Tag Archives: Sonic Imperfections (event)

April 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Sonic Imperfections at Telegraph Hill Festival with Darkroom, Handäoline, Jo Thomas and Minus Pilots (5th) and your chance to jump into some more of their Festival work yourself (13th)

1 Apr

Having inveigled their way into a second home in a hilltop church a stone’s throw from New Cross (and half a klick away from their usual home at the Montague Arms), south London experimental evening Sonic Imperfections are presenting an early April sound’n’space gig at the end of the coming week, continuing their ongoing work with the Telegraph Hill festival. It features various contributions from Darkroom, Handäoline, Jo Thomas and Minus Pilots, all endeavouring to fill up the nave and the arch with reverberance of one kind or another.

Sonic Imperfections, 5th April 2019

Despite now being geographically split between Hertfordshire (where guitarist Michael Bearpark lives) and Edinburgh (where synthesist and reedsman Andrew Ostler is making solo inroads into the Scottish improvisation scene), the Darkroom duo remain tightly loyal to each other even as they stay conceptually loose, artistically inscrutable and absolutely in command of their vivid, grand scale abstractions after twenty years of making them. The boiling, heavy-ambience starstuff of the early years (with its post-prog wails, stepped pyramids of piled-up textures and the pulses which snaked alongside club music while never being shackled to it) has long since given way to something different: Darkroom now sound woody, or deep-carved and ancient, even as their music takes place behind winking lights and modular plug-ins.

Still underrated as one of Britain’s top guitarists in that rarified field where commanding emotion meets marvellous texturology, Michael’s playing exudes both confidence and a broadminded framework; sometimes stirring up a broody hauntological fog, sometimes exuding a cobweb of ominous data, sometimes licking at the music with the fiery tongue of a melodic soloist on a tight leash. Os (increasingly drawn to his bass clarinet booms and voicings) brings the wind through the bracings and the horns to the shoreline even as he runs Darkroom’s complex instinctive sonic architecture through his custom preamps and plugins. Any Darkroom performance is an ear-opener, and this should be no exception.



 
Handäoline is a new-ish familial teaming of Death In Vegas founder-turned-experimental sonics journeyman Steve Hellier, ‘Late Junction’-eer Freya Hellier and (in a sense) Steve’s late great-uncle Wally, a soldier killed in action during the World War II offensive in Italy. The inspiration is Wally’s old melodeon (rescued from his possessions after his death and kept in the family) and his handwritten notes for a piece of 1940s pop called ‘The Chocolate Soldier’s Daughter’. On accordion, Freya recreates and acknowledges some of this history while Steve passes her playing through sound processors and adds his own contributions via laptop and mixing: laced with further sound samples from the Hellier family archives, it’s a different kind of album project, surrealizing and loosening familial memory and once-or-twice-removed community history.

It’s all new enough to stop me from being able to bring you a soundclip or two, so you’ll just have to imagine your own way into this one. As compensation, here’s the original version of Wally’s old favourite…


 
Freeforming with “raw and sensitive sonic matter” (and working mostly from her own processed voice, tabletop electronics, found sounds and a Chapman Stick), electronic instrumentalist Jo Thomas explores the world around herself in a matter-of-fact manner which emerges as suggestive, obliquely sensual abstractions. By this I don’t mean erotic-sensual (although that shouldn’t be entirely ruled out). I mean that she records her impressions of atmospherics, situational weight and association, weighs them and returns them to us transformed or blanketed in evocative, unearthly, sometimes confrontational noise.

By some distance the most experimental act on the bill, Jo’s an abstract expressionist of sound. Her music takes varied shapes – the slow-evolve fluting-organ drones of 2017’s ‘Random Feathers’ (electrophonically realising her reflections on Emily Dickinson); the conglomerations of large-scale equipment hiss and rumble from a particle accelerator, as recorded and reworked on 2011’s Crystal Sounds Synchrotron; the recent Radiophonic inspirations of Natures Numbers (in which Jo follows in the blip-and-ghost-ridden footsteps of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, and adds a few of her own, a fellow traveller). At the input stage, her inspirations are clues: by the output stage, they’ve become mysteries.


