Sunday, February 20, 2011

Concert Review (and graphics): Seattle Phonographers' Union; Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, 2/17/2011

This was a hybrid between a traditional “concert” and a sound installation. The performance space was barely lit – and most of that light came from the laptops and other electronic equipment in corners and against the walls. The seats for the audience were in the middle, not in neat rows but scattered and clustered about randomly, facing different directions. The stage was treated as if it didn’t exist: one “phonographer” (Steve Barsotti) was playing his laptop up there, but there were also a couple of chairs there for the audience. Other members of the band played the aforementioned laptops or other recording equipment, and at least two were mobile, that is, having sound equipment strapped to them as they ambled around throughout the room.
Their sound textures consisted of unprocessed field recordings. There is a lot of variety and beauty in such a minimalist concept (as in all minimalist art, the minimum reveals an unexpected maximum); here, it seemed, the “empty” performance space became a vast canvas (much larger than its physical dimensions) on which they painted an endless diversity of subtle and sometimes surprising colors of sound. Part of the interest (and beauty) came from extraordinary juxtapositions: animal chattering (monkeys?) against wind and an unknown style of chanting; a church bell chiming against a quiet seashore and rain slowly dripping onto a hard surface; a muffled conversation (as if through a thick fabric, so the words and even the language were obscured) over distant traffic and very loud birds twittering; a weather report literally passing by over strange metallic scrapes and scratches.

I made these graphics, inspired by this concert. As I sat in one chair, I doodled little pen-strokes on paper in the dim light without looking; each stroke or blot imitated one sound. I tried to imitate the direction of the sound as well, as if the center of the “picture” was where I was located in the performance space. Then, when I felt as if I’d finished, I went to an empty chair and repeated the process. After the concert I scanned the resulting abstracts, lightened their colors, and distorted the lines by computer in order to obliterate any references to specific sounds. The result looks like how the music sounded to me; lines of reverberation directed into a blank, open space. If they look like nothing, that’s possible – but remember that (as I have posted elsewhere in this blog) that I don’t really think of “nothing” as an actual possibility. (Click on them to enlarge them.)

Quiet traffic
Strange chanting
Branches scraping on windows
Drones from another time and place
Drip drip drip (steady slow beat)
Drip onto plastic surface (this is a sound that they’ve used in many of their performances – it has become almost their trademark).
“Today expect highs in the mid to upper 40’s, lows in the 30’s with a 40% chance of precipitation…” Weather report walks by.
Bicycle wheels clicking
An explosion of monkeys
Birds chirruping
Bells and gongs
Gongs and bells
Airplane goes by, does not move from place to place but merely fades
Distant sounds of machinery
Factory sounds fade into nature sounds
Diminuendo to silence
Audience adds final sound (applause)

(This posting is on 2/20/2011; 93 days until the first performance of the complete "StormSound" Cycle.)

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