Bexhill Reprise

These days, I’m trying to see things before the final weekend. That would have been a poor plan for Digital Revolution, which was completely sold out (I saw it twice before that). The Bikeriders at ATLAS Gallery was a collection by Danny Lyon, about Chicago bikers in the sixties. The fact that Lyon had embedded himself within the group showed through in the unexpected candour, and the openness of the subjects. They were clearly relaxed around him. It was interesting to see the vitality of America at that time, supporting such strong subcultures, and refreshing to see the prominence of the women. The nice lady printed out the press release and image guide for me, because they had run out. It’s on until 19th September. A successful visit.

My next two attempts were completely unsuccessful. I had actually planned carefully, for once, and walked from ATLAS to Baker Street, where I travelled to Euston Square for the Crypt Gallery. Only been there once before and wanted to make up for that. There was a couple ahead of me with the same idea, who remembered about the idiosyncrasy of the entrance to the churchyard better than I did, and two women behind me. Unfortunately, it was closed, even though, as the man bewailed:

It said on the website it would be open.

The two women looked like sisters and one of them made the surprising observation:

Why is it always shut when we come here?

This dejection made me feel a little better in my failure. The next stage of my plan was to walk back to Euston Square and from there travel to St. Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall, for the exhibition of mosaics, originally part of the City of London Festival. Now I’d been burned there before in a similar way i.e. arriving and finding it not open. There’s no way that would happen again, even after the failure at the Crypt… At least there was company again, though this time I tried the door by the pond, to find it quite unyielding. Hmmph. There was time for a brief look around the Guildhall Gallery, with its incongruous security scanner. I’d only seen temporary exhibitions there on previous visits, so I had a look at the permanent collection, which was organised around themes of Victorian life. The atmosphere was slightly odd because the staff were arranging tables for a corporate event.

The ingenuity of my plan was that the church was close to the Barbican, where I was due to see Saint Etienne performing How We Used To Live. (My first association of that title is primarily with an old schools’ programme, that I think was set in the 1930s). Around this time last year I’d seen Bob Stanley and Paul Kelly introduce What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day, and I think I saw another film of theirs at the Leeds Film Festival in 2005. The film was witty in its juxtapositions of image and voiceover, making its political points to the audience’s amusement. I much preferred the live soundtrack to the film, compared with the short set they performed beforehand, though I’m not sure why. As usual, I didn’t know any of the songs, so that can’t be the reason. In any case, the soundtrack was excellent and Pete Wiggs even coped rather well with an equipment or software glitch towards the end. One of the things I’ve noticed since moving to That London is that it’s always talking about itself, in a way that other cities don’t, but in this case it was at least a monologue worth hearing. At the end I did think it was a bit of a shame that one of the drones from John Cale’s show in the theatre hadn’t escaped and interfered somehow…

I’ve yet to write about my trip to Bexhill to visit the De La Warr Pavilion on 1st September. Wider impressions of the town and the building will hence have to wait. The reason for another early Sunday morning trip, after the previous Sunday’s Matisse-related excitement, was to see Cafe Oto’s contribution to the Dear Serge series there. I originally found out about this at the DLWP (ahem), seeing a poster about upcoming events (I was pleasantly surprised to see how much music they do have there), then there was a mailing from Oto. My original plan for this Sunday was to go to Liverpool to see the accompaniment to the Mondrian show I’d caught at Margate (again, as yet unrecorded here). That’s now been postponed. One of the games I could play during the journey was to predict which people would be joining me at the show, and I was mostly correct. Another game was trying to work out whether I was in the correct carriage, because the train was due to split at Eastbourne and the display system wasn’t working, so it was hard to know which carriage I was in. I didn’t know any of the artists but that’s usually a good thing. The first sonic intervention of the day was actually from the large collection of boats resting on the beach, their rigging thrashing about in the wind. Approaching the building itself, I saw Izabela Brudkiewicz preparing for the final roll her big ball, the arrival of which would close the day, a bit like the end of a marathon at the Olympics. When she did start rolling it in front of the pavilion, people eagerly went up to her to ask what she was doing, and she was able to recruit them easily to the task of writing their notes in response, which would be pinned to the outside of the ball.

Café Oto at Dear Serge

It was quite difficult to eat my middle-class packed lunch from Waitrose, because the wind was quite impertinent in its strength, such that components of each forkful were at risk of blowing onto the table. Meanwhile my hair was losing some of its carefully sought style unity. Cowering in the lee of a pillar, I heard a member of staff talking to some old ladies who were taking a table just around the corner:

There’s about to be some music, I think it’s improvised jazz, which might be a bit noisy. You’ve probably heard the drums. Just to warn you.

Strange drones and bangs could be heard at this time, so to that extent he was correct. Exploring after the buffeted lunch, some of the artists weren’t quite ready. Hence I asked where the Sun Parlour was, the location for lll人. They were an alto saxophonist, who kept his eyes shut a lot of the time, a drummer who obscured his vision with black shades, and another man also with shades, alternately deploying a coiled spring and what looked like a gumdrop microphone. Officially, his instrument was “raw feedback”.

Café Oto at Dear Serge

With the latter, I wondered whether it was magnetic, because it would oscillate rapidly between the bare can and the speaker, thereby creating an impressive racket.

Café Oto at Dear Serge

Occasionally the microphone would do something unexpected, and he’d raise his eyebrows in surprise and satisfaction.

