peteg's blog - noise - music

LAMPO: Rene Hell (Jeff Witscher): Bifurcating a Resounding No!

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I signed up to the LAMPO list a while back, and finally their season has commenced. Unfortunately it is very short, at only four widely-spaced gigs. The The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts is some fantastical anachronistic outfit that believes that art can be advanced, perhaps even systematically, by hosting things like this. They've got a beautiful old building in an upscale part of town that was packed to the gills and beyond with cool trendy types. While waiting to get in I got talking to Kyle, from Indianapolis, who was himself waiting for a friend who had also driven up for the day. We pondered why they didn't charge for what seemed to be an incredibly popular performance.

This is the type of music that NOW now showcases: here they call it "electroacoustic" but really it's samples from all over the map, or man-plays-laptop if you prefer. Some of it was coherent, but never for long, and I could have sworn there were some chip tunes in the middle. Rene Hell showcases some of his paranoia on his bandcamp page.

Here's the blurb:

You say yes; Rene Hell premieres "Bifurcating a Resounding No!" The latest project from Rene née Jeff draws from years of recorded sounds (acoustic instruments, field recordings and voice), collected in cities across the U.S. and shaped with various digital techniques, to make one new weird work.

There was no lightshow so all I could do was space out to the calm between the mild bouts of audience abuse. I enjoyed it, and I'm certainly going to the rest.

Steve Nieve at the City Winery.

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"Premier seating", according to Goldstar, who asked for $11 + $3.75, for this gig featuring the sometime, all time, Elvis Costello pianist. The City Winery is a faux upscale wine bar that presses, or maybe just ages, or maybe just serves, its own wine. I got sat at the end of a series of tables with a decent view of Nieve's back, which was totally OK. The real problem was that it was right next to the door to the kitchen, from which excited Spanish regularly issued, glasses clinked, and so forth. Those sitting two or more seats down the tables did not suffer from this. Also paying at the end is farcical: I had two beers — a Founders Michigan Porter and a Triple Alpha hopped-up Indiana thing, for what is now old-time's sake — and had to wait ten minutes for my change. The ploy is, of course, to get you to walk away and leave an outsize tip. As my liberty was being infringed either way, I waited with teeth gritted.

So the whole vibe was American dinnertime, with the plea to respect the other audience members and the artist by remaining quiet. It was instead a time to catch up with old friends, graze, network. I guess American exceptionalism extends upwards, downwards and in every direction. The French vocalist was not great and the songs tended to blancmange without the rest of the band and the snappy lyrics. Did Steve play Bowie's Is there life on Mars? on the fifth Steinway when they were choosing pianos for North? Were these flyover songs for flyover states? As many people would observe of me, if any of that's going to give me the shits then I should stay home. Steve, on the other hand, did prove that necrophilia can go stale.

David Bowie cover band Sons of the Silent Age at the Daley Plaza.

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... ably displacing any protesters who might wish to observe that Rahm Emmanuel is not doing a stellar job, however impeccable his taste, just for one day. The band's name is a song off Heroes, and they pretty much stuck to the Bowie of then: Ashes to Ashes, Is there life on Mars?, that sort of thing. Gail Ann Dorsey has set the standard for Under Pressure covers; no-one attempts the Freddie-all-over-the-map original. They closed with Heroes, which made me realise that they had a keyboard player (see far left in the picture). The band was tight but the mix was occasionally crap. Oh yes, the band: Chris Connelly ex-Ministry on vocals, Matt Walker ex-local-boys Smashing Pumpkins on drums, Shirley Manson ex-Garbage on Under Pressure co-vocals. I last saw her in 1996 at the Hordern, also for free. Time flies.

Of course it was just shameless marketing for the Bowie Is exhibition; shameless but still they went through the motions. A lady in front of me had a new-ish Thailand tour t-shirt that showed pre-1975 North and South Vietnam, with the border near Hue. News sure does travel slowly near the Cambodian border.

It struck me that Bowie coverbands do it tough: if they were ripping into the Beatles back catalogue they could aspire to be the next Oasis. Here the best they can do is keep up, even now.

