Sunday, February 24, 2013

Free Range catchup

Veg Box Cafe, Canterbury

I've missed a couple due to being away, but am still getting to most of the Thursday night Free Range events Sam Bailey's been curating.

17/01/13: Mechanical Elephant + Arlet (blogged elsewhere)

31/01/13: Sam Bailey and Matt Wright. This was Sam's PhD peformance, which has been in the pipeline for a while. He's written a thesis about improvisation, particularly the ethical dimension thereof, but his doctorate is partly performance based, so he had trouble finding a suitable examiner. It was meant to be Steve Beresford, but in the end he had to pull out and John Tilbury (he of the legendary AMM) stepped in. Sam played prepared piano (initially hitting strings and vibrating them with an EBow before launching into more conventional keyboard-based piano sounds) with Matt processing/interacting live via his laptop, etc. Fortunately, I was seated directly behind Matt, so I could see exactly what he was doing, which made a real difference to my experience of the performance. His skills as a hip-hop turntablist were clearly evident (sans decks), as he deftly triggered sounds via his laptop keyboard with a blur of wrists and fingers. Sam's performance was really quite moving, real passion in it. By the end he was pounding on the keys with his fists. The overall arc of the piece (about 45m?) really took me on a journey. That was probably the most musically satisfying of any of the many Free Range performances I've heard. Sam looked a bit dazed afterwards when I spoke to him outside, like he wasn't sure what had just happened...but I think it's since sunk in just how well that went.

07/02/13: Luke Blake + Angharad Davies and Heledd Francis-Wright. I've since worked out that Heledd is Matt Wright's wife. She was playing various flutes, while fellow Welsh experimental musician Angharad did extraordinary, unconventional things with her violin. Luke Blake played electric guitar with a loop pedal, enchanting, hypnotic stuff which appealed to the part of my brain that locked onto Vini Reilly's Durutti Column as a teenager.

14/02/13: Evan Parker and Matt Wright. Matt back at Free Range with the now Faversham-based free improv saxophone legend Evan Parker, doing their extraordinary Trance Maps thing, as they did for the first ever Free Range (January 2012). That seems a very long time ago. I managed to get in a game of Go with Helen from Wincheap while they were playing (consciously minimising the clicking sound of the stones on the board) — a great combination!

21/02/13: endnote + Robert Jarvis: endnote is a laptop artist, who sat looking very seriously at his screen making little finger movements while we were immersed in a highly-textured soundscape. It was sonically satisfying, but impossible to tell how much of what we were hearing was being created live. If I'd been able to see the screen I would probably have found it more satisfying. Before the gig, I had a chat with a bass player and computer music experimentalist called Jeremy (he was once in the local jazz-fusion unit The Jimmy Jones Band, as well as in a band with Neil and Phil from Lapis Lazuli called "Happy Baby"). We ended up talking about exactly this: the problem with laptops in live music. There is a theatrical dimension to musical performance whether you like it or not...but even a shy guitarist in a shoegaze band strumming the same chord for ten minutes is doing something you can see and understand (whereas that "sound artist" behind the laptop could be checking his emails for all you know). But then, as someone else pointed out, what if you were blind? Should it matter?

Robert Jarvis then turned this whole question on its head with his set, which involved him playing improvised trombone into (and around) a mic that was fed into a laptop without anyone behind it. It was apparently running some cutting-edge software that applies AI principles to musical improvisation, analysing the sonic input in real time and responding "creatively". It was really quite uncanny how "intelligent" and responsive it seemed. Robert's set was musically brilliant, as well as intellectually challenging and stimulating. Jeremy and I talked again afterwards — I was interested to know what he thought was going on algorithmically, as the software did seem to be doing something that you could call "creative". It was as if there was an invisible sound artist behind the laptop. And I now realise that this set would have been less satisfying if there had been someone there! It does make me wonder where this kind of software development is taking us...


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