Sunday 9 December 2012


Aural Detritus 2
Phoenix Gallery, Brighton, Fri 30th Nov

Somehow, with the previous Aural Detritus concert series I managed to attend all three “cutting-edge UK improvisation strategies”. This time round, I reverted closer to type and only made the closing night. Which, needless to say, left me pining for what I hadn't heard in the other two.

Organiser Paul Khimasia Morgan commented ”more by accident than by design, tonight's performances all have strings in common”, to which I'd add all performances were relatively restrained and sparing. Both of which are of course grist to Lucid Frenzy's mill, where all-out free-jazz blurt is not the order of the day. (I can respect Ornette Coleman as much as the next man. Just so long as I don't actually have to listen to him.)

Considering cellist Bela Emerson is a local lass who performs regularly, and considering how much I've enjoyed it whenever I have seen her, I've succeded in seeing her a stupidly short number of times. This collaboration with Adam Bushell on marimba was the first time I've seen her collaborate, and I was curious as to how it would work. After all, her practise of looping and replaying her own lines effectively makes her her own built-in rhythm track.

As if acknowledging this, while still stamping on those effects pedals with abandon, she used loops more sparingly - giving Bushell space. And perhaps by result the marimba was less a rhythm track and more an active collaborator, appealing to those of us who like the way impro eschews instrumental hierarchies. At time the respective instruments seemed to be morphing into one another, Bushell descending on his bars with bows while Emerson drummed her fingers along her cello's body.

Last time I speculated that a reference to “long duration” performances was Aural Detritus' raison d'ĂȘtre. It was certainly duration which made this – it seemed to just get better and better, the collaborators throwing up new combinations like there was no tomorrow.

We were then shepherded into a smaller, bare room where we sat at the feet of Angharad Davies as she played unamplified, unaccompanied violin. Appealingly, her performance worked down rather than up. As she moved her bow further and further up her violin's bridge, the sounds became fainter and less recognisable as notes. And the less, the quieter she played, the further she pushed things to the edge of hearing, the more our ears were pulled in to what she was doing.

At points a newcomer to the room would probably have been dumbfounded as to what could be holding our attention so raptly. While we who'd been there from the beginning were committed to the path. Quietness and even silence become part of the vocabulary of music, like the way an artist can use white space in his compositions. Enthralling!

In a scene often dominated by gimmicks and gizmos, it was impressive to hear not just new but extraordinary sounds emerging from an instrument dating back to the Renaissance. In fact, so strange seemed the sounds I realised I had not the slightest idea how technically accomplished Davies was on the instrument. They could as equally have come from a complete novice as a classical master. (Though Davies' range is actually quite wide, click on some sound clips here.)

Here's something a little similar from another performance eighteen months ago, only not from Brighton and with industrial clanks as a backing track...

Up next, Dominic Lash was like Davies in a distorting mirror, playing acoustically and unamplified but more fulsomely on a double bass. In some ways he followed the same schema as Davies' set, starting out in the safe harbour of more recognisable chords before sailing straight off the chart. But the uncharted parts seemed more rudderless to me, as if he was spending more time seeking than finding. There seemed a Goldilocks point where it worked the best, as if the most abundant discoveries were at the fringes of the known. In all, a mixed set, but with high points.

Sarah Hughes (announced as “all the way from Withdean... that's Withdean!”) played zither, bows and amplified found sounds. It was one of those sets you find yourself wanting to like more than you actually did, there seemed to be more in there than was actually coming out. Her often delicate sounds sometimes fell victim to street noise, which doubtless didn't help. I would like to see her again before saying anything further.

West Hill Hall, Brighton, 15th Sept & 24th Nov

Though I have a huge amount of time for Colour Out of Space, some strange curse seems to stop me writing about it. I greatly enjoyed last year's Festival, and assembled a huge bundle of notes, which I never seemed to write up until it all got far too late. (Even for me.) This year, alas, there was no major Festival but a mere two evenings at the West Hill Hall. Which is a quite gloriously inappropriate venue for such out-there music, a Church Hall whose idea of stage lighting is plonking down a couple of tasselled standard lamps from some Fifties front room. (And this bring-your-own-booze business makes a Saturday night almost affordable!)

Setting aside ever-present compere Daniel Spicer, there seems strangely little social overlap between the two events. (Perhaps I should start some rumour of a feud between the two, accusing one side of lacing the other's samplers with tunes.) There is perhaps a difference of emphasis, Colour Out Of Space can tend to noise music and other wilder affairs, often with a more performative or even confrontational edge, like a cross between a gig, a pagan rite and a Fluxus happening. While Aural Detritus events can feel closer to recitals.

Take for example Mik Quantius, whose roots are in the Cologne metal scene and performed a shamanic-style set of droney chanting, even entering the room playing a drum. By which token I should be a bigger devotee of COOS, right? Yet life is a perplexing beast and I found Quantius' set to exemplify the tendency of impro sets to lack structure and fail to spark interest. It seemed to go nowhere and take a terribly long time to not get there. For a self-styled shamanic journey, it never really left the Earth. Of these three nights, it was the restrictive and sparing nature of AD which I ultimately found the most evocative.

Yet of course it's not a competition and needless to say I greatly enjoyed many of the other performers, such as Dutch free-form noise-makers Dagora. I probably enjoyed the second night more, but alas rather uselessly lost track of who was what! (Well these boho types keep swapping collaborators and identities, they just won't stay still...) I am perhaps not quite the devotee of Adam Bohman's found sounds as others seem to be, I tend to prefer his cut-up readings and deadpan comedy routines. 

Closers King Alfred Man of Leisure (most likely named after a local Leisure Centre) displayed the variety on offer by, in this world of free-floating duos and trios, being quite definitely a band! A droney, trancey band who would make Kraftwerk sound like Guns and Roses, but a band nonetheless. They triangulated the place where Sixties garage beats, lo-fi and out-there coalesce, and then peppered us with crossfire. One track was a steal from Faust's 'Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl', but then what better place to steal from?

Postscript! News is that the full Festival will be back next year. (Hurrah!)

Niether from COOS, King Alfred Man of Leisure in action...

...and Dagora starting off from somewhere with a lot of vowels in it and heading straight for outer space...

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