Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mattin is ending his NYC residency, heading off soon to Sweden. His final show here was the tail end of an 11-stop tour with Tim Goldie (known as " ", for now), performing under the name, Deflag Haemorrage/Haien Kontra. As one could easily anticipate, Mattin wasn't about to let his audience off easy.

[The evening began with a set of songs by Pink Reason, the nom de guerre of Kevin de Broux, playing acoustic guitar--well mixed by Mattin over Issue Project Room's multiple speakers--and singing. The guitar was quite good, a kind of Fahey aspect in that what you first thought was one simple, if attractive, repeated sequence turned out to have two or three hidden layers, often quite beautiful. The singing itself was ok, not outstanding, the lyrics trite to the point I was wondering if they were intentionally so. I decided not.]

Speaking with Mattin prior to the set, I asked about the previous night's show in Philly at the Rotunda. He was annoyed about the seating arrangement there--basically, that there were seats. This inhibited what they would have liked to do, vis a vis audience terrorism. So, it came as no surprise when the 25 spectators (I use the term loosely) were told to fold up their chairs and assume an erect position. Mattin and Goldie had set up computers on pedestals, facing each other at a distance of about 15 feet, Goldie's having a mirrored top. Mattin then ventured into the sparse crowd and pushed six or seven people, one by one, so that they were positioned more or less between the pcs (I successfully dodged this maneuver). A high, buzzing, whistling tone emerged, flitting merrily amongst the overhead speakers.

Goldie (I'll refrain from calling him " " for this report, though he made frequent use of fingered quotation marks throughout the set) then emerged from near the entrance, a camouflage jacket pulled up over his head, wearing some kind of black mask and thrusting his arms straightforward, zombie-style, careening through the assembled gathering, muttering, yelling and generally writhing as though undergoing torture, presumably via the sound system. OK. I'm sorry, but this is just silly. Nothing shocking, nothing scary, nothing that shifts one's perspective, awakens latent sensibilities. All you can do is smirk, and feel a bit dopey for doing so, but what are the options? If that's the point (as with a good bit of the rest of the evening), it's easily enough achieved. Yes, you feel self-conscious as an audience member. Conceivably you might want to join in; some did, as I'll mention. But, for this observer, it's akin to being asked to sing along in some awful Kumbaya situation; the feeling of embarrassment is similar, more in the sense that, out of courtesy, you don't want to scowl in the person's face and leave.

Interspersed among activities such as these, there was a healthy chunk of raw music/noise and, though I feel a bit silly for saying so given the context, it was excellent: brutal while retaining subtlety, finely textured and with enough subsonics to set my jeans a-flutter. But it seemed almost beside the point.

Mattin took a mic at one juncture, walking about, allowing the wire to wrap around audience members and mic stands, causing one of the latter, extended to about ten feet tall, to fall on a trajectory that had my right eye as a target before my softball reflexes kicked in and stopped it. Loy Fankbonner, to his credit, provoked right back, plopping on a chair right next to Mattin, who now brusquely pushed him off it then engaged in a physical shoving match, one vs. three, against our friends Anne, Billy and Richard; he lost. All the while, Goldie continued to lurch around the space, moan, sing, crawl, whatever; not intriguing.

When Mattin returned to his computer, Loy continued to agitate, bringing a cell-cam right up to Mattin's face, shining it's bright light. He'd later ask Anne to get on a nearby bicycle and ride through the proceedings, which she valiantly did. Loy got into things, I imagine, in a manner that the pair was hoping would be a general reaction. Well, no. One would have to, at the very least, feel somehow compelled to do so, not to have it thrust upon one, though presumably Mattin thinks such actions are necessary to shock us out of our complacency, our voyeurism, our spectacle-craving. One obvious answer is, don't perform then. There's a bit too much having it both ways otherwise.

Then again, sometimes a gambit works. Mattin eventually crouched, looking into the back of Goldie's pc, where he observed and commented on audience activity. "Richard is laughing. Loy is getting a beer. Brian is hiding" In my defense, I was merely seeking a wall against which to lean so my back wouldn't kill me, at the same time providing somewhat more cover from the various thrown objects with eyeball-piercing potential, which included a violin bow. This worked, in a way, the self-consciousness it provoked seeming, to me, less silly, more capable of providing some self-reflection.

They took things out with some serious noise, quite good. Even if, in context, it had the sense of a bone tossed to the crowd for putting up with things.

The above written in one shot, not really thinking it through, doubtless omitting much. Glad I went as it at least inspired some thoughts. I don't think Mattin is near solving his quandary yet and wish him luck with it, quixotic though the quest may be. As long as he insists on vending his wares in performance spaces, there will be this rub. Better, perhaps, to just venture into the public space and see what happens, if anyone cares, allowing those who do to set their own parameters.


al said...

what a balanced and thoughtful writeup for what sounds like an utterly ridiculous performance. I would have bolted early on. Then, it benefits to have a semi-understanding of the artist before embarking, which is why I chose to stay home the night of the Rotunda "set". Maybe Jesse can comment here on those proceedings, some. I'd like to hear his take.

