Gigs, dance, art

May 30th, 2008: Trio Sowari / Cor Fulher

@instants chavirés

Not exactly a disappointment, because I never expected this to be as good as the previous day. Actually better than I expected, maybe because I had had less than stellar feedback about the opening set.

Cor Fuhler turned out to be better than advertised. Interesting sounds with these ebows and rotating thingies placed inside a piano. Definitely some great moments with mesmerizing sounds, sometimes reminiscent of Indian music drones, something something altogether new. It was often more interesting than mere novelty, but over the long haul I’m not sure it held up all that much. Maybe too much relying on the visual aspect of it all. I think I would have liked a bigger splash, as in going further in the superposing of drones; as it were there was a frustrating cleanness to it all. Some really interesting moments is still better than none though.

I was far more critical of Sowari. Phil Durrant did some interesting — as in unexpected — things with his laptop, but Bertrand Denzler and Burkhard Beins seemed way too predictable. I saw them a couple of years ago and it just too close to that earlier performance. Especially Beins, whose props might have sounded fresh then but were so expected now. Denzler’s play rubbed me the wrong way because it was exactly what I came to expect in this setting. No surprise, no fun for me. And this performance was so predictable I felt it did little justice to what improvised music can be.

May 31, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

May 29th, 2008: Jean-Luc Guionnet & Toshimaru Nakamura / Kristof Kurzmann & John Butcher

@instants chavirés

First day of a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Potlatch label. I was pleased to see that a lot of people showed up for a change; a deserved show of support for people who’ve been doing a lot for free improvisation these years.
I think I didn’t bring an open enough mind for the first set. The very mention of Max/MSP is enough to make me wary these days. It turned out to avoid the pitfalls I expected though, no invasive technical wizardry. I was kinda disappointed anyway because I expected more from John Butcher, who spent the first part of the set playing long continuous notes, maybe to provide some fodder for Kristof Kurzmann‘s laptop. It got more interesting along the way, maybe I just got focused enough to hear both performers. I didn’t like the ending, some beatish loops that just rubbed me the wrong way. Overall I thought it was pretty frustrating because there were hints and promises of more interesting things, but they just never came to pass, and both sounds kept a bit too separate.

On the other hand, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Toshimaru Nakamura delivered all that and more. Guionnet played short percussive notes as well as longer ones, with a wide range of tones that sometimes meshed so well with the mixing board I couldn’t hardly tell them apart. They also were complementary or going their own way at other times, which kept the set from settling into any kind of routine. I was really impressed by Nakamura, this may be my favorite performance on mixing board ever, by anyone. I had been somewhat disappointed the first time I saw him because he had been very subdued, but here he more than made up for that. Many different sounds, from faint and high tones to noisish abrasive sounds, always making sense somehow. And the best in that set was that the whole was even better than the already good individual contributions.

May 30, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

May 26th, 2008: Kronos Quartet

@theatre de la ville

Kind of a regular appointment by now, I’ve been going to hear Kronos each year for a while now. Always predictably unpredictable, but this year was a pretty good one as far as I’m concerned. Spilling the beans this early I’d say that “under 30” project was a stroke of genius that just hit me this year — shows I’m a slow learner, I should have figured that one out a while ago.

The first set began with an arrangement of the Moontrekkers’ Night of the Vampire, but even though it was both identifiable and obviously different from the original, I thought it didn’t put enough of a twist on it to be all that interesting; but that’s also because their previous covers have set the bar pretty high. J.G. Thirlwell’s Nomatophobia was much better, with too pretty a start but quickly getting stronger, and overall some interesting variations in intensity and style, especially in such a short piece, and with a quiet ending that brought to it a feeling of completeness. Amon Tobin’s Bloodstone featured samples of Kronos themselves, short bits as well as overlaid phrases, but my enjoyment was a bit spoiled by the excessive loudness of the recorded stuff, especially the beats at the end, that kinda drowned out the actual playing. No surprise with John Adam’s Fellow Traveler, I loved it. Quite fast and surprisingly short — or at least it appeared short to me — with a dynamism that I found energizing. Small details made it really satisfying to me, and I thought it was one of the most easily accessible of that composer’s works, while remaining interesting.