There were quite a few families with young children about. A lot of them had presumably just come on a day out, as opposed to those few families that crave abstract noise of a Sunday, and at this point I saw the first of several children who made a big show of protesting by scrunching up their faces and holding their hands over their ears.

Next I headed to the North Stair, site of Rie Nakajima, whose interventions were electro-mechanical.

Café Oto at Dear Serge

At this stage, she had deployed only a few creations, producing intermittent noises. Back to her later.

On the ground floor, I first saw Shelley Parker in the Meeting Room, who went for a “fag break” not long after I arrived, though she did take care to leave a drone running in her absence. Next door Oren Ambarchi and Johan Berthling had been allocated the main auditorium. (I wondered about the decision process – were they widely thought the most popular artists? Were they the only ones with the confidence to fill the largest space for four hours?) By now the conundrum of the day was apparent: stick with one of the performances and see it “properly”, developing over time, or move around the building, dipping into them all throughout the afternoon. No doubt some of the real Café Oto crowd who’d come from Dalston knew all these artists already, and some of them probably stuck with their favourite. In my ignorance I thought it best to flit around.

Going to the roof again, where Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides, from my home town, hadn’t quite got going, I heard someone exclaim about the sky, and looking inland it was brooding and intense:

Café Oto at Dear Serge

while out to sea all were skipping along happily:

Café Oto at Dear Serge

On the stairs, Rie Nakajima had consolidated her infestation and the accumulation of overlapping clinks and irregular bangs from her progeny was noticeable:

Café Oto at Dear Serge

I liked her use of special batteries:

Café Oto at Dear Serge

Many of her self-built gadgets consisted of a machine turning around and then becoming frustrated as it built up pressure against an obstacle, then finally breaking free, only to repeat the whole cycle. Others span around freely and then punished a cup or a bowl or some tin foil for an arc’s worth, then carried on.

On to Shelley Parker again. It was impressive how little equipment she needed to make a punishing boom (approximately a rucksack’s worth). Her approach seemed to be along the lines of what would have happened if Basic Channel had been inspired by Noise rather than Techno. She had one of those Akai MPC devices, so it was clearly (to some extent) loop-based, but there was so much processing going on that it certainly wasn’t repetitive and for once the manic twiddling of the mixer knobs and faders seemed justified (I sometimes people think people do it on stage so as to look busy…)

Café Oto at Dear Serge

In fact it sounded as if she was doing some real scraping and grinding, which shows her skill, given the sound generators were all digital.

Back to the Sun Parlour, where at one point part of the drums self-dismantled, which I don’t think was planned. A few tables behind me someone mentioned Showadywaddy and recalled an episode in which the choice offered had been:

Champagne, or cocaine, with your sausages.

In the auditorium, I felt a little cheated because there still hadn’t been any action I’d seen on the drums. However, it was clear that their’s was by far the most emotionally engaging of the performances, extremely simple as it was, mostly drones with treatments. The most accessible, perhaps. By this time, they were both using guitars (as sound sources, rather than instruments).

On the North Stair, you increasingly had to tread carefully, so as not to disturb the increasing proliferation of rattling creatures. Everyone was smiling and she still had lots of raw material for further efforts:

Café Oto at Dear Serge

On my next visit to the meeting room, which was blessed with the deadeningly familiar trunking with power sockets, she was on a break again but had left noises running for us. Though her site was the smallest, she did have the benefit of the reverberation and echo effects of the narrow corridor outside the room, which funnelled the sound out and funnelled people in.

Next door there was some serious concentration, even then, after several hours of performance:

Café Oto at Dear Serge

and I did get to see them play the drums in the end.

Café Oto at Dear Serge

By this time Rie Nakajima had a marvellous accumulation of wayward automata. As well as adding more, she’d been perfecting the ones she’d already deployed, adding extra items to clink, or changing their orientation. The overall effect was making everyone giddy and full of grins.

Café Oto at Dear Serge

The Auditorium performance came to an end. They had to signal that it had in fact finished by ostentatiously switching off their amps, and fading out the final background humming drone. Towards the end of their set one of the players started oddly reminding me of Tom Paulin, which didn’t seem appropriate. At this point, people were crowding around the Meeting Room, where Shelley Parker introduced a beat, as a reward for persistence. The laconic feedback-saxophone-drums people had already finished, so the mad noise hounds congregated on the roof for Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides, who were the last to stop. Again, they had to confirm to the audience that they’d actually finished, which illustrates how different all these performances were from “normal” gigs. I felt sorry I hadn’t checked them out more. The actual final finale was from Izabela Brudkiewicz, who completed the rolling of her ball around the promenade, into the main foyer, to applause, and close inspection of the ball.

Café Oto at Dear Serge

After seeing the ball for myself, I felt a bit bereft. There was silence, (ignoring people’s chatter), which seemed Rubbish, after a whole afternoon of varied sounds and noises. Is there a trick to keeping traditional song structures at bay? Or maybe all musicians would prefer this kind of improvisational freak out, rather than song strictures. I really liked the diversity of the chosen artists, which encouraged an itinerant approach amongst the audience. It was a pleasure to see the building again, and I’ll keep an eye on future Dear Serge events.

Flickr set from Dear Serge

Inexpertly curated video playlist on YouTube

 

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