Sunday, 30 October 2016

KANDINSKY – THE PATH TO ABSTRACTION

This is a reprint from Ye Olde Print Days of Lucid Frenzy, on a Kandinsky exhibition which was on at the Tate Modern a decade ago. But it does serve as a sort of intro to a brief series on abstraction and semi-abstraction in the arts. Instalments will chiefly be on exhibitions already gone, though not as gone as this. They'll inevitably be interspersed with gig-going adventures. Oh, and that's 'Cossacks' (1910/11) below.



”This exhibition follows Wassily Kandinsky’s intriguing journey from figurative landscape painter to modernist master, as he strove to develop a radically abstract language.”

Sometimes it’s all too easy to react. What’s more, the rarified air of galleries can stir this in you. You find your brain vying with the documentation and curatorial efforts, as if they’re all part of some conspiracy conjured up to keep us apart from the pictures. (Albeit a conspiracy conjured up by the very people showing us the pictures.) I do this myself and I know I do.

Of course the world has no shortage of educated idiots, and with Modernism in particular there’s aspects that are almost always (if not consciously) suppressed. But if all you do is react you’re never actually acting – you’re just being somebody else’s mirror image. It’s more likely the problem here lies in reducing art to mere words, and in so doing tying it down to a neat narrative.

‘The Path to Abstraction’ is more a sound-bite concept that fits neatly on a poster than some plot. But it's still reducing Kandinsky's career to a “path”, a “journey”, a series of linear “developments” we can cut up neatly into successive rooms like marking it out with milestones.

The exhibition “focuses on the early, exploratory period of his career, as he moved from early observations of landscape towards fully abstract compositions.” (So says Kate Pau in the catalogue). The first two rooms therefore offer us the Fauvist Kandinsky, but their benefit in being there lies in “offer[ing] a foretaste of his later explorations into the use of colour”.

This skating over Fauvism is so common as to be almost orthodox. Fauvism is like the middle child who parent attention skipped over. Indeed, it suffers from something of a double whammy. See Modernism as a linear series of formal innovations and Fauvism becomes incidental, a staging-post, a way-station on the road from Impressionism to Expressionism. On a more popular level, Fauvism lacks the big hitter that can turn a Tate show into a blockbuster. No Monet, no Picasso, no Dali. (Matisse is the exception to the rule, except he’s rarely popularly associated with Fauvism.)


Personally I find Fauvism, with its solid blocks of bright and often unexpected colours, somewhere I’m happy to linger. (See for example 'Landscape With Factory Chimney', 1910, above.) I enjoy the similarity not just between it and folk art but much commercial art. (Commercial art presumably uses the style more due to skimping on printing processes than any fancy philosophising. But then so did folk art.) But mostly I just enjoy it, the juxtaposition of realist and non-realist styles appeals to something deep in my brain I couldn’t vocalise. (Something Kandinsky himself would have been proud to hear!) I even found myself taking a guilty pleasure in the perspectives used, the key element expunged by abstraction, like indulging in the last piece of chocolate before Lent.

Try this for an angle: “Kandinsky’s paintings during the years immediately preceding the First World War often convey a dramatic sense of a world on the verge of destruction… An artistic revolution was also underway, with Kandinsky emerging as one of the key figures.” Now just wouldn’t that make a great montage on 'The South Bank Show', World War One trenches morphing into Kandinskian colour and all that? From this angle the pictures are scanned for elements representing cannons and swords, as if it was the violence of the world around him which drove Kandinsky off into the arms of the abstract.


In 'The Last Judgement' (1912, above), for example, a figure is described as cowering before a trumpet. Now there are dark paintings on show here, but they all follow a fairly simple code. One of the codes is that they’re always …um… dark. This one could hardly be painted in brighter colours and still be visible without sunglasses! Moreover, the “cowering” figure may possibly have her hands over her ears, but could as easily be said to be kneeling in prayer. Compositionally she’s not recoiling against the trumpeter but facing the same way. It’s like they’re alongside each other.

Certainly, Kandinsky was no bloodless New Ager who shied from savagery. All his works of this era have a dynamic, convulsive quality, and there’s often a sense that they are storms. But there’s a greater, and finally overpowering, sense that they are dances.

