Saturday, 8 October 2011

sottovoce festival _2011 @ various 09/29 - 10/02/2011

words + photos: gian paolo galasi


Guro Skumsnes Moe at Sottovoce
A multi-venue four-days festival is the perfect situation to encounter many acts, meeting performers, enjoying beautiful surprises while at the same time keeping an eye to the wider ladscape, so to match all the pieces and got the meaning and the current direction of it all. 

Divided in two branches - electronic and acoustic - the Sottovoce Festival was scattered in different venues - the Working Men's Club in Bethnal Green, the Cafe Oto in Dalston and LUX/Electra in Islington, ending with the double rooms - actually, two church buildings - of the Nave, on the borders of Angel Islington and Stoke Newigton boroughs. 

Supported by the magazine The Wire, the digital "hub" Diogenes and the art agency Electra, the festival was opened on Sept. 9 with the screening of "Charlemagne Palestine, the Golden Sound", followed by a Q & A with the French independent director Anne Maregiano. At its second screening after Paris, the film is a good attempt to show the spiritual atmosphere behind the music of a composer often mislabeled - as he also states - as 'minimalist' but in fact constantly devoted to a quest for beauty through sound, outside the boudaries of Western aesthetics since his early influences: jew devotional music, his early main reference Pandith Pran Nath, his friend and still today active collaborator Tony Conrad. 

It would be also interesting to have had the possibility to dig into his multi-faceted career in order to give space also to the collaboration with PanSonic, or the relationship with Pierre Chaeffer, but the 65 minutes movie is anyway trying to widen the boundaries of TV Docs format in order to give to the spectators the possibility to enter into the composer's world, and it actually reached its goal.

After a short break, two live sets were provided by BBBLOOD (aka Paul Watson) and Lina Lapelyte, consisting respectively of a flow of noise through tape loops, guitar distortion pedals and objects, and a less dense but equally rough set built around violin and laptop. While younger Watson is experimenting since 8 years with noise and electronic, with strong physical urgency, lithuanian-native Lapelyte is an academic trained violinist whose career is equally distributed in sound installations and scores for dance, theatre and film, and improvised music.


Rogelio Sosa
Friday's night at Cafe OTO is opened by a young, interesting and talented guitarist, Havard Skaset. His attitude can remind Arto Lindsay, via his highly saturated sound and his edgily absorbed attitude, but what's most relevant is that Skaset is playing 'around' the guitar as musicians like Anthony Pateras are playing 'on' piano. 

I've still quoted Pateras considerations on the symbolic value of the instruments, and if classical piano is an open reference to academic music, the guitar can be taken as the symbol of a certain 'straight' approach to narration (and even self-narration) through music in popular culture. But when playing, Skaset can stop the flow using a kind of muted - or 'unplugged', so to speak - 'tapping', a device often common in fusion/hard rock music usally used in order to create an emotional climax within the 'solo' of a song. In doing exactly the opposite, Havard is changing the sense of a performance on guitar. No surprise, since young Oslo-based guitarist have still worked with people like Ikue Mori and Maja SK Ratkje

Something similar is provided by Rogelio Sosa, the other unexpected and excellent show tonight. Sound artist, composer and promoter of experimental music, curator and co-director of the Radar Festival and director of the experimental music festival Aural at FMX in Mexico City, Sosa began studying computer music at the IRCAM in Paris - while Boulez in person was in London on Sunday to perform his Pli Selon Pli - and some of his works are featured in compiled CDs featured with the Arditti Quartet, Luigi Russolo and Charlemagne Palestine. While expecting for a new release on Sub Rosa exactly this week, Rogelio Sosa's set was defined by a rich, intense and highly controlled sound, showing a profound mastery over dynamics and space, while at the same time well conscious of the dialectics of improvisation.

Finally, Ida Lunden and Martin Brandlmayr gifted the audience with their first UK solo performances. While the younger Swedish composer and improviser made use of her electronic tools for a dense, solid but sensitive approach to music, Brandlmayr gave a tipical proof of his tension-and-release rhythm contructions. His use of the drumkit, tonight added with a vibe set, generated a constant groove out of sharp and decise gestures, with a destructured but highly fluidified approach typical of a post-rock/avant garde oriented musician, even if with a more dried and essential manner gained tanks to his militancy with Polwechsel and his collaborations with Christian Fennesz, Chad Taylor, Otomo Yoshihide and John Tilbury.


Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour and Christian Munthe
Saturday and Sunday finally, were the most interesting days in order to have a full approach to what's on today's improv, avant and electronic music world in general. Saturday afternoon was opened by Paul Dunmall.

With such a long CV on his shoulders including the likes of Alice Coltrane, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the collective Mujicians featuring Keith Tippett, Tony Levin and Paul Rogers, but also liberal collaborator with agents of younger generations like Chris Corsano and involved in improvisation as much as in experimental rock, folk and ethnic music, Dunmall fulfilled the audience with a set comprising four different solo statements. Only the last one was on saxophone, while the other three were featuring three different kind of traditional pipes, a couple from Iran and one from ancient European folklore. 

Dunmall's research on ethnic pipes is a natural prosecution of his soprano playing. Differently, there was no drone to be surrounded by microtones as in Eastern and Western pipes, but a precise approach allowing him to show the mastery that is widely and suitable recognised by both critics and the audience. Right after Dunmall, Anna Zaradny offered with Robert Piotrowicz - the latter playing on Sunday afternoon - the most personal and intriguing live act of electronic music in the entire festival. 

Most of the people involved in sound manipulation too much often provide a - more or less intricated - flow of sound, mostly one-dimentional, working on blocks and masses, providing only a layering in which one element of the flux, mostly rhythm-like, is suddenly surrounded by or juxtaposed to another one, dealing with subliminal as a manieristic repetition of the hystorical industrial/noise pursuits - it's the case of Blood Stereo and Mark Dugan, playing the same day - while most of sound artists too often work in adding an element after the other, using visuals in a way that risks to transform music in a mere soundtrack, as in the case of Carlo Casas.

Anna Zaradny
Apart from that, Anna Zaradny shared her idea of sound as a massive, physical experience, but her touch is subtle, nuanced, and her set presented a composer and improviser - she also plays alto saxophone - in her own full right and a recognizable touch. After her, the small acoustic room was still responsible for another couple of improvisations. The first is provided by Havard Skaset (this time at acoustic guitar) and Guro Skumsnes Moe. Both their performance, and the following duo of Christine Abdelnour and Christian Munthe are the most interesting, for many reasons.

As still told, Skaset and Moe gave the idea of playing 'around' the instrument, meaning that their approach to the instrument is 'oblique'. They don't play idiomatic, neither non-idiomatic - at least as we were taught by Derek Bailey. They exploit their instrument's bodies and strings, pauses, silence, microtonality. 

In fact, Polwechsel and Eddie Prevost's workshoppers make something similar but while the first ones used tactile or frictioned sound in a larger context, the latters are encouraged to introduce chance at a certain level, creating a relationship with the dynamics of improvisation. Even in John Cage music the dynamics between chance and the composer's decisions were never smoothed once for all over, since nobody can put himself completely apart from what's doing. Cage attempts were not related to let chance rules over creativity, but trying to soften his own personal patterns. Those are devices.

In Abdelnour/Munthe duo, it is more evident that the idea of 'pure sound' - almost 'without the musician' - can lead to a very tight palette in the case of the young saxophonist - even if her blowing, since she is born in Lebanon, can be considered a highly poetic gesture, and to a guitar almost completely rubbed, smoothed and scratched, at risk of facing at a music composed only by a flow of things. 

Coming back a little to what I listened in the last months in order to compile a label profile for the Istanbul-based re:konstruKt for All About Jazz, the game is completely different here. Listen to Sabrina Siegel playing guitar with rocks to see how she's really articulating a personal language. But more than creating useless comparisons and boundaries between different 'schools', I'd rather like to point at the fact that creating a proper language, making it evolve, and finding out the right devices to express truly yourself is something that requires an entire life in playing music. 

Now I want to lead the reader to think about that at this point in time, after the avant-garde movements of the '70s avoiding narratives and the romanthic idea of ego, the post-modern melting pot of the '80s avoiding the casting on the boundaries of one style, the breaking down of the boundaries between high and low culture during the '90s and the beginning of the new Century, part of today's most acclaimed artistic movements - this is mostly the rule in visual arts, but sometimes also in music - seems to completely avoid every kinf of relationship with aesthetics, but at risk of not developing with time their own personalities and languages. 

The previous generations and some of their contemporaries were constantly in touch with the given idea of an artistic shape - sometimes ironically, sometimes with a confrontational attitude, sometimes with a melancholic sense of loss, or putting the question on a different level, like the young John Zorn using sequences of events in order to think about the nature of music processes in his first performances with objects and a chessboard-like table, being so involved in a dynamic process of quest for their own identity. 

