The first event in SOUNDkitchen’s 2015 series took place once more at VIVID Projects in Birmingham. Sarah Farmer opened proceedings with a setup of cassette player, record player, bass guitar amp, no-input mixing desk, and laptop, which she set going one by one before promptly leaving the stage. Left to their own devices (ahem), the miscellaneous electronic contraptions unfurled a carpet of static, feedback, RFI hum, and muffled recorded sounds ranging from traffic to voices to snatches of music. My guess is that sample playback via the laptop was being modulated and ‘composed’ by self-generated feedback from the other devices, though I could be wrong; in any case, the effect was something in between listening to a recording and hearing live performers, the machines’ inherent limits and flaws giving rise to their own agency and autonomy. Midway through the performance Farmer returned to the stage to ‘change the channel’ to a different set of recorded sounds, before once more leaving the machines to get on with it – a brave and powerful gesture that made for an intriguing and engrossing performance.
Next up was a collaboration between composer Manoli Moriarty and performance artist Frances Kay. Contact mics and gaming controllers strapped to Kay’s palms and forearms generated signals that were fed through Moriarty’s laptop and electronics rig. Moving within a small square taped out on the floor, Kay’s movements were slow and supple, tentative at first but becoming more agitated in response to the rising volume of the audio. The swooshes and scratches produced by the contact mics were clearly discernible, but I was less clear what influence the gaming controllers were having on the sound, which I took as a good thing — there are few things more tedious than a tech demo in which the relationship between gesture and effect is fixed and obvious, but this performance never felt like that. I would have liked more development and structure, perhaps through some element of repetition, a wider variety of sounds, or by Kay spending more time off the floor, but the idea and the partnership are promising.
I’ve written previously about how much I enjoy the music of Swiss duo diatribes (d’incise and Cyril Bondi), and I was eagerly looking forward to their SOUNDkitchen performance. The pair didn’t disappoint, performing both compositions from their recent album “Great Stone / Blood Dunza” — and how magnificent it sounded. The dub references that inspired the album were less noticeable in a live context (the plate reverb on “Great Stone” wasn’t really present at all), but the timbres were rich and full, and the ‘episodic’ structure, moving at a slow but steady pace through numerous constellations of a small number of elements, perhaps made even more sense live than it does on record. When I stop listening for the preconceived expectations commonly labelled ‘music’, and start simply listening, then this work’s deep connection with life as an ongoing series of everyday, complete-incomplete moments becomes clear. The rain pattering on the corrugated roof above us at the beginning and end of the performance only underscored this affinity. Fantastic work.