I see Kandinsky as a more spiritual than political figure, always asking what was universal and rarely what was particular. With bombs going off around him, he’d probably just ponder the mystery of the purple rectangle regardless. I don’t imagine war somehow ‘abstracted’ him from the world and I don’t think he was ‘driven’ down that path in any case. If there is a narrative journey towards abstraction here, it’s one of revelation more than damnation.


His great compositions have a sweep and swirl to them. (See 'Improvisation Gorge',, 1914, above.) As you stand before them you won’t fix on their entirety so much as take in one then another element, you eye being pulled backwards and forwards like exploring a city across it’s criss-cross tramlines rather than surveying it from outside and above. His favourite Biblical image, the deluge and flood, is partly a metaphor for the journey from solidity to swirling liquid. 

If the hippies hadn’t run off with the word, we’d be able to call Kandinsky truly cosmic. The transition from Room One (Fauvist) to Room Nine (Abstract) merely mirror the changes he hoped to see in the world, changes he hoped to help magic into being by depicting them. He’s not fearing apocalpse but pining for revelation, the time we can just cast off the outer forms which divide everything and inter-mingle.

Kandinsky asked the viewer, should they notice any representational elements, not to comment on them. But there’s more to this than just good manners, like not telling the critic whose just been on the Late Review his flies were undone. The best way to approach these impressions, improvisations and compositions is to just go with the flow, open yourself up to their suggestion. If one thing looks like a face, a boat or a ladder and another just the sweep of a line, don’t dwell too much on the distinction.

In life our sight passes between 'abstract' and 'non-abstract' images all the time. Walking down the street our eye might flit betwen on a pattern of cracks in the pavement and a tree or a shop window. This doesn't cause us much concern, so I don't see why it should if the two things were in a painting.

Pretty soon the sense that these pictures aren’t completely abstract, and the attendant notion that it’s hard to tell when they are from when they aren’t, stops being a problem and starts becoming part of the pleasure of looking at them. It’s like listening to a song or reading a poem. By seting yourself the task of deciphering it you’re just going to bypass the point for the sake of a thousand trivial details. We’re here being asked to do the same thing the other way up, expunge the representational for the sake of the abstract. But it is the same thing – and it’s not the most useful thing.

And all art is abstract if you choose to look at it that way, an arrangement of lines and coloured shapes on a canvas. Abstraction in art is like ambience in music, more a way of looking at or responding to art than a way of creating art. Even if some works try harder to evoke such a response, all can be responded to that way. Equally our eyes are adept at picking scenes and images from clouds or out of the grain of wood. When we stop to look at a painting we can sometimes listen to the polemicists more than we do our own senses. We shouldn’t.

Partly the problem comes from the ‘ism’-ness of Modernism, which in a way was the supreme ‘ism’. Modernism was widely written about, in fact in some ways it existed to be written about in a way previous art movements hadn’t. The art most written about is often that which is most easily written about, which takes a concept or theory and exemplifies it. But the art best remembered is often that which takes a bunch of seemingly incongruous or even contradictory concepts and notions and holds them in perfect balance.

This problem could even turn inward, like a particularly nasty toenail. Modernists frequently felt obliged to come up with grand high-faulutin’ theories to justify their daubs, and it wasn’t always to the work’s benefit. Mondrian was a classic example of an artist who was far better when just flailing around, before he boxed his thinking up into his grand scheme.

Kandinsky wrote voluminously, if not always coherently. But perhaps the secret of his talent is that he was willing to follow his nose. Draw something over and over, and pretty soon it will start looking more and more codified. When you see yourself doing that, you can fight against it (like you’re supposed) or go with it to see where it takes you. I suspect the origins of Kandinsky’s abstraction lie far more in such roots than in any grand narrative of advancing art.

And his paintings are great not because they finally reach the point where they expunge the representational for the abstract, but because they mix the two up so... well, I think the word is carelessly, though in the positive sense. Ernst employed a thousand tricks and devices to leave the viewer unsure what they were actually looking at, as it created a potent ambiguity and forced the viewer to take a far less passive role. Kandinsky just swung it like a natural. His great paintings are like that song or poem you figure must be about something but can never quite pin down to what, so you always want to go back to it.


