Saturday, September 24

ErstQuake 2 Day II

Joe Colley solo

Colley came out from backstage with hands in pockets and stood to the
side of his setup. Quiet chirps and squeals came from his pockets and
the room, that change subtly as his hands squirmed in his pockets. He
crouches down and there are three little green bottles on the ground
that he puts the little noisemakers from his pockets into. He grabs a
mic and mics the bottles. Moving to his chair he settles down for a few
minutes to let the sounds work on their own. Moving to his gear, a wash
of sound build up, punctuated by clicks and jagged cuts. He grabs a
portable tape recorder and seems to mumble into it, recording and
overdubbing a couple of times. This is plugged into his mixer and the
volume and density of sound increases. After a bit he brings it down
and then goes into the audience to retrieve a device (tape player most
likely) from under an audience members seat. Returning to his console
he brings the volume way up, till it rattles ones very bones. After
rippling through various phases of this very high volume assault he
disconnects some of the gear, which partially cuts out then another
manipulation at it stops. He seems a bit disconsolate by this ending,
which at the time as I read as due to the emotion that he had poured
into the set, how much he had opened himself up.

I loved how this set began, it had much more of the subtly and
range of dynamics that I find interesting in this music. As before his
large lanky form, hunching to the console or crouched against the floor
as he generated his sounds added a drama you often do not see. The
eventual rise to extreme volume was inevitable and if there was
anything that I think would have driven this set even further would
have been had he circumvented our expectations in this regard.

Toshimaru Nakamura/Taku Unami/Sean Meehan

This set more then any other requires some description of the
musicians setup. They were in a tight triangle somewhat to the side of
the main performing space. Sean Meehan primarily played a cymbal,
placed flat on a snare drum with a dowel that he would rub to generate
these ghostly tones. Nakamura played his standard No-Input Mixing Board
and was facing the audience, the other two were facing him. Unami was
playing laptop controlled devices – a speaker cone with large shards of
glass in it, two motors with little paddles on them and a third motor
in a shot glass all of which are placed on a chair next to him. The
computer had a custom interface to a MAX like program that Unami was
able to control with a graphic tablet.

The lights dim and there is a bit of silence and then Unami
activates the speaker cone with the glass shards in it. Working with
nearly inaudible frequencies, what occurs is the glass shards rattling
against each other, caused by physical speaker movement generated by
the “sound”. Nakamura responds with a few pops, and Unami’s rattling
becomes a bit more sustained knocking one of the shards out of the
cone. As Unami replaces the glass Nakamura produces some gentle low
volume static and then a sine tone. Unami lets loose with an aggressive
burst with the speaker which rattles both of the glass shards out of
the cone and onto the floor. He replaces it with rocks and shells and
only quiet tones from Nakamura can be heard. At this point Meehan comes
in with the dowel on the cymbal, producing a complementary tone to
Nakamura’s higher pitched feedback. Unami meanwhile begins to use the
motors, which crawl across the desk, creating a scrabbling, whining
drone. This is followed by a burst from the rocks, which jump around,
rattling and colliding, some falling onto the chair. A more piercing
sine from Nakamura to which Sean’s bowed tones gel, creating a gentle
beating tone. Unami kicks the motors into a higher speed and they crawl
across the chair first one and then the other plummeting to the floor.
Meehan lays out and Unami runs just the motor in the shot glass with a
constant tic, tic tic, of the metal against glass. He lets this run for
a while and then stops and the set ends with a whirring static cloud
from Nakamura.