Audience terrorism is an interesting enough concept, for this guy better appreciated from a distance since I'd just rather hear music, affixed nonetheless to less abrasive theatrics. For me, the point at which performance plays out at the expense of the music is the point at which the music jumps the shark. If this is only Act II of some grand design on the part of Mattin, it would be interesting were he to confound in the last reel with some sort of anti-performance, maybe to the point of its absence.

Massimo Magee said...

the endgame will be for Mattin to select one member of the audience at random, seat them in front of his laptop on stage in front of the audience, introduce them as the evening's entertainment and then quietly sit down as one of the audience and stare at this person. There being no greater terror than being positioned on a stage in front of a room full of people who expect you to do something, and having no idea what to do or how to do it.

Brian Olewnick said...

He did hand off the mic to Loy at one point (who twirled it around). I'm not sure he would have been put off so much if someone had commandeered the pc.

I couldn't help but recall when Keith and Julien played the same venue a couple years back, Keith before the music inviting the audience to please roam about freely, look at the score (Treatise) and instruments and even ask the musicians questions or otherwise engage them in conversation during the performance. That invitational courtesy is something very different than "putting one on the spot". To be sure, while some folk did wander about, none talked to the pair of musicians which kind of goes to reinforce what I take to be one of Mattin's issues--the hierarchical nature of audience to performer, which I agree is...well, at least an issue if not a problem. Whether forcing one out of that is the appropriate action (thereby coercing someone to the "rightness" of you opinion), is another matter entirely.

billygomberg said...

I could have done little w/Mattin's PC...all he had on display was a SuperCollider text interface. that's nerdy even for me.

The performance certainly gave Anne, Richard + I plenty to yap about...can't say I wasn't entertained, but there was something very silly about it. I would say that I'm glad neither performer was a trained "performance artist" - I think this brought out the awkwardness and discomfort they were trying to provoke.

s an audience member/participant, it is hard to judge whether or not the performance was "successful." If this, which Brian describes pretty accurately, is what was supposed to happen, I suppose it was a success! However, I haven't seen a performance like this, execute with, je ne se a very long time. If this is becoming Mattin's performance practice, I believe there is something worth pursuing here.

Brian did fail to mention when Loy, after failing w/three or four other attendees, approached Anne and said, "To you know how to ride a bike? Then the best thing for you to do right now is to go ride that bike across the room." Which Anne tried very hard to do (the bike was easily to big for her and room was littered with debris).

I think it is apt to compare this event w/the Keith Rowe/Julian Ottavi performance last summer (how time flies). I have been at a few other shows at IPR where the audience was invited to wander...depending on the material, an audience is more or less willing. I'm sure many people were more intimidated by Mattin/Goldie than Keith & Julian sitting gentlemanly at their tables, scores and all. How comfortable is a particular audience, and what duty (if any) does a performer have to the audience's comfort...or is the audience's comfort the performer's utmost responsibility? I guess what they do with that responsibility is where the art comes in. "What a luxury."

Jesse said...

[apparently, i wrote more than comment can accept - this will be in two parts]

brian, i am curious if other attendees in new york felt the same way you did. jon, richard?

for what it's worth, people i talked to (which, uh, didn't include those who walked out) really liked the philadelphia set a lot. i know i did, as did most of the group that decamped for a really lengthy post-show discussion. sounds like the performances were similar, though comparing two different sets in two different venues, with two different crowds, is clearly somewhat of an impossible task. i do think it's worth noting, however, that deflag here ended up appearing on a bill full of all heavy noise acts (not what i really wanted or intended to do, but that's how it worked out), with deflag third out of four acts due to bus schedules. so their set definitely had the contrast (intended or not) with the other acts, which all featured dudes behind piles of gear making very loud walls of noise. their set stood in marked and nice contrast to that.

it began with a MASSIVE wall of LOUD noise, with goldie doing the same routine as described above. i found it pretty silly and funny, and i don't think it was going for anything more, except possibly just delineating that the performance wouldn't be simply guys on stage. before his entrance, he was flicking lights on and off, often leaving the full house lights on and finally settling there. following was a VERY quiet section in which mattin whispered into a mic possible thoughts of audience members, which was mildly uncomfortable and again fairly funny: "what is this? is this some kind of 'performance art'? what is he doing? i don't like the lights on.".

i'd rather not try and recall a list of every single thing that happened, but the audio alternated loud blasts and quieter creepy sections with occasional silences, goldie doing finger quotes, drum stick twirls, and sundry other antics, while mattin stared down the audience more. eventually, he entered the crowd and began stacking chairs up, letting them fall over, positioning tables against people, placing (heavy) chairs atop heads, etc. at one point, he dumped out the contents of a recycling bin.

the audience seemed to be a mix of bewildered, bemused, and uncomfortable. it's hard to separate my own response from fear that the PA was going to get blown up (the speakers at one point began glowing) or that we'd be kicked out of the venue forever; a fear enhanced by constant looks from the operators of the space (in the end, all was ok, though it was tense, AND i received a call the next day telling me the PA wasn't working! ultimately, a false alarm).