Perhaps another weakness of this “path to…” stuff is that we only get one tiny room at the end for the later, geometric Kandinsky (such as 'Circles On Black', 1921, above) – as a kind of post-script. Of course there might well be too much to the man’s career than could be captured in a single exhibition, but there’s significance in fixing on the beginning and middle of the story rather than the finale. These Bauhaus-era works may appear more stately, more considered than the convulsive early abstracts but ultimately they’re my personal favourite Kandinskys.


Coming Soon! More on abstraction and semi-abstraction in the arts...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

THE LENS OF LUCID FRENZY IS IN CHICHESTER

After posting photos of Newhaven as part of my Fort Process review, I seem to have inadvertently set off a short series of photos of Sussex towns. Regular readers may be under the impression I only visit the place for the Pallant House Gallery. Whereas I actually also visit the Cathedral which - strange but true - comes complete with it's own collection of Modernist art.

As ever, full set on Flickr.







Sunday, 16 October 2016

JESU + SUN KIL MOON/ BEN OTTEWELL/ DAMO SUZUKI (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

JESU + SUN KIL MOON
Concorde 2, Brighton, 19th Sept


After the last Sun Kil Moon outing my response see-sawed between gig and CD review. Please expect the same here. Only this time over the eponymously titled collaborative album given away in the title...

News of this meeting of minds between Sun Kil Moon (aka Mark Koselek) and Jesu (known to his mother as Justin Broadrick) was received in Lucid Frenzy Towers the way others responded to the recent team-up of Scott Walker and Sunn0))). As the record shows, I greatly enjoyed both Sun Kil Moon's last visit to Brighton and Broadrick being back with his original sparring partner in Godflesh. But those gigs had little to nothing in common with each other. Would the two talents get together to serve up a tasty sweet and sour, or wind up with a chalk and cheese?

The subject matter of the earlier album 'Benji' was death, death and more death – roughly in that order. When an old man faces unjust incarceration it comes as virtual light relief. And Death gets a look-in on the new album too. But overall, just as the music gets heavier, the lyrics get less so. The line from the opening song “the sun's gonna come out and shine,” referring to a storm passing, seems emblematic. Which works well. Broadrick serves up riffs which double as fuzzy, numinous drones. And as noted here numerous times, very heavy music segues into the very sublime strangely easily.

The collaboration often comes across as a kind of a sensory overload, like you're getting it from both barrels. Koselek outpours his torrents of words as Broadrick unleashes his beats. Music is normally turned down to magnify the words, like it's relegated to sidekick status. Here it's turned up to match them. It's the same trick as the insistent lyrical loghorrea of the Velvet's 'Black Angel's Death Song', even if the effect is quite different.

Koselek often sings in a breathless semi-mumble, the very opposite of an actor in-to-na-ting his woo-o-ords. While the lyrics recount details, often trivial in themselves, in a way that's somewhere between diary entry and stream-of-consciousness – three lines in and he's visited his bank. 'America's Most Wanted' contains the refrain “that's an account of my last few days”, but it's a line which could describe almost every song. Perhaps significantly, the lyric sheet has no line breaks but presents the whole album as one free-flowing screed.

Let's go back to that opening track, 'Good Morning My Love', as a key to how the thing fits together. It follows Koselek going about his daily tasks, while his mind constantly drifts back to a line from the documentary he watched the night before “that played over and over in my head all night/ What does 'rekindle' mean?” Koselek's a direct songwriter. If there's snow on the ground, he tells you there's snow on the ground. If a sweet tastes... well, sweet, he tells you that. I don't think he's posing us a philosophical question, or setting us up to see rekindling as the theme of the album or anything of that kind. The songs don't make points or try to construct an argument so much as convey a perspective or an experience.

What does rekindle mean? It probably says on Wkitionary, but it's irrelevant. He talks of the line “playing”, like the phrase is a tune that's earwormed you. He even refers to it as “that line in my head, it just keeps going in a ring”. And it's that experience, not the phrase itself, which he's reliving. The phrase becomes more like a mantra, something the mind focuses on irrespective of it's content.

And when the music's placed over these words, it acts as a kind of filter. Place psychedelic music over words and everyday terms start to sound strange and surreal. (Lennon singing about “Blackburn, Lancashire”.) While Broadrick's fuzzy drones make a stray line from a documentary feel numinous. The often dry details of Koselek's life become like one of those dreams where everyday events somehow seem significant. The mantras get magnified.

