The opening of “Metal” by Danh Vo and Xiu Xiu Saturday night at the Kitchen was
one of the most amazing cultural events I’ve ever been to. Vo, a
Vietnamese-Danish conceptual artist, invited two traditional gold pounders from
Thailand named Nantapol and Pruan Panicharam to make gold leaf in the gallery.
The pair — a father and son — sat facing each other on a kind of bamboo
hammock, and bounced up and down in alternation, swinging their mallets against
a carefully-wrapped block of interleaved gold and paper. Their synchronized
rhythm, which they carefully rejoined whenever they needed to adjust their
gold, was a mesmerising motoric tick-tock that structured the flow of time in
Meanwhile, Xiu Xiu played, in a trio lineup of Jamie Stewart, Shayna Dunkelman,
and Ches Smith (responsible for my favorite percussion part on a Xiu Xiu
song). The band played a
series of five-minute long percussion compositions, playing both with and
against the rhythm of the gold pounders; every five minutes an amplifier in the
corner would emit a crunching noise screech, the band would immediately stop,
then transition to the next piece. The range of the music was stunning. Some
pieces sounded like “Drumming”-era Steve Reich, but some were structured more
like games: in one, Smith and Stewart held huge gongs horizontally in front of
their chests, while Dunkelman ran around the space, picking up gongs and
throwing them at her bandmates, who would then pass them back and forth like
volleyballs. Or Smith and Dunkelman would play increasingly complex vibraphone
patterns while Stewart collected a stack of cymbals — until he’d throw them on
the floor in an agonizing crash and they’d abruptly stop.
The most interesting moments, though, was when Xiu Xiu’s performance seemed to
gesture toward the intersection of art and labour — much like the work of the
gold pounders themselves. In one piece the band chased each other around,
using slingshots to shoot candies at the cymbals — a technique I saw pioneered
during 2012 performances of “I Luv
Abortion” — leaving sugar dust
all over the gallery floor. As soon as the noise rang out, the band immediately
stopped, then got out brooms and rhythmically swept up the mess until the alarm
rang again. Another piece, in which Xiu Xiu hung a huge collection of
vibrators from the gongs, evoking an eerie clanging buzz, worked similarly;
Many others seemed to involve this kind of careful cleanup and cyclical
structure, showing an interesting parallelism between the repetition of the
musicians and the artisans.
I’m planning on going back next weekend — such a provocative,
Lee played at the back of Issue, darkened except for a single halogen light — giving her performance an eerie ritual atmosphere. I was far enough away that I couldn’t see her cello at all, just the backlit outline of her face. Acousmatic listening, though, only heightened my appreciation of the immense complexity of Lee’s playing. Though much of the piece was dense and noisy — impossibly deep bass scrapes and scrambled midrange saturation, with the high frequencies the only part that sounded like a cello — it always felt controlled, like the result of compulsive physical repetition, and so had a real form. I wish I could have seen her hands!
Haino and Conrad, on the other hand, ranged between two tables full of gear, but couldn’t conjure as much magic as Lee alone with her cello. Haino sang, screamed, waved his arms above a weird noise theremin, threw around his red devil-horns guitar and some kind of alarming amplified scythe. Conrad, who in his striped linen shirt and salmon trousers looks like a true posh weirdo, played his characteristic phased violin, a huge homemade one-string bass plank, and an assortment of other random objects.
I’ve come to feel, in a paradoxical way, that music can be more experimental when it’s performed on standard instruments. When Conrad’s playing a cut-up canvas with a violin bow, or Haino’s bent over a table of squalling electronics, there are a lot of sonic possibilities, but the one thing you know you won’t hear is conventional tonality. This kind of music often feels like it’s exploring a fallow, constricted musical space. (Right now I’m reading Adam Harper’s Infinite Music, which constructs an interesting spatial metaphor for composition which I’ll be writing more about very soon!) Standard instruments, though, aren’t limited to music’s antithesis, but can synthesize musicality and noisiness into a wider emotional range than either could accomplish alone. So the most effective part of the set for me was the one pictured above, when Haino played distended, echoed guitar while Conrad improvised on slide ukulele — they fluctuated in and out of consonance and clash, an unstable and thrilling tension.
Altogether, this was another incredible night at Issue, one of the most special places in New York.
This new split from Antidröm and Vindicatrix is a keeper. The track here is one of my favorites from Antidröm, foregrounding percussion much more than his (excellent) full-length last year. There’s an instantly-recognizable crackling quality to Antidröm’s rhythms that adds an eerie tension to the synthesizer glow.
On the other hand, the menace is all on the surface on Vindicatrix’s “Nachtnakt”. For the first half, the singing about moving around the city in a “privately owned automobile” is accompanied only by the buzz of a police scanner. When the sparse drums come in it only heightens the anxiety — it’s the neoliberal surveillance nightmare made palpable. I love it. Check out the whole thing via the Association for Depth Sound Recordings.
Two excellent shows at Le Poisson Rouge this week. On Tuesday night Carla
Bozulich teetered deliriously on the edge between songform and noise; on
Wednesday Mount Eerie played, whisper-quiet and impossibly intimate.