Gig ten B: Darkroom at the Norwich Arts Centre cafe, 17 Nov 2007

Andrew Booker 2007-11-19 01:16:42

You can find a shitload of photos from Saturday afternoon's Norwich Festival of Looping here, taken on Os's camera.

This was an event put together by Andy Butler, a Norwich based looping guitarist, sound engineer and, as he demonstrated here, sensitive scheduler of performers. Acts were allotted slots of length and set position according to how far they had travelled and how many people they were. For example, the mid-afternoon slot likely to get the biggest audience went to Michael Peters, who had travelled from near Cologne in Germany during the week (joining us for an Improvizone gig on the Wednesday). Darkroom, the only non-solo act, got 45 minutes rather than typical half-hour. Andy himself, anticipating delays during changeover, gave himself the final slot, so that if the whole thing overran, the only set to be cut short would be his.

So the award for considerate event scheduler goes to The Butler, though he needn't have worried about the audience trailing off after peaking at 3.30pm. Once they were in, they more or less stayed. And well they should, as this was a terrific gig.

Relatively local opening act Stephen Scott began with a great set of carefully composed and well-executed pieces, especially his excellent set closer. That's a link to his MySpace page, where I would advise listening to Finery. Matt Stevens followed with a looper's take on strummed acoustic, rescuing the instrument from its usual singer-songwriter open-mic rut using loops to add a whole depth of arrangement and Spanish-style soloing, using only a looper and a volume pedal.

It was a pleasure to get to listen to Michael Peters without having to concentrate on playing at the same time. His pieces built unhurriedly as he exploited the whole range of his gear and tools. And I got to see what that little multicouloured battery-powered fan was for (see picture). Normally in Improvizone gigs we establish a key to start playing in. Michael didn't appear to. The tension and confusion in his initial angular bass lines gave way to complete cohesion and harmonic sense as he added MIDI synth layers and textures (that's a drummer saying it didn't sound atonal). Excellent.

Darkroom, comprising Mike, Os and me tucked cosily into the stage-left corner, had a great time bashing out three quarters of an hour of looped soundscapes and squishy beats. If we were three quarters of the previous Wednesday's Improvizone gig, our contribution to this gig seemed twice as straightforward. With our host taking care of the PA, and without me recording, the wires were kept to a minimum and the technical aspects of levels and signal routing were much simpler. As well as photos numbering three figures, Os has already uploaded some of his recording onto the Darkroom podcast. All you get from me is a picture of our setup from above. Sadly we were lacking the VGA lead to plug Os's laptop screen into the hefty flat-screen TV behind him.

Finally, Andy Butler himself took to the floor and turned in a surprisingly rocky set, fifth out of five widely different takes on the looping approach. In a way, this is clever marketing that sidesteps the knotty problem of how to adequately and convincingly describe music in a way that gets people to turn up and watch it. We have exactly the same problem in Improvizone, and so far my two findings are that a) describing it as improvisation is no use at all, and b) describing us as ambient electronic bar music at least feels more accurate, even if the number of seated bums does not significantly increase. Either way, it is extremely difficult to get anybody through the door to see anything, and hats/caps/hoods off to The Butler for establishing a great gig with a keen audience, whatever his secret :)

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