And once you have that filter, you can take it and place it over what you did yesterday. I am about the last person who'd ever sign up for one of those hideous New Ages courses in “mindfulness”. But if we were to start treating our lives as if the details of them matter, then those details might start to matter. As a letter from a fan, read out on the album says, “it inspired me, as only good music can do.”

For accuracy's sake the music veers away from this sound as the album goes on, closing on a long track that's virtually easy listening. But anyway, there was also a gig...

Last time Koselek played in a Church with the evening sun in the windows, in what felt like a solo set which happened to have a couple of extra guys involved. This time it's a rock venue, and they're very much a band with Koselek as the frontman. He cheerily boasts of the sheer Spinal Tappery of having a bassist with six strings and a guitarist with eight, while not touching an instrument himself.

The band play laconic, hypnotic riffs while Koselek unleashes all those words over the top. (So many he often needs a crib sheet to hand.) Every now and then this misfires, the words and music don't quite synch. ('Song of Shadows', my absolute favourite song from the album, alas isn't served well by the version here.) Koselek's songs are so unmediated, so in the moment, that live many be the best way to hear them. But they may spill out better when he can have his fluidity, where there's less of a band unit sticking to a set list. However, when it does work it becomes as mesmerising as the album.

We've only just got used to this found-Jesu sound and already there's many new songs which take another direction. After my only just telling you Koselek doesn't normally write songs to make points, here's a clutch of numbers which do precisely that. Rather than fuzzy and drone-based they're tighter and sharper, more strident. Lyrics are much more political and on the nose, covering gun control, our great friend Donald Trump (Koselek insists if he came as a surprise we weren't paying attention) and the general state of America. We may come to see this forthcoming album, yet to be titled, as his protest album, perhaps his version of Lou Reed's 'New York'.

My favourite point in the whole thing, though, is when on 'Last Night I Rocked the Room' he reads a fan's letter warning him against listening to the hipsters who “like you only because of 'Benji'.” Which was of course my jumping-on point. Craft beer, anyone?

'America's Most Wanted' and 'Exodus' from Paris...



BEN OTTEWELL
Prince Albert, Brighton, Sun 9th Oct


From unexpected team-ups to unexpected solo sets. Ben Ottewell of the great Gomez going alone... It was one of these events which piqued my curiosity, but about which I had no expectations whatsoever. Ottewell's songs do tend to be my favourite of the band's. But while I was dimly aware they inhabited separate bodies, and didn't necessarily all living together in one big house like the Monkees, I very much thought of the band as a band. Like their playing, their songs complemented one another.

The gig turned out to herald a forthcoming solo album (as I was to discover, his second) and he was armed only with a solo guitar and – befitting his fledgeling singer-songwriter status – the shaggy beard of the folkie. It's bizarre to recall that, on first seeing Gomez, I couldn't conceive how such young shavers, looking like they were in town for Fresher's week, could be playing such timeless music. Slowly but surely, Ottewell is starting to resemble someone from one of his songs.

With Gomez still a going concern, Ottewell's solo songs present quite a different face. And this was accentuated by his playing not only old but almost entirely early Gomez numbers. The new songs are... well... more songy, less based around anthemic chorus lines and with less of the soulful baritone vocals that might seem his trademark. 

A contrast which did make the new songs seem more 'hard centres' than those of yore, a taste that needed a little more chewing on. The new songs are strong, they're just more in the strong and silent vein. Which is unavoidably exacerbated by the more familiar songs being also the more immediate. The Gomez songs would quickly lead to audience singalongs, the new songs not.

Yet what they do have in common is their unhurriedness, their willingness to proceed at their own pace. Early on he played the classic 'Free To Run', a song about walking places sung at a walking pace. And in the sound-bite instant-fix world we inhabit, that's a cure for what ails yer.

Not from Brighton, not actually from a gig but a sofa. But a new song...


DAMO SUZUKI'S NETWORK
The Hope & Ruin, Brighton, Tues 11th Oct


For those not already in the loop... ex-Can frontman Damo Suzuki has embarked on a never-ending world tour, playing entirely improvised sets with local musicians wherever he might land, and I have been much taken by his previous visits to Brighton.

