Deep Listening Band takes their bows

David Gamper, Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster

Saturday night after my long day with the Trimpin film and related activities I drove clear across town from the Lawrimore Project to the Chapel Perfomance Space to see the Deep Listening Band. I’ve long been a fan of the DLB, especially their earlier releases and I couldn’t pass up this rare chance to see them perform in Seattle.  They performed twice this evening at 7 and 8:30 and I had fortuitously signed up for the later show.  With all the activities I engaged in on that day I barely had a chance to grab a sandwich and make it to the show by 8:15.  The entrance to the Good Shephard Center was packed with the departing crowd from the 7 show and the arriving crowd for the next set.  It was though only a couple of minutes before we were ushered to the stairs and able to enter the chapel.  I secured a chair in the fourth row and went to check out the merch table which was being run by local record store Dissonant Plane.  There was a wide selection of Merch from throughout the DLBs history: their first album recorded in the Cistern Chapel to their latest double LP, Then & Now Now & Then.  I resisted the lure of the merch but talked a bit to Dissonant Plane co-owner Eric Lanzilotta who had recently returned from Indonesia. Before to long I returned to my seat and the show began.

Steve Peters, founder of the Non-Sequitur organization who puts on most of the great shows I’ve seen at the Chapel, came out to introduce the band and pointed out that both Non-Sequitur and the Deep Listening Band were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary.  After  few more words he introduced Pauline Oliveros, David Gamper and local treasure Stuart Dempster and the  Deep Listening Band took the stage.  After a quick introductory bow they took their places to general applause in the packed chapel.  Each member was sat in front of a laptop with various interface equipment as well as their acoustic instrument. Gamper on stage left with the Chapels grand piano, Oliveros in the middle with her accordion and Dempster on the right with his trombone and didgeridoo.

Along with their acoustic instruments they also were playing iPhones and and their computers through Oliveros Expanded Instrument System (EIS).  This system is basically a computer controlled system of delays and reverbs that route their sounds through a multi-channel sound reproduction system.  It basically replicates through technological means the deep delays of spaces such as the Cistern Chapel that the DLBs music so favors.  The piece they were playing tonight, DroniPhonia, with iPhones, Spatialization and Multiple Instruments (2009) also utilized the computer system for a random spatialization and where the sounds they generated would end up being amplified was constantly shifting.  The piece seemed to be partly the technology used but then a simple structural element:

DroniPhonia has polytonal drones continually morphing timbres, volumes and fundamentals moving in space.  Musicians listen to the drones and developed gradually overlapping improvised sounds and phrases – first solo and then between two then three players at a time in a slowly growing density and texture.” (from the program notes)

The piece developed as described but went through three basic sonic phases. It began with electronically generated tones from iPhones and perhaps the computers (my view of Dempster was somewhat obscured but the iPhones were clear in Gamper’s hands) that build up into a foundational wash. This built up in density but wasn’t overly loud in any way, it was a rich, multi-layered drone with changes in timbre and feel most likely from the randomly shifting spatialization.  After some time Dempster picked up his ‘bone and added in  beautiful long low tones that merged perfectly with the electronics while at the same time adding a warmth and organic feel.  After a bit of time Gamper switched to a small wooden flute and Oliveros picked up her accordion.  The drone now had three acoustic elements: the long tone hushed tones of the trombone, a high thin piping from the wooden flute and the steady pump organ sound of the accordion.  The electronic wash seemed to slowly die away and the drone became primarily acoustic, though manipulated by the EIS with reverb, delays and the random shifting of position. One of the most effective parts in combination with the EIS was when Dempster and Gamper were playing shorter tones with conch shells and you could hear these sounds coming from all around the room at various times. During this part Oliveros tapped on her accordion with her fingers and over the dying elements of the computer wash the performance took on a percussive aspect. This heralded the next phase of the performance which was made up of short elements: keyed phrases on the accordion, short tones from the trombone, gentle chords on the piano.  These shorter events coelesced back into extended tones and longer sounds and eventually returned to a pure acoustic drone where even the EIS seemed to be in minimal use.  From here it all faded away and then stopped and we all sat for three or four minutes in silence until they signaled the end.

Drone, like noise and certain other experimental musics suffers from the fact that it is rather easy to do adequately.  But merely adequate drone (and noise and so on) doesn’t satisfy, it lacks depth and resonance.   Expert construction of a drone taps into some deep primal part of the brain and entrances one completely.  As is so often the case it is a deep structure that is there beneath what may seem on the surface as stasis.  The music tonight was always shifting, always evolving and was never obvious. It did what the DLB does so well but moment to moment it was never exactly as you’d predict.  In the fading daylight of this beautiful day, with the windows of the chapel open allow the sounds of distant traffic, people at work and play, birds and wind the Deep Listening Band tapped into that true cosmic drone and put on a truly rewarding performance.

Check out all of my pictures from this event here.