Languor, absurdities…

Archive for August 2011

Prolegomena to an autopsy.

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Predictably enough, I’ve struggled to write anything in the aftermath. Over 36 hours, quite a bit happened, and putting the thoughts into anything like an order is difficult. We did get it recorded, so it’ll be interesting going through that later (very slowly, obviously). For now, I’m still kind of at a loss what to say – my abiding memory is still how incredibly difficult it was to keep my eyes open when darkness hit and the rest of the festival was entirely silent. We didn’t have any stage lights after hours either, which kind of compounded sleep deprivation issues.

Firstly, I suppose the thing that a lot of people are interested in: we struggled to all stay awake for the 36 hours. Some slept a bit, one managed a collapsed 20 minutes face down on a drum, and no-one made it all the way through without at least an agitated collapsing kip. The six of us are hopefully going to write some ‘personal feedback’ on Bangthebore, so consider this post (as suggested) a prolegomena to an autopsy.

Talking to people after the fact, it was interesting the response to the idea: a lot of people seemed to take it as somewhat of a marathon-type affair. It surprised me a little bit, as I (and the other players) were more interested in the affects of sleep deprivation on the aesthetic. We’re all competent improvisers, and while we were awake it wasn’t that difficult to bounce ideas off each other and keep things moving. What was perhaps more interesting (and the recording may bear this out) were the times when there was no-one listening, when everyone just wanted to sleep, and all we could do was make a sound, any sound, just to keep ourselves awake. Music shorn of intention, ideas, motivation, cognitive control and just pure incidence to function.

I’ll go through how I felt about the other player’s bits now, just to give this a bit of a shape. In alphabetical order:

Barn – turned up late with A FUCKING PIANO. Which made me massively happy, because IT’S A FUCKING PIANO in a field. Gave out some great ideas, pulled off some nice trap drum duos with Huw and did a great job of giving tips to the kid who joined us for a lot of Saturday (see Kelly’s pics, below). Also instigated some cool chorus things later on on Sunday morning.

Clive – pretty much sat there and did the same thing throughout. Wonderful textural/ noisey lap-style guitar. Had the odd foray into melodies, but mostly seemed content to just provide backbone content around everyone else. Easily the coolest temperament of us all (and everyone was pretty peacable anyway). Was compared to a Zen master the other day and I think that’s about right.

Huw – Besides being a shit-hot drummer, he brought a lot of elements that weren’t represented anywhere else. He went through a spell of doing interpretive dance, and he wrote some graphic scores and hung text around the space. Was very good at shaking things up from time-to-time, without ever being ‘bandstandy’. Was also very good at pointing out when we’d descended into post-rock slurry (and wrote me a note saying ‘post-rock must die’. Which is the correct sentiment.)

Jamie – Harmonic wizard. For all the sections where our brains were fuzzy and we couldn’t really extemporise around a half-formed chordal structure, Jamie did incredibly to continue to plough his massive resource of harmonic and melodic ideas. Definitely added a jazz element, but never over-did the jazzy noodling that was inevitable over that sort of length.

Seth –  Managed to pull in a lot of variations with a very limited set-up. Brought about probably the most harrowing moment of the weekend with the recordings he was playing on Saturday morning. I don’t know the legal status of those recordings so I’ll have to leave that elliptical. Was as happy sitting back and listening carefully as he was providing rhythmic pulse.

The music – I suppose one of the weirdest things was how easily it could descend into the worst of improv – by-numbers post-rock. Has to be expected, I suppose, but the big reason I want to listen to the recordings is because my over-riding memories are of the moments where the band locked into some really very dull, easy and unexceptional post-rock ‘jams’. I’m sure there were other good bits – and the recording that Karl A Band made of a section suggest I’m being overly harsh – but it’s difficult to get rid of that memory at the moment.

Was definitely a great experience – and while there’s been a lot of ‘never again’ type sentiments, I’ll definitely keep the idea but probably not for as long. I think I’d like to have more prepared stuff – of the graphic score/ framed improv type – to stave off the lazy jammy shit.

Another thing that will be interesting to get from the recordings – there were definite sections where the left side of the stage couldn’t hear the right, and people inbetween were acting as improvisatory go-betweens. There were definite moments of cellular improv – people unconsciously pairing off to play off each other, seemingly not listening to what’s going on around them. So in that sense, there’ll (hopefully) be moments of indeterminacy, three bands playing at the same time, chance operations and so on.

Basically, I can’t really remember what happened except how massively tired I was and how laziness seemed to inspire slightly shoddy group playing – not the fault of anyone or anything except sleep-deprivation. Definitely an interesting experiment – but I’ve no idea how successful or otherwise it was.