One cool thing is the way that each time not just the players but the instrumentation changes. Beyond Damo's vocals this line-up consisted of guitar, keyboards, cello, violin, drums, congas (by the inimitable E-da of Drum Eyes and Adrena Adrena). Plus a hippy girl sat on the floor, whose remit seemed to be “do hippy stuff”. She'd dong bells, hit gongs, play various bits and pieces of percussion but at other times waft incense or do precisely nothing at all. When she stood up to blow bubbles from a pipe, it was a veritable bubble solo.

And what might seem the most superfluous role, the Bez of the band, came to epitomise the whole thing. Despite looking like she was doing her own thing in her own time, she somehow always worked with the other players.

At one point, a melodic line was split between cello, violin and keyboards, each playing their snatch of it in quick succession. It's the sort of thing you'd imagine requiring not just a composer but an arranger, painstakingly transposing the parts to the players in rehearsal. And yet they just fell into the thing spontaneously on the night. It's a testament to the power of collective effort that such a thing can be done.

Perhaps with there being more players, or with the higher proportion of non-rock instruments, there was less of everyone finding a riff to climb aboard. Instead the set was more varied and dynamic, slipping into lyrical quietude before rising up into great flurreys, then abandoning them for the next thing out there.

Back in the day, Damo must have been the youngster of Can. And I'm not sure if this pans out quite so exactly, but I think he might have played with younger and younger players each time I've seen him. It's like he's become our tribal shaman, drawing new generations into his sound world then moving on once the ritual's complete. At the end he left the stage to let the others come to a climax, as if to say “my work here is done”.

And in a way, there's more of a DIY spirit to the enterprise than there was with punk. It exudes the sense that all you really need to do to make this music is to surrender yourself to it. Of course that might be something of a romaticisation on my part, and if I start to tell you I'm reforming my student band based on his example please slap me back to my senses. But at the same time it's precisely the right attitude to take.

This live clip includes the bubbles solo...


Postscript! After writing about Swans twice over, I figure I've little to add after the most recent gig. But the good news is that, after rumours the band was winding up, they played a couple of new tracks. Here's one. (NB It starts with audio only...)


Coming soon: Tis the season for gig-going adventures...

Friday, 7 October 2016

'TEMPTED BY SYMMETRY' (ANOTHER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST)


It's about time we had another Spotify playlist around here. 

Regular readers will recognise some of the bands from gig reviews. Me, I like to imagone this one earn it's title by achieving a symmetry between out-and-out tracks such as Föllakzoid's nine minutes of driving trance, and epic songs such as Hole's stirring 'Northern Star' (with it's classic cry “blessed are the broken”). It all peaks with the shot in the arm of Wire's 'Spent', after which no more really need be said.

That illo is Dali's great Surrealist painting 'Sleep'. (You know that already, right?)


Föllakzoid: 'Feuerzeug'
Jesu & Sun Kil Moon: 'A Song Of Shadows'
The Blue Aeroplanes: 'What It Is'
Jah Wobble & The English Roots Band: 'My Love's in Germany'
Current 93: 'Moonlight, You Will Say'
Hole: 'Northern Star'
Josh T. Pearson: 'Sorry With A Song'
The Tiger Lillies: 'Reap What You Sow'
Swans: 'Will We Survive'
Sleep: 'Aquarian'
Wire: 'Spent' (live 2005)

”Trapped inside a world under leagues of ocean
The clergy arrives with the magic potion
I put my mouth into the cup of potion
Sip down the nectar and escape the ocean”

Saturday, 1 October 2016

BEGOTTEN/ MYSTERY DICK + YOAF (GIG-AND-FILM-GOING ADVENTURES)

BEGOTTEN (WITH LIVE SOUNDTRACK)
Fabrica Gallery, Brighton, Thurs 8th Sept


“Metaphysical splatter movie” 'Begotten' has been cited as the twenty-third most disturbing film ever made. (Though I have heard that others consider it only the 27th or even the 28tj.) Though it is graphically violent... in fact it's pretty much perpetually graphically violent, to the point that if we started with trigger warnings we probably wouldn't be able to stop, 'disturbing' is the most fitting term. Certainly more accurate than 'horrific' or 'visceral'.

