Thursday, July 11, 2013

Two theses

Both diploma theses are out there now, available for free download as PDFs. I generally recommend reading Gender construction first as it discusses some basic ideas in greater detail and deals more closely with the interview material collected for my project, whereas the second thesis increases the presence of secondary literature's discussion. However, both can be considered standalone papers.

Gender construction and American 'Free Folk' music(s) (2012):

This exploratory study attempts to locate gender in heterogeneous, dynamic fields of American underground music that are best described by tracing the complex social relations that constitute them. Rhizomatic concepts (Deleuze / Guattari) are combined with Bennett and Peterson’s scene concept (local / trans-local / virtual). As the scenes are constituted on an everyday level and between like-minded friends, they can be discussed in ‘folk’ terms (via Keenan and Valentine). Gender is conceptualized as not essential and as multiply relational (via Scott and Griesebner). Tracing the field of research along narrations collected through qualitative / problem-centered interviews, mostly with musicians, the thesis can be understood as analogous to the concept of ‘minor history’ (Joseph / Kelley). The scenes are discussed in all their heterogeneity and contingency. Over the course of eight sub-chapters, a dense web is constructed that establishes connections between the results of these qualitative interviews’ analysis and further literature. These scenes appear very open and are constituted through friendship and mutual support; there is a fruitful tension between the scenes’ oft-perceived collectivity and their interest in individual creativity. DIY (Do It Yourself)-based creativity is relevant. Gender roles and relations, while rarely consciously questioned in performance, aren’t very rigid. Through some of these musics, gender and authorship are challenged, although rarely explicitly so; instruments’ use is heterogeneous and usually not measured according to rock music’s gendered standards. Nonetheless, at times quasi-archaic patterns and rigidities are encountered. The thesis closes with a plea for (self-)reflection on numerous levels.

Politics and American 'Free Folk' music(s) (2013):

This diploma thesis, second text in a larger project, traces political potentials and engagement with power relations in local, trans-local, virtual, socially constituted 'free folk' music scenes in the USA. Qualitative, problem-centered interviews serve as guides and are connected to literature on politics and culture and, crucially, key texts dealing with past scenes' power relations and politics. The thesis's approach can be understood as analogous to Branden W. Joseph's 'minor history'. History is understood as fragmentary, constructed and non-linear. Elaboration on Joseph's writing leads to an examination of potential histories in these scenes and an application of key ideas (the implications of John Cage's work; sovereign, disciplinary, control power) to these contemporary musical-social fields, showing a variety of sometimes unactualized potentials. Nadya Zimmerman's 'Counterculture Kaleidoscope' provides impulses for discussions of DIY culture, improvisation (via Gilbert and Russell), psychedelia and these scenes' relation to contemporary capitalism. Starting with Mark Gridley's critique of constructed links between free jazz and the civil rights movement and criticism of his approach, the last main chapter presents numerous manifestations of politics in these scenes, mostly through interview and email quotes. Awareness is encountered, explicit political activity less so: 'the personal' is often 'the political'. Dealing with questions like the complicated inclusion of politics in music and perceptions of flattened, careless scenes, the thesis closes by suggesting articulation of these scenes' diverse, powerful aspects and tactics (altering of perception, collective improvisation, DIY ethics, openness…) into broader strategies that challenge seemingly given social / political / economic constructs.

If you get around to reading either paper and happen to have any feedback / comments, please contact me!

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Gender construction and American 'Free Folk' music(s)

Sorry, I haven't been updating this blog. However, my diploma thesis, finished earlier this year, is out there:

"This exploratory study attempts to locate gender in heterogeneous, dynamic fields of American underground music that are best described by tracing the complex social relations that constitute them. Rhizomatic concepts (Deleuze / Guattari) are combined with Bennett and Peterson’s scene concept (local / trans-local / virtual). As the scenes are constituted on an everyday level and between like-minded friends, they can be discussed in ‘folk’ terms (via Keenan and Valentine). Gender is conceptualized as not essential and as multiply relational (via Scott and Griesebner). Tracing the field of research along narrations collected through qualitative / problem-centered interviews, mostly with musicians, the thesis can be understood as analogous to the concept of ‘minor history’ (Joseph / Kelley). The scenes are discussed in all their heterogeneity and contingency. Over the course of eight sub-chapters, a dense web is constructed that establishes connections between the results of these qualitative interviews’ analysis and further literature. These scenes appear very open and are constituted through friendship and mutual support; there is a fruitful tension between the scenes’ oft-perceived collectivity and their interest in individual creativity. DIY (Do It Yourself)-based creativity is relevant. Gender roles and relations, while rarely consciously questioned in performance, aren’t very rigid. Through some of these musics, gender and authorship are challenged, although rarely explicitly so; instruments’ use is heterogeneous and usually not measured according to rock music’s gendered standards. Nonetheless, at times quasi-archaic patterns and rigidities are encountered. The thesis closes with a plea for (self-)reflection on numerous levels."

If you get around to reading it and feel like sending me feedback, please do so -- I'd be utterly delighted to read it. I might post some more info / thoughts on the thesis and its genesis at some point.

Another thing that has been out there for a while now but not yet mentioned on this blog is my article on Not Not Fun for last year's Elevate Festival, in English and German.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Noise and enabling: Stefan Kushima's farewell to Joey Chainsaw

The musics commonly tagged as noise or drone, with their frequently encountered tendency towards the formless, often evade the sort of emotional ascriptions that are common to more traditional forms. Can there be intention to noise? If intention is deducible, if the sounds are recognized on the level of intentions and perceived emotionality, is it still noise we are hearing / feeling? If noise is that which disturbs, which is always unfinished or dissipates (as Paul Hegarty, also discussing the "formless" via Bataille's informe, would claim in Noise / Music: A History), can emotions be ascribed to it at all? Of course, this might conflate "noise" as a common term with "noise" as a genre denominator. An intense Viennese Saturday night, somewhat colder than it could have been at this time of year, offered food for thought on these issues and, more importantly, enabled, fed and helped memories for those involved.

That evening, Vienna-based musician Stefan Kushima bid farewell to his close friend and artistic collaborator, Bristol-based Joey Chainsaw, who had passed away a few days earlier. It was Stefan himself who had introduced me to Joey's recordings not too long before, lending me a CD-R anthology he had received from his friend as well as presenting me with their duo release In The Spiral Door. Joey's music sounds uncompromising, and uncompromisingly DIY, crude, intense and certainly diverse in its exploratory character. I hear Joey, whom I never got to meet, was a gentle and sweet character. These musical and personal attributes are not necessarily ones often thought analogous in everyday usage – a discrepancy that can be frustrating, presumably for the artists in particular, but also useful, even possible to harness. This "secret Joey farewell" similarly defied these characterizations.

