Monday, 23 November 2009
Nine Day Week
For those of you to whom I haven't been talking to incessantly about it, Calling Out Of Context was a nine day festival at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. It was a festival of sound, emphasising experimentalism and the avant garde. As much as a concept of genre is relevant, every genre was covered, from alternately noted orchestral pieces to audience-collaborations in electronic noise via the playing of trophies with violin bows. Through a random series of lucky events I landed the role of in-house photographer for the duration of the festival. Here are some of my favourite pictures from the nine days and a few thoughts about what I heard.
Gravid Hands record label were in the recording studio. The recording studio was one of the best things about the whole festival; every day, for four or five hours, various musicians and bands would record in an open studio, with the public free to enter and leave as they pleased.
Then Teppich did a performance - Sky, Horse & Death - in the lower gallery; it was based around the sounds of airports and commercial flying.
It was an interesting experience; the giant white pyramids were speaks, which various dancers and performers climbed in and out of during the performance.
Afterwards, upstairs Robin Watkins put on a performance involving headsets; I didn't get to listen in unfortunately, but I got some shots beforehand.
The show for that evening was Lucky Dragons. Their recorded stuff doesn't really do them much justice; it's really exciting and energetic, to see how they make music with the people sitting around them, handing out instruments. It makes for an amazing atmosphere. Unfortunately for me, in these situations people generally think the atmosphere is further improved by turning the lights real low..
I resolved to take my tripod and flash with my every day, just in case.
In the recording studio today was the ICA's in-house project, The Experiment.
Later, a talk between David Toop and Rhys Chatham, who is a massively interesting person, and whose influence is large beyond measure in many of the things I like to listen to.
Then it was time for bands. Blue Sabbath Black Fiji started things up.
Then the ever-awesome Factory Floor played one of the best sets I've seen them do.
Action Beat chipped in with some of the testosterone noise.
Finally it was time for Rhys Chatham to pick up a guitar and play Guitar Trio, with members of all the previous bands on stage with him. It was pretty good.
Micachu was in the recording studio; she made some sort of musical instrument out of wood, brass tubes and festival guides..
Then Chocolate Monk performed in the lower gallery, with some guests. It was odd music, more a series of noises brought back from the edge of being completely random by virtue that there were people there controlling them. I didn't quite understand, but I enjoyed the faces they pulled.
Afterwards, Aaron Dilloway, once part of Wolf Eyes, played one of the most astounding sets of music I've ever heard. If you have heard experiment noise music and thought it just sounds like a chaotic mess, go to see one of his shows and watch his performance and how he makes music, and then afterwards it will all make a lot more sense to you.
It was a real highlight of the festival.
Finally, Gravetemple played. Wish a passing interest in Sunn O))) I was interested to see any band with Stephen O'Malley in, but for me Gravetemple were too gothic vocally, and that took a bit from the awesome sound of the guitars. Nice lights though!
I got there a little too late to see Seb Rochford and Drew McConnell in action in the studio, but watched the mix-down; it sounded excellent. All the tracks are available in some form on the ICA website.
The days first performance came from 9!, experimental music from the mind of Eddie Prévost.
Then Seb Rochford played a set with Pemelia Kurstin, who plays theremin. It was very nice sounding, but to be honest I found it all a bit one-paced.
Then Alex Ward and Steve Nobel played; there's a clip of their performance here (not mine). Experimental jazz has a bad reputation featuring beards, turtle-neck sweaters and audio noodles, but these guys were astonishing, utter drama and humour and incredibly easy to listen to and enjoy.
Here's Alexander Tucker in the studio:
The lower gallery and theatre was given over to a combination of pieces by Trond Reinholdtsen and James Beckett with Plus Minus Ensemble and Kämmer Klang in performance. It ranged from experimental notations based on the vital signs of a rabit to avant-garde classical music to trophies being played to comedy projections.
Werk Discs were a little shy, but got some good stuff done in the studio.
Downstairs, Lucile Desamory gave a slightly tentative interview about her relationship to music in her films, and three were shown.
The theme for the bands that evening was experimental pop; first were Rude Pravo;
Then Petit Mal;
Then on came The Red Krayola. All older bands seem to have a similar attitude around them - they're not sure if they really want to carry on, but now that they're on stage they might as well. They sang some portraits, with near-identical lyrics, which I thought were pretty funny, but it got a little old by the third time.
I managed to miss Woebot entirely; they'd finished by five and I was scheduled to arrive in the week at 6. The first performance was from Mira Calix, who did a live production set with a percussion player who played various instruments around the room, nipping through the crowd as and when stopwatches demanded.
It nice a nice performance; there's a lot to be said of the sort of performances where the players are in amongst the crowd. It automatically changes the atmosphere of it all, as people try to get out of the way and watch simultaneously. Everyone gets a lot more attentive to their surroundings.
Afterwards AGF did a multimedia performance in the main theatre; I found it interesting noises, but the projections and vocals were not really my cup of tea.
Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor was in the studio with session band About. It was nice to see him do something recognisably him - the singing, the song style, the instrumentation - and take it as far as he could within the context of an experimental musical festival.
Overall the weekend was given over to performances and talks relating to Cornelius Cardew. There were talks, with John Tilbury, prominent.
Ultra-Red performed The Cardew Object over both Saturday and Sunday.
And there was a performance of one of Cardew's pieces, during the middle of which I managed to have a coughing fit.
No more recording studio, but ushers from the ICA had been placed at strategic points around the building armed with instruments and instructions on when and how to play, in a performance organised by Jan St Werner called A Series Of Actions.
There were more talks in the theatre and and more performances in the lower gallery;
The festival was closed with a performances finishing A Series of Actions in the main theatre.
And so it ended. It was a massive week for me, in terms of effort and workload - all the pictures were to be delivered the next day for possible press use. In the long term, I don't know if this is a sort of photography I'll ever be able to make a steady living from, but really, thinking like that is not what people who do this sort of thing for a living tend towards. One of the largest arts institutions in the world asked me to be their in-house photographer for a prestige project; that is a huge boost to my ideas of doing my work as art rather than just a technician. What it will lead to next, I have no idea, but certainly it has given me a bit more confidence that I'm doing things the right way and with the right approach; I could have the most clearly thought-through ideas about the hows and why of photography of anyone on the planet, but if nobody could see the ideas at work in the pictures, I'd be failing, and I'm fairly certain this is going ok.