Though sometimes described as Surreal, this film has no relation to Pop Surrealism with it's glossy pictures of eyes superimposed upon candles. It more took my mind back to the 'Undercover Surrealism' exhibition at the Hayward. (I was about to say 'recent', but seems it was a decade ago!) This is Surrealism with the Freud and Nietzsche turned up to eleven. A soundbite description might be the savage opening of 'Un Chien Andalou' extended to film length.

Inevitably people search for meaning in all of this. But the best place to look is actually on the surface. As Greg Smalley comments: “what gives 'Begotten' its staying power is its unique look… the 'meaning' of the film is contained in the moving image itself; the experience of the film is itself what it is 'about'. To reduce 'Begotten' from image to language would be a mistake. The film begins with an incantation rebuking the 'language makers': 'you, with your memory, are dead, frozen'. It immediately invokes a different sort of language, 'the incantation of matter'.”

Certainly, without this look the film might well descend into mere torture porn. Director E. Elias Murhige spent months achieving those filtered, distressed effects, including such devices as running the film past sandpaper. In fact he was so keen on achieving this that one minute of film could take up to ten hours to process. Combined with the film being silent, it creates something literally timeless - almost impossible to pin to an era. Nor are there any signifiers within the film - the bleak landscape looks some strange combination of post-industrial and pre-natural, bare trees and bare pipes, broken-down houses. It could even hail from the glory days of Surrealism themselves, were it not so unconstrained by censorship. (The actual date is 1990, which seems refreshingly arbitrary.)

In fact, it results in a film that's very hard to pin to anything. With the contrasts so strong it's less in black-and-white than is black-and-white. It somehow looks simultaneously unremittingly graphic and strangely elusive, like you're no more sure what you're looking at than how to take it.

And it feels timeless even as you watch it. Scenes play out to an almost absurd length, past any narrative point which they might be expected to convey. The point is less narrative than experiential, like what we're watching is a ritual.

The end credits give post-hoc names to the characters, which acts as a kind of retrospective key to proceedings. That figure in the opening commits slow ritual slaughter through repeated self-stabs, we come to know he's God Killing Himself. (A great entry for an actor to have on his CV.) Yet the result of his slow suicide isn't the end of things but the begetting of another figure, Mother Earth. She and her son, Flesh and Bone, who appears to be in a perpetual state of catatonic tremor, are then repeatedly assaulted by hooded figures. Those figures would seem to represent humanity (you know, us), but are entirely anonymised and undifferentiated. Its the divine victims you follow. (Even if you can't really say 'identify with'.)

God kills himself through stabs to the stomach, which seems an image of sexual penetration. Mother Earth then impregnates herself with his semen. While disembowelling also seems associated with pregnancy. The images being only semi-decipherable also mitigates against the sense of separation which you think of as being inherent to film. These should be a strong difference between seeing a figure self-harming and a group beating and torturing another. But here there isn’t really. Mother and Son do not resist their fate at the hands of the humans, but largely bear it without even expression. And the humans are in somewhere between a state of ritual trance and workaday drudgery – slaughter as labour. It adds up to signify a world at war with itself.


What's this a film about? I'd be tempted to glibly answer - about four months. That part of the year where Winter passes into Spring, where (at least in times past) our survival was at its most difficult and our ravaging of nature was at it's harshest and most desperate. At the end of the film, we see vegetation start to sprout. Remember the old Coil lyric “kill to keep the world turning”? That about covers it.

But it's simultaneously cosmogenic, particularly with the opening scene of the self-harming God. The title literally explains Mother Earth and Son, but it also alludes to how we all came to be here. And that recurrence, the duplication of events at different scales like mandelbrots, is a common feature of mythology. We're reminded of our visceral begetting with each passing of the seasons.

Through the Judeo-Christian tradition we have become used to external creators conjuring our universe up out of nothing, magic words making matter. But that's a relatively recent development. Creation myths are more commonly based around the primacy of sacrifice, either of the self or another. The material world is sometimes held to be the dead body of a cosmic being, slaughtered at the start of time.

Commentators often spend their time trying to pin this film to a particular myth or myth system. All they are really doing is showing off their reading list. The point is that it's not based in a myth so much as in myth, in it's totality.

