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Head music, hard splatter

Jonathan Marshall at Club Zho

Keith Fullerton Whitman Keith Fullerton Whitman
photo Peter Illari
Tura New Music’s regular Club Zho gigs got off to something of a retro start this year with UK expatriate Mike Cooper. After an initial career in folk and roots music, Cooper moved to tape music and electronic guitar effects in the 1970s before producing his current genre of what has been called free jazz exotica. Dressed in Hawaiian shirt and with a steel guitar in his lap, he sat before a table covered with a bad batik drop-cloth, upon which rested a number of effects and tape loop devices.

Cooper strummed chaotically between delivering snatches of an unfinished narrative about the conflict between local islanders and the sailors of a tall-masted ship called The Dolphin—a fairly standard tale of paradise lost; part Gauguin, Captain Bligh, Fletcher Christian and Captain Cook, all rolled together. This rather problematic referencing of old colonial fantasies and battles served however merely as a prelude for Cooper’s principally musical performance. His blues inflected crazy psychedelia twanging—very John Hammond Jr meets Captain Beefheart or Frank Zappa—gave way to material developed mostly from the looping and processing of the original guitar material, which was then layered with tape sounds and old fashioned musique concrète tape-swipe noises. Watery dripping, washing and plashing elements, presumably intended to reference the initial seafaring narrative, moved about within a fairly dense but somewhat unstructured bed of electronic noise. Although some deeper tones and throbbing elements akin to early electronica bands like Cabaret Voltaire did emerge late in the piece, on the whole the gently moving skrunkle of effects produced an ambience very much in keeping with the Grateful Dead or the early Kool-Aid Acid Tests of the 1960s and other precursors to later rave culture. There was little new about Cooper’s performance, but it was interesting to see and hear a bit of good old fashioned head music in a live context again.

More arresting was US-based Keith Fullerton Whitman. Like Cooper, Fullerton Whitman used a guitar to generate most of his initial sonic palette which he then processed and played via a complicated series of laptop patches and program interfaces. While he has collaborated with some real hard noise merchants like Voicecrack and Hrvatski in the past, his generally minimal manipulation of a wide, filled soundscape made his Club Zho gig fit in well with the general ambience created by the stoner meditations of Cooper.

Changes were mapped by Fullerton Whitman over long time frames, creating a piece which one principally imbibed and experienced rather than following in minute detail or chasing after small returns and fragments. He began with a series of rather classic, spacey computer sounds which would not have been out of place in a Macintosh system sounds folder, or the early computer music faculties of MIT and elsewhere, scattering these zings and boings about the scales. These slightly retro materials soon clustered and grew into something else, though, generating an all encompassing sonic density and spread such as was created by Steve Reich’s use of multiple distinct lines playing the same motif. These wide, snarling layers soon accumulated into an intense, beat like pulsation, before turning into a noise-scape which impacted upon the whole body like a bath of sound.

Fullerton Whitman had also set up a microphone to capture the sounds in the room, gently feeding back these elements into his mix throughout his performance. This was therefore a literally additive composition which eventually produced a pure ocean of bass and noise. Fullerton Whitman took us out of this wonderful physical experience with a sequence of hard sonic splatters which bounced off the walls and about the room. The pointed distinction of these noises broke up the composition and provided a space for the artist to wind the sound down and bring the whole to a satisfying end. Although Fullerton Whitman produced a performance designed more to be experienced than intellectually monitored, this was nevertheless a highly satisfying showing and a fine start to Club Zho 2006.

Club Zho, Mike Cooper, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Tura New Music, Llama Bar, Perth, April 24

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 38

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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