The set ended with a longer work, commissioned as part of their “under 30” project. I love the way this project brings exposure to younger composers and new ideas, and helps Kronos to avoid settling in a familiar routine — not that they’re close, but it shows that they don’t intend to do so. Aviya Kopelman‘s Widows & Lovers turned out to be my favorite part of the concert. Especially the first part — White Widow — with its use of crowd voices in the beginning, and the way the recorded parts were contrasting with the live playing in a way that nicely complemented it, not exactly a seamless mesh, it was better than that. The second part — Lovers — was less satisfying, as in more predictable, but the third and last part — Black Widow — definitely got me back. My liking this so much has a lot to do with the way she used the cello and especially the viola, one of the very best scores I heard for one of my favorite instruments. This got me very interested in that composer, though I don’t expect to have any opportunity to hear more of her work in the near future. At least I hope Kronos will release this someday.

The second set featured only Vladimir Martynov’s Der Abschied, and I didn’t like it much. Too pretty and expressive for me. The repeated scaling up and down got old about the second time around, and there were many more to come. It’s just not my cup of tea, and the end of the first set had me too charged up to settle down enough to dig such a slow and long one. But then came the encores, which were great as usual. The first was part of an Indian raga, a bit conventional but putting the viola at the forefront like this will always win me over. Then they played the Iraqi tune Oh Mother, The Handsome Man Tortures Me, which I first heard on Sublime FrequenciesChoubi Choubi! compilation. The final encore was Sigur Rós‘ Flugufrelsarinn, and their version was delivered with all the required energy. One of their good covers, with a good arrangement that pretty much let each performer play an important part in the whole. Of course this band’s music is close enough to be more easily adapted for a string quartet, but their version still adds something.

May 29, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

May 25th, 2008: Joe McPhee & Jean-Luc Cappozzo

@instants chavirés

Early gig, and unfortunately pretty short, I could have used a third set. Two trumpets most of the time — Jean-Luc Cappozzo had two, and McPhee a small and a big one — though Joe McPhee also made good use of a soprano saxophone, and just stepped back at times. But that does not mean it was the same kind of sound throughout, far from it. There was the usual understated breathing through the instruments so prevalent in the free improvisation scene, but it was just one sound among many, so it never had a chance to grow tiresome. And there was also some whistling through and even a kind of singing that gave a third and even a fourth line with only two performers. Cappozzo also used a different mouthpiece that yielded a buzzing, reedy sound and in the gimmick department McPhee started by pouring water into his pocket trumpet, which eventually yielded a gurgling sound. He also made good percussive use of his bigger trumpet by hitting the mouthpiece with his palm. And they even were daring enough to play in a regular way.

That’s just for the range of sounds, but it actually never devolved into an empty display, more like going through the possibilities of the instruments but in the course of carrying on a conversation. I did feel dazzled at times, and more than a little of it went way over my head, but that’s my lack of fluency in that language showing. I liked that they played slow at some points, it’s not that usual in there, this avoidance of technical virtuosity. And it proved that Joe McPhee could perfectly well sound smooth when he wants to, and that emphasized the choices made earlier. That’s probably where a third set could have been good for me, maybe I was ready by then to ignore the novelty of the different sounds and focus on the music itself; too often I missed the boat, which not much time to recover because they mostly played shortish sequences.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

May 24th, 2008: Sister Iodine / Super SS

@instants chavirés

Super SS had quite a setup, with a half dozen screens and a VJ. I didn’t care much for these though, pretty colors and all, I just wasn’t interested, and kinda repelled by the additional performer. So I just ignored that and focused on the music. Loud, repetitive drumming that just stuck to a pattern for a long time, not interesting by itself, but the repetition finally made it worthwhile, in that despite its loudness it kinda faded in the background, letting the electronics of Andy Bolus emerge. I wish I could have picked these earlier, but the drums were just too distracting. Anyway once I could focus on these, it much improved my experience. Not as good as some of his solo or collaborative efforts, but the combination of both elements improved it. So it was good enough, though not great it was not a disappointment.

