Sunday, August 30, 2015

Supernormal 2015

Supernormal 2015
7th—9th August, Braziers Park, Oxfordshire

Thom in Bristol went to this festival last year and thought my Professor Appleblossom freestyle maths thing would fit in, so urged me to apply. And the organisers agreed, gave me free ticket, travel money, etc. Nice. I spent three hours every day on my maths blanket engaging people in discussion about topics of a mathematical nature. Memorable encounters included Jasmine, an anthropologist wearing a very colourful Hieronymous Bosch dress and clutching a copy of Patti Smith's Just Kids who wanted to discuss the cultural relativism of the Peano axioms, and a sullen poet with a Jesus & Mary Chain fashion sense who read out a poem about Georg Cantor from his iPhone.

There was a lot of music and sound art going on around the site, along with all the other creative weirdness. I got involved in an open improv session in a barn (curated by someone from Brighton using raffle tickets to periodically alter the onstage lineup), alongside a drummer, Mark Pilkington on electronics and someone else doing something with (I think) a sampler. The saz also got played beneath the "Drone Blanket" (Henry and Robin, noise-art friends of Thom, known variously as "A&E", "Tipex" and other things, got a very large blanket together under which anyone with any sound-making equipment was encouraged to position themselves and do their thing). That was on a very hot day, so everyone under the blanket was sweating profusely. They plugged me in to God-knows-what...I just remember the feeling of the body of my saz vibrating intensely due to some deafening feedback coming from elsewhere under the blanket. Eventually crawling out to get some fresh air, I got to enjoy the visual spectacle from the outside — great concept.

Other music of note:

Charles Hayward (drummer from Quiet Sun, This Heat, The Raincoats, and briefly Gong and Crass!) in three different settings: Anonymous Bash (a kind of heavy-cosmiche band featuring members of the Gnod collective), a solo piano-and-voice recital of curious songs in the drawing room of Braziers House, and with Oscilanz, featuring drums, electronics (Ralph Cumbers), violin and various period instruments (Laura Cannell):

Asparagus Piss Raindrop: intergenerational Fluxus collective

Jennifer Walshe: voice and video from amazing Irish singer I saw once at a Free Range event in Canterbury

Paddy Steer: eccentric 21st century one-man-band...the barn was packed out so from the back I rather missed out on the visual aspect of his performance (just saw the top of some amazing Arkestra style headgear flailing about)

Trummor & Orgel: a Swedish Hammond-organ-and-drums duo...sadly I just caught the end of the last piece, but it was just beautiful...two virtuosos taking the audience on a magic carpet ride...never heard a Hammond played like that before, could almost feel myself lifting off the ground

Trembling Bells: I don't think I've actually heard them before, just about them. Looked the part, but sounded heavier than expected.

#A.R. Kane: That's right, not "A.R. Kane", but "#A.R. Kane". No Alex, just Rudy and a 7-piece band he's put together to play A.R. Kane material. Rather underrehearsed, quite ropey — I was half-expecting great things, but actually got bored and drifted off.

Karen Dwyer: live techno from the main stae

Leedian: trippy Japanese electronica

Gnar Hest: theatrical, and sonically overwhelming, Bristolian electronica

Manuela Barczewski: minimalist doom/ambient guitar and vocals

Stargazer's Assistant: my friend Mike Yorke playing bagpipes and other wind instruments with Guapo drummer David Smith's side project — mesmerising

Wenonoah: Thom's friend Rosena, singing the uncanny in the Braziers House drawing room (with some piano accompaniment). Wow! She calls it "Fine Flesh Pop for Abstracted Humans". Impossible to describe.

My musical highlights were probably the little I saw of Trummor & Orgel, and my unexpected encounter with the Nomadic Female DJ Troupe in a woodland clearing after dark — three Scottish(?) women in matching black T-shirts and surrounded by a mass of portable analogue electronic equipment. This included what appeared to be a toy record player, on which singles were being spun, so that brief, warped-out fragments of vaguely familiar pop tunes were woven into the soundscapes they were coaxing out of their gear. There was something pleasingly gentle and organic about their approach. The second time I saw them (another woodland spot) they invited the audience up to get involved. I appreciated the openness and lack of preciousness in this gesture, but was also a bit disappointed as it meant I couldn't just sit back and listen to them do their thing.

Things I unfortunately missed: Guapo (a prog/RIO-type band which I've since learned involves Kavus Torabi of Cardiacs and Gong, and whose latest album I just heard something pretty amazing from), Lords of Thyme (psych-folk group who sounded like they'd be great from the programme notes, but who cancelled), Blown Out (heavy psych from Newcastle, audible in the distance while I was watching Tipex/A&E perform a Cage-inspired Fluxus score in the Granary) and Robin and Henry's "Rummage" performance (they've been developing the sonic art of rummaging in boxes of clutter, something I caught a little bit of in another setting — equally amazing and hilarious!)


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