Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Christopher Nosnibor

Live music tends to follow a fairly standard format, namely where artists perform on a stage either in a conventional venue, or outdoors if it’s a festival. Punters traipse in, stand around, talk (sometimes through the performances) and file out again, and judge their enjoyment based on the merits of the performances and the sound and perhaps the company. Music performed in conjunction with art tends to be installation-based in some sense, and the music then finds itself relegated to a secondary position. It was only on arriving at the Leeds Industrial Museum in glorious sunshine that I began to consider the fact that while field recordings are an essential part of a huge array of musical works in the more experimental and avant-garde fields, and that there’s a huge body of musical work which is concerned with responding to and working with specific environments, it’s rare for an audience to experience the music and the environment from which it originated simultaneously.

Having seen the event – and it is an event, not a mere gig, not even simply a night of music, but something that, as the evening progresses, I realise is something that will stay with me as an experience, something different and really rather special – was in the museum, I assumed it would simply be in the museum. To arrive at the PA required walking the full length of the labyrinthine factory space, packed with weird machinery and other abstruse-looking contraptions. Some were operating, clanging and banging away. Following the arrows, we arrived at the sewing room, where NikNak is spinning discs and adding some wild flavour to the established tradition of scratching. I assume the bar is just around the corner and that we’ll be assembling in or near here, so move on with a view to returning. Follow the arrows. Follow the arrows. I try not to panic that getting out again is going to add quarter of an hour to my walk back to the station, and instead marvel at the displays. I’m not really digesting: the museum is looking like a full day’s exploration, and I make a note to return before too long.

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Eventually, we stumble into what appears to be some kind of old engine house. Past that, the bar and toilets. A nice array of local beers, bit in cans and kegs. No commercial piss on offer here.

The sun is slowly sinking, but still casting a fair bit of light as Bambooman delivers his ‘site-specific’ set, which is built predominantly around field recordings captured around the museum in the weeks ahead of tonight’s show. He throws some solid beats, and bass loops and samples in abundance. Light, skipping motifs that hint of the orient and extraneous industrial sounds – repetitious mechanical clankings which forge heavy marches dominate, and are overlaid with oddly folky vocals. The incongruity actually works in its favour.

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Bambooman

And it’s here that I begin to really experience – and to appreciate – the synergy of sound and space. It isn’t because the music isn’t engaging that I find myself casting my eyes around the space I’m standing in: it’s because the music compels me to do so. I cast my eyes upwards, and wonder what caused the various punctures and tears in the corrugated roof, through which the fading light seeps, purplish. People begin to pack in with greater density, legs and pelvises moving in time with the rhythms. A woman comes and stands too close to me, and keeps knocking my shoulder as she moves to the music. I let it pass.

My notes thin in density: a trip to the bar results in my missing the front end of Object Blue’s set, but time is already beginning to warp before her altogether more abrasive set assails my senses. Abrasion may be relative, but in any context, Object Blue packs some attack. The bass frequencies register around the pelvis, while the treble hits around the upper reaches of the cranium: the cymbal work is almost sharp enough to slice off the top like cutting open a boiled egg. The sounds are pushing the limits, fraying at the edges, and tug ant the nerve endings, but the PA is supremely crisp and clear and despite the respectable volume, I’m not feeling any need to get the ear plugs out. Object Blue’s approach to ‘industrial’ may be less literal than that of Bambooman, and more conventional in terms of genre, but with contrast comes impact. As a performer, she’s understated and demur, but sonically, her set is combative, aggressive, every frequency tweaked for optimal discomfort. I absolutely love it, and instead of raising the blood pressure, the sheer quality of the compositions and the attention to detail is uplifting. And with any uplifting uplifting experience comes a sense of quiet joy.

