THE EYEDRUM (Atlanta, Georgia) 10/24/09
WASTELAND JAZZ UNIT / TRAUMA
TAMIO SHIRAISHI + SEAN MEEHAN
ANDREW COLRANE / GRAHAM MOORE
MR. NATURAL / FENTON
Plenty of people enjoy the fetish of collecting things that are obscure, it's apparent in the closed auction listings on Ebay when you search “American Tapes”, that's for sure. But I wonder: How many people there are, out there, that truly appreciate how special these artifacts are, both in the absurd aesthetics as well as in the unpredictable, outlandish and often times regurgitated sounding audio content. And I wonder: How many people read through John Olson's AOL 1996 style listings for new releases, and instinctively forward them to their friends because there is something so special and smile inducing about reading through such upside-down / “weirdo English”, but also due to getting excited and knowing you'll be buying one copy of every thing listed in that e-mail, maybe even some at wholesale if it's something familiar (or if there's more than 15-50 copies that are ever going to be made). And what about when there's the rare opportunity to see some of these documented projects, outside of the narrow confines of art galleries and basements in their home towns? I suppose I can only really know for myself, how I feel.
Which brought my girlfriend, Teta, and I to a large Atlanta warehouse gallery, The Eyedrum, for a fest commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Destroy All Music festival. I was supposed to fly home on Saturday night, but since booking my ticket, I no longer had any obligation to be home in Phoenix on Sunday. We had already considered having me change the return flight to Sunday instead, so that we could have an extra day together, but getting an e-mail from Blossoming Noise a few days before leaving, about this show, really pushed it over the edge. An extra 24 hours with my significant other and the chance to see some of these people / projects in a live setting was just too much to pass up.
Fenton: I was a bit confused by what the desired effect was with his performance. Two long copper pipes were propped up in front of a couple of combo amps that were spewing out what sounded like low-end feedback, the kind that makes you really question the stability of you speakers' frames... but I couldn't tell if the sound was being altered or created by movements in the pipes. He seemed sincere and extremely drawn in and attentive, this came across like a project that he had much time invested in and that he was actively attending to the minor fluctuations in sound, but I felt like so much more could have been happening, even if just tapping or scrapping other pieces of metal or pipe into the ones that were upright. I was anticipating something dramatically different at some point or towards the end, but it never found it's way to that subsequent portion. I want to know.
Graham Moore: Fairly loud, wall of noise approach, the type of set up the easily allows chilling and the consumption of alcohol, only hindered by the occasional tone adjustment, for the most part. I appreciated the high volume and abrupt start, and even more so: unexpected increases a long ways in that really seemed to upset various portions of the PA in uncompromising sequences, but I really was not grabbed by what he was doing until things came to a stop towards the end of his set, with the last five minutes of churning, fluttering low end tones lurching in and out of existence, with higher end sound and feedback skirting on it's cruxes. It was really well done: tense and slowly peaked at smaller and smaller spikes until fading out completely. I was won over, 100%.
Tamio Shiraishi + Sean Meehan: The Eyedrum has several rooms that make up it's innards, the one in which the stage and the majority of this night occurred is actually not the largest, which is actually a rather gigantic square, white-walled gallery space that you first find yourself in when entering, an openness that begs for large multimedia pieces to be sprawling for 100 feet at a time. From one of the even smaller corners of the building, this squealing started, unannounced. The type of squeal that I've only experienced when an accidental and dangerously loud signal is patched into the wrong jack, and meets an open-air feedback loop (unloving accomplished on several occasions when sampling an old solid state washing machine sized receiver's faulty AM feeds into layered tape collages, which is an artistic way to dance around the fact that I could have easily broken an ear drum and surely irritated all dogs in a three mile radius of my living room). ...the sort of situation where you hear feedback, but it sounds like there are multiple pitches sort of shifting back and forth.
Over the course of the following twenty minutes or so, the apparently saxophone generated high-end tones ricocheted off the walls of the main room, into which an older Asian man (Tamio Shiraishi) eventually walked into, meeting up with another man who sat calmly at a single snare drum, using sticks and cymbals to create friction based, smooth sustained tones, at times coming close to matching the ear drum slicing sounds that were somehow being belted out of this man and horn. The sheer amount of physical force that he pushed through his entire body and instrument was perfectly contrasting that of Sean Meehan, who at his most animated moment, found his way down onto his knees, using forks to generate series of short ambiance until ultimately using the snare's head to crackle and crush an empty beer can that had been left on the gallery's floor, at the most slow pace imaginable (it probably went on for about five minutes or so).
