Thursday, March 16, 2006

Experimental Audio Research

I saw Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember's most recent project, Experimental Audio Research last night, down at The Cavern, supported by Knowledge of Bugs. Lots of circuit-bending analogue weirdness and throbbing electronic drones.

Knowledge of Bugs is one person in a labcoat and geeky glasses, seated before a table of home-made gadgetry, who comically bumbles his way through his set and sings quirky songs with an echoey electric guitar in an endearing Durutti Column kind of way. He came down to The Phoenix to do a circuit-bending workshop last weekend, which Simon Drone attended and enjoyed thoroughly. That last Drone session at Henry's house even involved some sounds generated by the device that Simon put together at that workshop.

E.A.R. - image from
E.A.R. in Florida - image from

Kember played a single piece - a bit less than an hour, I think, although one tends to lose track of time in that kind of psycho-sonic envirnonment. He had his back to the audience throughout, as he manipulated his vast array of (mostly) analogue electronic gear (including an old Texas Instruments "Speak and Spell" toy and a huge patch board covered in multicoloured electromagnetic spaghetti). I'm not sure if this is shyness, arrogance, indifference, or what, but basically it meant that we watched his back for the whole performance. It wasn't even clear when he'd started. There were still records playing, and he was just kind of there, fiddling with his gear. Then it got noticeably louder fairly quickly, and everyone flocked in to stand and face his back. For some reason he sets his equipment up on fairly low tables so he's stooping the whole time, which left me feeling uncomfortable, thinking about possible back problems this might cause - watch your posture, Pete!

I was well into his band Spacemen 3 back in the late 80's when I was a student - saw them a few times including a killer set at the '89 Reading Festival. I even jointly interviewed him on UKC student radio when they came to play there. I'd rather lost track of his work during the last 15 years, but it seems he's lost interest in guitars, having discovered that he can get the sounds he wants without conventional instruments. The result is something like Spacemen 3 without any vocals, melodies or rhythms. Or like Hawkwind without any vocals, melodies or rhythms. Or like...But I did get thoroughly into what he was doing (with hastily constructed toilet paper earplugs to defend myself from the more intense high frequencies).

He left as unceremoniously as he arrived - brought the sound down to a minimal burble, stopped it, turned around to glance at his audience for about half a second, waved/saluted "good night" and walked straight off stage. There was something uncanny about the way we only got to see his face for a fraction of a second - I sensed a real intensity there which would be entirely in keeping with the nature of the music he'd just made.


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