VINE PEST Vs TREE MAN | noisy immersive ritual shakes Berkshire…gently

Sunn0))) at ATP 2007

I was reminded last night whilst watching a performance entitled ’Ante Phylloxera’ by Rochelle Goldberg, Veit Laurent Kurz, and Stefan Tcherepnin at South Street Arts Centre in Reading, of just how awesome the drone metal band Sunn0))) are. And just how terrifyingly unsettled I became during their performance in 2007 during their set at ATP, Minehead. A decade ago! This memory has stuck with me. And it’s more than a memory. I can still smell the intoxicating dried ice, feel the deep drone vibrations, and shudder at the image of the Tree man (their some time frontman Attila Csihar) as he beckoned the audience towards his otherworldly faceless figure, with a long stick finger, on which was perched a stuffed black raven. Wrapped almost mummy-like in the tree mask (by artist Nader Sadek), his vocals conjured haunting resonances that ricocheted through the Butlin’s Dance Hall, reconstituting every splinter of its wooden structure. Dave Burrows claims that performance fictions can ‘open up new paradigms through privileging multiplicity or the mutation of relations’ and that this in turn can produce points where ‘new perspectives are explored’. Immersive ritualistic noise should distort experience of place, change perspectives, conjure new senses, and, to quote Burrows ‘open up new paradigms’. Otherwise we become a bit too aware of people performing, with costumes and props and masks and drift into a sleepy state of recalling past experiences that did in effect expose us to other worlds. It is probably counterproductive to compare the two but with its combination of branch head dresses, folk costume and sustained drone sounds, unfortunately, the South street performance that called itself after a wine was a little too like a watered down version of the Tree man and made me thirsty for the Sunn0))) vintage.

Ante Phylloxera

An exhibition of work by Goldberg, Kurz, Tcherepnin and Törnudd in partnership with Jelly runs from Saturday 14 October to Saturday 11 November 2017.
Unit 53, Broad Street Mall, Reading RG1 7QE, UK

(Top image: Sunn0))), All Tomorrow’s Nightmares, ATP, Minehead, 2007. Bottom image: Ante Phylloxera, South Street Arts Centre, Reading, 8 October 2017)

Little Noises, Big Sound | Rie Nakajima, Aki Onda and David Toop

Rie_Nakajima Purcell room

Rie Nakajima, Aki Onda and David Toop – Purcell Room – Queen Elizabeth Hall – Thursday 9 April 2015

The stage of the Purcell Room is a landscape of lanterns, cooking utensils, electronics and other assorted paraphernalia. The performers have set up camp and are busy fine tuning their base as the audience settle themselves; talking, bustling, taking off coats, fixing seats.. An indefinable atmospheric shift silences the crowd and an instant hush comes over the auditorium. A signal has been interpreted and the focus is now on the stage. The performers appear to giggle -as if the signal was inadvertent -and yet the event begins.

Nakajima starts by rearranging the camp; moving some of the lanterns that hang on wooden tripods to various new positions around the room and then systematically ‘setting them off’, a procedure that involves placing her signature tiny motors inside various assemblages and releasing them so they play in mechanical tension with whatever surface they are in contact with, in this instance the rustling paper of the lantern. Her understated calm walk seems to be as much part of defining the space as the whispering sonic loops that start to punctuate it.

This is post-digital. There are no computers in sight. Riffs are made not with software or loop stations but with mechanical motors, sculptural assemblages and later bouncing balls on upturned drum cymbals. Nakajima’s loops are punctuated by Onda’s whistles and metal clashes as he flings the cymbals to the ground, aswell as feedback from a small portable amplifier that he carries around the space and rubber-sole-squeaks as he moves across the polished wood floor with deliberate accentuation, at one point with bells attached to his shoes Morris-dancer-like.

Throughout, Toop adds texture with electronics and finally a woodwind pipe, emphasising the folkish elements of this ritual. All the sounds are small but build with determination, opening up like a night around a campfire, ultimately conjuring a jungle storm as if we are within a dense habitat of very small wildlife that becomes louder to the ear the deeper into the night (and the jungle) we are taken. Perhaps it is not incidental that Nakajima’s tiny motors are spiderlike and seem to multiply infinitely at her command.