Shiraishi and Meehan's piece was the most confrontational and performance based of the night, and the tenseness and anxiety that their presence created even phased me a bit. Shiraishi walked along the walls of the gallery, occasional in-between some of the people that were watching, and he seemed irritated and angry. His sax never made it down to the range in which notes are generally produced for more than a split second, and it seemed as though he was just blowing through and biting down as hard as physically possible, destroying three reeds in the process, while Meehan seemed completely devoid of emotion and life, never changing or moving at any more than a snails pace. The two seemed completely unaware and detached from each other in some ways, but still strangely maintaining this uniform state that relied on both of their input and stability,... they did an incredible job of utilizing the enormous space of the gallery's front room and complete attention and silence from everyone in the building.
(...okay, to be fair, some of us absolutely did let out a laugh when after changing out one of the reeds, Shiraishi approached the front, seemingly swung the entrance door open with much annoyance and then let a few seconds go by before belting out another series of extremely loud saxophone squealing for the few unexpected and unappreciative people on the patio and in the parking lot. ...because that was just truly smart and funny).
Mr. Natural: Before he started, Teta made a comment about this insane looking antler “instrument” that was sitting on the stage, leaned against a stack of amps. I told her about how I once played with this band in Phoenix, in which one of the members had made a contact-mic based unit using antlers, and they had springs of bike chains or something along those lines attached to them, and as the rest of the group (which I later tacked down as Sikhara) did their own thing, he would bow it or smack it against the ground and it would sound like thunder. ...a few minutes passed, and this taller guy, that had already looked familiar, walked by a few times, and too many different light bulbs started going off. It was absolutely the same guy, it had to be.
Sure enough, in ten minutes time, Teta and I were sitting on the floor in front of the small stage, completely enthralled by the simplistic genius of Mr. Naturals set, a dense and intricate collage of sounds generated by tapping and dragging the antlers across the wood planks and bowing (or hitting with the bow) the two long springs that ran parallel down the length of “the instrument” (as he refers to it), with the contact mics feeding the organic sounds through several effects and delay. The overall tone shifted from thick and low and percussive, to portions that were almost harmonic and ambient, which felt delivered from a natural combination of pitch-shifted vibration and occasional allowance of feedback.
In conversation, he expressed that he felt like he went into the performance without the needed preparation, but I feel obligated to express that what he managed to produce for those 20 minutes was not only textured, varied and interesting, but an impressive display of control and innovation (even if it might be a simple idea, he's the one doing it, making it interesting and having me love it). Really neat / nice guy.
Trauma: In my excitement for the night as a whole, I had completely spaced on who Trauma actually consists of (specifically Ben Hall!), and I was ultra excited to see a table full of Graveyards and Editions Broken Research releases, as well as the momentary / situational meeting with Ben, who is the percussive machine in various outsider units (Graveyards, Melee, Traum, Hell and Bunny, ect ect ect). A gigantic relief for me, (and sub-sequential bummer for them), I already owned a majority of the extremely neat things they had with them: some recent and not so recent Graveyards LPs and 8” lathe, a few tapes and countless Broken Research releases that I had gotten from Ben awhile back via the mail. I mentioned that if he had invested his paypal balance wisely, they'd be in good shape, but still managed to grab some exciting new things: new Melee and Graveyards LPs that he had released and I hadn't grabbed from elsewhere yet, a couple of Trauma cassette and a heavily advised / recommended tape from an artist called Skin Graft on Chris Riggs' (the other ½ of Trauma) label, Holy Cheever Church Recordings: which sadly did not come to my attention as the name of his label until Teta and I were back at our place, because the reference in that name is extremely obscure, to the point that I've never met another person who has even seen the film it's culled from, and I would have loved to connect on a mutual appreciation for it. I need to e-mail that guy.
