Thursday, January 07, 2010


Jason Lescalleet played two sets last night at Issue Project Room, one with Sean Meehan, the other with dancer Pauline Monin.

The performance with Meehan, only the second time the two had played as a duo, was quite beautiful. Going in, one wondered about where the pair would situate the dynamics--would Jason quiet down or Sean get loud? Jason encamped behind his array of three or four old tape decks, three laptops, mixing boards and such while Sean sat about six feet in front of him, fairly naked behind his snare and cymbal, with a handful of thin, wooden dowels. Lescalleet, as is his wont, placed a mic on the floor in front of Meehan and clearly used some of those sounds, processed, during the set. What I didn't know until talking with Jason afterward, was that during their set-up and rehearsal that afternoon, he recorded a good deal of Meehan's output and, further, programmed his software to approximate the pitches Sean was generating, so that the vast bulk of what he introduced in the evening was sourced, one way or another, from Sean's music.

Technical details aside, it was a riveting show, beginning very quietly with taped moaning sounds and gradually intensifying, though only up to medium volume levels. Meehan, as ever, was a joy to hear, his stroked dowels emitting a huge variety of timbres and textures from pure to rough-hewn depending (it seems to me) on how closely it rests near the center of the cymbal, among other things (including which way it's oriented on the drum). More, he's a master at not playing. I'm guessing that every time I've seen him he ends up playing for less that half the time of the performance, choosing his entrances and exits with extreme sensitivity.

The set, generally speaking, operated within a drone ambiance, Lescalleet staying fairly tonal, Meehan almost only using the dowels, though at one point he loosened the snare strings, removed the cymbal and gently rocked the drum back and forth, producing abrupt rustles. He also, on a couple of occasions, brought forth remarkably gritty and loud-ish tones, enough so that I momentarily questioned the source; it seemed unlikely they'd emanate from that delicate finger-stroking.

Beautifully balanced piece, very strong, something I'd love to hear again.

We were ushered out of the space while the second set was arranged. Upon our return, into a darkened room, we espied a large pile of magnetic tape in front of Jason's gear, presumably enclosing a dancer. Indeed, the mass began to quiver, the brown tape looking like a couple hundred pounds of kelp and making slithery sounds. Monin began, butoh-like (caveat: my dance knowledge, much less butoh knowledge is severely limited, so don't take descriptions like this as gospel. Can one dance with extreme slowness and not be compared to butoh? You would think so.), to move very slowly, wrapped in tape (naked underneath), Lescalleet accompanying with generally smooth, synth-like sound. Tape slid this way and that, limbs emerged, hair, buttocks. Monin assumed several uncomfortable looking poses, held them.

When I saw Yukiko Nakamura dance with Nmperign on a couple of occasions, it was a spellbinding, even scary event. She appeared utterly committed to what she was doing and, perhaps as a consequence, there was a confrontational aspect in play, a strong sense of not knowing what she was capable of; it transcended dance. It's unfair to use Nakamura as a benchmark yet that's what I tend to do when encountering dance in improv settings since then. With Monin, there was more a sense of "dance moves", more so when the butoh aspect was displaced by more expressive gestures--as the music became louder and more violent, so did her gesticulations. Don't get me wrong--she was fine and, as far as I can ascertain, a very good dancer, it's just that the combination with the music was a bit perfunctory.

Later in the set, Jason amped things up, generating ear-splitting, high-pitched sine-y tones that had half the audience inserting finger in ear (not your intrepid reporter!). One could shift one's head only slightly and experience a surprisingly huge drop in sound level, btw. A rather bracing end to a somewhat unsatisfying set.

But the one with Meehan was outstanding.

7 comments:

Michael Waller said...

This is a brilliant review.

billygomberg said...

In general I agree w/ yr review. Lescalleet really brings it out in his musical collaborators - recalling his duo w/Bhob Rainey @ IPR back in 08, I really got the sense that Sean was given a great space to let loose (in the manner that he does), producing louder, more aggressive sound than I've heardfrom him in the past. As usual w/him, intense timing and great tone. Lescalleet demonstrated an amazing ability to move his sound from transparency to an enveloping density w/ease.

I felt the duo w/Pauline Monin was very interesting...musically it was as arresting as the first set, but about 1/2way through I found Monin's movement lost it's connection w/Lescalleet, and that once she began to rise from the tape, her movement vocabulary was limited and lacked in matching the expressive development of Jason's music. I thought the opening was brilliant, where she really used the unspooled tape as a part of her body, and less of a prop.

and yeah I'm guilty of stuffing my fingers in ear...but what a sound! so intense and alive. another great night of music from Lescalleet.

and good to see everyone there as well!

Brian Olewnick said...

Thanks, Michael.

Billy, disc sounds great, thanks!

Jon said...

Yuko thought that was the best set she's ever seen Sean do. I've seen him a lot more than her, but I might agree, at the very least up there with the Kelley/Daniell trio at the first Quake and the Toshi duo at ABC No Rio.

I thought the key was Sean's initial entry, maybe 8-10 minutes in. Jason was working at very low volume, but Sean's decision to come in over him, becoming the primary voice for a stretch, really fuelled the rest of the set.

anyway, a very exciting and inspiring set, the best I've seen in NYC since Jason's last visit here, the night with Lambkin and nmperign in May 2008. Yuko should have some pix up in the next day or so.

Jon said...

Yuko's pics are here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/13715378@N00/sets/72157623043631973/

unfortunately none of Jason/Sean together, since they were mostly on opposite sides of the room.

Notice Recordings said...

What an thoughtful and well written review. I've been fascinated with Jason's music for some time, and would love to hear him live. There is an enormous lack of this type of sound and performance going on in Chicago, which is so unfortunate.

Thanks again for your blog !

Evan of Notice Recordings

Brian Olewnick said...

Thanks Evan, appreciate the kind words.