The concert took place at the Lust Gallery, a space close to the Donaukanal and, at the time of the concert, visited by a crowd probably attending an exhibition event. The concert itself was not publicized, and exhibition attendants mixed with the group of people interested in Joey's and Stefan's work. The handful of times I had seen Stefan play live recently, usually under his Cruise Family guise, his work embraced a certain pop pluralism. It has been tending towards, as he might call it, the "technoid", an imaginative melting and molding of musical ideas easily identified as the work of a voracious listener: visit Stefan's apartment and you're as likely to hear Ol' Dirty Bastard as Orphan Fairytale, while :zoviet*france: share speakers and headspace with Mariah Carey…

Still, at this concert, Stefan's music was probably closer to the raw, murky drone / noise of In The Spiral Door, a move that in what has been called today's "post-noise underground" here and there could almost be tagged "back to the roots"; however, it appears more beneficial to consider these sounds strands of a broadening field of artistic possibilities. It is fitting that Stefan has recently released a tape (Orbital Express) on Not Not Fun Records, a label whose quasi-postmodern pluralism is a particularly successful example of these tendencies (and whose website very aptly described Stefan's most recent exploits as those of a "neo-rave laser-rider").

As is his wont, Stefan spent most of the gig hunched over keyboards and pedals. In addition to a photo depicting Joey, some fond and playful tribute artwork and the circulation of a water bottle filled with vodka, Joey-style, he incorporated recordings of Joey's into his set, looping them and weaving them into his dense soundscapes. I finally got to see Stefan use his violin live, both vocalizing into it and stroking it with his bow during what felt like the concert's second third. The last part included percussive elements and, I believe, featured one of Joey's recordings looped on its own for a while.

I can't tell what the (presumably) unknowing bystanders thought of the set; did it just appear to be one ungodly racket (which it certainly was in the best possible sense), or did they perceive how Stefan's feelings for Joey (obviously, to me) fed into his physical approach towards his gear? While its vocal sounds were almost unrecognizable, the violin-centered section certainly matched signifiers of intensity and emotionality. The percussive section could doubtlessly be called ritualistic, or ritual-like in its emphasis on repetition and shifting tempi.

(Joey and Stefan live, July 2010)

Stefan's set, not just in its obvious musical and performative aspects, did that and more. Through the incorporation of Joey's music, photo, artwork dedicated to him, through Stefan's own bodily involvement, through one's knowledge of the concert's occasion as well as the personal and, indivisibly and indistinguishably from it, artistic friendship between Joey and Stefan, visitors were able to connect to a very unique field of intensity. Stefan's sometime collaborator Vanessa Arn (of Primordial Undermind) commented on his set that he was a "channeller"; if he was a channeller, he was also an enabler, invoking not one objective image of Joey Chainsaw but performing, harnessing and offering diverse aspects of their relations and experiences. Anyone engaging with Stefan's set and its background is likely to have developed very inspiring ideas of what Joey Chainsaw and his connection to this evening's performer were about.

The music's formless character itself arguably was not the evening's very central factor in the sense of a deterministic mood-shifter, but rather was a realization of daily and yet not-daily artistic DIY praxis integral to the farewell performance. This was not functional music subject to a specific topic and occasion, but certainly not untouched thereby either. Stefan has expressed frustration about the relatively small size of Joey's listener base, but the complex of music, artwork, DIY tactics, memories and care he helped manifest at the Lust Gallery has certainly helped make Joey unforgettable to some people and will help further investigations and connections be made.

Dead Pilot Records: RIP Joey Chainsaw
Lava Thief: RIP Joey Chainsaw
Rottenmeats: Joey Chainsaw Rest in Peace

Thursday, May 12, 2011


(Avarus, Jarse, Mik Quantius and Tempel Solaire will play Garage X on May 20.)


Avarus’s Jättiläisrotta (giant rat) depicts five perfectly healthy band members, with ringleader Arttu “Amon Düde” Partinen either signalling his approval or hoping to hitch a ride. The scene also features a collection of disembodied heads belonging to other members of the collective, so it seems unlikely any vehicle would stop for this bunch. Will Avarus make it to Garage X?

Members of Avarus are involved with the Fonal and Lal Lal Lal labels, focal points of Finnish friendship and freak-out networks. These people are everywhere. How can Avarus itself, as an entity, leave the sidewalk that is obviously not their only habitat? Let’s focus on one particular mode of travel and consider the “Three Stages of Drunkenness” encountered prominently in the Jättiläisrotta press release:

Stage 1. “I wish I were drunk”

Stage 2. “I have to puke”

Stage 3. Jättiläisrotta

Stage 1 manifests desire and serves as entry point. While stage 2 might appear fairly dynamic, it can be conceptualized as territorial. Layers of vomit stratify the sidewalk. Arttu wants to hitch a ride, but he approves, too. Avarus’s music: positive, improvised, if necessary using balloons and inflatable guitars, is dynamic enough not to be shaped solely by territorial limitations. Slip onto this sidewalk as you pass by… Stage 3, the giant rat itself, is a parasite and happy to stay and enjoy its position, but don’t expect it to remain forever. It goes beyond, denotes what is hard to grasp. This rat will not be domesticated.

We need not reduce the giant rat to a mere effect of alcohol. If it keeps on moving, it is both a placeholder and a vehicle for the non-territorial. Like Avarus’s music, it is transporting. When it passes by, Avarus climb up its tail and throw rope ladders over the side. Sometimes Jättiläisrotta even becomes a beast of the sea, carrying its riders/manifestors across oceans, as it did for 2006’s amazing Terrastock 6 festival in Providence, Rhode Island, which showcased the band as part of an international network of adventurous, DIY-oriented musicians. Keeping in contact internationally through various shifting media over the years, they boldly go where no rat has carried anyone before.

Terrastock organizer Jeffrey Alexander has released Avarus albums on his Secret Eye label, and he will join Avarus on this tour (hopefully not as a disembodied head), ideally preparing the Viennese audience Rhode Island Coffeemilk Lattes. Arrive in one piece, Jeffrey. Vienna needs you!

Like rats conjoined by tails, Avarus may be confined to the stage; but musically, this rat king spreads plague, gyrating with punky krautrock rhythms or hovering, spewing not-quite-animal noises while, as their tour artwork suggests, a unicorn sits on a nearby cliff and excretes rainbows all over the place. You have been warned. Please attend.