Chicago Wandelweiser Festival (day 2): R. Andrew Lee

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Grégoire gestured at the Constellation as some sort of home to experimental / marginal music, so I figured it'd be worth a shot. $11.85 ahead of time from Ticketfly; could have gotten in for $10 at the door as it turned out. I had a beer at their bar beforehand, which is somewhat cosy despite the unpadded wooden furnishings. I think there are a few spaces there; the one with the minimalist piano works was quite large with seating on three sides. Two of the composers were present: Eva-Maria Houben and Jürg Frey. The setlist:

  • December (2002) by Craig Shepard, which was genre drone music, impressively played by Lee.
  • Go and Stop (2002) by Eva-Marie Houben.
  • Distance (1) (1996) by Michael Pisaro.
  • pianist, alone (2) (2013) by Jürg Frey.

The crowd was small-ish (40-50 people) and very appreciative. Some of it got noir-ish like Barry Adamson, back in his heyday, but without the backing noise; just the slicing, the pauses, the sometime paranoia.

Old Sennheiser CX300-IIs almost die, replaced by Shure SE215-CLs, news at 12.

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The cable on my never-great Sennheiser CX300-IIs was getting decidedly dodgy, and I guess I'd been pining for my dear old e2cs from my Hồ Chí Minh City days, so I gave Amazon their entirely-plausible asking price of $96.99 and waited a week for a pair of these. They sound a little muddy, perhaps a bit bass heavy, and are neither super comfortable nor particularly uncomfortable. The cable is less stiff than my previous Shures, and can be detached from the drivers. I'm now wondering if I should have plonked for the next ones up in the range. The case is much larger than the old one.

Life Out There: the House Band of the Universe at Adler Planetarium.

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I'd never been to a planetarium before, so trading on the magic of Goldstar, I plonked $13.75 down and cycled down Columbus Drive after work. The gig started at 9pm, which struck me as a bit late. Also the park between Columbus and Lakeshore was closed for Lollapalooza preparations. The band did some kind of blues / jazz thing that was beyond me to categorize. This was an accompaniment to a computer-synthesised trip around the galaxy / universe, starting from Baghdad-ish, back to the big bang, hence to the outer reaches of the sun's influence, and finally inwards to the sun, back to Earth, and then out to Titan. It was all a bit breathless. Maybe they had the old-school planterium gear but I didn't see it. Afterwards I almost dodged the rain on the ride home. The view from the Adler is pure American Romantic.

The Sufi Gospel Project

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Back to the Old Town School of Folk for the Sufi gig I'd been hanging out for for so long. It turned out to be part of the Eye on India festival thing, and the band was imported from India; I'd hoped they were locals. Sonam Kalra got grilled by a local and revealed that she is from Delhi, but not that she is a dog person or her marital status. She's of the Sikh religion, and used to be in advertising. Her voice is excellent. Her band is awesome and tight: the flautist (Rajesh Prasanna), sarangi (Ahsan Ali Khan) and tabla (Amaan Ali Khan) players all stood out, and while the Yamaha keyboardist (Alex Fernandes) did not, he may have anchored the whole thing for all I know.

So I expected an American fusion sort of thing, but it turned out to be more masala, finer-grained and somewhat messy in a pan-genre sort of way. They opened with some great sufi stuff, and the first set had me quite spaced out. One element was an adaptation of Amazing Grace. The second got a bit more Western; specifically something by Ray Charles that had been taken full-circle (gospel -> jazz -> gospel) left me cold (was it Hallelujah I Just Love Him So?). They also attempted Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which annoyed me a bit as Anthem is far more in tune with their ecumenicism. (Sonam termed her project secular, which is even more approximate.) They closed with the Sufi classic Daanah Pah Daanah, which I knew from the Coke Studio Sessions 4 recording by someone else. Very sunny.

The crowd talked throughout and thinned appreciably in the second half. I'm not sure why; I got pretty much what I expected. They played the following night in downtown Chicago, at "the Temple" (corner Washington and Clark), which I didn't go to, and I also regret not buying one of their CDs. After much futzery I did manage to get The Confluence from OKListen, and Verified by Visa not only looks like a man-in-the-middle attack but did not properly verify my address. The band recorded Man Manam for the Coke Studio, which gives you some idea how good they are. Unfortunately Sonam left out her bespoke sign language. The guitarists didn't make it.

World Music Wednesday at Old Town School of Music

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While looking for sufi music in Chicago I came across this free-but-give-us-$10 concert. Not knowing (and not being told) any better, I stumbled upon Lincoln Square, which is directly north of the school; the Chinese near the Brown Western L station is ridiculously cheap, the Köstritzer Black bier at the little München Chicago Brauhaus was tasty, the music a bit much. That part of the city has density like the cities I'm used to, and they speak litres there.

