Thursday, January 29, 2004

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’!

Further Reading
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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Lounge of Pleasure – Resonance 104.4fm
‘A free exotic, electronic, new breed event’
(free but donations welcomed)
Cargo, EC2, London
Tuesday 6 January

New year, new moans. What, from a gig hosted by trendy underground frequency abusers Resonance FM? Yep: insipid music, City-types proliferating, yeah-yeah-yeah-chat from the in-crowd, £3:80 for a bottle of Budvar. But our coterie of cullers was mostly left nonplussed by the event, the partial boon of the free entry long since forgotten.

Pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, who first got recognition in the late ’60s band Cochise, was first on the bill. He may have worked with rock greats Marc Bolan, Scott Walker, John Cale, Spritualized, the Orb and Beck, but he has also done time with Kiki Dee and Leo Sayer! Indeed his fallow period was the late ’70s but since his collabo with Cornish experimenter Luke Vibert he has the ears of the leftfield dance community. It is mostly those compositions that waft unsuccessfully over the crowd tonight, the dreamy, cascading riffs and gentle ambient rhythms failing to hook the crowd in. To be fair that crowd was as described seemingly far more interested in ‘catching up’ post-crimbo, and the guest chanteuse (complete with stereotypical breathy vocals) on Cole’s last tune seemed to clock this, registering her rancour at the non-receptive atmosphere.

Space rock/free jazz outfit Voltage came on next and though described as a cross between Sun Ra and Sonic Youth delivered exactly what you’d expect from my generic description. Projected juxtapositions of white and black people, reversed and turned upside down, offered visual parallels but did little to augment the supposed freeform nature of the music.

Of course the problem may have been one of disadvantageous set and setting: BJ Cole/Vibert’s cheesy meanderings probably do appeal when suffusing a lounge of comedown casualties. Certainly their Astralwerks-released LP Stop the Panic won many admirers.

Perhaps I was misled by the fact that you can hear everything and nothing on Resonance Fm. So while I expected a far more diverse affair their headz, DJs Jim Backhouse, Magz Hall, Jonny Trunk and El Minko Peligroso, decided to adhere closely to the night’s title and played us inoffensive variations of the laidback techno blueprint. Maybe that’s what the bright young things organising Cargo nights wanted. It just goes to show the inevitable problems the slow process of commoditisation of a genuine anti-marketplace, avant-garde idea can bring.
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