(Poster by Royl Culbertson and Stefan Kushima)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some thoughts on Mercury Rev's "Peel Sessions" (2009) and their "all-inclusive Americana"

I wrote the majority of this text in one piece, trying to get rid of a variety of thoughts I had been carrying around for a while. Having written this review, I noticed that it mostly represents a way of thinking about music that I feel isn't what I'm doing, or interested in doing, these days, presumably indicating that these changes in perception of music, aesthetics, whatever have gone hand in hand with new musical discoveries while some old favourites are still connected to and associated with other forms of thinking – in other words, maybe there's a delay in applying more recent ideas and influences to music I have known for many years (or – which would pose a bigger problem – maybe certain ideas I have about music now are not quite as easily applicable there). To me, this may actually end up being the most important aspect to take with me from this particular review, but, having added some further ideas, I would still like to post the entire text as 1. it deals with music that I consider amazing but also underlistened and underdiscussed and 2. maybe getting rid of these thoughts, superficial as I may consider some of them to be, will make room or produce valuable starting points for new ones. That said, in recent months, the idea of All Is Dream being a continuation of the Young/Nitzsche aesthetic is one that has been very important to my understanding of certain aspects I might be looking for or like connecting to, so it may be a good idea for me to dig deeper there.

This review is an attempt at discussing Mercury Rev's recent Peel Sessions release while trying to figure out what has made and kept this band's music so interesting to me throughout the years, and/or how the band, or better: my idea of the band, works. Mercury Rev have been a constant within my listening practices for years now: while reading through message boards may sometimes lead to the impression that the group's different incarnations tend to appeal to different persons, I keep finding different things to like in all the stylistic shifts that have taken place over the years, caused both by actual line-up changes (of which there have been many) and the members' obvious desire to move on. Somewhat intriguingly, even though the Mercury Rev of, say, 2001's polished, carefully arranged All Is Dream may sound nothing like the Mercury Rev of 1991's slightly ramshackle, delightfully noisy Yerself Is Steam (and neither really sounds like the Mercury Rev of 2008's labyrinthine, glossy Snowflake Midnight), retrospective comparison of the seven "main" albums the band has released so far appears to suggest that every single one already bore the next one's seeds, as unexpected as some of the moves may have been at the time.

And thus, Yerself Is Steam begat its David Baker-dominated technicolour sibling Boces, whose slightly jazzy, mellower Jonathan Donahue-sung moments (especially "Boys Peel Out") begat the bizarre Gershwin/Bernstein/Disney/Wilson vibes of 1995's See You On The Other Side; that singular but often overlooked album's quasi-hauntological approach led to what ended up being the almost-defunct band's unexpected breakthrough (commercially and in terms of media coverage), the mellow and masterfully produced Deserter's Songs. With bassist Dave Fridmann becoming one of the "indie world's" most sought-after producers and sometime-sibling band The Flaming Lips enjoying similar and soon even greater exposure, the Rev expanded Deserter's Songs' psychedelic Band-isms for the opulent widescale Americana of All Is Dream whose song structures and mystic atmospherics already pointed towards the far less organic sounding indie pop of The Secret Migration. 2008's Snowflake Midnight, then, might have seen the band's most profound changes since the mid-90s, taking The Secret Migration's aspirations towards a more electronics-based sound and combining it with quite unpredictable (and, indeed, often computer-generated) structures. Throughout all this, the Rev kept a fascination with vastly different influences, incorporating, embodying and adapting alternate strata of American musics of the 20th century.

This isn't to say that (remaining founding members) Jonathan Donahue, Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiak and their peers' work can be reduced to some form of full-on musical Americanism, whatever that may be; on the particularly obvious field of direct references, which is where such an idea would presumably originate, various John Lennon covers and a fascination with Le Petit Prince, among other things, already suggest otherwise. However, the way some of these influences – from the ubiquitous Neil Young to Steve Reich, from Miles Davis to Sonic Youth, from the Dream Syndicate/VU/Suicide NY drone connections to Dylan and The Band) have been digested, reproduced, altered and emulated in a wide variety of evocative ways (I've never been to the Catskill Mountains but I feel I have!) points towards the band's mastery of decidedly "American" coding in their music. So, doesn't this type of history sound good, easy and obvious? Maybe too much so? So it's all the better if a collection like The Peel Sessions comes along that gives one an opportunity to reflect on this seemingly linear band history, puts it into question, maybe confirms it in one way and shakes it into oblivion in another.


The Peel Sessions collects the band's five appearances on John Peel's even posthumously ubiquitous BBC shows, one session for each of the albums Mercury Rev released between their inception and 2001. The album's encompassing of this particular timespan added to my interest in its release – while I certainly enjoy and, in many ways, admire the two most recent albums, it's the first five that I consider particularly exciting, as different as they may be from each other. Many of the songs have appeared on other releases, often on singles, the band's best of/rarities double-CD The Essential Mercury Rev: Stillness Breathes 1991-2006 and, most notably, the glorious Lego My Ego rarities compilation, available only with some versions of Yerself Is Steam, that contained all four songs from that era's session. Due to The Peel Sessions' chronological approach, these four songs open disc 1, this time appearing without the bizarre intros and outros that made listening to Lego My Ego a particularly refreshing experience. Still, these recordings, all of them versions of songs found on the original album, are thoroughly strong, with "Frittering" and "Coney Island Cyclone" sounding somewhat more mellow and laid-back than their sometimes beautifully disorienting and chaotic album counterparts. They sound quite a bit closer to mid-to-late nineties Rev, too. "Frittering" probably offers both the session's strongest and most disappointing moments: the addition of Suzanne Thorpe's ever-welcome flute makes the song remarkably pretty, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, it fades out during the still cavernous instrumental middle part. David Baker finally adds his volatile and always exhilarating presence to the third and fourth songs, doing backing vocals on "Syringe Mouth" and a fronting the band for a musically faithful but lyrically entirely bizarre (and funny) reading of expansive album opener "Chasing A Bee", here turned into "Chasing A Girl (Inside A Car") as it was called on Lego My Ego, with most of the lyrics having been replaced by somewhat similar sounding ones. Early on already, the upstate New York band did a fantastic job at taking alternative/psychedelic rock idioms and displacing them, making them seem "noisy" even at moments when there wasn't all that much noise around through means like production disorienting and immersive in its impurity or Baker's unusual vocals; at the same time, a recording like "Coney Island Cyclone" here shows a familiarity not just with more straightforward modes but also with a use of atmosphere making these musics tend towards something touching beyond cliché and mimicry, working what might otherwise be mere signifiers of classic popular music even from way before the sixties into contemporary psychedelia without ever giving the impression of really looking back.

