Friday, May 11, 2012

Gig: Richard Pinhas

Richard Pinhas (CCMC / Roman Pilates)

The Boat. Thursday, May 26, 2011.

A Burn Down The Capital show upstairs at The Boat brought the promise of some diverse forms of "noise" on a Thursday night. It was interesting to note that the average age of those on hand was about twenty years older than many of Tad's shows, which I attributed to the presence of CCMC on the bill. That also made me wonder how they'd react to the opening act, whose status as a noise band needs no scarequotes.

In fact Roman Pilates1 began with a disclaimer2 before his set started off with a skittering hiss, like butter in a frying pan, or maybe the amplified rustle of insects, building slowly in volume in the dark for five minutes. Crump would occasionally wander to the back of the room to check on the sound. There was a burst of radio noise, then a moment's silence, and then it all went haywire, audiovisually speaking.

Now, popping, spark-like noises gave way to a harsh grumble underneath — slowly transforming to a sound not unlike the hypnotoad,3 and then slowly becoming a noise that sounded almost exactly like a car racing game I had on the Vic 20 in 1983.

After a gentle, swooping synth-y interlude came the hands-on noise, with Crump employing large metal canisters used percussively with contact mics attached inside. And "percussively", in this case, ramped up from thumping them to Crump wearing them over his arms and thrashing about like a malfunctioning robot and, ultimately, dashing them to the floor.

Cables still trailing from them, Crump abandoned the cans ten feet from his table of gear, and the last segment consisted of banging more mic'ed items while switching around patch cables. Not all the noises were pleasant, natch, but there was an enjoyable element of "performance" here. And, somewhat to my surprise, the older crowd on hand seemed mostly into the abrasiveness.

It's hard to convey the kineticism of the action segments with sound, but you can listen to one of the quieter interludes here.

Free-improvising since 1974, CCMC is as much of an institution as its acronym-ish moniker might suggest.4 Original founders of The Music Gallery (as their own performance space, before evolving into the independent entity it is today), the group is a living, shifting organism. Now a core trio of Michael Snow, John Oswald & Paul Dutton, for this show they were supplemented by fourth member on syndrums and laptop.

There was a bit of a fine line between the band warming up and when they were performing. Everyone was tuning up and noodling along, and when Snow wandered up to stage with a beer and settled in, it gradually coalesced into "playing". At the outset, Dutton's throat-mumblings were matched by Snow's corresponding analog synth whirrings, syndrum rhythms tapping along. And then a different howl from Oswald's saxophone shifted things to a slightly different patch of ground.

The sheer freeness of CCMC's music is probably a lot to take for anyone encumbered by a conventional sense of harmony or melody. It can be ungainly, even to the point of sounding like "noise" in the musical sense, but it's not random or amorphous, bounded as it is by the realtime interaction of the performers listening to each other and responding. The neophyte might think they've found something to cling to on seeing a vocalist, but Dutton is less of a singer than a sound poet in the tradition of bpNichol — a phoneme-gun operator emitting voice bursts that tantalizingly don't quite cohere at the level of comprehendibility.

Here, Dutton's vocals hit a stretch of sounding like Donald Duck being strangled while sputtering out half-syllables of objections (with Oswald's sax in chipping in with similarly rapid bursts), and at other times more like a Captain Beefheart interpretation of "Spoonful" as performed by a cat horking up a hairball. The best bit came at the end of the first piece, when after a period of skittering electroacoustic noise sculpture, Dutton took the equivalent of a solo, the vocal noises slowing unclenching into comprehensible words, eventually settling into a self-referential monologue musing on trying to find the best bit of the song ("This is actually my favourite part coming up... wait, you'll hear...") and becoming increasingly befuddled at facing a sort of Zeno's paradox where the moment you're waiting for never quite arrives, especially as the sonic landscape all around is constantly shifting and suddenly you've passed it.

That piece lasted about twenty-five minutes, and was followed by another one half that length that tilted the ratio away from "pulsation" and toward "whirring". Perhaps most surprising is how much variability there is in the off-kilter soundworlds the band was exploring: even when it's four kinds of oscillation unwinding at once, sometimes it's quite fabulous and elevatingly goofy — and seconds later slightly off-putting meandering caterwauling. On the whole, though, it's quite entertaining, and provoked literal howls of approval from the crowd.

Listen to an excerpt from this set here.

CCMC clearly had the biggest crowd of the night — after they finished and the clock rolled toward midnight, it noticeably thinned out. Perhaps it was getting past the older crowd's bedtime, but the night's headliner was, in fact Richard Pinhas. Starting with his work with Heldon in the 70's, Pinhas is one of France's pre-eminent electronic rock pioneers. Here, he was joined by his son Duncan, who took up more real estate on the stage, with a table filled with electronics and a laptop. Père, seated beside him, only had a volume pedal — not even an amp, with his guitar going straight into fils' setup.

This pair also pretty much just launched right into it, like they were dipping mid-stream from some glorious Eno-esque drift. A sustained glide rose from Richard's guitar, and was slowly swallowed up by modulated looping courtesy of Duncan's laptop, who peered at his screen as if evaluating a particularly fiendish sudoku. There was a constantly shifting source of raw sonic material for sculpting, with Richard effortlessly tossing off ruffled bits of Fripp-ery that moved into trebly staccato bursts.

Slowly, the guitar built from atmospheric to something heavier, almost David Gilmour-esqe as a static-y oscillation underneath gave a vague rhythmic framework which slowly turned into regularized pre-programmed beatz. Although the two weren't closely watching each other, they were definitely responding to each others' musical cues, often in a chess game-like way, with one's strategy responded to with crafty counterfeints.

It was only toward the end that they leaned in and passed a few words back and forth, trying to line up their exit strategy. And soon the guitar faded into the echoing distance against vocoderish garblesounds and the whole thing melted into silence. The piece ran about twenty-two minutes, with some really satisfactory passages in there.

But that, somewhat surprisingly, would turn out to be it, and the pair started packing up. Rather short for a full set, but I guess they got across what they wanted to. An intriguing introduction to Pinhas' soundworld and a nicely-curated night.

You can listen to an except from this set (and a reinterpretation!) here. And if you want more, I passed my recording on to Pinhas, and he has made it available on his soundcloud.

1 The project is the bandonym of Kevin Crump, also of Disguises and some other local noise units, as well as head of Wintage Records.

2 It's always an interesting sign when there's a disclaimer up front:

Kevin Crump: For your information... the light for the first five minutes will be out. After that you will be bombarded with some epileptic light projections...

Crowdmember: [interjecting] What is this, a Reg Hartt screening?

Kevin Crump: ...if you have any kind of medical condition... I give you advance warning now.

3 All glory to the hypnotoad.

4 Originally standing for "Canadian Creative Music Collective", the name has more generally become a backronym for whatever suits the musicians' whims.

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