Nakjaima spider motor

Ritualistic without overperforming the idea of ritualism, this performance was understated in all its parts but cumulatively somehow dramatic….. I am still not sure if I enjoyed it but I did feel like I had been taken on a journey and it is always good to start in one place and end up elsewhere. This journey was at times rough as I was dragged through some kind of jungle nightmare, and at times anxious as I was left to linger in the dark while the leaders made their plans, but eventually, as if the post-performance calm managed to retro actively ignite confidence into the sonic precariousness that preceded it, we reached a safe and contemplative dawn.

LITTLE NOISES | Rie Nakajima

Rie Nakajima

Japanese artist Rie Nakajima first caught my ears at the Purcell room, at London’s Southbank Centre in January 2014. She used tiny electronic assemblages to map out sounds in the grand concert hall. Her work, often described as ‘responding to architecture’ could be interpreted as sketching with sound; each sonic gesture offering a new impression of the space. She took us on a journey from inside the house grand piano up the steps around the seats and back across the stage in a rambling kind of goose chase -that challenged not only the concept of music but of performance. Virtuoso truly dead, she becomes unseen and we are lured into a sonic zone of articulation though understatement and slightness. Her movement purely functional rejects any hint of performative gesture. Echoing Cage, her presence acts merely as a sound enabler. And her sounds are small; playful secrets spoken in the hidden corners of this impressive space. They could be read as timid, and many in the audience were reluctant to listen as if such a quiet delivery demanded too much. But this provocation in itself was surely a wonderfully conceited position. Her little mechanical sounds whispered through the cracks of the building, claiming it for itself while possibly mocking the ghosts of grandiose musicians of the past..

Illustration by Milo Winter 1919.

Last week I had the chance to reflect on that experience as I witnessed Nakajima’s mini electronic orchestra put to test in a very different architectural space. Q-02, Brussels, hosted an evening of Japanese sound art as part of Performatik 2015. This time the audience was patient and quiet, attentive to every tiny ‘breath’ of the piece. The dramatic tension of the Purcell Room was missing. Although playful, the enquiry with paper flags and other various objects within this intimate studio setting seemed to lose its grip quite early on, and as we were very well prepared for a performance where ‘the little things take centre stage’ the understatement of it all was somehow too nicely delivering ‘on message’; cheeky conceit quickly dissolving into cute conclusions. The context somehow untethered the setup. But are we inevitably destined to be disappointed if we have great expectations of tiny things? Stay tuned as Nakajima returns to the Purcell Room next month to perform with David Toop.

School of Sound presents: Sound with Rie Nakajima, Aki Onda and David Toop
 Thursday 9 April 2015

(Illustration by Milo Winter, Aesop for Children, 1919.)

Noise at the University of Reading’s BA Art Degree Show 2013.

Naomi Davies | Let them have Pink!!

Naomi Davies Pinkification Opera

Pinkification explores the noise that is pink. In this mini opera that embraces excess through a collaging of techno beats and advertising imagery, I can’t quite decide if my senses are enduring or enjoying the assault. Pink screams at us as we are bombarded with the kaleidoscopic video. Snippets of flamingos, perfume bottles and handbags are just legible amongst an array of symbols and visual candy. And while all this is happening in the background, the figure in centre stage appears to be exorcising the word itself, with a set of operatic lungs and a terrified microphone: PPPPPPPIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKK!! She is eventually joined by a chorus-line that is as much Beecroft as Barney in its V-shaped formation. Adding to the frenzy they deliver each letter from P to K in an electro-pop style refrain. Visually seductive and sonically chaotic this is a sugary noisy feast that would be at home in a Baz Lurhman styled party at the court of Marie Antoinette!

Daisy Dixon | Causing a stir in the workplace.