The jump to the Boces era doesn't offer any particular surprises, sound-wise, to those familiar with the album itself, but the song choice and the treatment of some of these pieces is quite intriguing. "Trickle Down" had always felt like the Rev's most (diffusely) "urban" moment to me with its harsh stop-start moments and Baker's often spoken lyrics, probably a simplistic assessment or contextualisation of the song, but even this realisation didn't keep it from being a bit of an oddity within their discography. Here, it benefits from a thundering intro similar to what sounds like the attack of a few dozen theremins on Boces' "Snorry Mouth". Suddenly, "Trickle Down", otherwise hardly changed (most obviously, it misses Baker's F-bombs near the end; this was a BBC session after all) seems much more typical an example of the early Rev's exuberant noisy, psychedelic pop. The least expected change, however, comes with "Downs Are Feminine Balloons": what is probably the most beautifully mellow, pastoral song released during the Baker years is played twice as fast here, maybe not too far removed from a cheerful, childish Sonic Youth, or what The Flaming Lips were doing at the time; the foggy, abstract middle section is still in there, thankfully, making this a particularly unique and exciting recording. Donahue's only slightly augmented "Boys Peel Out" closes the session on a laid-back, strangely nostalgic note, its lyrics about "your momma"'s reminiscences of times "back before the war" heading into a dreamy aether, the whole song seemingly pointing forward to the See You On The Other Side phase.

Not too long after, David Baker left – or: was thrown out of – the group, presumably in an attempt to end grave tensions within it; he went on to record a joyously colourful record of strangely bubble gum-ish psych-pop under the moniker Shady and, after some additional production work, apparently quit making music. While it is hard to tell his exact role within the band's early years – I assume Baker was less involved with songwriting but had an important influence on the band's overall approach in sound, visuals, lyrical content... – his departure resulted in what might be the most obvious shifts in the band's history, leaving behind a truly unique legacy while at the same time paving the way for something very different that would be sorely missed as well. Here's hoping that new music of his will turn up sooner or later.

1995 must have been a very strange year for Mercury Rev: most famously, they released See You On The Other Side, a truly idiosyncratic album that sometimes sounds like it was beamed in from a pre-WWII world but in some ways pre-echoes the droning but melodic haziness and weirdness of, say, some of Animal Collective's more abstract takes on pop structures (especially circa Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished). Despite being a personal favourite of the band members', the album failed to make much of a (commercial) impact and still tends to be forgotten in message board discussions and the like. While it feels like a transitional record in many ways, dividing the noisy psych-pop of old from the opulently arranged Americana of the late nineties, it stands perfectly well on its own and, in spite of its references to musics from throughout the twentieth century and its vague similarities to recent psychedelic pop experimenters, still sounds like nothing else I have encountered, especially on seemingly shapeless, hazy pop oddities like "Everlasting Arm", a song that could be considered classicist in some ways but sounded like the strangest piece of music when I heard it first, years ago. Here, again, ideas of nostalgia don't quite get to the point as this piece of music certainly knows its tricks of how to disorient the listener, of how to fulfil the idea of "dream pop" (not to forget that there's some great John Cale-style piano underneath it all).

However, if one were to judge this phase of the band solely by its one video, a very different impression might be left: "Young Man's Stride" is one of the most straightforward rock songs the band has ever recorded, and its video, directed by Moby, engulfs a suddenly rather tough-looking band in what seems to my unexperienced eyes like rather generic mid-nineties alt-rock aesthetics – quite unusual for a band that was formed by film students who learned from people like Tony Conrad and had released mostly rather chaotic, humourous and often decidedly psychedelic videos up to that point. An attempt to get more airplay? Experimental film students' interest in for once getting the chance to do a high-profile, professionalised clip funded by its major label? Who knows, but even though it's one of the least convincing artefacts I have encountered from this band, it is worth watching to try and contextualise this oddity.

The same year, most of the band (as Harmony Rockets) spontaneously played an improvised piece at the Rhinecliff Hotel in the band's native Hudson Valley, later to be released as Paralyzed Mind Of The Archangel Void, forty minutes of intense and shapeshifting drone rock and one of these musicians' most (physically and creatively) energetic releases that would fit in nicely with recent waves of immersive psychedelic drone artists. And indeed, with Harmony Rockets' appearance at one of the recent ATP festivals, performing the originally improvised piece in its entirety as a puzzling but relatively exciting choice for ATP's Don't Look Back series (which I generally can't claim to be particularly fond of due to a variety of implications in its conception, but that is a very different story), the album might finally receive some recognition.

Thus, between See You On The Other Side's almost Song Cycle-style psychedelic classicist experiments, the muscular dark alt-rock aesthetics of the "Young Man's Stride" video and Harmony Rockets' swirling drone bliss, it's hard to pin-point where Mercury Rev found themselves in 1995; and in the face of the overly linear band history I introduced at the beginning of this review, that probably is a good thing. Fortunately, the band's 1995 Peel Session throws yet another curve ball. The aforementioned "Everlasting Arm", the album's only actual single, crashes in with huge power chords, while Jonathan Donahue's vocals sound a lot more assured than on the record, even hinting at some professional entertainer-style flourishes, while Suzanne Thorpe's flute melody appears to stay true to the original recording and, just like on the sped-up "Downs Are Feminine Balloons", almost heroically so, underlining her importance to the band's early history. "Racing The Tide" needs less tweaking to follow "Everlasting Arm"'s straight-forward jazz-rock style, having relied quite a bit on those big chords on the studio version already. However, here they are brought to the fore, painting yet another different image of the band's approach at the time. A cover of "I Only Have Eyes For You" appears more obvious, almost like a successor to "Boys Peel Out", while "Close Encounters Of The 3rd Grade" remains the same jazzy jam it always was, closing this rather unexpected, strangely polished session. Here, Mercury Rev don't sound like a band in transition, a band unassured of what it's doing, and, with the exception of that cover, arguably not like a band that is going to record Deserter's Songs next.

However, when a slightly glammy cover of John Lennon's "I Don't Want To Be A Soldier" opens that album's session and thus disc 2, things seem to make a bit more sense again, also reminding me that Mercury Rev's live act stayed quite rock-based and "electric" even for the band's mellower songs well into the 21st century. That said, "The Funny Bird" and "Tonite It Shows", combined here into one continuous track, do a great job at capturing Deserter's Songs' unique late-night-in-the-Hudson Valley atmosphere.

