Live in Rotterdam: Simon Scott and Radboud Mens
Posted In: Alex Jacobs, Clem Leek, Live in Rotterdam: Simon Scott and Radboud Mens, Nathan Thomas, Radboud Mens, Simon Scott
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As evening approaches, it is still pleasantly warm in the sun-filled garden of Foundation B.a.d in the Charlois area of Rotterdam. Round the dinner table, a number of conversations can be heard: a fine art student discusses her graduation project with a more experienced artist; residents of the Foundation’s studios laugh and joke with guests; visiting performers swap techniques and contacts ahead of the evening’s concert. Signs of a supportive, nurturing community, hinting at a formidable resourcefulness facilitating and underpinning it. Arriving early and unannounced, a place at the meal is immediately offered to me, despite some uncertainty as to what, exactly, I am doing here.
The former school building occupied by the Foundation contains a number of artists’ studios, many of which are also residential, as well as a number of community spaces used for concerts, exhibitions, lectures, discussions, and other cultural events. One such event is a series of experimental music concerts entitled ‘Aether’, and the evening’s edition featured performances from UK-based musician Simon Scott and Dutch sound innovator Radboud Mens. Each performance was prefaced by a short discussion in which the artists explain their approach, and a third artist, painter Alex Jacobs, was also invited to share five of his favourite recordings, in the time-honoured manner of ‘Desert Island Discs’.
Radboud Mens’ work often involves the development of techniques that allow normally invisible and intangible sonic processes to be perceived. For his latest project he plays three guitars at once, but thankfully no triple-necked monstrosities are involved. Instead, sine waves from a computer are played through coneless speaker drivers attached to the bodies of three ordinary guitars (acoustic, electric, and bass), causing them to vibrate, which in turn produces resonances in the strings. The composition he performed at Foundation B.a.d was a mellow, slow-moving meander punctuated by the buzz of strings and the hum of amplifiers. What struck me was the ‘guitarness’ of Mens’ sounds – in no way did this sound like ‘synthetic’ music, but at the same time the timbres seemed rounder, fuller, more varied, and more open to chance than those produced by a more traditional guitar technique. There are countless ways of extending the range of sounds that can be extracted from this instrument, but Mens’ work is notable for its emphasis on the material properties of the guitar as an object, on the sonic possibilities of simple wood and metal.
Simon Scott’s latest album “Below Sea Level” blends warm, organic-sounding ambience with field recordings made in the Cambridgeshire fens. Live, this sonic environment is built up using computer– and pedal-based loopers, and then used as a base for improvisation, with additional guitar provided on this occasion by Clem Leek. Scott’s sound is filled with layers of rich broad tones and small, intricate details, producing an immersive experience that is all-encompassing – it feels like being surrounded by a world, a world away from the basement of Foundation B.a.d. The choice of timbres and field recordings give a natural, organic shape and form to this world, producing a mimetic representation of a natural landscape. What happens in the space between this representation and the landscape itself? And to what extent does the mimesis work both ways, our management and preservation of the landscape being shaped and formed by its representations? These are open questions, but Scott’s work is at least capable of tracing the outline of the problem. His music points to a musical engagement with the natural world that goes beyond simple affirmation of the beauty of a birdsong, towards an exploration of the many tangled intersections between environment, experience, and culture.
This edition of ‘Aether’ was the last before it is revamped with a new format and a new name, but no doubt the winning combination of great programming, warm atmosphere, and space for discussion will continue in some form. Those looking to pursue creative and cultural initiatives in an uncertain economic and social situation may find much of value in the model offered by Foundation B.a.d and other such communities, even as those communities themselves adapt and change in response to new challenges and opportunities.
- Review and photography by Nathan Thomas for Fluid Radio