Tuesday, July 31, 2007

'Oh, Play That Thing'

Forbidden Planet
Portman Hotel, Bournemouth

"Most of the machines that surround our lives – airliners, refrigerators, cars and typewriters – have streamlined their way into our affections. Now and then… we can see clearly the deep hostility of the mineral world. We are lucky that the organic realm reached the foot of the evolutionary ladder before the inorganic."
--J.G. Ballard.

Machines have always been viewed as mysterious objects – not merely the evolved brother of the basic tool, but mystic enablers, the implacable mystery of the mineral world combining with the secretive guarding of the internal processes, a fascination deepened by the advent of computers: silicon, with a molecular structure closer to diamond than any metal, the halfway house between base metals and gold, becomes the inscrutable transformer of the physical. How we get from input to output becomes even more odd with instruments, these magickal talismans invoking the ghost of electricity to set humanity in fear and trembling one more time. Planet Monkey (a.k.a. Random Loop Generator), crouched over a collection of synths, at least one with its raw guts exposed, face hidden by hood, mask and goggles, seems to know just what to do with just such a feeling: abuse it. He seems to be a man who knows his sci-fi – the literature in which technology is distinguished by its ability to cause cold, pants-soiling terror. Or at least that’s what he wants to do: he spends the next half hour or so sculpting shapes out of static, sluggish beats and alarm-siren synth blurts. It undergoes the usual noise process of slow, organic shifting, introducing removing and modifying elements as he goes along. There were certain points where he got the construction just right, tweaking up the scraping-metal feedback to teeth-grinding levels. Unfortunately, this is where we hit my problem area with noise: if the idea is to terrorise the audience, then the fact that they have paid to watch makes it ultimately self-defeating. No matter how much evil sonic pain you throw at them, they’ll carry on sipping their pints (exactly what the audience in the Portman did.) If noise instead has the purpose of whipping the audience into a frenzy (this being Wolf Eyes’ approach), or of being confrontational on a psychic level (as with Whitehouse, or Maryanne Amacher) then a different approach is called for; the fact that Wolf Eyes are now sliding back into rockist good-time-music perhaps proves their isn’t much left to reap in the middle ground Planet Monkey harvests.

On a lighter note, Skitanja were excellent as always; having written about them before, you should know the drill by now. I would say that this time they played with even more absurdist frenzy, Steve Potatoes wrenching more brilliantly primitive noise from his guitar and the drummer mutating into a blur of limbs and exotic instruments at the drop of a hat. They even added an extended coda (I think) to ’77 And Mama Kiki’, for our pleasure, and the choice of Sin City as their backing film was appropriate in its brutality.

Far from routine was Animal Magic Tricks. As she took her place among keyboard, Fisher Price toy and guitar, I was wondering where the rest of the band was. And then… Jesus. The scene from Baron Munchausen in which Uma Thurman is revealed from inside a clam played as her transfixing voice emerged over toy melodies. Face close to the mike, eyes open then closed, breath transubstantiating… She started the next song, over minimal electronic waves: "Have you ever dreamed of pure love/And then found their heart was full of blood?" The sea shimmers, water on water the only sound; a body, like driftwood, washes onto the sand. Her stage presence, condensed down to the smallest core, was utterly bewitching; asking for a bit more volume on her IPod, introducing "another song I wrote last week", conjuring up a few chords on the keyboard, or just letting out the bleeding purity of that voice, she commanded attention. At the end of each song the applause could have shook the place apart. The animals move, somnambulant, through a landscape of bells and glass, tinkling underfoot; the wind keens. I’m searching for antecedents, comparisons, and I’m finding nothing. Maybe Scout Niblett if she played the synths. Or Jessica Rylan if she sang her confessional poetry as sleepy-time pop songs. Even these don’t fit. And to think Kate fucking Nash is number 2. There is no fucking justice. Hush, the buildings, they are sleeping now.

After that, I wasn't quite sure what to make of Blind Voyeurs. I'm normally orthodoxy-sniffing by the time any band sets up their instruments, and the presence of the usual guitar-guitar-bass-drums set-up (with the novel addition of DJ and keyboards) had me fearing boring rockism. Thankfully, their work was entirely elsewhere: wiry (and Wire-y) blasts of twisting, turning rock; disciplined, dramatic rhythms and guitar lines; psychedelic in the same way as OK Computer-era Radiohead; and, thankfully, mostly instrumental (the occasional singing, whilst nice, carried lyrics a bit too 'soulful white guy' for my tastes). The guitarist was an animated presence, fixing attention (and making photography near-impossible), even taking off his shirt halfway through for added effect (he excused himself with "It's warm.") The machines come full circle: electricity once again at the service of mankind, ripping up the air in the best possible manner.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dan.

Really, really good review!

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Perhaps contributing more reviews in the future too?

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