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Jeph Jerman Jeph Jerman
photo Tom Hall
June 30

In the low-lit, intimate setting of Brisbane Powerhouse’s VISY Theatre, laptop artist Ben Byrne’s subtle set begins. For the first 5 minutes the loudest noise is the mouse clicking and the usual shifting and rustling of the audience. Soft, rhythmic buzzing develops into an insectoid pulse that intensifies into a heavy, fuzzy, alien heartbeat and grows into a thick, crunching climax.

Greg Davis appears next and, like Byrne, his music is largely computer-generated, but instead of insistent metallic throbbing, Davis chooses a palette drawn significantly from the natural world. Opening with delicate bird and wind sounds, he complements his audio with large projected imagery of feathery treetops in familiar bright lime tones of video. Visual accompaniments to non-spectacular sound performance are largely welcomed by audiences who sometimes refer to contemporary sound art as “watching-people-check-their-email-music.” Davis’ repetitive slow dissolves between the branches are a constant presence, making for interesting comparison with audio that follows a familiar narrative arc of slow start, building to swelling climax and gentle resolution. For some, this lack of congruence between sound and image is disconcerting. Others find the disconnect between the simple, looped tree images and complex, carefully constructed soundscape invigorating.

Next up was Ross Bencina, combining static and electronic noises with some well-chosen urban field recordings to searing effect. The carefully crafted yet still freewheeling journey of Bencina’s music is realised through the “interactive musician’s environment” delivered by his creation, AudioMulch.

Maybe it’s the mythology that surrounds this reclusive ‘star’ of experimental sound, but Jeph Jerman really does seem to radiate a kind of shamanic energy when he steps onto stage. The Arizonan stands, head bowed, breathing deeply for a few moments. Then, slowly, he brings forward his fists, full of small, round seeds, which he proceeds to drip slowly to the floor. Contrasting this high pinging sound are the polished river stones to which Jerman turns his attention. Typical of his chosen ‘instruments’, natural found objects, the stones are the focus of immense concentration, of rubbing, caressing, tapping, rolling in a bowl, in a very physical performance, which includes Jerman suddenly sitting, crawling, crouching and bowing with deliberate intensity.

New Zealander Dean Roberts takes an entirely different tack to Jerman’s mystical minimalism. Playing a prepared electric guitar, he introduces harmonic pieces that plumb gloomy menacing depths but also lighter, more melodic territory. Contact microphones placed on the guitar amplify the sounds of fingers on the instrument’s body, creating a gritty, stringy texture that helps frame his husky whispers. At times reminiscent of the soundtrack to an isolationist Western, or moments of acoustic atmosphere in the collaborations of David Lynch and Angelo Badlamenti, Roberts’ guitar interventions—rolling a screwdriver against the guitar neck and over gently plucked strings—and his manipulation of warm feedback tones are performed with both refinement and impeccable timing.

The finale, a duet between Jerman and Davis, emphasises the theme of embodied sound, as the collaborators perform their take on acoustic ecology. Moving about the room in solemn circles, they clang chimes, massage rocks and rattle seedpods. The audience loves their response to the local area in the use of long, flat poinciana pods (which any Brisbanite knows make marvelous shakers). Inspiring all the adjectives commonly associated with Jerman’s work—grounded, pantheist, reverent—it is as much meditation as musical experience. DZ

July 1

The Saturday night session for LA7 kicks off with maverick Kiwi artist Dave Edwards’ improvised set for banjo, computer, percussion objects and toys, home video projections, radio interference and charmingly non compos spoken word. We might call this genre ‘farmyard intermedia’: a ramshackle, free folk-informed attitude towards new and old technologies, and a loose exploratory layering of ideas picked haphazardly from different disciplines and traditions. Confusing but good.

Zane Trow is next with a soothing, comparatively mellow set of computer-generated drone and shuffle interspersed with some sampled Socialist theorising and a vague sense of manipulated jazziness. Isn’t this what used to be called ‘illbient’? Maybe it’s time for a revival…

Taking us through to the interval is the collaborative performance of Swiss laptopper Martin Baumgartner and Australian new music ensemble Speak Percussion. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with the combination of pristine vibraphone tones and woozy electronic treatments, and these guys deliver with an immersive and elegantly dreamy sequence of backwards tinkling, ghostly dissolves, birdlike chirps and spatialised whispers. The second part of the set is audiovisual, a sparse instrumental soundscape matched up with flickering video images of brutalised Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison. Baumgartner doesn’t take part here, describing the sound/image combination as inappropriate, and I tend to agree. There is a compositional strategy at work, with various audio-visual sync points, but overall it is unclear what, if any, meaning the basically abstract sounds add to these already highly meaningful images.

Brisbane duo Faber Castell amble on stage and stand over their table of miscellaneous homemade electronic gear, gaffer taped plastic toys and 2 very battered turntables. Someone flicks the on switch and this is how it starts: a brilliantly effective, immediately engaging and joyful sonic blast of noise, grit, texture and rhythm, a performance style laced with both humour and rigour, a glorious merger of slapstick physical comedy and razor sharp structural awareness. Confrontational, entertaining, innovative and unpretentious. Bravo!

It’s a hard act to follow, but Julian Knowles and Donna Hewitt have developed their own highly elaborate aesthetic processes, and they swing the night back towards smooth sophistication and intricacy. Knowles lays the foundation with some blissful electronic drone work whilst Hewitt manipulates her patented microphone-stand-midi-controller-device, coaxing out a series of ethereal vocalisations. The piece surprisingly evolves into seriously funky electro-pop, with Knowles even unleashing some rather new-wavey electric guitar skronk.

Festivals like LA7 need to headline with a master, and while ErikM is not quite in the same historical ballpark as previous guests like Bernard Parmegiani and Tony Conrad, he is nonetheless a hugely impressive artist. This Frenchman performs somewhere in the world pretty much every night, and his skill at manipulating 2 turntables with various electronic effects, is so physically and conceptually coordinated that he seems to have more in common with some kind of freak sportsman. Just listening to the array of granular pings, thuds and bleeps, microsonic snatches of tone and extraordinary rhythmic complexity one might compare ErikM to Parmegiani and the other heroes of Musique Concrète, but I think perhaps the better comparison is Swiss tennis virtuoso Roger Federer, whose graceful economy of movement, sublime touch, and magical ability to find impossible angles, reflects the same combination of inborn talent and relentless technical refinement. JS

Liquid Architecture 7, programmers Nat Bates, Lawrence English; Brisbane Powerhouse, June 30 - July1

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 54

© Joel Stern & Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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