Atlantic Waves Festival – 1

Various Improvisations

Philip Jeck
Margarida Garcia
Jacob Kirkegaard
David Maranha
Arnold Dreyblatt
Mark Sanders
Hannah Marshall

Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: 24 November, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Promoted as “a treble bill of experimental excellence”, these three sets began with the pairing of Philip Jeck – who “explores composition using record players and electronics” – with the double bassist Margarida Garcia. The turntable has a long history in the avant-garde, Dadaist Stefan Wolpe way back in 1920 having performed parts of Beethoven’s Fifth on eight phonographs operating at different speeds.

Jeck managed to distil a range of sounds ranging from the eerie to the irritating – the crackle and pop of old vinyl one moment, to chiming church bells, to what sounded like snooker balls being potted and crisp packets being scrunched. Like a Dadaist performer but eighty years after the event, Jeck sounded at times wilfully random and anti-musical. Eyes down on his table, from which cables tumbled like entrails, he looked like a vivisectionist of sound. It was hard to know what Garcia’s contribution was supposed to be; head bowed the entire time, she leant against her bass like a drunk slumped over a lamp-post, doing little more than tapping her instrument’s body and scraping open-string arco drones that resulted in fingernails-down-blackboard shrieks.

The second set was almost the same, except that David Maranha was on violin providing the shrieky drones (“small variations of harmonics and overtones”, the publicity material would have us believe, but in reality it was scraping and plinks) while Jacob Kirkegaard twiddled knobs, producing sounds that ranged from rattled cymbals to the crackle of a dodgy jack-lead to swooshes of white noise. Then Maranha put down his violin (one of the best moments of the concert) to play drones on a keyboard and twiddle with his effects unit. Although there were occasional moments of minimalist beauty peeping out, like silver shards of sunlight through gunmetal clouds, it was hard to escape the feeling that what we were witnessing was little more than two blokes fiddling with their knobs.

The third set was lead by bassist and composer Arnold Dreyblatt, who was joined by shriekers Garcia and Maranha, plus cellist Hannah Marshall and drummer Mark Sanders. The first piece, “Excitation”, was Dreyblatt playing solo, simply banging his bow against open strings to produce a sort of acoustic techno music, which sounded like a sequencer set to ‘eternity’ while someone plays around with the resonator settings. This would have been okay for eight bars, sixteen even – just enough for us to get the joke. Unfortunately it went on and on and on, like Satie’s Vexations, and I completely lost track of time. Did it last ten minutes? Twenty? It felt like a lot longer.

I have to admit that when the second piece started, and Maranha started scraping away on his violin, I simply walked out. I was assured by another member of the audience that “it got better”, and that the ensemble piece was enjoyable. But I’ll have to take that on faith.

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