Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Afterthoughts on the Equinox Festival

Well, the Equinox Festival has been and gone, and Comus have played their second gig in 35 years!
The audience response was ecstatic and fantastic, and we unveiled the first of the new Comus songs, 'Out Of The Coma', as an encore. Things overran quite a bit though earlier in the evening, and we felt bad about the fact that Kinit Her's set seemed to have been cut short to accommodate us. Sorry guys.

An interesting event overall though! It was very good to catch the other bands, especially as I'm curious about the noise / electronica people, and listen to William Basinski and Heroines Of The USSR quite a bit.

It struck me, watching the musicians hunched over tabletops of electronics, that we had no immediate way of knowing for certain how the sounds were being generated; the tabletops of pedals, Electribes, delays and oscillators unleashed great oceanic waves of distorted and filtered sound that broke across the audience. I also wondered why we were all looking at the stage! Perhaps it's because we're so used to seeing musicians playing identifiable instruments that we can't quite relinquish the need to gawp.

I managed to snatch a brief chat with Pietro Riparbelli, who told me about his use of short-wave radio signals as the source material for processing. But I sensed, from a trawl through the websites, a chthotic sub-text to at least some of the music - hardly surprising, given the festival context - and I wonder how, or if, this influences the generative / compositional process. I don't know much about the esoteric / occult world at all. Perhaps I should have caught a couple of the lectures on offer earlier in the afternoon to get a sense of context.

Maybe because of the use of conventional instruments and the inevitable drone violin link with the Velvet Underground, but Yan-gant-y-tan were more immediately comprehensible compared to the music that preceeded and followed. Again, I'd like to know how their electronics conjurer, Mark Pilkington, works. I'm so used to the music 'running out' when I stop blowing or hitting something that it seems very attractive to generate almost limitless sound constructs from the tap of a finger on a mike!

Where did noise insert itself into Western music? Extending instrumental ranges / new instruments / oscillating valves / 'orientalism' / Debussy privileging moment and colour over structure? Radio waves? Futurism? Varese? All of these.....?

I remember reading somewhere that almost as soon as telephony was developed people began to listen to the static and started to interpret sounds they could hear in the noise. And of course, vinyl crackle has its own curious attraction.

I shall return to Rob Young's excellent 'Undercurrents; The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music', for further insights!

My alt. band, Red Square, were interviewed recently by Frances Morgan of Plan B (who, coincidentally, turned up playing bass with Yan-gant-y-tan at Equinox!). At one stage guitarist Ian Staples said that his earliest musical memory was of listening to the timbre of the piano when a note was played. I was struck by the fact that his earliest musical memory was timbral. It occurred to me that my earliest musical memories are largely melodic, probably vocal, but largely 'a-timbral'.

Perhaps that's why I'm fascinated by the noise / electronica thing, but don't naturally go there myself, and why my first instrument is the saxophone.



sjugge said...

interesting read on the perception of noise/sound. A niche best experienced live imho (except the exceptions) since a massive volume helps to fully deploy every aspect of the music.

Anyways, if vinyl crackles and artsy dark ambient in the form of neo-turntablism sounds intriguing, check out Strotter Inst.

Comus said...

As ever, an excellent recommendation, Sjugge! Thanks.

I liked Strotter a lot. It sort of plays into another area I've been thinking about; guerrilla saxophone. I take a track - for example a Strotter piece - as a 'found object' and add sax. It could be foregrounded as in a melody line, or it could be an unobtrusive horn section in a chorus.
I don't know why it appeals, but it does. Is it a 'real instrument' take on turntablism, perhaps?
Hmmm. I've probably been reading too much Foucault on authorship recently.

Right, too, about perception of noise bands; best experienced live, as you say, for the sheer physical impact. But someone like William Basinski or Heroines of the USSR work in that liminal space where noise meets ambient and 'de-metred' glitch. So they can, perhaps, be experienced as a low level aural intervention.

Speak soonest! Jon