Waveswarms III -- Sonic & Visual Experimental event
The Foundry, EC2A, London
Thursday 28 January
The steep ramp leading up out of Exit 2 from Old Street tube could scarcely have been more treacherous if it had been littered with unexploded cluster bomb shells, so icy was its surface. Three hours into some serious snow -- for London -- the pavements, slushed up by the hordes of mulleted pedestrians (for whom the trendy parkas they’d been sweltering in all year were finally making some kind of sense) had instantly frozen. Somehow managing to inch our way the tiny distance to the ramshackle, heavily graffitied squat-style pub The Foundry without falling and fracturing our pelvic girdle, we found our way down to the darkened basement room where sonic & visual experimental collective Waveswarms was holding its third event.
The organisers, affiliates of an MA programme in Sonic Butchery and Voodoo at Middlesex University, had successfully engineered the environment to resemble something in between Mission Control at Houston and a dingy old garage. A screen at the far end of the room displayed a glimmering and oddly coloured starfield, while a couple of crowd control barriers, standing at odd angles, failed fully to separate the performers from the audience (who contributed to the ambience throughout the evening by receiving calls on their mobiles and periodically kicking over pint glasses on the concrete floor). Compering duty was shared by the affable presences of Dave ‘Sponde’ Lawrence and Kondrad Kinard, and the programme was mostly engrossing and occasionally unsettling selection of electronic atmospherics, vocal gymnastics, and improvisation on a range of instruments from musical saw to the aforementioned crash barriers.
Highlights for this reviewer would no doubt have included extraordinary vocalist Viv Corringham if I hadn’t arrived just at the end of her set. Imagine someone singing (unaccompanied and without words) the entire ouvre of Cindy Sherman. Also capable of unleashing some incredible sounds from her guts – this time of a vaguely Native American flavour – was Natasha Wilson, performing on this occasion with the drone-like electronic accompaniment of Sponde. This act was let down by rubbish lyrics: a series of phrases which use the word ‘time’, intoned gravely whilst torches are shone at some clocks, does not an insightful meditation on temporality make. Moreover, it is tragic and no fault of Sponde’s, that in the tranquil absence of conventional melody and rhythm my accursed brain found space to torture me with a loop of the chorus from Cindy Lauper’s chronic hit.
Robin Warren of Liberation Jumpsuit fame (any time now!) produced a dark set of lumbering beats and dyspeptic illbience. Konrad and Chun Lee (AKA Zero Ping and Soundvariable) combined more laptop shenanigans with what can only be described as songs, you know, with words and tunes. Clearly just trying to shock.
The evening climaxed with an all-too-short set by our mates on Cinestatic, Pete Wiseman (guitar) and Aled Rees (guitar, sax, vocals) AKA Soliton. Completely improvised, Soliton specialise in dramatic oscillations of atmosphere – from jagged, squalling and Beefhearty to limpid, reverberating soundscape – with Aled variously screaming and gently drone-speaking, insistently sharing passwords to somewhere vast, seething and impersonal. Juxtaposed with this was Nick Midgely’s spinning fields of triangular wireframe graphics, like an Asteroid arcade game with brain lesions.
The only thing that could follow such a set was the now traditional Waveswarms group improv. A peculiar architectural feature of the Foundry’s basement, a huge spinnable metal plate in the middle of the floor, resembling a 12 foot wide manhole cover, was utilised to bring both a random element and some order to this last performance (a lesson well learned from the rather shapeless hootenanny that ended Waveswarms II back in November). Beginning with Chun Lee on the musical saw, the players performed two at a time in a roll-on/roll-off sequence dictated by the wheel (which also contributed by punctuating the performance with the thunderous grating noise it made as it was “spun” – well, pushed as fast as could reasonably be expected). As well as the talents of most of the above, this segment also featured a chap playing one of the crowd control barriers with a paint roller through interesting effects, to interesting effect. Then, all too soon, everyone had had their shot, the lights were up and Foundry staff were entreating us to quit the building – but not before those remaining had a good muck about spinning round on the wheel. Roll on the next ‘great unware against the autocratic mediocrity of forces for control within the sonic visual production space’!