 
Minus Pilots are bassist Adam Barringer and percussionist Matt Pittori: post-rockers who’ve drifted far from rock. Their sounds are gentle, post-industrial, even a little reverent. They’re the kind of holy minimalism you might get from an allegedly reformed psych-rocker sitting quietly and shaggily among the congregation towards the back of the church, secretly tonguing a decal of blotter acid as he eyes the rose window and daydreams of the ruins of an old chocolate factory. Expect hum and crackle, expect frayed fences and distant boom; expect the sound of a parched-out spiritual rinse; expect, too, the shatter of free jazz as Matt cuts a little loose.



 

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Sonic Imperfections, 13th April 2019

Continuing their Telegraph Hill Festival work this month, Sonic Imperfections are also running a sign-up and turn-up immersive event for improvisers in Telegraph Hill Park on 13th April, as part of the Festival’s 25th Anniversary Spectacular. This involves a shifting, spontaneous play-along to a silent film or two as well as providing the sonic backdrop to an audience being led around the park. If you’re interested in playing, you can put your name down here on the Facebook page.

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Dates:

Sonic Imperfections presents:
Darkroom + Handäoline + Jo Thomas + Minus Pilots
St Catherine’s Church, 102a Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill, London, SE14 5SG, England
Friday 5th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Sonic Imperfections presents:
Sonic Imperfections @ Telegraph Hill Festival 2019 – 25th Anniversary Spectacular
Telegraph Hill Park (Lower Park), Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill, London, SE14 5TJ, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.30pm
– information here
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Merz’s English tour with Julian Sartorius (12th-19th) plus The Sound Book Project, Hayley Ross, Megan Carlile and Christopher Anderson

9 Jun

In 1999 Merz popped up, apparently out of nowhere, with the Many Weathers Apart single. It was delightfully bizarre – there were deck scratches, a warbling rubber-guitar lick, a screaming soul sample. Merz himself was a crowy, androgynous pop squawk riding on a reverbed conga boom as big as the circling horizon. A hippy priest with a boombox, plugged into the metaphysical mainline, he sang in fluttering scraps about separation, connection and rainstorms and somehow tied them all together. The equally out-there follow-up, Lovely Daughter, was a sideswipe at subjugation and exploitation – ostensibly about young brides, but perhaps also about outflanked cultures. It sounded like Anthony Newley trapped in a tropical aviary, sprinkled with reggae-dust while tussling with Prince and Beck. Refreshingly, both songs were modest hits.

A bold debut album followed, on a Sony subsidiary. Merz surrounded the darting, hummingbird heart of his songcraft with paper-chain folk guitar, string orchestras and rain-dewed colliery brass bands, as well as what sounded like tips of the hat to Public Enemy, Sinatra and Van Morrison. He also added psychedelic flourishes, looted with elan, from a range of sources (be they worldbeat, Eurodance, the buccaneering edges of late-‘90s club culture, or acid-fuzzed corners of the Incredible String Band’s cottage). Unfortunately, 1999 wasn’t the best year for innovative eclectic-pop. However unfairly, Merz seemed to be at the tail end of a wave of experimentalists riding in Björk’s cooling wake. In the face of a much bigger wave of Latin disco and lighter entertainment, the hoped-for bigger hits didn’t happen for him. The album sold indifferently, the record deal foundered, and Merz walked. In music business terms that should have been the end of a familiar and often-repeated story. A&R takes a punt on something unusual; it rapidly runs out of steam; and the pet eccentric promptly drops back into obscurity, a footnote for geeks.

Merz (photo by Tabea Hubeli)

For Merz, in fact, all of this was simply one chapter of work; and it hadn’t even been the first chapter. Under his real name, Conrad Lambert, he’d been recording and releasing songs for over a decade before Many Weathers Apart broke cover. Even though that stage monicker turns out to have been a chance appropriation (rather than a nod to Kurt Schwitters), Merz had, from an early age, followed the connective prompts of a Bahá’í upbringing and a personal artistic bent (which had had him picking up the bagpipes as a first instrument at the age of six). His own restless nature spurred him on to early travelling, and would later drive the adult Conrad to make homes from town to town and from country to country. Ultimately, parting company with Sony and with an audience of turn-of-the-millennium hipsters just seems to have been another thing to shrug off. Merz had different things to do. Even if he didn’t quite know what they were yet. Then, as now, open possibilities beckoned… and security was a straitjacket.

