Monday, February 09, 2009

Attended the and/OAR label showcase at The Stone last evening. Nice variety of approaches with several really fine sets.

There are certain sounds, certain combinations of tone, timbre, pitch, that simply captivate me from the get go. Billy Gomberg's set on computer and electronics served up an excellent example of this. The tones in question were reminiscent to me of early Terry Riley, say from Poppy Nogood through Shri Camel, with a dash of Jon Hassell and even, toward the end, a soup├žon of Roger Powell. (Who's Roger Powell, you say? Well, he hadn't crossed my mind in ages but back in '73 he released a synth album called, um, "Cosmic Furnace" that I thought way cool at the time. Maybe still would, who knows? But some of Gomberg's intonations here managed to wrest memories of that LP from the depths of my cerebellum). He generated fairly pure tones sliding from one to another via abrupt snaps--I'm sure there's a technical term for this, but it's what I associate with analog synths like Riley's, where shifts in tone are accompanied by sounds I think of as gate openings and closings; I love that sonic sequence and they were all over the place here. It was very vaguely repetitive, no overt rhythms or patterns but one sensed they weren't far from the surface. He also injected enough sand in the gears to keep things well away from the too-smooth. Really enjoyed it, could've sat and listened for a looong time.

Next up was Sawako, who turned in a very delicate, oddly satisfying set using piano, voice and electronics. The latter provided a thin scrim of static atop which she played very soft chords, allowing them to melt into the static; very attractive. She used a good deal of silence between chords, sometimes several minutes, during which she'd place her hands on an area of the keyboard, often lifting fingers as though about to play, then not play after all, generating "ghost chords" in the observer's head. Additionally, she'd sometimes accompany these chords with hushed vocalizations, again blending beautifully with both the sustained chords and the static. Good stuff.

Then, to close out the first set, came John Hudak. I'd only seen him once before, maybe 8-9 years back, and hadn't followed his career at all really, so I had little idea what to expect, figuring it would fall somewhere in the extreme noise range. Erm, no. Lights were turned off and Hudak, sporting a red lamp attached to his head coal-miner style, crept amongst his equipment, situating himself with his back toward my section of the audience. I'm thus not entirely positive which, if any of the ensuing sounds were created live and which might have been prerecorded (I suspect the former). In any case, against a background of soft hiss, one heard very loud human whistling, performing what seemed to be a folk song of sorts, Asian sounding, highly amplified and closely miked, giving the impression of emanating from a large, unoccupied space. The whistle song was repeated. Many times. Many, many times. After 15 or so minutes, Hudak switched to vocalized song, in a language I believe I successfully identified as Tibetan. Again, of a folk and/or religious type, possibly Buddhist-related, again iterated. One began to get the impression, duh, that he was recreating a kind of shamanistic ceremony. All well and good, I guess, not enormously effective in The Stone's environs, at least for myself, though I suppose one could get lost in it if one has a more spiritual bent than I. Oh, eventually he stopped.

The second set began with Kenneth Kirschner (piano, electronics) and Asher (electronics). On the electronics front, they were apparently playing each other's generated sounds; I take it one would created the (as yet unheard) sound formulations, relay them to the other's computer whence he would process them and set them free into the space. This part worked very well, a subtle rustle of static, subdued tones and very faint radio talk that was quite moving in an odd way. Over this, however, Kirschner played delicate figures on the piano--simple, relatively melodic and repeating--which never, to my ears, integrated into the electronics in an effective manner. Maybe they were overly dainty, without enough gravitas. I could imagine Tilbury, say, taking a similar tack but investing the notes with the necessary probity. Here, they just wafted away, never convincing me.

Finally, we had the duo of Olivia Block (piano, electronics) and Adam Sonderberg (electronics). This was the set I'd been most anticipating, having been a big fan of the work of each for a while now, and they didn't disappoint. Rich, meaty, gnarly, beautifully structured. One of those sets that, when it begins, is almost awkward, the balance seemingly always on the verge of toppling, but then small cohesions develop, a fabric begins to unfurl and by the end of the piece, you realize how "full" it had been all along. Block spent much of her time inside the piano with mallets, tuning forks, sheets of aluminum, etc., but would also, on occasion, return to the keyboard for an exquisitely placed single note or two. These became something of the spine of the set, even if several minutes often elapsed between them; a frail stalk, maybe, from which all else sprouted. Sonderberg generated fields of hyper-intense detail, unfailingly fascinating both as gorgeous "objects" themselves and for how they integrated with Block. He periodically summoned up what seemed to be location recordings of a drum corps, replete with cheers [Adam informs me the source for the drum corps was, indeed, Olivia...I suspected as much! ;-)]. It's the type of thing that could be distracting, but he kept it at a volume and fuzziness level that allowed it to sit perfectly within the existing flux, also echoing Block's earlier career interest in forms of Americana. As i said, a very full piece, one I'd love to hear again.

A fine evening, all in all. Great to finally meet Olivia, Adam, Ernst Karel, Dale Lloyd, Billy, Seth Tisue, Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder (the latter pair, the videographers responsible for Olivia's fantastic DVD release last year) in the flesh. Thanks to all.


RFKorp said...

FYI, although the point is moot considering he insisted on performing with his back to the audience in almost black, John Hudak was definitely performing those songs live into a microphone feeding the PA.

and/OAR said...

Hi Brian, just a quick commnent regarding Kenneth and Asher's set. As far as I know, this was the first time they had collaborated on anything, and I don't think any rehearsals were done beforehand, which I found to be very impressive. However, I would have loved it whether I knew that or not, being the proud parent that I was. ;o)

All the best,