The final SOUNDKitchen event of 2014 took place at the end of November at VIVID Projects space in Birmingham, UK. The first performance, by Stourbridge-based musician and sound artist Samuel Rodgers, was a very quiet affair, eschewing the large PA rig for a number of small speakers placed on the floor. Playing a number of single-channel field recordings of quiet traffic and other background environmental noises, Rodgers filtered the sounds by placing various objects, such as glass jars, bespoke glass dishes, and a woollen jumper, on or over the speaker cone. The results were very much like hearing those same faint acoustic traces ‘in real life’, filtered and attenuated by Birmingham’s many subways and the concrete and glass of its domestic and commercial architecture. By transforming those traces into gestures, Rodgers re-positioned the sounds at one step removed from their sources, the way a landscape painting is one step removed from the environment it depicts, triggering a recognition that is also a sensory awareness of difference. Beautiful and absorbing work.
Composer and sonic artist Elías Merino is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Huddersfield. His laptop-based set cycled through a wide variety of approaches, from purely computer-generated composition to samples of orchestral instruments and environmental sounds. My favourite sections occurred early on, with the opening jumble of snatches of acoustic instruments and digital noises reminding me (fondly) of an orchestra warming up, balancing anticipation and cacophony. I also really enjoyed the juxtaposition of two different uses of white noise, one using stuttering filters to create rapid percussive patterns, the other building flat walls of static, with panning used to emphasise the contrast between the two.
For the final ‘commissioned collaboration’ of the 2014 series, SOUNDKitchen asked Birmingham artists Nicholas Bullen (a founding member of grindcore band Napalm Death, now working in more electronic territories) and Chris Herbert (composer of the excellent “Constants” album on Room40, reviewed here) to create a new performance together. The dialogue between the former’s analogue noise tones and the latter’s laptop ambient drone was at times so fluid and in tune that it was hard to tell where one artist’s contribution ended and the other’s began, as if they had quickly slipped into the habit of finishing each other’s sentences. All the weight and punch one could hope for was present, enveloping expansion combined with delicate detail.
Bullen and Herbert’s sounds were further enhanced by live visuals from Antonio Roberts, generated from layer after layer of pixelated and glitch-refracted colours and shapes. Particularly effective were the schematics of electronic circuit boards from devices such as Arduinos and Commodores, and not simply for the geek value: the way Roberts’ programming switched between flicking through different diagrammatic fragments at rapid pace and pausing on a single image managed to perfectly express the dialectic of stasis and movement that defines ambient drone as a genre. Between the three of them, Bullen, Herbert and Roberts brought SOUNDKitchen’s 2014 series to a perfect close.