Most importantly, the latter song's stripped down arrangement resembles the impossibly hazy sessions the band did for KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic around that time; the opportunity to stream these sessions would later make me check out Neil Young's On The Beach, my first album of his, as a cover of "Motion Pictures" was among the songs performed. Picture Donahue singing this downbeat tune with a faint, sleepy smile on his face and a faint, sleepy organ in the background, and you might get an impression of what these sessions sound like... at least in my memory. After the experiences discussed in the earlier paragraphs, songs like "Tonite It Shows" suggest yet again that one of the most interesting thing's achieved by Mercury Rev appears to be what could be called, albeit somewhat unhelpfully, a hard-to-grasp timelessness of big parts of their music. Despite certainly not being without peers, without context, having played as Sonic Youth's support act, shared personnel with The Flaming Lips and toured with My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized, and despite an obvious fondness for sounds of old (but maybe recaptured as if new?), attaching what's heard to any specific era and its perceived preferences doesn't quite seem to work. Back in the context of this particular session, the next turn, of course, leads entirely elsewhere again: a dreamy but polished cover of Captain Beefheart's "Observatory Crest" with its jumpy, straightforward rhythm is probably closer to the band's next two albums, maybe like a less mysterious and evocative (but still affecting) All Is Dream outtake.

All Is Dream, then, while receiving quite a bit of critical recognition, seems like a pretty difficult record to accept for many in comparison to the less polished, less professional(ised) work Mercury Rev had released throughout the nineties. It was the first album to be centered around the now stable line-up of Donahue, Grasshopper and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Mercel and, sadly, the last one thus far to feature Suzanne Thorpe (who joined the group for the recent Harmony Rockets set), and certainly the most "classically" opulent album they had released up to that point; Boces' opulence and colourful character lay elsewhere, in how brass and strange effects combined with noisy explosions and Baker's prankster vocals; All Is Dream, however, sounds rather symphonic, most obviously so on opener "The Dark Is Rising" with its huge cinematic washes of synth strings. Structurally, the album is effective in arguably rather conservative ways, leading through a dark first half/middle section, mellowing in the Catskills' twilight later on and then ascending towards a cathartic climax with (personal favourite) "Hercules". However, the way the album, or the musicians, inhabit this not particularly unusual type of structure suggests something much more inviting and intriguing than a reduction of the album form to hackneyed album-as-album canon modes, using these structures to roam into different directions and toy with the band's most interesting and evocative lyrics thus far. I have long felt unable to put my finger on what makes this album special to me, how to translate its specific vibes; and even though I didn't know these musics when I first heard All Is Dream, nowadays I feel like the album delivers on some of the promises of Neil Young's work with arranger Jack Nitzsche, with whom All Is Dream should have been recorded, had he not died shortly before the sessions' start. The band recorded it with Nitzsche's approach and aesthetics in mind, ending up with their own take on and realisation of what Joseph Stannard, in his Wire magazine piece on "the alternative Neil Young", considers the suggestion "of a mythic, all-inclusive psychedelic Americana" (The Wire 296, p. 42) encountered in Young's "Broken Arrow" and Brian Wilson's "Heroes And Villains". An album like All Is Dream arguably sacrifices a certain kind of musical freedom found on less structured works, but maybe, in this case, it is the adherence to song form and album-length narrative that allows for a successful mythic inclusion?

The band's last Peel Session may not be as opulent as the band's studio work – "Little Rhymes" in particular sounds stripped down here, missing, among other things, Mary Gavazzi Fridmann's background vocals, an essential factor to the album's character – but still remains very close to it and very successfully so, too, even though it might not lead to the same conclusions as the album itself. The two songs that aren't originals in this relatively lengthy session, one a version of Satie's "Gymnopédies" on solo piano and the other a cover of Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan", may make strange bedfellows on paper but fit the band's material (here also including "Tides Of The Moon", "Spiders And Flies" and"Hercules") nicely. "Planet Caravan" in particular offers an opportunity for the Rev to indulge in its darker, trippier modes, more so than most other post-Boces recordings, following more obviously psychedelic channels and, ten years after Yerself Is Steam and six after Paralyzed Mind Of The Archangel Void, even sounding quite close to psychedelic nomads like Bardo Pond once again. Like compilation opener "Frittering", closer "Hercules" does a good job at conveying the epic without appearing cheesy, too obvious or derivative; its success largely lies in its constant repetition, making the first four minutes appear much longer than they actually are, amounting to one of the more structurally interesting pieces the band has released in recent years.

Apart from the music's thoroughly excellent quality, making this one of the most interesting compilations I have encountered (and presumably one of the more diverse one-band compilations one is going to find on a major label), what strikes me about The Peel Sessions is the good job it does at challenging my assumptions about a band I have been hearing for longer than most other personal favourites – there aren't many other bands I liked when I was 17 that I still listen to regularly, and despite my general changes in taste/musical interest from the britpop days of yore to nowadays' psych/drone/noise/whatever obsessions, there always is a danger of personal approaches ossifying. Do I still like Mercury Rev the same way, in the same terms as back in 2001 or 2002? It almost feels like that, but is that actually possible? I can only assume that the codes Mercury Rev have been using over the years to tool with a vast variety of idioms are still ones I'm looking for, even though my ways of decoding their music(s) may have, must have changed. They may not be the musically "freest" band in my collection, but their mastery of – mostly so-called "psychedelic" – coding within and without song structures appears to make them a project I can continually connect to whatever my other interests are, be they Oasis and Pulp back then or Double Leopards and Sun Araw now, bizarrely enough making them a decidedly and almost archetypically "American" band in terms of its aesthetics, despite my distrust in such a potentially reductionist concept. This may suggest that I like them enough for them to have become "untouchable" in my book, or that a certain non-determinist character, some form of adaptability is to be found in their music that leaves plenty of possible channels to connect through beyond divisions between "pop" and "the experimental". Maybe it is their keeping-fluid of the idioms toyed with, and maybe the aforementioned concept of "mythic, all-inclusive Americana" can be applied to their entire discography, making their evoked American topography one that doesn't require roots and is, instead, one that is quite adventurous to follow.

Mercury Rev

Mercury Rev MySpace

Before the War (fansite)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jandek's "Vienna Wednesday", October 14, 2009

My reports on earlier gigs are lagging so far behind, I have decided not to post any further update for those - which is a pity, considering quite a few great gigs have taken place in between. However, two days ago, Jandek offered a nice reason to revive my failed blog. May it unfail (or so)!