Sister Iodine was a very pleasant surprise. I had seen them once and wasn’t impressed, an impression much worsened by the constant praise I’ve been hearing for years. I was feeling like I missed them when they were at the top of their game. That might still be true, but at least I now have an idea of what the fuss was all about. That set hooked me quickly, with a song featuring a lot of stop and go, where the mayhem would fade and pause before starting full speed again. A lot of feedback of course, with an interesting drummer in his ability to withdraw and come back seamlessly. Amazingly cohesive unit, where the individual contributions merge perfectly into a better whole, one where the separate parts become totally irrelevant. Some of their stuff reminded me of early Sonic Youth, but rougher. I really liked that set, and it might be the first time I didn’t feel any irritation at Lionel Fernandez’ playing or specific awe at Erik Minkkinen’s, so well did the the parts mesh. It was over all too soon, which probably means just at the right time, what with my usually short attention span.

May 25, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

May 23rd, 2008: Sasha Waltz – Travelogue 1 Twenty to eight

@theatre de la ville

I had heard high praise for this one, but I wasn’t expecting much because the praise focused on stuff I don’t like all that much — namely the theater/pantomime aspects — and because of my past experience with Sasha Waltz‘ work. My problem has been that I can intellectually appreciate what’s going on, but I fail to connect on a more emotional/physical level. Which is actually a cause for hope, I pretty much had the opposite problem with Meg Stuart for years, until Alibi bridged that gap. So I’m still going to try to break through, even though it was the same old story this time around, probably worse than the previous time, but as it was from fifteen years ago, that’s not an issue.

It was not abstract enough for me, the more literally theatrical parts didn’t help, even though I did like the gradual shift to dance and back. That was very well done, but again I failed to connect, and was left with the impression that I was missing something important. I felt I was making some progress though, because these intermediate stages were more interesting to me than the purer dance sections. My favorite moment came early on, when a male dancer was really mixing both levels with the table and chairs, with motions that were going back and forth between natural movement and dance moves that were more than an extension of the original ones; that was part of it, but there was clearly something more at work here. I wish there had been more of that balance in the rest of the show, but it was mostly too much of one part or the other. It feels weird to complain about more pure dance, but in that case I didn’t connect to it, so I’d have wish to stick with what works. It was a big success anyway, so who cares about what I think?

Maybe next time I’ll finally get it?

May 24, 2008 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

May 22nd, 2008: Crystal Castles / Fuck Buttons / Telepathe


I wasn’t sure about would be the headlining band, I kinda expected Fuck Buttons to be the main act, what with all the buzz they’ve been getting recently. This was not the case, and I figured that out just from the youth of the audience; a sure sign that the crowd drawing act is one I’ve never heard about. On the other hand, the second set was the longest. Go figure.

It all started pretty well, with a nice surprise from Telepathe. Nothing earth-shattering, but nice and fresh mix of samples, drums and voices, with a splash of guitar. I’d have gladly bought a record, but all they had were T-shirts, and the guitar player didn’t seem too much into his ware-peddling duties anyway. I would not go to a gig they open for them alone, but their presence should tip the balance if I’m hesitating.

Then it was on to Fuck Buttons, the reason I was there in the first place. Good almost continuous set, much more controlled — in a good way — than the first time I saw them, yet more interesting at the same time, due to more different sounds and the use of a keyboard and especially a tom — used to great effect for a while. Still a marked noise heritage, but more accessible despite the distorted voice and almost danceable, with many things beyond the first impression. Not experimental but they would probably make a great gate band, bringing more people to be exposed to the more adventurous stuff — it might even work the other way, but I’m not holding my breath on that. I had seen them a couple of years ago when they opened for Family Battle Snake and Minitel and I remember chatting a little with them and leaving with both a CD and the impression that they were nice guys.

Now that I’ve listened to their latest CD, I have to had that it does little justice to the way they sound live. Their live sound is rougher, and all the better for it; the CD is too clean and that production removed the most interesting bits. Still a nice record, but way too nice. Being better live than in a studio is a plus as far as I’m concerned, so that’s not a bad thing. I’ll be there next time, is all, and I hope I won’t have to wait two years.

The crowd went wild for Crystal Castles, me excluded. I was bored close to actually leaving, but I stayed for the whole of their mercifully short set. Boring drummer, grating samples. The singer was a bit better, though she seemed to stick to whispering or screaming, with some vocoder for a change of pace. Whorish music, tailored to appeal and reminiscent of the worst the eighties had to inflict, with a brand new shining coat of paint but I lived those and have no wish to go through that again.

May 23, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , | Leave a comment