Saturday, March 28, 2009

The i-and-e Festival (Part 2)

The second night of the i-and-e festival (see post immediately preceding for information) began with the Irish group Safe (Paul Hegarty and Brian O’Shaughnessy) with guitarist Paul Condon. Safe use live CD mixing, keyboards, electronics and voice, and after a sparse opening created a turbulent, noisy, and at times unsettling atmosphere, sometimes anchored by a pulse and sometimes not, against which the guitarist pitted his spectral, wailing playing (it sounded a lot like Keiji Haino’s playing with Fushitsusha to me). It was certainly entertaining, even if I found the rock-style guitar not entirely to my taste. You can hear a very noisy track by Safe here.
Next up was something completely different, in terms of volume if nothing else. The French trio of Cyril Epinat (on amplified objects and electronics), Mathias Forge (trombone) and Leo Dumont (percussion) gave us a very quiet, sensitive performance which sounded like a field recording being generated by humans. Forge never played a recognisable note on his battered-looking trombone, producing breaths, gurgles, and groans that meshed perfectly with the odd scratches and clinks the other two lads made, sometimes using a cardboard tube as a mute, in keeping with the DIY aesthetic of the group. At one point distant voices could be heard, as if people in the next room were accidentally intruding on the music; only the fact that they were in French let us know they weren’t. I found it absolutely fascinating, like sitting in a field on a windy day with ambient sounds, distant traffic, and voices on the breeze. By contrast, my partner, who came with me on this night, found it tedious beyond belief and couldn’t wait for it to end. I couldn’t find any links or samples on the net, so you’ll have to buy their album from Creative Sources here if you want to get an idea of what their performance was like.
After an interval we had Berlin-based Englishman Robin Hayward on tuba (not an instrument that one associates with the avant-garde!). He sat sideways in the darkened room, so all that was visible was the vast golden bell of the instrument and the top of his head, producing a weird, grating breathsound for a considerable length of time which was quite extraordinary, like a distant Arctic wind heard through static. Towards the middle of the piece he began repeating a single sound over and over, occasionally allowing it to disintegrate before beginning again; I’m sorry to say that I found this section rather dull. I could see what he was trying to do, but it didn’t work for me. The last part of the piece returned to the more abstract and experimental sounds of the beginning, with parts sounding like a maddened short-wave radio expelling spectral bursts of static, like the strange ghostly noises emitted by dying stars (am I getting a bit carried away here? That’s what it evoked to me.) The above reservations aside, it was a very remarkable performance (and, though I don’t think it’s relevant, must have been appalling hard to do; parts of it sounded like he was inhaling through the whole length of the tuba!). His website can be found here.
Last up was Paul Lovens (percussion) and Thomas Lehn (homemade synth) of Germany. Lovens, with a short-sleeved white shirt and tie, looked like a bus driver, but played with a fierceness and invention that belied his respectable appearance, while Lehn at times looked like a mad scientist whose experiment had gone completely out of control, as he flailed and grappled with his synth to produce huge surges of electronic splurts, shrieks, scutters, and gurgles. At one stage he grabbed what looked like a chunk of circuitboard and began jamming it into the console to create a wild skittering noise, at which point my partner started laughing: she said later that it looked like he was either being wildly carried away with inspiration, or being electrocuted. The opening of the performance, I must say, sounded a bit untogether, as if the guys were playing in two different rooms, but once they got going things really took off, with Lovens easily able to stand up to Lehn’s often frenetic eruptions of sounds, playing with both vigour and great control. You can see them in action in 2007 here.

It was a rousing finale to an excellent festival, and once again my hat goes off to organisers Lacey and Vogel. Like any festival, some acts appealed to me more than others, but the standard was consistently high and the music was top-notch stuff. Roll on next year!

4 comments:

jams o donnell said...

It sounds like you had a great time at the festival,

A Doubtful Egg said...

Damn right! I love this kind of music, and it's a pleasure to see it performed live rather than on disc. There's not much call for contemporary Improv in rural Wexford...

Claudia said...

I never attended a Music Festival where a composer could improvise. It must be so exciting to hear the music at the moment it is spontaneously born. No rehearsal...

In Chopin's lifetime, many of the high society ladies would have soirées in their homes where artists (musicians and writers) would improvise for the guests. The historians call that period: 'Les Salons de Paris.' Chopin was often invited with his female companion, George Sand. Also Liszt, Berlioz and the writers Voltaire, Dumas, Balzac...They were the contemporaries of the Romantic Era.

Your festival is very much in that league. I envy you!

A Doubtful Egg said...

That's what is so great about improvised music: the element of risk for the performer is very high, especially in the case where it's a person playing solo. You can't hide behind the rhythm section if you run out of ideas! Not that this was likely with the calibre of the performers here...