Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Send and Receive V.10 - Part 1

Saturday 18 2008 - Vintage Futures

So Send + Receive is celebrating its 10th year this year and after a launch party

and a very pleasant afternoon’s workshop involving Dearraindrop, paint, homemade bricolage electronics, children and magic markers

the performances began at Ace Art. A low-tech night with almost no laptops in sight. Fletcher Pratt began manipulating tape sounds from conventional tape players and a small reel-to-reel through effect pedals. Pratt’s performance was interesting in a number of ways: as a performance, it was a success (for the most part) insofar as the audience could actually see the punctual origins of the sounds being produced as Pratt struck play buttons and cassette decks and twisted the reel to reel back and forth. A very physical performance, very different from the stereotyped “bald guy looking at laptop”. Sonically I really liked this project (Pratt is one of those artists with several different personae - this tape manipulation performance is called Mindgunk), reminding me as it did of the vintage Berio/Xennakis post-music concrete. Again, that sense of the mass of sound that a lot of older electronic work seems to maintain.

Next up were Dearraindrop of Virginia Beach. Oooh, trash aesthetic:

Its hard to know what to make of something like Dearraindrop - the trashy bricolage aesthetic (so Mudd Club, so B-52’s) is ok and everything, but it somehow tends to leave me somewhat unsatisfied. As with their performance (a lot of banging and crashing with some drones going on beneath) so with their visual art and video work - colours, images (abstract and kitschy) mashed together is a way that calls to mind the art bruit of Wolfson et al. Some of it is really funny. Some of it is lame. As with their set - some of it was fun and boisterous. But as I ducked the Double Bubble being thrown at me I was beginning to wonder why this was happening? What is Dearraindrop’s purpose? I still don’t know. And I don’t think I care enough to find out.

Keeping in theme with the retro-electronics we moved from reel-to-reel’s through 80’s sub-Dada to vinyl records with Vancouver’s Kenny Roux, who also sported Ironic Moustache No. 3:

The turntables are fitted with magnetic tape heads rather than styluses, the result being a surprisingly heterogeneous array of sounds that Roux clearly had worked through. Again, a performance qua performance with the sounds produced not in some interstitial cyberspace but by the physical work of the artist. Sonically it was a bit uneven (as was Fletcher Pratt) which might be a congenital part of any improv performance - some parts are going to be more interesting than others. But there was plenty there to be interested in. And yet….

Some nagging questions that I walked away with: Sound art as such seems to be moving away from the technocratic have-Powerbook-will-travel in a similar way in which electronic music as such moved from hardware to software in the 90’s. And this is just fine - there are always basement wierdos like Pratt and Roux tweaking old technologies to do things that they aren’t supposed to do. But certain questions emerge: what is the meaning of this return to low-tech? Has the tape cassette machine become something like an acoustic guitar or some sort of new folk instrument? There seems to be a theme of some kind of futurological atavism at work here - a Mad Max / Neuromancer situation in which the future is not sleek and clean but dusty with poorly connected terminals that need thumping from time to time. The deliberately low-tech see-the-input-cables aesthetic on offer this evening is perhaps addressing some kind of shadowy millennial anxiety about identity and autonomy. Bugs in the program, grit in the keys, grime through the amp say nothing as much as “I am Here” at a time when all the words in that statement are problematically functional at best.

So is this a way of pulling the breaks on the engine of digital data? A revolutionary gesture? Or the sound art equivalent of those dvd’s of fireplaces you can play during Xmas holidays?

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