a smaller secondary gong. This increased in
sparseness till they ended.

While kicking the festival off with a fanfare I felt that this set was
a mixed bag. The beginning and the first ascension into intensity as
well as the ending were excellent music but the solo gong assault from
Barnes just seemed out of place and rather excessive.

Keith Rowe/Tomas Korber

Two tables, side by side with their respective guitar analogs along
with their supporting electronics and tools replaced the dueling gongs.
The set begins softly with a buzzing static that builds into a louder
feedback as Korber waves his guitar around in the air. This becomes
gentler as he lays down the guitar and begins to manipulate his
electronics. Rowe activates a fan which he hovers over the guitar and
then sets into the tangle of wires at the end of the guitar. He moves
on to manipulating the guitar with files, and bringing the headphones
over the pickups, generating more feedback. During this there was this
infrequent, but repeating whirring sound that was like the beauty of a
far away bird call. I was certain that there were repeated gestures
from Rowe that was generating this, but it continued on as he moved to
another technique, making it clear that it was from Korber. Eventually,
things fade out and becomes a thicker drone as Rowe places first one
and then another fan on the guitar. Much more digital sounding, but
corresponding sounds from Korber. This continues for some time until
Korber lays out and then Rowe looks at him and then stops.

A droney set, with some beautiful moments, but was ultimately not
very challenging. I enjoyed it, but I think it could have benefited
from some clash in the participants.

Julien Ottavi/Dion Workman

With the recent release of Misenlian there was a lot of speculation
as to what this set would bring. It began with silence that brought
into sharp relief, the rustling of the audience, the movement of chairs
and a repetitive knocking from somewhere else. Some digital pops appear
and quickly cease, a wash of white noise is brought up and then faded
out. Slowly a background hum becomes apparent and increases in volume
of the course of long minutes. Added to this is digital static and pops
and clicks. This all fades away into the room noise again.

The nature of this set makes it hard to comment on, more then
almost any other set this is one I’d like to hear a board recording of.
Regardless, I enjoyed this set, which I approached from a Cage-ian
perspective working the external sounds into the performance. The
knocking at the beginning was an item of much discussion as to whether
it was a sample or from next door. When queried Julian claimed it was
an externality.

Joe Colley/Jason Lescalleet

A smaller table toward the front of the room held Colley’s mixer,
mics and small tape recorders, while scattered across the floor are
Lescalleet’s four reel-to-reel’s with their tape stretched out between
them. They begin with Colley’s contact mics dragging across the floor
creating a scrabbling sound, as Lescalleet fires up his loops which
become an intense wash of sound, with loud pops and clicks. The room
feed becomes very loud, very visceral – you can feel it cut right
through you. At this point a stream of dust falls from the ceiling onto
Colley’s gear, startling me at first as I thought it might be water.
Lescalleet’s tape loop breaks and the washes of sound drop out,
revealing intense cuts, clicks and pierce noise from Colley’s setup
Lescalleet repairs his loop and checking up on him Colley moves away
from his station and pats Lescalleet on the head. Lescalleet gets the
loop running again and picks up his mics and tosses one in the audience
and another into the far corner of the room. They back down the volume
and then as suddenly as it began it was over.

This set was one of the loudest and most intense and featured
artists whom I am not very familiar with. It was by far the most
theatrical, with Lescalleet scrabbling around the floor, adjusting
loops and volumes and Colley, who is more than 6 feet tall, hunched
over his table and shaking and swaying to the noise. Musically it is
much harder to qualify, the powerful washes of sound certainly could be
felt and there was a noticable layer of detail to them. Ultimately it’s
lack of subtly worked against it I think, and while it worked as a
piece of entertainment it isn’t something that I necessarily would want
to listen to again.

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura

The music on the PA prior to this set was John Cage’s Sonata’s and
Interludes for Prepared Piano as performed by John Tilbury, which kept
playing for a bit as Keith first tested out some sounds and then began
to play. Rowe applied the fan right from the start creating that
guttering hum as pops and bursts from Nakamura found their way in.
Nakamura builds a layer of feedback and a gentle but increasingly
insistent drone develops. Rowe, fiddles with plugs and transformers,
eventually prompting first Barry Weisblat (who was recording) and then
the sound man try to fix the problem. With an announcement of technical
difficulties the sound ceases. Rowe’s transformer had blown and he had
to replace it.

The lights dim again and the resume where they left off, the drone
there but a new dynamic and tension. This builds in intensity and
Nakamura begins to ply sine tones against Rowes ominous wash of sound.
Eventually this heads into this crazy beaten driven radio grab, buried
in the static so that only its rhythmic pounding comes through. Against
this increasing staticy pops from Nakamura and slowly the beats
disappear and things begin to fade out. During this is a brief sample
of the earlier Tilbury piece and then it fades out to just a couple of
pops from Nakamura.

No set at this festival was more anticipated by me and it did not
disappoint. Nakamura seemed more active and upfront while Rowe explored
a wider space and allowed a dominating role for the radio. Both the
segments of this improv were very rewarding and while one would not ask
for the interruption, who can say what would have come without it.
While I do think that there were a couple of more successful sets this
was still a highlight of the weekend.

After the set I and a couple other people talked to Rowe for a bit.
We got into some discussion of the layout of Rowe’s setup and he
mentioned the cubist nature of it. I had spent the day previous at MoMA
and had noticed the large amount of guitars in the Picasso’s and other
Spanish cubist paintings. There was one sculpture of a guitar by
Picasso in particular that made me think of Rowe’s setup at the time of
viewing it.