Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ever-decreasing circles for Waveswarms

Waveswarms IV
Bonnington Cafe
12 July 2004


Waveswarms went south for its fourth sonic experiment, to the Bonnington Square Café, centre of Vauxhall’s alt-community. The event was in a room the size of a largish lounge, with half the floor covered in cushions, the other awash with tech. In the absence of a bar it was BYO booze, and as with our last outing (Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players) you couldn't smoke.

The performances were very similar to previous ones: news-and-weather sample-based rolling soundscapes from Tom Cullis; incredible vocal gymnastics from Viv Corringham, subtly backed by Marina Venturini on laptop; haunting and sporadically rhythmic dronecore from Robin Warren (with amusing ’50s sample about homeland security dropped in the middle, and his trademark needless apology at the end); more wacky performance art from Sponde (“I like the wind, it has no boundaries”) with slightly more props this time (candles, a toy propeller thing, a black hood for Dave). Turns out the wall clock they shine torches at has sensors on it which affect sound – just not in an interesting way. Sponde make you seriously wonder (though not particularly care) about the extent to which, as audience, you're in on the joke - though (almost) all is forgiven when Natasha Wilson stops with the quirky aphorisms already and lets rip with her tremendous voice.

Soliton was pWiseman-less this time, but was an oasis of angry turbulence in an otherwise soporiphic lineup (as Viv had been in the first half). A chap called Rob performed jagged blippery on a laptop while Aled Rees saxed, guitared and hollered/chanted (choice lines: "I bought this fucking thing in that fucking shop down the road/they said it would increase my neural capacity by 15 billion per cent" and "I've got blisters on my inner self!"). Meanwhile, John Shaw was apparently carving sounds from some equipment he invented and/or found, but (due perhaps to his refusal to make any concessions to the fascism of the soundcheck - let alone (whisper it) rehearsal) his contributions were completely inaudible. Finally, Tom Castle got up and started up a really cheesy soft-rock mid-tempo instrumental in Cubase (possibly of ringtone origin), which he then selected a loop out of and messed about with until it sounded even more annoying. It was interesting to look at (he'd set his laptop up on a big pedestal so you could see it) but aggravating to hear. Then he did exactly the same thing with an even more grating slice of synth accordion. Distressingly bum note to end on. Shame there wasn't time for the group improv at the end, but I fear the Cubaser would have debased it.

The performances overlapped with one another, with the segues being among the evening's highlights (particularly Natasha Sponde's startling "Why don't you just shut up!" reply to Aled's first phrases on the sax - though we're extremely glad you didn't Aled!). The success of this carry-over from the wheel-spinning at the Foundry suggests to me that collaborations (planned and unplanned) should play a more prominent role in Waveswarms V.

Overall, however, W-IV was (relatively) disappointing - it's just getting a little too familiar. If Wavewarms (as it was called on the Bonnington cafe programme) was too in-groupy back at the 291, it's in serious danger of disappearing up its own arse, settling into a comfortable pattern that risks evacuating the music/performance of excitement. If the whole point is experimentation and innovation, then becoming formulaic is fatal. We demand more rigour and tension in our electroacoustic improv. More drama! More danger! Fewer cushions!

The mainstream is in desperate need of some creative dieting. While we're not asking 'Swarms to stage ambitious big budget feasts in west end venues, the underground does feed the mainstream in ‘seminal’ ways but this won’t be one of them (thousands will go hungry, etc). Go into Rough Trade/look on the web and you will see flyers for dozens of London-based audio(-visual) splashes, but sadly many are not getting beyond the coterie (i.e. their mates). Maybe they should all do a collabo, cut out the chaff and start pushing the sonic envelope to places where it will make a difference. (Give us a shout if you need any more suggestions...)
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