Giant atoms and dark sets

Andrew Booker 2009-06-03 23:23:22

Os, Mike and I took a trip across the Channel last weekend, to play on the Saturday night (30 May 2009) at the Arenbergschouwburg in Antwerp for Sjaak Overgaauw's first European Live Looping Festival there. It was a really nice gig, and turned out to be a productive couple of days for me, yet still with plenty of time, in the words of Mr Bearpark, for some quality hanging about.

Since I was going to be spending half the weekend in the car, I made sure I got some time-lapse road movie material in. Having recently removed a load of fluff from the CPU heatsink and vacuumed its cooling fan, my laptop was back to working pretty flawlessly in the heat of the car, and I managed to get one frame every 0.9 seconds of pretty much all of my journey in Europe, and the return journey in England.

I left the UK early on Saturday morning and took the calculated risk of driving to Brussels before Antwerp. I wanted to take some video of the Atomium to use in Improvizone projections. From Calais, you get to Antwerp by taking the E40 and then turning east on the E17 (as I liked to think of it, the Walthamstow exit) at Gent. Or you can get to Brussels just by staying on the E40. The Atomium is conveniently located in the NW just inside the Brussels ring road, from which you can exit onto the A12 or the E19 and be 30 minutes from Antwerp. I figured if I got to the Walthamstow exit before 11:00, I would have enough time for a half hour stop at the Atomium and still make it to Antwerp by the expected 1pm. I got to the E17 at 10:54, and made it to the Atomium at about 11:35.

It was 50 years old last year, when I guess it was given the damn good clean it has clearly enjoyed since the last time I saw it about eight years ago. Now it looks literally brilliant, and to those with the taste, very beautiful. Sadly the ground level has been wrecked by a load of poxy exhibition tents and there is barely an aspect to it without visual clutter that is not obscured by trees. Anyway I dashed around and shot pictures for half an hour.

I then totally bolloxed up leaving the city. My one researched route was blocked by roadworks, I made it back to the ring road but missed the A12 to Antwerp, the only route I had researched to get me into the city and to the Arenbergschouwburg. I still had the E19, but did not reach it until 12:35 and had no idea where it was going to drop me in Antwerp. That took a few potentially lethal lightning examinations of my maps, and I made it to the Arenbergschouwburg at 13:00 on the nose. The final time-lapse frames prove it. I got there before Os and Mike, who had left England the day before and stayed in a friend's house in Antwerp. I tried not to gloat.

Fast forward past setting up and waffle scoffage by the Darkroomies and Fabio Anile, to the gig itself. Each act took to the dimly lit stage and presented an individual application of looping for 25 minutes or so. Sjaak opened the gig with a really beautiful piano construction over asymmetric loops. I'm not sure if the loops weren't really meant to be regular and metrical, but I thought they were intended, cleverly original, and worked really well. In fact at this point I was very glad I was not Sjaak. I could sit back and totally enjoy this music, without the responsibility of having to make it happen.

Sjaak was followed by Ufo Walter and Akim Triebsch. The duo played acoustic loop-rock by turns chaotic and groovy, always in perfect synchrony. Fabio Anile then took over the piano and peaked with a thundering minimalist piano piece where he played perfectly out of phase with his own complex loop for several minutes. Next at his little table of equipment was Michael Peters, whose set was part avant-garde noises and partly the harmonically elusive experimental fusion that I think he does best, especially this time in the shape of a rhythmic bass pulse where he'd massively reduced the sample resolution to a really dirty crunch, over which he layered some terrifically odd sustained chords. It was gripping, and I hummed with delight. By technical contrast, Luis Angulo made up the first, and better, half of his set entirely of vocal looping. It was pretty stunning to begin with, and took an unexpected turn for the even better when he started pitch shifting the loops. Brilliant. After Luis it was us, on which more in a moment.

Guitarist Dirk Serries followed us with his Microphonics. We knew Dirk from his FearFallsBurning appearances in Norwich and with No-man in Europe in October 2008. I much prefer his current set, the less intense Microphonics, gentler and clearer, and celebrating the timbre of the guitar rather than the force of distortion. Finally Rick Walker closed the gig with his wacky percussive looping of irregular fluorescent orange materials, only occasionally resorting to anything resembling conventional drum-like paraphernalia. As he grappled with technical problems it was possibly not the best night to witness the sheer depth of his inventive performance repertoire, but one lesson I immediately picked up flew directly in the face of my own approach to drumming. That has been to use electronics to create unusual and unnatural percussion sounds. Rick effortlessly achieves this using real objects in clever ways. Should I be trying an acoustic Improvizone evening...?

In terms of the Darkroom set, it's possible that taking the prepared improvisation approach to a 25 minute slot like this was not the best strategy, especially breaking it up into three pieces. I reckon a Improvizone gig enjoys about 50% of the evening in a state of sustained exploration, which is when the really good stuff starts to happen in the music. Here, we only really entered the zone for a few fleeting moments a couple of times during the set. The rest of the time felt to me like I was just bashing stuff out. I am reminded yet again that, as I drummer, I really am a non-musician when it comes to playing satisfying regular organised music that resolves itself. What happens when I assign notes to the pads is that I keeping hitting them at the wrong time, wrecking the melody or the harmonic order, sounding exactly like someone who doesn't know what he's doing.

Os recorded and videoed us as usual, and we were able to listen back later to what we'd done. After suspicious that we'd overstepped into the heavy dark side, in fact we were very pleased with how it sounded. I couldn't hear Mike much during the set, but listening back to Os's clean mix, he's tearing along. Mean, sinister and fierce towards the end, yes, but all in a good way. You can watch and listen to the whole thing here. Os also has loads of stills on flickr here.

Darkroom go to Antwerp << | >> 25th gig: Wednesday 10 June 2009 at The Plough E17