Denovali Swingfest 2013. Scala, London.

The Scala

The Scala

Hard to keep to my idea of not writing ‘reviews’…and wondering why anyone would want to read anything else (or even that)… still…what an odd experience the Denovali Swingfest was. It meant being incarcerated in a dark dancehall in Kings Cross for the weekend,. And this was a weekend that turned out to be the closest that London had got to spring in the course of 2013. But maybe the other celebrants were not worried about this. What we were attending was after all a kind of Masonic meeting for the obsessed. I’ve been there before of course…recently Touch organized a similar (if more diverse) affair in the homelier Beaconsfield Arts Centre and ECM orchestrated a shrine in the form of a museum exhibition and a whole series of gigs in Munich. I didn’t realize I was in thrall to labels this way. And I’m not sure if I was really aware of Denovali until I happened upon this event. This was, in its way, more intense than either of these other events though…us listeners, the audience, needed more stamina and had to exhibit more commitment to the doctrine.

The Pirate Ship Quartet

The Pirate Ship Quartet

Fennesz

Fennesz

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday was something of an onslaught of guitars and decibels. The audience was quite prepared to stand for the duration – about 10 hours from the Pirate Ship Quartet through to Andy Stott (though this is guess work on my part as I bowed out at around midnight before Mr Stott made an appearance). It all began with dry-ice and maybe there should be legislation to prevent the use of dry-ice before 8 pm…and while we are at it someone should introduce a ban on certain guitar poses. I am thinking particularly of the one foot on the monitor position. Along the way there was fantastic noise/sound/music call it what you will. Body shaking bass form the Bersarin Quartett and a teeming wall of sound from Fennesz.

Bersarin Quartett

Bersarin Quartett

James Blackshaw

James Blackshaw

Greg Haines and Thomas Köner accidentally superimposed.

Greg Haines and Thomas Köner accidentally superimposed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if everyone had already read the script, Sunday’s audience immediately sat down and proceedings were more acoustic, quieter, and, from time to time piano based. If Saturday was relentless then the sound of Sunday was more reflective. The dub card was played with thrilling conviction by Greg Haines, complex polyrythms were provided by Poppy Ackroyd, resonating 12 string was served up by James Blackshaw and icy landscapes were evoked by Thomas Köner. I was left wondering why almost no one addressed us the audience (apart form Poppy Ackroyd…the sole women on stage for the weekend…coincidence? I think not).

Audience

Audience

Poppy Ackroyd

Poppy Ackroyd

 

 

 

 

 

I find it hard to separate the sound-space and the experience of that space from the making of the music. The Scala’s particular penumbral resonances made for a sometimes uncomfortable musical environment. By way of contrast my companion and I sought solace (more than once) in the unlikely surroundings of an ersatz pub newly arrived in Kings Cross Station… a ‘parcel yard’ miraculously re-instated on the first floor above the station platforms. This is a comfortable staging post for some on the way back to Hertfordshire and for us was a respite from the nether world of those dark dance hall days. Considerably better beer than the Scala…but when you sign up for a cult it is not usually for the quality of the refreshments.

William Basinski

William Basinski

Horizontal audience during Basinski's 'Disintegration Loops'.

Horizontal audience during Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a link to a download of a live set from Bersarin Quartett.

And, on the off chance that one day TouchRadio will post the Fennesz set this is a link to that.

You can download a ‘Festival Sampler ‘ from Denovali here.

The running order for both days was:

Saturday

The Pirate Ship Quintet (UK)

Petrels (UK)

Omega Massif (GER)

Fennesz (A)

Maybeshewill (UK)

Bersarin Quartett (GER)

Andy Stott Live (UK)

Sunday

Talvihorros (UK)

Carlos Cipa (GER)

James Blackshaw (UK)

Greg Haines (UK)

Thomas Köner (GER)

Poppy Ackroyd (UK)

William Basinski (USA)

In and out of Touch

Touch 30. 5th & 6th December 2012

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I don’t normally go to church…an occasional carol service and, once. the Pearly Kings and Queens Thanksgiving service at St Martin-in-the-Fields. But last week I found myself attending mass at the Church of the Holy Touch. This took place in a large cold room with a single ocular window at the Beaconsfield Arts Centre in Vauxhall, South London. I felt like a spy among the devotees who were attending a two-day celebration of thirty years of Touch.