One reason, beyond all the obvious ones, for this film not being better known is that Murhige is keen for it to be seen only in cinemas. I suspect he's right. The way to see it is in a public showing, not just for the big screen but for the sake of ceremony. Certainly it was a rare experience to see it in the 'right' way.

The live soundtrack came from the presumably bespoke band the Begotten. If the film has an anti-narrative, the soundtrack was an anti-composition, aimed at creating mood music for the screen – and all the better for it. It started very slightly with the 'singer' (if that's the word) emitting the eeriest of vocals while hidden in the Church pulpit. The other players processed onto stage some time later, well after the film had begun, dropping and dragging chains as they went. Though guitar and bass were involved they rarely played conventional sounds, and effectively were mixed in with the electronics.

If the film shouldn't really be watched on-line, perhaps the trailer's okay...



MYSTERY DICK + YOAF
Caroline of Brunswick, Brighton, Fri 15th Sept


It's been four years since Mystery Dick last played Brighton. In fact, as I learn on arrival, it's been four years since they've played. But their sound has moved on considerably in the meantime, even if no-one's heard the interim steps.

It's still the hum of Sixties-style electric organ. But the previous outing was like the soundtrack to some long-lost black-and-white B movie, which you might have seen years ago on late night TV or may have just imagined. Whereas this time it was more taking from Sixties popular music. (Symbolised nicely by the CD from the last gig being packaged in a 7” single sleeve, see below.) Albeit a pretty unusual take.


Sixties music often sounds in retrospect like the edict hadn't yet gone out that you could go beyond song form, and you can hear players straining against the walls. So imagine taking the mini-breaks permitted in those three-minute singles, then using Kool Herc's DJ trick of repeating to extend them. While combined with Photshop's ability to go close up to 400%. And done live.

Ed Pinsent played a series of increasingly agitated organ stabs, like some long forgotten twenty second keyboard solo had continued in the echo chamber of an alternate dimension until it was played out. Which segued into Harley Richardson swapping his organ for guitar feedback, the classic way to end one of those singles.

That I figured must be the climax, but they went beyond my little mental schema to break into a whole new section. Whereas previously, one had always led they now both contributed to a much more meditative piece, which was soon to prove my favourite part of the set. It was admittedly a slightly uneven performance. The recited vocal parts in particular seemed too 'art happening'. And it needed time and a little audience indulgence to unfurl it's wings. But when it did it was off.

So, after the Static Memories, this marks the second time I've gone to see Mystery Dick and ended up preferring another act on the bill. I expect I will be thrown out of their fan club any day now. After Yoaf had done their thing, someone cried the name Coil. A cry not made in vain, for there was the same sense of players being less musicians than sound mediums, tuning into and channelling uncanny forces of some description.

Their weapons of choice were strings and springs. One took to the strangest of spring-sprung devices, looking like one of those things you find in old junk shops which you can't play after midnight, and when you go back the junk shop isn't there any more. (You know the sort of thing.) While the other played a long plank of wood strung with strings, a steel guitar for the most lo-fi of lo-fi enthusiasts, which he'd bow or even attack with a hammer. Other instruments were employed along the way, all either found or home-made.


Perhaps unusually for an impro act, one normally took the lead – striking up the eeriest of rhythms, but rhythm nonetheless, for the other to play around. Though the baton passed so effortlessly back and forth between them they scarcely fell into assigned roles. Initially playing along to a loop they were able to build their set up quickly, then pulled the loop to turn to sparser more etherial sounds, breaking the standard model of instant composition that the sounds build up over time.

The standard duo (of Tim Yates and Tom Fox) were augmented by a guest (whose name alas now escapes me). His mumbled, intonatory vocals ostensibly contributed the least, and he even stood downstage of the others with head bowed – less frontman than backman. Yet it was hard to imagine their sound without him. Perhaps we are used to vocals being a recognisable, even explanatory element of music, so to defamilarise them takes our handholds away.

Despite hailing from London, this is apparently the first time Yoaf have played Brighton. The audience was admittedly small, but appreciative. So hopefully they will be persuaded back.


Some Mystery Dick...


...and a little Yoaf...


Coming soon! Yes, I'm a bit behind on these posts again. Blame it on my summer holidays...