Keir Neuringer (vocals) & Joel Ryan (live electronics) [The Wolfman]
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 22 May, 2005
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London
A shadowy figure descends from the darkened gantry and approaches a spotlit microphone. He begins to breathe deeply, and an unearthly roar fills the room. He grins. My, what big teeth he has.
Robert Ashley’s “The Wolfman” is where John Cage meets Hammer Horror; an exploration of electro-acoustic phenomena dressed up as urban gothic. Ashley exploits the usually troublesome phenomenon of feedback, where a microphone picks up the sound from its output speaker. His vocalist is monstrously over-amplified, so that his slightest sound produces a disconcerting gale of noise. This is a visceral and disturbing work that takes on the characteristics of the performance acoustic; the barn-like Jerwood Hall at LSO St Luke’s revealed a fascinatingly varied range of sounds, from twittering treble to, at one point, the illusion of other voices. Keir Neuringer was superb as the motionless and menacing Wolfman, meeting the challenge of the precisely notated vocal part.
The annual “Cut and Splice” festival, which attracts seriously bespectacled men and Hoxton hipsters in equal measure, offers a rare outing for music from the wilder shores of the post-war avant-garde. This year’s theme of “Dots and Lines” focuses on the vast range of approaches to translating a score into a performance; in Peter Ablinger’s “IEAOV #4”, as in “The Wolfman”, acoustic information from the performance-space forms part of this ‘score’. Unfortunately, Ablinger’s piece was much less successful. The conception, in which a series of microtonal scales is recorded and then reassembled as a shifting cluster, seemed sketchy and schematic, and failed to produce an involving soundworld. The processed sounds proved sterile, a murky aural gumbo, and the four live members of Apartment House appeared ill at ease.
After that, Mauricio Kagel’s classic “Acustica” was a breath of fresh air. As a paid-up member of the heady post-war European avant-garde scene, Kagel understood its absurdities as well as its aspirations. Realising that the high seriousness of experimental performance could shade into high comedy, his ‘instrumental theatre’ works emphasise their own absurdity; in “Acustica” he explores the nature of musical instruments, devising sound sources of his own and giving meticulous instructions for their construction and use. Performed by members of Apartment House dressed as ‘50s boffins, it was a painfully accurate parody of pseudo-scientific experimental performance. Seated behind a long table, the performers rubbed balloons, bowed violins with lengths of cane, and threw lengths of metal piping into a box. A trombone with a length of hose attached lay on the cable-strewn stage like a challenge. These obscure experiments with bicycle-bells and wind-up toys had the air of arcane ritual, and the members of Apartment House set about their tasks with deadpan relish. It would be easy to miss the level of skill involved: Kagel allows his performers to assemble his sounds in a sequence they find most effective, along with a pre-recorded tape, and this was a very satisfying realisation that produced some delicious moments. Played absolutely straight, it never tipped over into farce, but remained poised on the border between discovery and lunacy.