Jesse said...

[part two]

i really liked the performance. it was alternately and sometimes simultaneously amusing and awkward/uncomfortable, with sudden blasts of sound and nobody really knowing how far mattin would go with the audience-baiting and chair-stacking. i think he was disappointed that the crowd sort of just sat there and took it or at most showed some mild annoyance (except for one or two walk-outs), seemingly under-whelmed or just confused. maybe because many of them have been to rock and noise shows that feature more actual risk for physical harm or at least getting shoved/pushed/bumped. again, i thought it created an awkward uncomfortableness that was really effective, in that i literally didn't know what would happen or when it would end, incorrectly thinking they were wrapping it up a few times. as brian observed, the sound was also really excellent, particularly one section of goldie's that sounded like some kind of sampled percussion.

i briefly entertained the idea of some kind of involvement on my part, but i ultimately decided not to, given my role as the promoter/presenter. i think it would have been too contrived and maybe come off as something less-than-spontaneous or even didactic. i sensed mattin had similar thoughts, as he seemed to avoid me and ian went interacting with the audience.

not really sure how to sum up, other than that i found the performance really engaging and interesting. we had quite a spirited discussion afterwards at the bar, though it's hard for me to recall all the details having been so tired and having had a few beers. mostly, people found the investigation of the audience-performer relationship, particularly in the context of noise music, winning and thought-provoking. one objector felt that the performance was ultimately irritating and unsuccessful in that it didn't go beyond simple acting out of ideas to reach some kind of real risk and "vulnerability," if i am reading him correctly.

bryan and other commenters - i disagree as to mattin's intentions. i think it's a mistake to read the performative elements as making up for something lacking in the music or in some way indicating a paucity of ideas there. i think the music/sound is intended to serve the performative and philosophical ideas, which i see as primary (or at least equal). it's important to remember mattin's background: he has two degrees in fine arts and a trail of texts behind him. i also think the suggestion that he should enter "the public space" (and one could argue that publicly open concerts are the public space, but duh, i know what you mean) is a bit mis-guided, as i read his work as largely a critique/investigation of notion of performance, of improvisation, of noise music, and of the audience-performer relationship.

finally, for anyone who made it this far: we should have audio, video, and photographs from the philly show online at in the coming weeks. apologies for the length here; yeesh! brian, thanks as always for your perceptive writings.

Jesse said...

ps - brian, excellent choice of illustrating photo. though the use of the quote from MARLO in your bio is a bit unsettling.

Brian Olewnick said...

Thanks, Jesse! More later when I get home...

I like the photo as well :-)

You have a problem with Mr. Stansfield!?!?!

Jesse said...

yes, i do! he's a terrifying personification of cold-blooded laissez-fairre capitalism. doesn't he end up killing the security guard he says that to?!

Jon said...

"brian, i am curious if other attendees in new york felt the same way you did. jon, richard?"

I haven't gone to see any mattin shows since the one where he sat in the audience for his duo with margarida, so I wasn't there.

Brian Olewnick said...

Ah, Jesse. Well, I think Marlo's a little more complicated than that (and I *love* Jamie Hector), but the quote is meant more generally, a great encapsulation of how people entirely misread situations, seeing one thing because of the context they're used to when the reality is something far different.

That percussion sample you mentioned--not sure if it's the same but one thing I forgot was a Goldie-generated sequence that sounded to me like multiple yells and screams rhythmically looped into a dense and exciting block of sound. One of the "musical" highlights of the evening.

I meant to ask Rich or Billy--early on when Mattin was behind me making noise very close behind me with the metal folding chair--I saw Richard laughing and was absently wondering if Mattin was miming whacking me over the noodle with it?

RFKorp said...

Jesse, since you asked. Overall, I found the set really amusing but also generally pointless and at times annoying.

And I didn't think the audio was as uniformly incredible as others did. Particularly Tim's interactions with the selected percussion strewn through the space - seemed completely unnecessary and detracted from the laptop work for me.

But the whole set had a sloppy aesthetic that I definitely found endearing.

RFKorp said...

I should add, as far as Mattin achieving any particular goals re: the performer/audience relationship, I did not see the performance as particularly successful. Just fun. But that's all I really cared for it to be.

uli said...

who are the suits in the front row, Ollie? Are they part of the audience?

Anonymous said...

The real "authors" of Mattin's work are the promoters (uneducated and fascinated by so weak concepts !) of his concerts.

RFKorp said...

Hey Mr. Anonymous, how do you know that's not Mattin's secret underlying concept!

imf said...

Sorry I'm a little slow to respond. Here's the pictures from the Philly show that Jesse described. I tried to get a picture of Goldie making his signature " ", but alas they never came out. ;-)

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