Anyway, the gig started a bit after 8pm. The Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall is quite pleasant. It's set up more like a jazz club than a recital hall, and the crowd behaved similarly: lots of chatter during the performance. The musicians were three guitarists: Zoran Starcevic and his sons Nikola Starcevic and Zeljko Starcevic (I think), who covered a range of styles that I'm insufficiently familiar with to comment on. I guess I was expecting Félix Lajkó, or at least a violin. Their riff on Deep Purple's classic riff put me in mind of Four Play's infamous efforts from 1998. Their other gimmick was for all three to play a single guitar. Lots of skill on display, but not quite my sort of music; there were two songs I enjoyed but I didn't get their names.

As for the sufi music: there is some on there in a couple of weeks' time. Probably fusion, as that seems to be what Americans like to do. In the meantime I bought Coke Studio (Season 4) off iTunes for the awesome Kangna by Fareed Ayaz, Abu Muhammad and co., familiar from the opening scenes of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Sofar in Chicago

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It's been a while since I went to a gig. The Chicago chapter of the Sofar internationale kindly admitted me to their gig, which ran from 5pm-ish to about 7pm. I got chatting to a sweet couple from Texas, who relocated to Chicago for school and are now expecting. The venue was pure Chicago hipster, as one would hope/expect. They had three bands in a five-song-each format: Marrow, Living in Pretend, and Future Monarchs. The last was clearly Brit-inspired, slaughtering their point with a cover of the Beatles's Martha My Dear (and not Tom Waits's).

The Necks at Sydney Opera House.

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I bought a ticket back when I thought I'd have more time than I do. Chris Abrahams on the piano was the draw, and his collaborators — Tony Buck on drums and Lloyd Swanton on bass — were also excellent. I really enjoyed the washed out ambience of the first set, while the second was a bit more insistent and harder to space out to. They pulled a far bigger crowd than I would have expected. The light show was beautifully subtle, especially a fade to black at one point.

Vince Jones at Foundry 616.

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With Dave. Someone is trying to revive the Sydney jazz scene with this cute little venue near the University of Technology, Sydney; the last time I remember seeing Vince Jones was at the Harbourside Brasserie in the late 1990s. The place was packed so we propped up the bar for a bit, got some food in Chinatown at interval, and sat near the door for the second set. I was/am still pretty out of it and struggled to get into much: I did enjoy the piano a lot though, and was a bit stunned when he played Gil Scott Heron's Winter in America.

Mick Turner, live at the Sydney Festival.

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"This is a song about finding yourself at an airport with James Brown one day and Mick Turner... Mick Turner, ladies and gentlemen... boy from Sandringham, done good..."

There comes a time in every man's life when he's listened to the Dirty Three's Live at Meredith so many times he can lip sync to Warren Ellis, and it is that very moment, when the bits have worn off those CDs, to see what the boy can do solo. I grant that a tiny circus tent on the edge of Hyde Park, and the Sydney Festival itself, is not that conducive to ruminating on new tunes, especially when one is totally preoccupied with showing a garbage collector collects garbage, and only the garbage.

Atypically he played with a band featuring three ladies and two other blokes. I sat in a strategically stupid spot and got the Warren Ellis treatment, i.e. he faced away from me the whole time. In fact the only person I could see was the (entirely agreeable) bassist Peggy Frew, and I got the impression that his tunes were not taxing her. One lady did vocals, the other keyboards. A bloke played some kind of backing guitar and the drummer was up against it with Jim White sitting in the crowd, though maybe I hallucinated that last part.

Bernie always reckoned Mick Turner was too much of a doodler to take the lead, and he was somewhat right; however as I'm looking for that kind of spaced-out non-intrusive and not-boring thing that he carried off so well on Ocean Songs, I later blew another $85 on what's available from his online shop.

All this came at the end of an afternoon in the State Library. Their internet is still all Port 80, which precluded a commit that I've been aiming for all week. I was also very tired, and am not sleeping enough presently. Betts got parked out front of the Lands Office, in a 2hr zone next to a red CB250 with ~30,000km on it, and a bit later on, next to the adventuring kind of BMW I just don't want.