My enthusiasm for Jandek's first ever gig in central Europe stemmed not only from my admiration for the man's liberated approach towards whatever instruments he uses, including his voice (based on my knowledge of an admittedly small percentage of his vast discography, but I'm working on that), but also from my trust in his sidemen for Wednesday's show, Primordial Undermind's Eric Arn (bass) and DD Kern (drums) of Fuckhead, Wipeout and Bulbul, both of whom I've seen play excellent shows of vastly varying sounds and approaches here in Vienna. And indeed, the show delivered on its line-up's promises.

The B72, while not sold out, had filled up quite nicely when the show started at around 10pm. The representative of Corwood Industries played his guitar in a fierce and piercing way that made me think of my first encounter with his music, the CD release of his first ever live performance (the fabulous Glasgow Sunday); unlike on that recording, however, the first piece, or at least Kern's drumming, seemed almost straightforward, and while the trio eventually steered into what felt like rhythmically freer territory after this instrumental, a bizarre form of (rhythmic, textural, or - presumably and undefineably - overall?) catchiness was showcased here that seemed to inform big parts of the evening's music. There was a certain spikeyness and angularity to some passages that made the questionable term "Math Rock" pop into my thoughts - based more on an idea of what that term might have been used for than on any actual knowledge of its use (although some moments here and there almost seemed a bit Slint-esque to me).

We're talking about maths' most delightfully paradox aspects here though: Arn's often melodic yet unpredictable serpentine bass runs, making me think of vintage psych as well as his free jazz excursions with his usual instrument (the guitar), added a unique touch to the overall sound; Kern's drumming, meanwhile, didn't stay content with the beginning's straightforward drive, instead heading into all kinds of different directions, depending on the situation. It was obvious that Jandek's partners are as adept in various rock modes as they are in decidedly free playing. Both musicians, as different as their backgrounds may be, are regular participants in Viennese free jazz cellar blow-outs, and their playing stayed versatile, alert and adaptable throughout the evening - and they must have had plenty of fun all the while. Jandek himself turned to vocals on every second song; the evening's second piece, the first one to feature the representative's familiar voice, ended up being a personal favourite, a slow-moving entity of what almost seemed like a rather abstract form of desert rock to me, evoking a hot and tedious Texan afternoon to this friend of sonic Americana imagery. Jandek's stage presence was absolutely remarkable; together with his vocals, their unique emphases and patterns, it made me think of a good Butoh performance, effortlessly intense as his singing was. Seemingly strange or grotesque yet going way beyond these simplistic and hierarchic descriptions, closer to forming a language of its own, his performance always felt profound without having to refer to any signifiers of profundity. It all gelled remarkably well, a challenging performance seeming like the most joyfully obvious thing in the world to do (which it probably was). As the performance has been filmed and, like all of Jandek's gigs, recorded, I assume we'll be able to confirm that impression once Corwood drops a Vienna Wednesday 2xCD/DVD release in a few years.

(Also, more people should discover the pleasures of dancing, but then I'm always ranting about that.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

October round-up, part 3 / November round-up, part 1: Wien Modern highlights

I cannot stress enough just how much the yearly Wien Modern festival impresses me through its scope and its use of the 'resources' at hand in Vienna: while I missed last year's edition due to being on the wrong landmass, 2006's festival featured eye openers and thought fodder aplenty. Distinctions between 'high-brow' and 'low-brow' art/'E-Musik' and 'U-Musik' are exposed as arbitrary and baseless dichotomies, unfair and unhelpful from whatever point of view they are constructed and/or reproduced in. It's not like Wien Modern itself (whichever way one would define that) takes down these imaginary and structural barriers on its own; however, looking at how it emphasises forms that, despite often being overlooked/pigeonholed, seem to blossom intensely here (associated with assumed realms of the orchestral/the symphonic/'modern composition', 'experimental electronics', 'Electro-Acoustic Improvisation' etc.) and making use of all the structural and architectural opportunities Vienna offers (with venues ranging from the fluc_wanne's cavernous-industrial 'rock' space to the Musikverein in all its imperial bombast, from the Alte Schmiede's intimate arts space hidden at the city centre's edge to the Museumsquartier's nicely flexible halls) and showing the connections between all these and their forms of convergence, it is hard to get rid of the impression that the festival, founded by star conductor Claudio Abbado, could hardly do a better job at both using what the city it's based in offers and going far beyond that, revealing unknown paths old and new and exposing unexpected linkage at every turn. And I haven't even mentioned its children's programme, its multimedia cross-overs or its attempts at offering theory-related material and background information through symposia or the impressive tome that is the festival's Katalog yet.

As this profoundly hyperbolic first paragraph probably indicated, I have lived through some truly formative experiences at Wien Modern; to be precise, I tried to make good use of the 2006 edition's student pass, visiting more than a dozen events over the course of a few weeks, some of them being true eye-openers (first and foremost, the electronics/laptop vs. cello duo set performed by Bernhard Lang and Michael Moser at the Alte Schmiede comes to mind; but pieces by Helmut Lachenmann, Sofia Gubaidulina or Friedrich Cerha are quick to follow). Considering that year's (as well as this one's) great experience, it's a shame to see that Wien Modern's profile doesn't nearly seem as high as I'd like it to be, with plenty of people who would most certainly enjoy at least parts of its eclectic programme not actually being aware of what it offers. Whether that has to do with Wien Modern revolving around the Konzerthaus, another one of Vienna's well-established venues often associated with a classical-based programme and, probably, a certain 'poshness' is hard to tell. That said, it's not like the festival seems to miss a young audience; I just think it could be able to hold a broader appeal. Maybe us fans just need to be louder. Who knows?

Tony Conrad actually might just know, considering he has carried his thoroughly winsome personality and stubbornly open-minded approach to art and representation through decades of politically frustrating and probably often precarious art/work circumstances. Not that I really know all that much about what drives him and... makes him do what he does, but as Wien Modern's focus on his work in various 'disciplines' suggests, it all manages to be funny but earnest and heart-felt, politically charged but not oppressive (yet commenting on issues of oppression, even, or especially, within performer-vs.-audience relations), seemingly trashy and tossed-off in places but still quite obviously driven and filled with purpose, regardless of whether that purpose is backed by directly related/applied, profound theoretical thought (as it often is in Conrad's case) or maybe just a desire to do... something else? I'm just throwing around guesses. Whatever the relevance of all this, I had a great time at the three events I attended that were part of said programme focus. He played a solo violin concert at brut im Künstlerhaus, following a string quartet's performance of a new piece of his; he used a sewing machine as well as additional pieces of cord and even started playing a banknote at one point. Similar gadgets were used for his even better -- actually quite stunning -- duo performance with London improvisor Angharad Davies (on violin, too) at brut im Konzerthaus a few days later, which turned out to be drone heaven, enveloping and fearless. The banknote bit (cut short by the note tearing partially at one point) was joined by comical-sinister growling/moaning on Conrad's part -- just repeating the word 'money' from what I remember, and thus probably not the most superficially complex comment on the current financial situation but, in the context of the concert, a funny one and, in the context of listeners' knowledge on Conrad's work and his thoughts on art/artists' work, a thought-provoking one nonetheless.