As for the obscurity, that’s a matter of perspective. Merz seems to been quietly and steadily embraced by continental Europe (perhaps one of the reasons why he now makes his home in the Swiss Alps). His albums – including last year’s ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ – are persistently and publically hailed across magazines and online review sites as the welcome surfacings of an inventive, tuneful and touching mind. If, in spite of this, he still remains cult it’s partly because it seems to suit him. Musically, he’s mellowed without slackening. As with Geddy Lee, what was once a strident corvine vocal has matured into a warmer, more human sound without losing its fundamental chirp. Across time he’s delivered songs which might only rarely touch the earth but which flutter and roost in stray corners of the mind for years; from the Northern-brass love-call of Lotus to the offset rhythms and flamenco fairing of Goodbye My Chimera, the melding of baroque harpsichord waltz and bubbling phuture-pop on Dangerous Heady Love Scheme, and the melding of Buckleylalia with blootering, breakneck industrial techno in the recent Ten Gorgeous Blocks.


At the core, today’s Merz is a roaming twenty-first century folk troubadour – centred around voice, a keyboard or laptop and a single fingerpicked guitar, making the most of both local ingredients and things intercepted en route. He’s based around instinctive heart rather than roots, and around spontaneous initiative rather than the solidity of tradition; spurred on by intuitive choices of collaborators, such as British electro-concrète producer Matthew Herbert. His current musical foil, wingman and licensed disruptor is Swiss drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius, whom Merz met while recording his ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ album, and whom he subsequently allowed to strip out and repurpose his songs to form a further album’s-worth of startling drum-and-vocal renditions

As for his tours, they manage to be both quietly exhilarating and easy to miss. Ducking around and under the radar, they mount a clear challenge to the business of tired pop promotion. He seeks to make concerts – like live art works – unique and permanently memorable to the attendees, taking care over matters like time, place and involvement. In addition to fairly familiar arty venue types (picture galleries, music churches and house concerts), last year’s ‘In Intimate’ tour took in a village chapel, a working-men’s club and an Air Force Legion hall: even a cow barn, a Scottish castle, a yurt, a forest clearing, a railway arch, and a snooker club. This season’s tour isn’t quite as unusual, although it returns to a couple of In Intimate venues (in Middlesbrough and Oswestry). Elsewhere, Merz seems to have gone where he was invited… and made sure that it was either somewhere interesting or somewhere that strives (sprouting rock clubs in transient locations, or the sites of hopeful songwriter nights).

For many of the shows Merz will be playing as a duo alongside Julian Sartorius, who’ll also be playing a solo drumkit set to open the concert. On some evenings, support acts will be drawn from more straightforward singer-songwriter turf – in Hinckley, sixteen-year-old local open-mic promoter Megan Carlile; in Newcastle, local acoustic bard-of-observations Christopher Anderson; in Brighton, Hayley Ross (who leans towards a classic ‘70s style and expression but with a darker, cruel-hinting edge and occasional bursts of garage rock).


 
To counterbalance, at Oswestry support comes from the altogether stranger Sound Book Project, a sextet of multimedia artists and musicians (including a pair of Pram members) who use books as noisemakers and instruments – “wound, sprung, strummed, slapped and thrown” as well as being modified or miked-up – in an experimental, slightly fetishistic celebration of the sensuality of bound text as opposed to digital media, and the way in which sounds trigger memories and associations.

Similarly, the opening show at Middlesbrough’s MIMA is somewhat different from the others: it marks the closure of ‘When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades’, MIMA’s exhibition of the work of British abstract/gestural painter and printmaker Basil Beattie. Over two hours spread across the ground floor galleries, Merz will play songs from his repertoire which “allude to Beattie’s paintings both from a visual and spiritual point of view” and promises “a roving and impressionistic solo set.”
 

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