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Object Blue

Time really begins to slip now, and it’s not about the alcohol consumed. I’ve actually been pacing myself, for a change against recent outings more immersed in the experience than the quest for obliteration. During the space between acts, and as the beats knocked out by the DJs echo out into the night, I talk to my friend about mental health. It seems oddly comfortable and in come ways appropriate: I’ve spent the last few months operating at a frenetic tempo, which has resulted in wild fluctuations in mood. Tonight, at one with my surroundings, immersed by the music, stepping out of my life and engaged by everything that’s going on and the sense of something different something new, I find I’m reattenuating, becoming once more aware of the details of my environment – the sky, the details of chimney tower, the rusted engine, the imposing hulk of the mill on the hill, the skeletal frame of an engine tunnel or something, rusty and covered in ivy, the inexplicable machinery at every turn. I’m breathing at a slower pace. I’m back in life.

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Pye Corner Audio delivers something special. The downtempo focus of the set is key to its hypnotic effect. One moment, I’m engaged, observing the laser lighting and the drift of illuminated smoke across the space where he performer is situated, attuned to every last nuance of the surroundings, from the wire fence to the way the other members of the audience engage. The next, I find I’m swaying on my feet, eyes barely ajar, in something approaching a hypnotic trance. It’s the best I’ve felt in months – zoned out, but not completely out of it – the music becomes a throbbing wash that envelopes my body and every last one of my senses. THIS is what immersion feels like. The moment is all, and nothing else matters.

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Pye Corner Audio

I remember, jerking alert between lengthy spells of complete immersion, that this is a life experience. For the first time ever, it’s one I feel comfortable being only semi-present for.

Nakama Records – 27th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

You think of the human voice and you’ll probably immediately cast your mind to speech and singing. But the extremity of the range of the human voice is truly remarkable, and extends far, far beyond these limited parameters. Index sees Oslo-based Agnes Hvizdalek explore, over the course of forty-seven minutes – mastered as a single track – the potentials and possibilities of her vocal cords. The CD’s packaging offers nothing but a fingerprint by way of an explanation, but thankfully, the accompanying press release assists with the provision of context and framing the ‘pure vocal sounds that oscillate between fragility and levity, in the most well-shaped musical manner’ by explaining the way in which they’re ‘interwoven with, and set in contrast to the buzz of the city sounds and the building acoustics’. That city buzz is São Paulo, and the album was recorded at the bottom of a 60-metre-high chimney at the old factory “Casa das Caldeiras” in the heart of the city with the world’s largest helicopter fleet. As such, Index captures the correspondence between the individual and environment as well as exploring the limits of the individual themselves.

It perhaps goes without saying that this is about as far into avant-garde territory as it possible to get: a work of pure experimentation, of parameter-pushing and prioritising process over end product. That doesn’t mean that Hvizdalek’s concept is entirely original: Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice (1996) stands as a bewildering document of one man’s immense vocal capabilities. It’s largely unlistenable, at least in anything more than small doses, but at least it’s broken into bite-sized chunks of sonic derangement. Hvizdalek makes no such concessions to accessibility, and while many of her vocal acrobatic are less extreme than Patton’s, Index is nevertheless a hugely challenging album, a morass of saliva and tongues and brain-bending bleating and blowing.

To describe the various sounds would be essentially pointless – not only dull, but abjectly failing to convey the actual experience of the album. So, Hvhizdalek hums and drones, wheezes and moans, ululates gutturally and breathes like a bellows. She squeaks and snarls and snarks and spits. But what’s remarkable is that while at times she sounds perfectly human and natural, oftentimes the sounds issuing forth from the speakers sound like no creature on earth. And yet the bewildering polytonal rasps and drones sound like no instrument known to wo/man either.

There’s no way in the world anyone is ever going to sit down and play this album for pleasure. I write as someone who’s actually spent the best part of an hour with these sounds rippling and bouncing from the speakers wired to my laptop wearing pyjamas and a bemused expression. A part of me feels obliged to give the album at least one more run-through, but the fact is, while I have absolute admiration for Hvizdalek’s artistic commitment and vision, I simply can’t face it, at least not now. This is absolutely no sleight on Hvizdalek’s work: Index is a true work of art. It’s a work to ponder, to reflect on and to sample when the mood takes. This may not be often, but in a world cluttered with sonic wallpaper, there’s a real need for an album like Index.

Agnes Hvizdalek – Index