Trauma's set was truly fantastic. Ben had an assortment of belted down styrofoam, what seemed like guitar or bass strings and other assorted items which were bowed atop on large drum, while another, which was more obviously contact mic'd, was used for generating vibration based drones and rapid, forceful skips of drumsticks across the head (with bells eventually making their way on as well). The dynamic range in both volume and type of sound that Ben crafted was completely engaging, the styrofoam and particular edge of this long plastic tube were scathing and could compete with any harsh noise approach that could have been alternatively used, and his various other combinations of actions kept things subconsciously rhythmic, the sort of vibe that causes you to start swaying, without really knowing or understanding to what pace. Chris used a bow and several wooden sticks and other small items to occasionally re-”prepare” the guitar across his lap, and often provided a simple, perfect baseline for what the two would be creating at the moment. Most notable were the movement changes, sparked by the occasional eye contact and body motion, the two would completely alter what they were doing in unison. The changes were exciting and further drew me in. I really loved their set and am grateful to have been able to catch them outside of the parameters of the cassette on American Tapes that I've come accustomed to letting repeat while working on projects at home.
Andrew Coltrane: ...actually played as a duo with a drummer, under the name Cold Turkey. In both his demeanor while playing and throughout the rest of the night, Andrew seems like a really shy, nice guy. I had really been looking forward to see what he was going to do, the various releases of his that I own are pretty varied and almost always really interesting. As Cold Turkey, while the other guy played scattered jazz-style percussion, Andrew played sax through a rig of various machines, not sure if some were tape units or samples of other sorts, but he had healthy amounts of sound spinning around underneath each fresh onslaught of reeded noodling, which itself would often have thick murky substance to it. While I liked what they did overall, the drums kind of took away from it a lot. Unless I was completely misunderstanding what I was hearing and how loud things were, I think they might have even been going through the PA, which seemed completely unnecessary. Of course, to be fair, it's probably hard for anyone that is banging on anything to leave much of an impression directly after watching Ben Hall do anything. (I would assume).
That being said, with an awareness of the critical tone, I was actually into it and grabbed their LP without hesitation. (and it's awesome, much more sparse, no percussion at all, just some heavily effected sax sputter that got a double play spin earlier this afternoon).
Wasteland Jazz Unit: Other than Trauma, I was most excited to see these guys. They had gotten a hold of me to say hello after they saw something I wrote about them (in regards to a CDr they did on American Tapes, actually), and since then, I played with Talibam! (who they have a split LP with), and have come to learn about the space and radio show they help coordinate in Cincinnati, the Art Damage (Lodge). Their schtick is simple and to the point: a reeds duo (sax and clarinet) through some effects and extreme volume, and it becomes much more apparent live, as the two play their instruments the way you would aggressively imitate Glenn Branca on guitar, that the approach is half of the game. It's not easy to swallow, but once you get to a part of the room where you can stand and watch them without your ears bleeding, you catch that it's a full on noise/jazz freak-out, most directly carved in stone when the amps shut off for the last couple of minutes and you can clearly hear John Lorenz wailing relentlessly. Obviously not for everyone, and especially not for anyone with sensitive ears or an opposition to feedback, but the “anything goes” / “fuck it” vibe is playful and sincere in it's specificness. I was way into it, despite taking a bit to figure out where and how I could be able to tolerate the aural attack. “All music has been destroyed”, indeed!
...neat meeting these guys and chatting for a second. I gladly picked up their new CDr that documents a collaboration with C. Spencer Yeh. “That's a fucking weird one”, the other John points out while laughing a healthy bit. I laughed too: “yeah, I bet!”. I look forward to eventually passing through their part of the country, I am sure it's a blast.
I thought it was extremely refreshing to see a group of people doing this sort of thing, keeping a cool, positive attitude, not taking it all so seriously when appropriate to acknowledge the absurdity, but in other contexts: having a psuedo-professionalism in the instances of well-thought out ideas and intricate / innovated creation, and universally: being approachable and nice for the most part. I was really happy to see all of these different personalities intersect and balance so well. I wish that there were some more people attending and that I had played too (I never think that though), but it was hard to not feel extremely good about walking to the car at 11:30pm, when it was originally set to last until about 1:00am. I didn't spend nearly half or even a third of what I was expecting that I would have been tempted by via merch, but still left with some exciting new stuff to check out. Met and re-met a few nice people, got to check out a legit gallery and space that I've never been to before, was truly blown away by several of the performances and shared the experience with someone that I love. I feel as though it's safe to say that I may have enjoyed this night more than most anyone else in the building, and I'm grateful that my obsession of the fringe delivered us to that moment in time.