The third evening in SOUNDKitchen’s 2014 series of electronic music events in Birmingham opened with a set from the duo Formuls. James Dooley made music using a self-developed algorithmic audio environment, while Matt Parker created real-time fractal visualisations that were projected behind the pair. Things began quietly, but it wasn’t long before a shuddering sub-bass pulse brought a more purposeful sense of drive, herding along high-end bleeps and whistles. Despite the heavy beat, I wouldn’t have called this dance music as such; sounds at the top and bottom ends of the audible spectrum seemed to cluster together in swarms rather than marching along in the orderly and predictable fashion demanded by the dancefloor. The visuals weren’t simply slavish representations of sonic events, but had a developing logic of their own, which was great to see. I wouldn’t normally listen to this style of music, but to my ears and eyes the set was fully convincing.
Next up was SOUNDKitchen’s own Iain Armstrong and Annie Mahtani (the moniker refers to a composers’ collective as well as the events they organise). The piece they performed integrated numerous field recordings into a complex and thoroughly musical composition, though each retained an audible identity as a captured environmental sonic event. By ‘musical’, I mean that all the usual suspects of conventional music theory — rhythm, harmony, structure, timbre, and so on — were considered from the perspective of an overarching idea or intention, however implicit. I really liked how Armstrong and Mahtani built so clear and well-articulated a thought from such field recording staples as passing cars, church bells, and so on; rarely have I heard hydrophonics presented so engagingly as music.
The final set, following the 2014 series convention, was a commissioned collaboration between two Midlands artists who hadn’t previously worked together. Ben Ramsey, who currently leads the Creative Music Technology programme at Staffordshire University, began with a short solo performance of blooping, thumping electronica, again not a style I know much about but possibly comparable to work by the likes of Amon Tobin or Aphex Twin. He was then joined by Chris Mapp on bass guitar and pedals, who threw some more definite melodic shapes and a whole lot more noise into the mix. After a while Ramsey left the bassist to shoot off into ever noisier and heavier territory, sheets of looped distortion and feedback shovelled on top of each other. The sheer physical intensity pouring from the speakers was exhilarating.
Another great evening of experimental technologically-inclined music under the SOUNDKitchen banner, then, helped along by some fine visuals from Alan Brooker which, like Parker’s for the Formuls set, went well beyond simply illustrating the music. The final event of the series takes place on 28 November and features Room40 artist Chris Herbert — I’m looking forward to it already.
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http://www.earthkeptwarm.com/ (Matt Parker)