Before these two performances, a short portrait (Marie Loisier's DreaMinimalist) had been shown that might not have allowed particularly deep insight into an actual piece's/film's creation but did a great and thoroughly entertaining job at bringing the audience closer to Conrad and his ways of presenting himself. Unfortunately, I missed his lecture on Monday, October 27th; going by the Q&A session that took place right after the screening of selected Conrad films at the Filmmuseum, it would have been both entertaining and thought-provoking. During the actual Q&A session, he explicitly discussed views that humour and 'serious', relevant art are mutually exclusive; as I myself had to notice once again when arriving early before the aforementioned Conrad/Davies set to watch some more of Conrad's film work on TV sets that were placed outside the actual concert room, one will hardly be able to find a better way to see that dualism break down than immersing oneself in Conrad's richly rewarding work. (On a sidenote, the fanboy in me was actually able, or seemed to be able -- no guarantee! -- to spot legendary early Mercury Rev singer David Baker within the crowd at an early 90s anti-war demonstration in Buffalo documented by Conrad. Some of the band's members had been among his students there.)

Bad time management resulted in me missing the programme's 'Noise' evening, featuring Putrefier, Sudden Infant and the amazing Hild Sofie Tafjord, member of Fe-Mail and Spunk; her solo debut, Kama, was one of my favourite records of 2007 -- or, if you want, ever, in its amazingly detailed and competent construction: one constantly intriguing and intelligent single piece, sourced mostly from Tafjord's French Horn. Apparently she was joined onstage by Conrad at some point as YouTube material suggests, and, if you excuse my use of strong concepts/words, I cannot help but hate myself for not going.

It's a bit harder for me to write about the rest of what I saw at this year's Wien Modern, which shouldn't be taken as an indicator of lesser quality in any way though. The 'Musik & Gehirn' event I attended on November 1st might not have been what I was looking for but probably appealed to anyone genuinely interested in intersections of brain research and analysis of music reception. I assume that I would have been happier with the next day's event that featured Alvin Lucier, who had 'only' served as a test object for brain wave sonification at the earlier event, playing some of his pieces; again, (bad) time management intervened. Almost a week later, my first visit ever to Vienna's Tanzquartier made me witness Xavier Le Roy's More Mouvements für Lachenmann, a choreographed take on some of Helmut Lachenmann's pieces, designed to question the relations between music, performer and audience that are easily taken for granted: the most successful part of a generally excellent evening appeared to be the second that saw two guitar-less guitarists mime along to two other (hidden) ones' sounds (Lachenmann's Salut für Caudwell, actually). Not only was the precision of their decidedly un-authentic (as in: their movements were not designed to look like actual guitar playing) acting quite baffling, but some deliberatly imprecise and/or particularly playful moments amused and puzzled the audience -- that found itself being stared at reproachfully at various points during the performance's last part. Again, humour and praxeological questioning of form, content and power relations coalesced in beautiful and rewarding ways.

Other excellent events followed, but the most personally rewarding one of the festival's later parts turned out to be the second 'Elektrophiliale' event at Vienna's Gartenbaukino: The duo of Mego roster member Philipp Quehenberger on electronics and Fuckhead drummer DD Kern impressed with its spiralling sound that -- although that might just be a result of my own lack of knowledge -- reminded me most of a more sci-fi-like take on the Flower Corsano Duo's flourishes. Kern's playing was just as excellent as it had been the first time I saw him -- his duo set with brpobr (where are they? I want them back) drummer Bernhard Breuer at Vienna's prestigious Amann Studios in early 2007 had been rather spectacular. But while everyone had been seated there, the Philiale left some space for dancing, even up on its nice little gallery where some friends and I had a great time trying to physically approximate the swirls produced by the musicians downstairs.

Friday, December 05, 2008

October round-up, part 2: Silver Mt. Zion, Animal Collective, Larkin Grimm

As if Kontraste hadn't offered enough good moments to fill up a decent Viennese concert month, the Arena's main hall provided room for a particularly pleasant one-two punch at the month's very heart: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band once again graced Vienna, quite obviously a fandom stronghold for the group, with its presence, just one day before a 'New Weird America' line-up dream come true -- Animal Collective touring with Axolotl -- played the same venue.

Even though it was rather excellent, the Silver Mt. Zion concert arrived a few years late for me -- which is, quite obviously, not the band's fault. 'This Is Our Punk-Rock', Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing, was a disturbing but strangely empowering soundtrack to 2003 and those confusing days of the Iraq War('s beginning) and, on a personal level, my own Zivildienst. They somehow lost me a bit with Horses In The Sky, which sounded strangely 'dry' and never appealed all that much to me beyond the powerful waltz of 'God Bless Our Dead Marines'. While 'preparing' for this particular concert by listening to some of their releases for the first time in ages, I ended up warming up to it a bit -- and who knows, my appreciation for it might not yet be at its peak. Regardless, I had yet to hear (and still haven't heard, but that may change) 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, their acclaimed new album, two songs from which made an appearance here, rocking powerfully in what seemed to be typical recent Silver Mt. Zion manner. 'God Bless Our Dead Marines' and two new songs, among them the (sometimes) almost Spiritualized-like space gospel country-ish 'There Is A Light', fit in neatly, but a personal highlight arrived in the first encore, an (unsurprisingly) expansive version of 'Microphones In The Trees' from 2004's uncharacteristic but always intriguing Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP. Similarly, the second encore offered a bit of a flashback in the concert's 'oldest' song, 'Take These Hands And Throw Them In The River', which felt more (punk-) rock-ish than its seven years old studio version, nicely showing the band's evolution towards a heavier, more electric (and electrically charged) sound.

