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Concert Review/ Francisco López & Toy Bizarre & Small Cruel Party

img  Tobias Fischer

It may be true that some things are better left unseen, but that's not why the organisers of the Moers Festival have invited nine top-notch Sound Artists to put out the light for their gigs at a festival otherwise leaning heavily towards Jazz and Improvisation. Inspired by the work of living legend Chris Watson, a core part of the concept was instead to do away with distracting imagery and turn music into a primordial force again, which each listeners has to face alone. As Iannis Xenakis put it: „The sensual shock must be just as forceful as when one hears a clap of thunder or looks into a bottomless abyss.“ Over the course of three days and curated by Auf Abwegen's Till Kniola, the „Concerts in the Dark“ involved the likes of Thomas Köner, Helena Gough, Jonathan Coleclough  and Manu Holterbach, who all closed the door to the relentless sun burning outside to fill the refreshingly cool darkness of the Schlossheater's tiny studio with ambient atmospheres, threedimensional field recordings and precise, pointillist noises.

About forty chairs have been placed in a curious shape inside the studio, some of them aligned along the nicely cracked-up plaster of the walls, others in convexly and concavely bent semi-circles in the middle of the room, with listeners both facing and turning their backs on each other. The artsy arrangement of the interior is explained by the quadraphonic set-up of the speakers, which have been suspended on all four corners of the ceiling,  creating a veritable cauldron of sound at their combustion point, with musical events coming at you from all directions and various distances. From a booth near the entrance, dimly lit by a small lamp, the artists are, meanwhile, controlling the action on their laptops and small mixing consoles, sending out weak rays of blue light and the reddish-orange gleam of tiny LEDs – what one is experiencing is not full-on darkness but a sort of unreal, otherwordly state in between the poles of waking and sleeping, a simulated hypnagogue reality in which the tangible and intangible are becoming entrancingly interchangeable.

It is the ideal environment for Key Ransone's Small Cruel Party, a guise he has slipped into for well over thirty productions. The flood of releases has somewhat dried up in the new millennium, but just in time for the 20th anniversary of the project, Ransone has returned with a celebratory cassette-compilation of hard-to-come-by material („All Early Parts“), which promises more goodies in the near future. His performance tonight leans towards the ritualistic, a mantric pulse beating underneath the piece for the better part of its duration, with subtle dots of noise refining and brutishly metallic clangs ripping apart its texture. The slow, repetitious rhythm, not unlike the sounding of a Buddhist prayer bell with a mallet, allows one to zoom in on each new sonic event with absolute clarity as the mind enters a zone of deep, disturbing and occasionally outright scary calm. In the closing stages, the metre abates, giving way to a passage of curious beauty, loose particles and threads floating in a space of white, pulverised dust.

All those expecting Cédric Peyronnet to counterpoint this surreal meditation with sounds of the same exquisite elegance as displayed on his untitled 2006-split with Dale Lloyd on Bremsstrahlung Records, must surely have been blown from their seats. As on many of his pieces, Peyronnet is returning to the pastoral simplicity of his hometown here, but the memories are coming back to him like distorted figments of a delirious feverdream. A blast of space hits the studio in the first seconds of the piece and it takes a while before one is even tentatively capable of determining its topology, all coordinates scattered across the canvas like gaseous matter after a galactic singularity. Bird song capsizes into robotic screeching, the breath of the wind transforms into a digital howl and in between, pristine harmonics are coalescing into a violent sheet of great clarity and relentless intensity.

Peyronnet enacts his performance like a violent thunderstorm in the first third of the concert, then allows his listeners a moment of respite before launching into a more gradual, but all the more durable second crescendo. By entirely different means, this choreography is recreating almost the exact same effect as Ransone's: Fixing the audience's attention to allow them to zoom in on the minute details of his composition. The effect is less one of painting a pretty-picture landscape but of a richly ornamented power-drone, in which individual elements are swirling around each other like snowflakes in a gail-force tempest.

A mere twenty minutes have been allotted to each gig, with five brief minutes of rest afterwards allowing visitors to browse the Auf Abwegen CD-stand, step into the fresh air again and reset the senses before the next round of sensory tickling. This is turning out to be more than just a question of practical logistics with regards to the performance of Francisco López, which proves to be equally engaging and demanding. Right at the start, though, there is a subtle twist of irony. While handing out the mandatory blindfolds, a recognisable treat with López' performances, Kniola explains that they are supposed to support the absolute nature of the music, which is to be understood as art without references. As if to poke a little friendly fun at this interpretation, among the first sounds one hears are the nightly emissions of a heavy snorer, soon followed by a creaking door – so much for doing away with concretions. And yet, López isn't interested in the associative powers of these timbral objects. By turning the snoring into a propulsive element embedded into a rhythmical shower of digital impulses, he is turning their former source into a meaningless piece of aural genetics in a game of far more complex creative chess.

López' releases over the past five years have gradually gnawed away the cliche of his music constituting nothing but an almost inaudible subsonic rumble and today's concise concert can be understood as a guided tour through his many different areas of interest: Finely chiseled fields of plop and irregularly pulsing chains of cymbal-like metal are creating physical grooves and hums, while associative complexes of timbres merge into silent soundscapes. In an extended section at the heart of the work, meanwhile, these different angles are brought together in an unexpected symbiosis: A glowing cone made up of solid steel is emitting red-hot flares of resonance, as dancing electrons and photons are crashing into its solid shield. There is a Utopian touch of Fritz Lang to this construction, which feels futuristic and strangely familiar at the same time, adheres to a a kind of subterranean choreography without ever seeming strictly planned and grows through various shifts and mutations, developing and degenerating at the same time. This is Sound Art at its most fundamental: Choosing acoustic elements for their inherent qualities and then combining them into surprising formations of occasionally bizarre allure. Here, the act of listening is turning into a multisensorial experience which spans visual, emotional and mnemonic impressions.

Intriguingly, the blindfolds are not, in fact, shrouding the listener in blackness. Rather, one is entering a zone outside of light and darkness, away from the cycles of night and day. In a way, it is an entirely different sensation from simply closing one's eyes. To be able to appreciate the cinematics of these sounds, as it turns out, one doesn't just have to negate the visible, but time and space enveloping it as well. Only the construction of new listening spaces is truly opening up the kind of truly new experiences the „non-referentiality“ of López oeuvre is referring to. The world around us may be perfectly fine for basking in the sun and enjoying a beer at the Moers festival – but it is better left unseen in order to bring out the full material qualities of this music.

By Tobias Fischerspooner

Homepage: Francisco López
Homepage: Toy Bizarre
Homepage: Small Cruel Party
Homepage: Moers Festival

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