a spectrum of spontaneity
kate carr: now now festival 2013
Simon Baker at the Now now, photo: Jeremy Tartar
published Feb 6 2013 by realtime arts: http://www.realtimearts.net/article/112/10942
THERE WAS VERY QUIET MUSIC AND THERE WAS MUSIC THAT SAW THE AUDIENCE WITH THEIR FINGERS IN THEIR EARS; THERE WAS HECKLING AND THERE WERE WOOPS OF ENTHUSIASTIC APPLAUSE. SOME INSTRUMENTS WERE PLAYED BEAUTIFULLY, WHILE OTHERS WERE NOT PERFORMED ON IN ANY TRADITIONAL SENSE AT ALL.
At times kitchen utensils scratched and whirred against home-made instruments and tape measures reverberated against guitars; at others, pianos soared and drumsticks blurred. There were poems composed solely from guttural and other non-verbal noises and there was even a man dressed as a poo. And that is a snapshot of just two nights of this year’s festival of exploratory music.
Held over five nights in Marrickville’s beloved Red Rattler, NOW Now 2013 was programmed by Laura Altman, Sam Pettigrew, Rishin Singh, Andrew Brooks and Jeremy Tatar and marked the 11th year of what has become NSW’s premier festival for improvised music. In addition to the evening events, this year’s festival also ventured into the great outdoors with a concert at Gordon’s Bay and into the gallery with a visual arts show at SNO in Marrickville. The festival even embraced the foodie craze with an event hosted by Rosita Holmes and Rishin Singh pairing experimental music with experimental cuisine.
I attended two nights, Thursday and Friday, sadly missing a third because of ill-timed flu, and took in 12 acts which ran the gamut from shitcore to turntablism to drone, avant jazz to walls of guitar noise. Over those two evenings four startling and adventurous performances summarised the strengths of this year’s festival.
passenger of shit
On Thursday night Passenger of Shit, known to his friends as Swift Treweeke, splattered onto the stage dressed in what could only be described as a mask of poo to deliver a laptop-driven set of uncompromising originality. Between samples decrying the state of women’s toilets and pleas for his mother to touch his anus, Treweeke screeched and screamed along to a pounding cacophony of throbbing bass lines, metallic riffs and drum runs reminiscent of a machine gun. Alternating between full throated guttural screams and howling alien shrieks, Treweeke’s set hit the audience like an axe, sending several punters rushing for the door, and many more reaching for their earplugs, or making do with fingers stuck in ears. He paused only to thread a beer under his mask. It was crazy horror-infused genre mash from hell, which even managed to inspire some dancing amid the carnage.
satsuki odamura & mayu kanamori
Treweeke’s was a hard act to follow, particularly given the number of fans he seemed to have among the audience, but the duo of Satsuki Odamura and Mayu Kanamori had very different, but no less mesmerising set of their own. Now an Australian resident, Odamura is a well-known exponent of the koto, and for this performance she played both koto and bass koto. Starting with softly plucked sounds and some whispered words from Kanamori, the performance moved into a duet incorporating live visual documentation and music as Kanamori picked up her camera to capture the beauty of both Odamura’s intricate and at times violent playing along with the form of the instrument itself, with the photos immediately projected behind the performance. It was a novel way of introducing the intricacies of koto and celebrating Odamura’s mastery. Gorgeous shots of moodily lit, quivering strings were interspersed with blurred images of fingers in rapid motion, offering intimacy with the performer we would not otherwise have had, as well as a thorough investigation of both the koto and the conventions of documenting performance. It even included a musical interpretation of cleaning up, with Odamura taking out a duster and a whisk to brush down her strings while Kanamori accompanied her with the sounds of her cleaning bellow blowing the dust from her camera lens.
The lightning hands and unique approach of France’s Phillippe Petit provided another highlight. Petit performed on laptop and turntables presenting both a solo set and a duet with Canberra’s Shoeb Ahmad. Petit describes himself as a ’musical travel agent’ who aims to present a ‘psycho-film-noir ambience.’ At the NOW Now he decided to transport the audience to a land full of static and doom. Harsh digital noise, at times slowed down, at others forming a tumbling mass of glitch, provided a lurching, slurred backdrop before Petit cut to an almost chip-style section over which pulsed electric snaps and crackles.
Marking the first time the two had ever played together, the mood turned decidedly more spontaneous. Petit took to the decks, using his prepared vinyl, while Ahmad offered percussive guitar effects, along with longer drones before the pair crescendoed with Ahmad’s screaming guitar and Petit’s crazy fast vinyl looping and scratching. While Ahmad languidly worked his guitar, Petit resembled a manic cook in his kitchen. At times leaning in until his nose was almost against the vinyl, giving things a rub here and a dust off there, kneading, pulling and rolling his materials into shape to create a noisy, chaotic symphony from the most unlikely of sources.
simon barker & min young woo
The final treat was provided on Friday evening by Sydney’s Simon Barker and South Korea’s Min Young Woo. The pair, also playing together for the first time, delivered a masterclass in drumming, a feast of amazing solos and inspired collaboration replete with whirring drumsticks and an unabashed joy in playing. At times crashingly loud, and others almost minimal, with a rare intensity Barker tapped out complex rhythms on all parts of his kit, which included a shaman gong and a larger gong called a jing, while Woo matched him on the changgu with intricate patterns and counter rhythms. Over 30 minutes the pair banged out a unique path, at times stopping to listen, at others rushing to join together, seeming to revel in each other’s playing, goading each other to play faster and yet always with feeling and commitment. According to Barker, it was a shared interest in Korean shamanic rhythmic language which saw the two artists cross paths. “The idea of the performance was to create a little platform for improvisation with a few key rhythmic motifs and melodic ideas. The melodic ideas were things that we let hover in our minds while we played, whilst the rhythmic motifs acted as prompts for a rhythmic conversation which was mostly based on a shared love of Korea’s east coast rhythmic languages,’’ Barker told me via email. It was a hot, hot room when the pair sat down to perform, but a lot warmer by the time they finished.
Other memorable moments included Amanda Stewart’s poetry which mixed spoken word with frenzied, non-verbal sonic onslaughts in stereo; Malaysian artist Goh Lee Kwang’s investigation of radio static; and a wonderfully intimate and understated late night performance by the Culture of Un (Chris Abrahams and Dave Brown) to launch their album Moonish.
Gloriously eclectic, this year’s NOW Now festival showed the event continues to offer musicians and audiences a way to re-discover the joy of the unusual and the unexpected.