I was stunned by this set at the show, its quiet, delicate nature,
punctuated by the controlled chaos of Unami’s sounds was matched by it
being absolutely entrancing to watch. It was my immediate favorite of
the sets I’d seen so far but at the same time the question of the
impact of the visual element was unavoidable. I said almost immediately
that I would like to hear the recording of that to hear what those
sounds were like without that intensely engaging experience. Of those
queried many who could not see Unami’s setup were not as taken by the

Tomas Korber/Tim Barnes

Korber returns with his table of electronics and flat guitar, while
Barnes has replaced his gong with a mic’d snare drum and a small table
of electronics. Their set begins with amplifier hum and then immediate
washes of sound. Barnes pulls up the snare strap and builds an intense
feedback. Korber responds with increasingly louder, higher pitched
tones and matches the intensity of Barnes’s sound. This volume is
brought down a bit but still mostly a wash of sound with little detail.
With a twist of electronics Barne’s builds it back up, louder still
then before. This persists for some time before it is brought down
again. Barne’s moves back to the snare and manipulates a bell in front
of the mic, even hunching down to sing or hum into the bell. Korber
returns with some higher pitched tones that match this quite nicely.
Returning to electronics the set ends with a wash of white noise.

After the space and delicate nature of the previous set this was an
extreme contrast. For me there, was too little detail, too little
communication for me to get too much out of this set. This was one of a
very few where I was a little impatient with the set, the sounds were
so often just a wash of white noise and there was little depth. The
section with the bell was very nice and was the (all too short)
highlight of the set for me.

nmperign/Jason Lescalleet

A long table, with a Realistic analog synthesizer at one end, an
iBook with controller on one side, and then several cheap sample
keyboards at the other end. Also on the floor is several more of these
cheap sampling keyboards (Casio SK-1, Realistic, etc). Kelley, playing
the Realistic Analog and Rainey playing the iBook begin with single
notes. Lescalleet begins to tear off segments of duct tape that after a
bit of time he uses to tape down keys of the cheap keyboards. A strong
drone of notes is built up, in a kind of early minimalist feel –
delayed Riley, Theater of Eternal Music territory. The slightly out of
tune keyboards, create a slight oscillating effect as the notes off by
a few cents beat against each other. Lescalleet begins to sample the
output of another keyboard and then plays this at different pitches.
This increases the beating effect and as the intensity exceeds what
these cheap keyboards can do the sound begins to degrade which with
continuing sampling led to increased deterioration. They run through
this deterioration for a few minutes and then fade things out.

As a huge fan of drone music I enjoyed this set a lot. It reminded
me of Colecloughs work, but distinguishes itself from it with the decay
element. It was different from anything else over the weekend and it
was a satisfying exploration of the eternal drone.

Keith Rowe/Julien Ottavi

Rowe and Ottavi set up side by side with a table of computers,
radios and on one a guitar. Pre-set Rowe spent a lot of time tuning in
at least three radios, as well as setting up his guitar with the
headphones over the pickups. As the lights dim, both Ottavi and Rowe
begin with a dense static, wash of sound and then begin the radio
grabs. And this is what the performance became, an improvised
Cage-esque, overlapping layers of radio grabs, static and diminishing
mellow feedback. The grabs went across the full spectrum from news
reports on Katrina, commercials, a long bit in French, some dance
music, two very long hip-hop grabs all coming in and out of static and
conflicting radio grabs. During the second of the hip-hop grabs from
Rowe, Ottavi finds a string quartet drifting in and out of the ether.
As he waves the radio around, manipulating the choppiness of the tuning
Rowe, fades out all his radios and what sounds the guitar is still
making. Audibly he says to Ottavi, “Just walk away. Leave it and walk
away”. He gets up and repeats this in Ottavi’s ear and then exits the
performing area. A few moments later Ottavi sets down the radio and
leaves as well. The lights remain off with the classical music,
drifting in and out of tune for long minutes. They come back on to
applause, but the radio kept playing for a long time as people exited
the room.

I thought this set was fantastic, different from the other sets
we’d seen from Rowe and Ottavi so far. The Cage-ian radio manipulation,
so appropriate in NYC where Cage did so much of that part of his work,
was a conflicting contrast to the festival so far. The continuing
Katrina news, highlighting the state of America, cut up by vacuous pop
music and commercials was powerful. The ending classical grab,
especially in context with Rowe’s earlier talk about classical music at
the round table was a perfect and serendipitous ended. Additionally the
controversy that this set created, a deep divide between the audience I
think clearly shows it to be one of the most effecting and powerful of
the festival.