ISO at the Instants Chavirés
by Dan WARBURTON
Maybe I'm getting old (at last) but I seem to be the only person who didn't really enjoy Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M and Ichiraku Yoshimitsu's set at the Instants on Monday 25th May. When all my friends around me, whose opinions and judgments I value highly, enthuse and I don't, it invariably provokes a serious bout of self-examination. Why didn't I like it?
It's certainly not a question of noise-I'm a fervent admirer of Otomo's work with Ground Zero, and, by the way, as I write this, I'm listening to Brötzmann's "Machine Gun," so you can't say I don't like loud music. That said, Monday's second set (the first consisted of solo performances by each of the three protagonists-more later) was extremely loud. Even die-hard fans were stuffing Kleenex into their ears, or trying to deaden the impact by numbing their sensory apparatus with enormous quantities of smuggled-in beer.
Nor is it a question of technique (though since when was that an important consideration in free music?); Otomo's use of the turntables, Sachiko's evident mastery of the sampler, and Ichiraku's drum-triggered banks of electronics were impressive to say the least. The ISO set stood in sharp contrast to the pitiful and senseless excesses of a certain band from Alsace-who shall remain nameless-I saw three weeks earlier opening for The Ex, also at the Instants. The sounds produced by Otomo and his cohorts were markedly more defined-I would even say subtle-than those of their many pathetic imitators who seem to think miking up any old piece of junk, banging the hell out of it and amping up the result to pain levels constitutes music.
No, I think my lack of enthusiasm probably derives more from the near-total lack of correlation between what I heard and what I saw: quite often it was impossible to tell who was making which sound, not due to the apocalyptic decibel level but rather to the minimal gestures of the performers, notably Sachiko, whose dainty flicks at her keyboard seemed curiously at odds with the ferocious clangs and screams that resulted therefrom. (Her fragility brought Ikue Mori to mind, though her set with Death Ambient last year was more memorable, graced as it was with the magnificent stage presence of bassist Kato Hideki.) In the opening solo spots, I marveled at Ichiraku's technological set-up-I still don't understand how certain elements of the drum kit triggered off certain transformations-for about ten minutes before beginning to lose attention. OK, very impressive, this is the return of the one-man band, the others can go home because this guy does bass, synth, voice and drums.. Sachiko was, as mentioned above, typically inscrutable, though my ears tired of her grinding squarewaves in a matter of minutes. As for Otomo's solo set, well, it's the first time I've seen the DJ put the record on top of the playback arm and not under it.. Replacing the traditional diamond with an amplified metal spring, Otomo smashed the playback arm down so hard that the record (one wonders what it was) shattered. Very exciting to watch, "très destroy" as they say over here in France, but musically little more than swathes of howling feedback interrupted by resounding volleys of metallic clangs. I must add though that his timing is immaculate; there is evidently an exceptional pair of ears there, though God knows what state they'll be in if he keeps this up for another few years.
I wonder also if the rapturous reception they received had something to do with the fact that they look-and are-thoroughly nice, gentle people, these Japanese. There is something deliciously perverted about watching tiny, smiling Sachiko (who looks barely out of her teens) creating this brain-melting barrage of sound; I venture to suggest that if she looked like the lead singer of Skunk Anansie and Otomo looked like Marilyn Manson, folks would be much less surprised and probably not as enthusiastic. All in all, however, I missed the sweat of live musicians battling with their instruments, and I'm sorry I couldn't catch Otomo a couple of days ago in Nancy playing with Phil Minton, Christian Marclay, Michael Vatcher, Luc Ex and Zeena Parkins. Evidently a great talent, though I think on balance I prefer to stay home and drive my neighbours insane with Ground Zero's "Consume Red." If that's not in your collection, get out and buy it right now.
May 1998, Nancy, France
15th annual Festival of new music
Art Installation by Jean-Yves Camus and Arnaud Paquotte
Like many French festivals, Musique Action has been forced to cut back on expenditures due to reduced French government support for the arts. This is a shame, especially with the high quality of the artistic endeavors offered by the festival. Due to the excellent groups presenting, an international audience shows up each season, and they are rarely dissappointed. As in recent years, the tendency of the concerts is towards improvisation, both of the free-jazz and post-Cagian variety. And as with each year, there are installations of photography and sculpture around musical themes. In this vein, one highlight of the festival--at least from our warped point of view--was the ingenious installation by Nancy-based duo of Jean-Yves Camus and Arnaud Paquotte.
This particular exhibition is a combination of sculpture, photography, music, and mechanical virtuosity. Using what appear to be several hundred small loudspeakers (from 1 to 5 cm in diameter) they have created a darkened room full of tiny sounds, with the speakers posed like miniature people in vignettes, birdcages, rows, frames, etc...all surmounted by photographs of throats, as seen in close-up lurid color. Flying speakers swerve overhead like frustrated bats who have lost their sci-fi movie.
Although the room clearly necessitated rather sophisticated planning, it is basically low-tech: the speakers are often welded with purposely savage, rough connections, the birdcages are jagged, the multitude of tiny lights illuminating each speaker are hooded with torn tape and aluminum foil.
The speakers, anthropomorphic or birdlike depending on their placement and your perspective, act out scenes, flutter around, talk to and sing for each other, and generally have a blast. Although the sexually confined and tortured aspects of the room cannot be ignored, the overall effect is rather one of a circus, a wild melody of visual and acoustic strands, a peep-show of metal, wire, cables, cassettes, and anatomical and musical close-ups in horror-show red, dripping with blood and loose wires.
Ensemble Vox Nova
Cité des Arts, Paris
May 24, 1998
Adriano Banchieri, La Pazzia Senile (1598)
Luciano Berio, A-ronne (1974)
Nicholas Isherwood, bass; Armelle Orieux, mezzo-soprano; Eric Trémollières, tenor; Xavier Legasa, baritone; and Cyrille Gerstenhaber, soprano.
The theme of the evening was comedy. These two works by Italian composers complemented each other perfectly, despite being written 376 years apart! Neither is an unequivocal masterwork of the repertoire, yet both are important works that come across well in concert, and that are effective and funny. Although the composition of the Pazzia Senile madrigal was rather bland, the intonation was perfect, and it was sung with enthusiasm, redeeming any compositional weaknesses.
In the Berio, often one language or one person predominated, to the detriment of the other performers and other languages. A-ronne is a work with multiple meanings, a work that brings the subtext so much to the fore that in the end there is no subtext at all. The piece is about death, music, and creation. Obviously and explicitly. And yet, it opens itself to different interpretations. When we heard Electric Phoenix perform this in 1994 at the IRCAM in Paris, they focused on the morbid rather than the humorous aspect. Perhaps it is more open in theme and composition than one would think at first sight. Vox Novas show was funny through and through and the little boys laughter from the audience was spontaneous and wonderful. After all, when was the last time he (or any of us) heard a singer burp on stage?