Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Orbis in Coleford/Supersonic Festival

Orbis Tertius? (Henry and Keith Drone plus me) played a little festival out near Coleford last Saturday. A couple of years we played there as part of Pulse, the year before that as part of a Children of the Drone configuration. This was the best yet - really enjoyed our set. It was particularly excellent to be joined at the last minute by Jim Invisible on low whistle, melodica and xylophone. He'd never played with us before (had heard a few live recordings online months ago, but that's all), but immediately slotted in, added a lot of much-needed colour to the sound and generally pushed things forward immensely. A lot of other good music was played from the same little stage before and after we played (Spin 2, a young heavy-rock band called Playhawk, a couple of Tibetan exiles singing traditional songs, a beautiful-voiced singer-songwriter called Ella, and a kicking Crediton-area ska band called Skarper).

There was also a hugely enjoyable fireside session later that evening involving us, Jim, members of Spin 2 and John (guitar, voice) and Francesca (fiddle) whose field hosted the event - a couple of jazz standards involving an excellent clarinetist who appeared and then disappeared, John singing "I Can See Clearly Now", "St. James Infirmary" and "Hey Joe", Jim singing a few less-obvious Beatles' numbers ("I've Just Seen a Face", "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", "Mother Nature's Son", Chris from Spin 2 coming out with some punky/new-wave songs ("Bank Robber", "Love Cats", "Echo Beach") as well as some strummy Velvet Underground/Jonathon Richman type songs I didn't recognise). There was a beautiful almost-clear sky, moon, etc. and Tibetan prayer flags flapping in a mild breeze, a huge bonfire - just perfect - we were still going strong at 2:30a.m...

Listen Here

The next day, I was off to the final day of the Supersonic festival in Birmingham (stopping off at Belas Knap long barrow in Gloucestershire en route - orchids, wildflowers, skylarks and a bit of a jam up on the barrow). This is a very urban festival (held in an arts centre called The Custard Factory - a renovated custard factory, not surprisingly) featuring a lot of HEAVY music. My eardrums were assaulted by Einstellung (a couple of members of Godflesh involved there), Orthodox ("sludge doom" from Spain), Parts and Labor (melodic hardcore from Brooklyn), the impossibly heavy Gravetemple (minus Julian Cope) and Kikuri (a couple of "Japanese noise giants" according to the programme - one was Merzbow, sitting placidly working on a pair of laplops, the other was one Keiji Haino thrashing away on a guitar and theremin-like device, howling into the mic...I think this was the most utterly insane musical performance I've ever witnessed). Best of the lot were Earth, the Seattle drone/doom band - heavy, slow, ponderous, with really imaginative use of a 70's style electric piano and trombone. Last.FM's relational database decided some time ago that people who like them might like Children of the Drone, so I'd been looking forward to hearing what they sounded like. Excellent stuff.

Also of note was a live score performed to a screening of the original Nosferatu (a couple of members of Pram involved in that) and Brian Duffy of the Modified Toy Orchestra who both gave a very entertaining talk on circuit bending, his overall philosophy of creativity, etc. and performed as half of the "ZX Spectrum Orchestra" - pushing the limits of what can be done sonically with the notoriously pathetic early home computer. The ZXSO set included a cover of The Normal's "TVOD", partly because the voice synthesiser interface can only handle numbers, letters and commands like "ENTER", "SPACE", "MOVE", etc. With a bit of imagination (and the fact that the "1" sounds a bit like "want", they had put together the voice-synthesised lyrics


Excellent use of early computer graphics on their display screens too, free "Geek Pride" T-shirts thrown into the audience (featuring a block-y up-arrow symbol ("To the power of" in BASIC programming language)) and drumbeats jacked from a software cassette found in a charity shop - some kind of early music software based around Wham!'s chart hits! Brilliant stuff. They were followed by an obscure Krautrock trio called Harmonia. I'd not heard of them (they were only together for three years, but comprised members of Neu! and Cluster). They'd embraced the latest technology, so we got three late-middle-aged German men pottering about with laptops (and the occasional bit of guitar), but it was rather entrancing (I didn't quite get the "crystalline wash of guitar and synth that sounds like it's reflected and refracted through the walls of a dozen glass cathedrals" that the Drowned in Sound reviewer described, but it was an uplifting end to a rather sonically-challenging day).


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