Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Last evening's first set was the "trio" of Richard Kamerman, David Barnes and Graham Stephenson, arrayed in three successive duos (DB/GS, RK/DB, RK/GS). The music was fairly cohesive throughout the personnel shifts and, like a fair amount of what has transpired so far in the AMPLIFY:stones festival, had its strong and beautiful points even if they were dispersed among shakier passages. It tended toward the quiet, though Barnes made louder, ruder sounds on occasion. Stephenson played trumpet throughout, positioning the bell right atop the mic but almost always playing very, very softly with fine control, sometimes evoking bird chirps. Kamerman used his motorized devices arrayed on a snare drum (I should say, I was blocked from much of the visual activity, so I may misrepresent something), allowing them to putter about, sometimes falling over. Barnes was perhaps more subdued than expected, using a small mixer (?), percolating alongside. Each of the three improvs had its moments, the first ending with noticeable calm and beauty, kind of tumbling to a conclusion, the last effectively humorously with a dropped item from Kamerman and synchronous stoppage from Stephenson. Very engaging, overall; hoping they manage to get together more often.

In the course of a festival of this length, naturally enough much of the music will fit into a fairly "standard" (if still excellent) area of improv and, naturally, other sets, if they choose to stray, will stand out. Taku Unami has, I think it's fair to say, ventured the furthest from the pack thus far.

Before entering the performance area, one saw no particular equipment, just a table with a couple of small cloth sacks. Unami came in and began setting up, an action which, one quickly realized, would be the essence of the piece. He calmly but with concentration began constructing an assemblage, pulling out (eventually) ten or twelve cardboard boxes which had been lying flt against a wall, opening them to form rectangular tubes (the end flaps left untucked). He stacked these two or three high on a few tables, looping lengths of twine around them, introducing a standing floor fan (turned off and on periodically) amidst these columns, as well as, ultimately, several tape measures, a black garbage bag or two and adhesive tape.

At two points, inevitably, the structure toppled. Unami was unfazed and continued his construction. Having spent the previous few days in Rowe's company, I automatically thought of the venture as a rumination on failure, building up only to have things fall apart. After 40 or so minutes, he seemed to have things in place, at least as much as possible, having added a couple of small flexi-lamps to the assemblage. He wound the twine behind and among the three cardboard towers (9/11 allusions were, I guess, obvious, though I admit it never occurred to me during the set) and gave the ends to two first row audience members. He walked to the rear of the Stone (I should mention that, soundwise, the main elements had been his footfalls, the whir and click of the fan, pulled tape and the falling of boxes) and asked that the light be turned off. This made for a fairly dramatic scene, very attractive. Keith and I had the same thought at that moment: it would be wonderful if Unami simply walked out of the venue, leaving the room dark, the ends of the twine in the hands of the audience members. Unfortunately (in the sense that this denouement was pretty much inevitable), this didn't happen. Instead after looking at the tableau for several minutes, he asked that, when he gave the countdown, the twine-holders pull sharply on their cords. He counted off, "3-2-1-0" and the boxes, fan, tapes, twine, garbage bags all came a-tumbling down. Unami, oddly, tapped out a kind of bossa nova rhythm on what sounded like a wood block he may have been holding, repeating it three times, then walked up to the scene of destruction, put on his shirt and the event was over.

There was, as Keith pointed out, something very George Brecht/Fluxus about the performance and certainly it wasn't without precedent by any means. Still and all, it was fascinating for me to watch Unami go about his business, very intent, with no sense of art-school cuteness, very absorbed in what he was doing at the same time as every so often chatting with audience members, not taking himself overly seriously. As I said, parsing it, I may have preferred some other choices on his part but it remained an invigorating, rich work. Tonight he plays in duo with Rowe. Who knows?

(my photo uploader isn't cooperating today, not that I took anything particularly worthwhile. But Yuko Zama did and you can see her excellent photos here


Jon Abbey said...

I don't know how many people could hear it, or even if Unami could, but the rhythm he tapped out at the end almost exactly matched what the crashed fan by the front row was outputting at that point, a nice, albeit possibly coincidental, touch.

robert said...

Thanks for writing these up Brian, there sure doesn't seem to be much other commentary out there right now. I think back to the ErstQuakes where half a dozen people would drop comments and mini-reviews into the IHM thread. But we have Yuko's excellent pictures and your reports, so one can feel one gets a bit of the picture.

I've long thought that this particular area that Unami has been investigating is very Fluxus and indeed when I was playing Fluxus pieces with the EyeMusic Ensemble I actually did stumble across a piece that basically describes what he does (set up cardboard boxes, use lights to make shadows, use ordinary objects, all sounds incidental). It's buried in some Fluxus anthology (which I may not have) but I remember I found it just after I'd read a review of one of the first of these shows (maybe that one in Scotland?).

It seems that everything is cyclical and follows a certain pattern of going from expressionistic, to minimalist to theatrical to pop. Unami certainly messes in all those areas.

billygomberg said...

two points I strongly agree or sympathize with:

•the Fluxus infuence.

•the potential for Unami simply departing.

it was a very good night.