Mmm, yeah – so this doesn’t really explain much. I’ll come back with more. Soon…

Written by Hákarl

August 26, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Final Pic (for now)

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[NB – I wanted to put all these posts into a single one with separate slideshows but my brain hasn’t quite figured out paying attention yet. So there you go…]

One from Stephanie Tasker, who has a website here and a blog here.

Written by Hákarl

August 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Supernormal

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Next ones from Mr Ian Watson, of Team Sports, Phantomhead recordings and an amazing artist in his own right:

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Features a guy who came along and read some Lear for our entertainment. Which was nice.

Written by Hákarl

August 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Supernormal


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These courtesy of the marvellous Kelly, who probably sat through more than anyone else in the audience:

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(featured: post-gig damage to my hands; Failiens; me and Seth discussing Theology in the sunshine; frog of doom; moody nightshots; Seth’s drum shadowplay; cluttershots; THE AMAZING KID OF DRUMS… and the Hákarl logo which was smudged off within about half a second in the sweaty sunshine).

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August 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Supernormal

Sleep is a dying breed.

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Oh notes, in crippled prose*

Sunday last: 8hrs. Sound problems – problems are sound. We’ll have to wheedle out the scratches, to make glistening, proper scars. Fatigue didn’t hit properly (beyond my lingering hangover). Some things to be wary of which will be less of a problem if we can hear ourselves…


A question I’ve heard: ‘why 36 hours?’ Part of the answer is a glib ‘just because’. Another answer is to do with economics. I’ve a bigger article due on this which’ll appear on BangtheBore sometime after Supernormal (for which BUY TICKETS if you haven’t already).

Shortform gloss: much of live music – in the UK – follows the pattern of the rock LP, and later CD – 30m-1hr performances where the songs are reeled out in a live representation of the record. There’s realms of extemporisation, but mostly the live show is the record, live. In improv, the 30m-1hr thing is followed too – in spite of there often not being a record being reproduced. So 36 hours is a question about that – why do we bother following the rock pattern, if everything else in the music is so (apparently) opposed to the rock/ pop performance?

[WARNING: some mild music theory follows]

A quick note on that: it’s fallacious to assume that, just because a performance is improvised, it doesn’t follow the patterns of standardised rock/ pop song. I’ve seen plenty of so-say improvising bands who end up repeating the rock tropes – moving in 5ths, obviated drum-pulse, bassline on the bar of the beat, minimal interrogation of the relationship to the tonic, minimal interrogation of the 4/4 rhythm, harmonic development in dry diatonics and minimal modal variations. In terms of form, it’s still rock music. ‘Extemporisation’ often only really means ‘it’s a bit longer and rougher around the edges’. This isn’t really a problem, per se, but it does somewhat delimit any claims to being opposed to standardised, song-based music, to my mind.

36 hours is also enough time for excessive fatigue to set in. It’s not a superhuman act – it’s roughly the length of a test match laid back-to-back, minus the physical demands of cricket. Fatigue is part of my answer to ‘why 36?’ as well – the live show is always presented as a ‘perfect’, temporally-based commodity of a band’s creative output. These neat little 30m-1hr slots are enough for a ‘perfect’ show. If I play a 30 minute set, I generally don’t get tired, or get the feeling like I’ve made any mistakes. I get the impression that a lot of people are alienated from improvised/ experimental music because the vernacular surrounding it can be impenetrable – how do we tell the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ gig? Mostly by intuition, though I partially argue here that improv ends up foreclosing critical analyses by its refusal to announce its formal practice on an explicitly semiotic level.

At the risk of saying something exceptionally trite, musicians aren’t superhuman. The difference between me and someone who doesn’t play an instrument is that I’ve worked pretty hard at it. It’s not some magical, mystical genetic teleology of ‘talent’. There are nuances of my experience – from our Ma singing constantly and playing country and Irish to me while I was growing up to my general belligerence in pursuing instruments through the ‘this sounds like dying dolphins’ phase of learning – but fundamentally, it comes down to putting the effort in. What music should express, as an artform, is human frailties, difficulties. It needn’t be perfect. Aesthetically, a big part of the dialogue surrounding noise music is about prurience and ‘ugliness’. I’m not interested in that for myself (but fair play to those who are) but I am interested in a way of approaching experimental/ improvised music that puts the general experience, the frailty of humans, the difficulty of communicative interplay when the body and brain are collapsing. 30 minutes just isn’t enough time to get anything more than a representation of a part of the person presenting it.

So 36 hours is a slightly haughty, overwrought, massively self-indulgent answer to the question of why we stick to 30m slots. But, if nothing else, for the people concerned it’ll be massively interesting what happens to accomplished, talented musicians some 24-hours after the stock ideas and responses have played themselves out.




*Alternative title: Cripple State is Holy State

“Vulturous in the aftermath…”

Written by Hákarl

August 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Supernormal