Daisy Dixon Drone 2

The formal installation of Dixon’s Drone is impressive. Nicely sanded amplifiers create a curved line in the gallery space leading to a mammoth speaker box that people are hesitant to stand close to in case it emits an unannounced bellow. Suddenly three performers dressed like factory workers enter the space with an ominous synchronicity each clanking a sheet of aluminium as they march on set. Their poise is proud but they are clearly subordinate to something other than the desire to work. Is this Metropolis revisited? Have these workers awoken to a force that compels a new kind of action? As they proceed to create a variety of noises and sound textures with the metal sheets against the surface of the amplifiers, images of trains, planes, thunderstorms and industry are conjured. The workers are clearly being conducted by the foreman who with an unspoken agenda, guides them through a series of fluent movements. It ends perhaps a little too soon. Having given up on trying to make sense of the signifiers I am only just settling into the noise for the sake of itself. The power of the sound is impressive, I can feel it reverberating in my breastbone and at times deep in my gut and I would have liked to revel in it’s shattering aggression a little longer before being dragged back to the visual symbolism of the ritual. A journey through the drone of industry and modern life the workers clock in and out with a bang. They will be back tomorrow for one last shift starting at 12noon. Check it out!

Daisy Dixon’s Drone will be performed one final time on Wednesday 12th June at 12noon (sharp) at the Department of Art, University of Reading.
Pinkification and Drone are part of the BA Degree Show 2013. For details of the exhibition see:

RANTING REFLECTIONS at the DE LA WARR | Editions mego 170

de la warr cropped

Russell Haswell shakes the De la Warr Pavillion, conjuring up a a chorus of jackhammers to inhabit the modernist structure while just outside crashing waves offer energetic competition as they rise to the occasion. It’s a windy day in Bexhill and the Editions Mego are celebrating their largest ever live showcase. My favourite kind of festival is the mini-slightly-unsuccessfully-marketed kind where a small group of followers come together like villagers at a weekday mass. There was plenty of space to wander around and between the two stages with no fear of getting stuck in line for three hours at the bar or toilets and even less risk of breaking into a sweat on the return midst a heaving myriad of body parts. In the dark void of the large vibrating live space as I slunk into a pool of warm sonic indulgence, allowing Haswell’s demons to possess first my ear drums and then every part of my quivering frame, I got to questioning, as I often do at live music events of this kind, what the point of the live event is -that is – why do it live? Couldn’t we just whack on the PA and experience it at home? Why the need to share this space with a “small group of followers”? And why the need to stand worshipping the stage where there is nothing happening for our benefit? Don’t get me wrong, the sounds were pumping!! Mark Fell’s industrial slick smacked me where I like it and Kevin Drumms’ dark pulsating noise shot through my core. BBBBBBBBut I still can’t quite put my finger on why this form of music event needs to imitate that of the band format or vocal act where there are more performative, gestural elements that go some way to connecting the audience to the liveness of the event. My conclusion though perhaps somewhat banal is that, beyond the obvious better quality of the sound systems, it’s a communal and ritualistic thing(?) We just like doing these things en masse (even little masses) and we like following these social codes of order such as arriving at certain times and facing a particular direction (where there is promise of an author??/authority???/authorship???) and consequently having a communal experience with a bunch of other like-minded/would-be strangers. Upstairs in the GRM room the atmosphere is a bit more chilled, like a sound story room where we sit cross legged on squares of carpet and are entertained by multi-channel installations. While Hecker’s crisp articulations are arresting, humerous and almost Tom-and-Jerry animated,  I start to drift off during Ferrari’s ambient textural soundscapes. Somewhere in my half sleep between the feet of my fellow-followers and the murmuring streets of Paris I start to wonder -who are these people I am sharing this pilgrimage with? why is only one in twenty female? and have I fallen in with the Cult of the Dark Denim?

As Haswell’s FACTUAL joins my record collection I will be challenging my sound-system and testing for myself whether it lives up to, shortchanges or outshines the live attack!

Editions Mego 170 | De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea. 11/5/2013
Rant by Agent Akhmatova