Saturday, March 28, 2009

The i-and-e Festival (Part 1)

The annual (and wonderful) i-and-e festival, a celebration of contemporary improvised music curated by Paul Vogel and David Lacey, took place last weekend in the Ireland Institute on Pearse Street in Dublin. As usual, the curators had looked deep into the vast jug of Improv talent both at home and abroad, and skimmed off only the choicest cream for this year’s event (and don’t you just love such tortuous metaphors?). A full list of performers can be found here.
We opened on Friday night with a mixed media piece called Pedroneras: The Garlic Harvest, performed by Madrid-based musicians Wade Matthews (field recordings, electronics), Julio Camarena (prepared electro-acoustic guitar), and Adam Lubroth (projected images). The danger with combining music with images is that the sound becomes secondary, a mere soundtrack, but this was not the case here. Lubroth’s images, which were transparent, were layered, distorted, coloured with filters, and at times supplemented by a real head of garlic which entered the picture like a triffid, while the music provided a continually changing and inventive counterpoint, at times a dessicated crackling like a brittle landscape of garlic skins, at times a babble of Spanish voices overlayed with distorted field recordings, electronic noise, and ghostly scratches and scrapes. It was a compelling evocation of its subject matter, and thoroughly enjoyable. But why take my word for it? See an excerpt of the trio in action (at a different venue) below.

Next up was alto saxophonist Seymour Wright. Richard Pinnell has already written a description of Wright’s performance (in Glasgow) here, to which I can only add my affirmation (and we were free of crying children). Wright, whose music can be heard here, was hypnotically fascinating as he explored the outer edges of the saxophone’s capabilities, creating a oblique, delicate soundworld of breaths and whirrs and squeaks. This music really needs to be seen live, as the performance element – watching the actions he executes – is as important as the sounds produced (at one point he played the assembled sax with one hand, raising it back as if drinking from it, and at the end he sat with the instrument on his knees in silence, looking up and down its length as if he’d forgotten what it was). I must point out that when he had, for the first time, assembled the sax fully and was playing a series of loud, flatulent blarts through it, the woman sitting in front of me rocked back and forth in silent laughter (I think Mr Wright of Derby would have approved; this is very human music (something that communicates less well on disc, where it can seem very abstract) and, as John Cage said, laughter is preferable to tears).
The third act (and the last one I saw as, to my regret, I had to leave early) were Irish-based artists Fergus Kelly (on homemade instruments) and Jurgen Simpson (electronics and percussion). More info on Kelly here and on Simpson here. They conjured up a dark, fluctuating, at times percussive but never strident, soundworld which was by turns sinister and beautiful, sounding to my ear a little like the organic group improvisations of Morphogenesis, at other times referencing the Cartridge Music school of Over-Amplified Scratchy Things, but always with an integrity of its own. Like the best Improv, one didn’t hear the individual performers; one only heard the sound. I did feel, however, that it was a bit too long (sorry, lads!), and that its duration mitigated against effectiveness just a little bit. I’d be interested in hearing if anyone else thought that, or whether it was just me (and I like long performances that the listener can get lost in). Here's Kelly in action with festival organiser David Lacey:
After that I had to head away, so I missed Pascal Battus and Christine Sehnaoui, a performance which I was informed the following day was absolutely amazing. Next year I ain’t driving up and down each night; I’m booking a hotel, dammit! Part 2 of the Festival will follow shortly.

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