John Wilton Solo in a drain

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As advertised by the NOW now, John Wilton was bashing a cymbal in the drain under Sydenham Station. I think he also had some post-processing that lent it a spooky ambience.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House: Bach Brandenburg Concertos

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My Christmas present to myself. They played four Bach Brandenburg Concertos: No. 1 in F major (BWV1046), No. 6 in B flat major (BWV1051), No. 2 in F major (BWV1047) and No. 3 in G major (BWV1048). For an encore they played the final (third) movement of No. 4 in G major (BWV1049). I enjoyed No. 6 the most, perhaps because it was a much smaller ensemble and the two blokes (Christopher Moore and Alexandru-Mihai Bota) leading on violas (no violins) enjoyed themselves so much. I was sitting in the front row of the choir, which was a mixed blessing; the hunting horns pointed backwards so they tended to blot out the rest of the instruments. The couple sitting next to me told me I was sitting where Barbara usually sits, and presumably her health issues prevented her coming today. Overall I'd prefer to buy a recording and listen to it multiple times than go to this kind of concert, if only because (irritatingly) the familiar bits were the best.

West Head Project: Recursive Space

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Apparently I went to two previous New Music Network gigs this year: Synergy Percussion and Tangents. This one was in the Paddington Reservoir and was quite restful. The ambient noise (traffic, pedestrians, tourists) drowned any subtleties the two saxophones may have had.

Before this I went to the COFA annual exhibition. Several Tracey Emin-inspired pieces there, such as the chained lion in the semi-made bed, and the prize-winning laundry line with embroidered self-loathing. The undies looked far too clean. (GOMA in Brisbane has a Tracey Emin neon piece.) Whoever stuck some hands made from soap on the wall (also prize-winning) is very skillful but needs to work on the politics of placement. Contrary to what I'd been told, there was a small amount of glasswork there too. Apparently they have a Creative Robotics Lab now. Looks like fun.

Ensemble Offspring: FINЀ: Numero Uno and Roar

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I was going to ride Betts down to Campbelltown (specifically Campbelltown Road) with this gig as the excuse. The rain put paid to that, and I was giving Erina a lift anyway. As always they had some nice bits but it was difficult to get into the whole thing. I liked the gong as played by Bree van Reyk. They did some performance art-y bits in the middle - and I had to wonder if these came with the piece or were intended to spice up some fairly abstract sounds. The venue was the same as, very pleasant (and I do like the neon in the foyer). We had a drink and a light dinner at the cafe in between the sets.

The Spooky Men's Chorale at the Camelot Lounge.

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Erina invited me along to see this men's choir which is certainly not a men's group. The best part for me was when they momentarily paused in their cleverness and sang a Gregorian chant straight; that was captivating. I enjoyed the rest in a Monty Python sort of way. We had their pizza for dinner, and the bar staff were very friendly. A pretty stock inner-west kind of crowd, I think. The venue is full of Camel (cigarettes) paraphernalia, upstairs from the Django bar which is full of other sorts of stuff. Teascapes was this kitsch back in the day.

Bourbaki Ensemble: Barber's Adagio for Strings and so forth.

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David Angell, my first-year calculus tutor, took up conducting amateur orchestras some time in the late 1990s. I made it to a couple of his gigs years ago. At $30 for an adult, the crowd was small and appreciative, and St. Stephen's in Newtown has super acoustics for this kind of chamber music. Betts is super-happy after her tune-up, and I enjoyed the ride over despite some overly aggressive traffic (for a Sunday, anyway). I think one of the music profs was was playing cello; last time I saw him (or the bloke he most resembles) he was opposite some of his students: the Tawadros brothers and a bloke playing tabla, in the Clancy. The draw was Barber's Adagio for Strings, which I only recently realised was at the heart of Ennio Morricone's score for Lyne's Lolita. The second set featured some lovely harp.

A Slow Rip @ The People's Republic

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A 6pm gig at the venue that looks like something out of A Clockwork Orange (no, no, not the korova bar). I liked the first set by A Slow Rip; a wall of noise slickly done. I skipped the second one due to running out of energy (again). The inbetween guys were interesting too.

Alaska Projects: Musical Alaska #12 — Phillip Glass: Music in Fifths

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I headed back to the carpark in the Cross for another subterranean gig. Free booze and all that for their second birthday, and I missed out as I was on Betts. The Glass piece came over OK after I realised that the squealing children and barking dog (yes, someone brought their dog) improved it. I skipped the second set in response to an urgent need to hack, the like of which I haven't felt for years. My attempt to buy their free water with a $10 donation was met with a copy of the third issue of the World's Only zine.