I'm not expressing a negative opinion. As Skaset, even young Moe in her solo set expressed at the best level a physical approach melting her music with the performer in her. And, even if this is not per se a personal statement, it means, at least, a direct involvement. While listening close - phisically I mean, on my own seat - to both the aforementioned performances, the idea of interaction is - more evident in the case of Skaset and Moe - present. I'd love to see a single performance by both Abdelnour and Munthe, that began his career with Mats Gustaffson in 1986, just to see if even in their own case, being alone can lead them to a better level of self expression than while interplaying.

While taking my time, I report of the last Saturday's performance. Z'EV's acoustic set don't suffer in avoiding any electronic processing. His work as a performer began in 1969, since then Z'EV is responsible for being a pioneer of the so-called Industrial movement in the US, and his artistic development involved performance art, a deep and constant study of modal-wave patterns emerging from vibrating surfaces - led him to the concept of cine-cussion, very approximately translitterated in kinetic percussions, to audio/visual poems, to sonic events related to the Indian mandalas, to the study of permutation and computer generation of phrases, making of him one of the most interesting and accomplished composers of the history of American avant-garde music.


John Butcher and Martin Brandlmayr
Near Sunday's noon, at LUX/Electra, "Soldier of the Road", the movie in which Bernard Josse portrayed Peter Broetzmann, showed a piece of history of European improvised music through the images, sounds and words of one of his most important forerunners. 

Released shortly after my long interview with him, the movie is beautifully shot by GĂ©rard Rouy, a professional photographer and journalist (one of his essays was feeding a beautiful book related to Eric Dolphy and issued in Italy in 2005 as companion of a seminar dedicated to the American multi-instrumentalist, while some of his pictures are available on Mike Heffley's "Norther Sun, Southern Moon: Europe's Reinvention of Jazz"). After a selection of short movies provided by Sixpackfilm, in the afternoon, newly at The Nave, three of the most brilliant statements of the entire festival occurred. Since Evan Parker is profusely present on this blog, saying that his soprano performance was absolutely brilliant can be redundant.

But underlining, as also Peter Broetzmann pointed out in Josse's movie, how Evan Parker developed a practice of music involving a combination of a constant refining of techniques such as circular breathing and binaural pitches, and a complete control over his breathing apparatus, means since the direct involvement of both the listener and the performer with the music, to put his language apart from any mannerism and Parker himself directly at the level of the most important European composers, such as Karlheinz Stochausen - e.g.: Mantra for two pianos and two ring modulators. The proper indication for the younger musicians.

Martyn Brandlmayr matched John Butcher for a celebration for both their past involvement in Polwechsel and the most recent release on Butcher's Weight of Wax label, the "Scrutables" trio with Gino Robair and Derek Bailey recorded in 2000 but previously unreleased - a gorgeous trio performance, my strong advice is to pick it up at every cost. Both on soprano and tenor saxophone, Butcher idea and practice of music is more focused on embodying directly live electronics in first person, even if what's really noteworthy today is the extreme precision of Butcher approach to playing, tonight perfectly fitting with that of Brandlmayr.

Evan Parker
Robert Piotrowicz is the third act about which to talk appreciatively, for more than one reason: he is an experienced improviser and composer, involved in contemporary electroacoustic music, and founder of the label and related festival Musica Genera. In his solo performance, every sound seems to germinate from the previous one unexpectedly, but what's more important is the musician's consciousness of the dynamics involved in sound processing and in the relationships between sound and space. In this sense, Piotrowicz can be considered one of the many interesting reference points from which to evaluate the state of the art of today's electro-acoustic improvisation and electronic music composition.

Having been referred yet about the others Sunday's performances, we can go on with John Duncan, since the beginning of his career one of the most important, regarded, non-conformist and unclassifiable sound artist ever. Starting with short-waves, his research on the boudaries of self-perception soon developed involving performance art and installations with a unique, uncompromising and confrontational attitude, never at risk to be rethoric or untrue. But what we heard tonight, far from his past performances resulted in some way too much related to extra musical narrations to be effective. Duncan tried to create a multi-room space using voice and narration in what seemed an attempt to go back to basics, as many times happens when an artist is about to give life to a new expression. But the result was that of a didactic about the relationship between sound and space, so at the moment we hold with the curiosity to see where his next steps would lead him.

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