Jon Wozencroft

Jon Wozencroft

Jon Wozencroft, the co-founder with Mike Harding, kicked off proceedings with an eloquent exposition of the Touch ethos talking about a triangular relationship between sound, the visual and the social of which this event was an expression. Sadly, the sound element of the next few hours let the equation down as various speakers struggled to be heard over the squeakiest floorboards I have ever experienced, the scraping of chairs and the low noise of trains passing immediately outside. All this felt rather ironic as the subject of much of the conversation was on the technicalities of dealing with recorded sound through mastering, changing formats and multi-channel playback. The more I heard of these discussions the more anxious I became and I wondered if anyone was going to rumble me as an imposter.

How do I listen to music? In the kitchen, through 2 cheap speakers, the sounds of the street creeping in, with a background of cooking noises and with occasional conversation interrupting. On an iPod through in-ear buds – never really isolated from external sound but insulated from it. On a computer through quite small powered speakers. On an evolved (rather than planned) hi-fi with ok components but with speakers positioned too high on top of bookshelves. The room in which this system is installed is the noisiest in the house. The sound from the road outside doesn’t just creep in here it crashes through the ill-fitting windows, a collage of traffic, human voices and sirens. In the car on a clapped-out cassette player. So I never hear recorded sound at home in anything like ‘ideal’ conditions. The formats for all these listening experiences are numerous: MP3 and all its digital cousins, 7” singles and LPs on vinyl, CDs, radio waves, cassettes and even, in extremis, shellac and, once in a blue moon, reel-to-reel tape. It is all whatever I can get my ears on.

As I sat in the big cubic room at Beaconsfield listening to the talks I thought back to the visit I made in the morning to Tate Britain on my way to the Touch event. I went to see and hear the Turner Prize winning installation by Elizabeth Price The Woolworths Choir of 1979. oints2It fuses sound in the form of a cut-up version of Out in the Streets by the Shangri-Las, finger clicks and hand claps with a series of still and moving images of gothic church architecture, 1960s girl groups and dancers and documentary footage from the fire in a Woolworths’ furniture shop in Manchester. These incongruous elements are edited together into a coherent and moving near-narrative and the sound is loud and immersive. This was the opposite of how I usually hear recorded music and, in its degree of scripting and control, at odds with how I experience most live music too.

Back at Beaconsfield the Touch events moved into another phase in the evening with performances in a brick-vaulted room situated immediately below the train tracks. This was the payback space for the big white echoing box upstairs where the talks had taken place. The pieces performed here were all punctuated by the sound of the trains passing overhead and this random element gave the performances an open-endedness that I had felt, with a different emphasis, in the Woolworths Choir installation. These moved from beautiful mixes of voice and cello (Hildur Gudnadottir) through a rich and elaborate turntable collage (Philip Jeck), a restrained and poignant audio-visual sequence (David Toop), a four-channel playback of field recordings (Chris Watson) to an immense ‘wall’ of effect and electric guitar (Fennesz).

Hildur Gudnadottir

Hildur Gudnadottir

David Toop

David Toop

Christian Fennesz

Christian Fennesz

So here was the culmination of the first day’s proceedings…something for both the faithful and the unbelievers. And on the second day (talks this time with amplification in the upstairs room and yet more enveloping sounds in the railway arch), Wozencroft ended the pilgrimage with a very lo-fi story of broadcasting on pirate radio in the 1980s with his friend Jon Savage and then launched into an improvised acapella version of Blue Monday. I felt this, at least, was in the spirit of my own listening habits.

Thomas Koner and audience on Night 2

Thomas Koner and audience on Night 2

And here’s one for Mickey Baker. 10. x. 25 – 27. xi. 12