On a cold and wet day in late November, Birmingham composer and sound artists’ cooperative SOUNDkitchen put on a double whammy of gigs to round out their activities for 2015. In the afternoon, Girilal Baars performed works for vocals and electronics based on poems and stories from James Joyce, Velimir Khlebnikov, and a Scottish ballad. Baars is an impressive performer, with consummate control over his voice, though the bombast and melodrama of the torrent he launched at the audience perhaps isn’t really my sort of thing. Fellow vocalist Iris Garrelfs’ set in the evening started in a similar manner, but I liked things more when she began picking out a clear melody, electronic processing creating a broken plastic melodica accompaniment mimicking her line. People who like their sound art very energetic and dynamic probably would’ve enjoyed both sets more than I did.
Ben Peers’ set for e-bowed guitar and amplified objects was by contrast soothingly dreamlike, the sustained swelling ambience from the guitar contrasting nicely with the minute details of glass jars, glockenspiel notes, and tin foil. The structure of the performance did feel a little disjointed and meandering, but the approach holds promise. In the break between performances Chandra Chapman’s 6-channel installation filled the room with rumbling and humming drones made by slowing down a recording of a reading of poems by Mexican feminist nun Juana Inés de la Cruz. Being familiar with the work of no-input mixing board artists such as Toshimaru Nakamura and Kostis Kilymis, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect from Manfredi Clemente’s performance on the same instrument, but his use of effects transformed his board into something quite different. The dry, rough set was well structured and varied, but ended up sounding quite similar to the sort of academic acousmatic music frequently composed with samples and synths — could a new instrument be an opportunity to explore further afield?
The ‘new instrument’ in Justin Wiggan’s ‘Dead Songs One’ was a number of vinyl records that had been accidentally buried and left so that their sleeves disintegrated into the vinyl (though given that the only readable label left was on an INXS LP, I question the accidental nature of the incident). When played back, the records yielded an unpredictable mix of rough noise and what might have once been pop music, over which Wiggan, Chris Mapp, and Annie Mahtani improvised on various instruments. There’s something absorbing and perhaps a little emptying (in a good way) about listening to noise as one might any other musical material, and it was only when the trio tried too hard to ‘fill in the gaps’ with more traditional notes and chords that I felt the performance lost its way a bit. Other than that, it was fine work with a great starting premise.
https://soundcloud.com/wonderingshrimp (Chandra Chapman)