Things felt quite different regarding the next evening's Animal Collective concert: in terms of my own personal interest in the band's music, the concert could have hardly arrived at a better point, even though it was to be my fourth time seeing this band in 15 months. This May's London concert had been the most impressive one of theirs I had seen so far, musically, and increased my interest in the kaleidoscopic and strangely rave-like new songs they played on their recent tours (most of which will end up on January's Merriweather Post Pavillion album on Domino). While they had already sounded excellent at last year's immensely enjoyable Vienna concert and even at that fall's Dublin one, which had only felt like half a gig (Avey Tare, while on stage, suffered from flu, resulting in his vocal contributions being reduced to some groaning here and there -- we received a short Panda Bear solo set in exchange though), they sounded particularly catchy, addictive and complete at that London show; nicely enough, new songs I hadn't heard before ('No More Runnin', which I still think of as their Neil Young and Crazy Horse song, and the delirious 'Lion In A Coma') were among the concert's highlights. I'm not exactly a big bootleg listener and thus still wasn't particularly familiar with the new material, but it really grabbed me at that show. That the surprising appearance of a hazy but heavy reworked version of 'Grass' at the set's very end 'blew my mind' certainly helped.

The Vienna concert thus felt like a great way to see them one last time before they'll change their setlist to include new new songs, something the band likes to do before/around the time of the release of whatever their 'new' album is at that time. While some surprises would have been nice, the setlist, which was quite similar to the London one (no 'Grass' this time, unfortunately), was satisfying and did a good job at structuring this concise and truly fun concert -- the addictive 'Summertime Clothes' and 'Brother Sport' once again proved to be potential highlights from next year's release roster, 'Chocolate Girl' -- slowed down and rearranged almost to unrecognisability -- was less jaunty but more haunting than its studio version and 'Peacebone', fittingly augmented by a rainbow colour lightshow, made me dance like it always does which, of course, is a good thing. It's just a bit of a shame that Strawberry Jam's heart of darkness and sleeper masterpiece '#1' wasn't played here unlike at various other shows that were part of the band's tour of Eastern Europe. Axolotl's support set was a good one too, although there were moments when some of the beats used seemed a bit too straight-forward -- not much to complain about though, all power to all you violin droners! But more about that in the next round-up post.

October 23rd brought about my first visit to the peachy (and packed) Verein 08 venue, featuring a show by Larkin Grimm whom I had last seen leading an audience parade from venue to venue at the end of her Terrastock Six set two and a half years ago. Her set, featuring an additional guitarist, was as intimate and charming as one could expect considering the performer/venue combination -- I guess one could use the term 'campfire atmosphere' though but that might miss the point, i.e. Verein 08's living room vibe. An excellent evening, and I'd love to see someone book a Fonal Records-related band (how about Hertta Lussu Ässä?) because they'd fit right in.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

October round-up, part 1: Kontraste

Turns out I was lying in my introductory post, but I suppose starting late is better than leaving this place deserted for another three years. To fill up some space/kill some time that I don't actually have right now/get over myself and start writing, I will post some semi-random, potentially rushed thoughts on recent events I attended.

October was just as good a month for concerts as I hoped it would be, starting with the aforementioned Kontraste festival in lovely Stein bei Krems. The presentation of Gordon Monahan's Theremin Pendulum installation, swirling and howling around some dark cellar room in the town's Minorite Church like some crazy apparition in, say, the Thief video games series, turned out to be a suitably intriguing introduction to the festival's first day (Friday, October 3rd); and while the MAJAAP duo of Maja Ratkje and Jaap Blonk did a wonderful job at chasing each other's voices towards moments equally funny, unique and inspiring and David Moss upped the funniness of it all yet again with a perfectly uncategorisable set that felt just as much like a (good) comedy act as it seemed like the audience was allowed to peak into his living room (favourite non-musical moment: 'Every time Makigami [Koichi] joins me on stage, I have to think of how much I love World Music', or something along these lines), my favourite set turned out to be subshrubs' debut performance of mute, a 'collective composition' of theirs using equipment both acoustic and electric and, fitting the evening's 'Schöne Stimmen' theme.

I hadn't really read a lot about subshrubs before their set here and associated them with Vienna's blossoming Electro-Acoustic Improvisation scene which I didn't (and still don't) know enough about; and even though this was not an improvised piece (something I wasn't aware of during the actual performance, obviously having read the programme only rather lazily -- 'twill teach me), the set's early moments seemed to steer into the kind of subtle, minimal direction that I somehow expected it to. However, it was far from predictable, evolving into things quite different -- in fact, that evening feels too far away for me to enable me to describe the piece's structure, sound(s) and strategies used therein, but suffice to say, it took me by surprise and never let me go. A friend of mine was reminded of Nurse With Wound, a comparison that seemed to make quite a bit of sense, as the drones and details found here seemed just as evocative, intelligent and special as the best moments I've heard of Steven Stapleton's more abstract work; I myself ended up considering a comparison questionable in content, intent and general ontological value: on a spectrum of musics typically/potentially considered 'noise' by a considerable if undefined amount of people, subshrubs would reside at the subtlest possible end, diametrically opposed to Sutcliffe Jügend's confrontational and (seemingly?) brutish power electronics that I had witnessed a few months earlier in London. However, that particular dichotomic construct might tell more about my own inability to make sense of the latter group's live set which, in its musical competence but (seeming?) obviousness, I'm still not sure what to think of after all these months. But I digress! This simplistic comparison is quite unfair to both bands, and at the end of the day, my one main point here is that subshrubs provided one of my favourite and most inspiring concert experiences in recent memory.

My second Kontraste day was the festival's last (Saturday, October 11th). Cluster's set seemed to drift past me without leaving much of an impression, but Felix Kubin's quirky and intelligent electro-pop certainly made me want to check out a radio play (apparently (also) dealing with Odinic terrorists' exploits on a post-wreckage raft -- what's not to love?) he performed music from. Arnaud Paquotte's Nocturnes électriques, basically a temporally limited installation kept in the dark, was quite a sensual experience, his strange devices' scintillation adding a slightly discomforting scent to sound and (bits of) light. Faust seemed to be just as fond of sparks, plenty of which poured from the stage during their remarkably powerful show's more aktionist moments. The line-up appearing here was the Hans-Joachim Irmler one, with a slightly pirate-like Lars Paukstat acting as the show's focal point, and during the set's most powerful moments, the music charged at the audience like Bardo Pond doing 'Krautrock', although that kind of comparison probably distracts from the set's urgency.

Add to that the general ambience and the fun to be had when getting to know new friends etc., and there's yet another reason to think that the next Donaufestival can't arrive soon enough.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

An introduction

This is a blog that I've been wanting to make use of for quite a while now, but laziness got in my way (a curse on you and your family's next seven generations, laziness!). It will mostly contain reviews of concerts visited by myself and, probably, records arguably heard by that selfsame self, if there is such a thing. As this is, among many other things (yet first and foremost), an attempt to improve my writing and language skills, I'd be truly delighted to receive feedback of any form and quantity. Thank you. The first 'proper' post is likely to be a review of the Kontraste festival's first day (October 3rd).