Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Open Provocation Festival

Polruan, Cornwall April 2013


Open Provocation was a festival of live sound art and performance, held over 4 evenings in April 2013, in the unlikely setting of Polruan Village Hall, near Fowey. Featuring 16 performances with artists from Germany, Italy, Australia, and across the UK and Cornwall, the festival was organised by Robert Curgenven, a Polruan resident.

Polruan Village Hall
Photo by Iris Garrelfs
It was a festival funded by benefit CD sales, which these days means that it ran on the good will of those taking part. Many of the performers had travelled across country and from across Europe to get here. It was a unique opportunity to see many performers together who are rarely seen in the UK.
I’d been to an event Rob had organised here last year. It was just three solo performers I'd not heard of before, two from Australia and one from Cornwall playing junk instruments, turntables, guitar feedback and laptop as the sun went down in this cold, scruffy village hall. And somehow it created something powerful and magnificent, a celebration of natural forces channeled through battered instruments as the the sun went down. And it wasn’t repetitive beats, folk music or covers bands or anything with any sort of tune, it was something else completely - a mind-blowingly brilliant music experience. Maybe half the people there were only there being polite because they were local, but for me it was probably in my top ten gigs ever. Top twenty at least. Anyway it was a rare event for Cornwall and I wanted more and was chuffed to bits to be invited to perform here myself this time round.

Although I haven't heard of most of the acts this week, one of them (Company Fuck) I played with in a club in Berlin last year and I'm very excited. Oh, and there's a founder member of Napalm Death on the bill. And two of the guys who were on last time, bonus.

With its steep, narrow, winding little country roads and imaginative signage, Polruan isn't exactly easy to get to, or get back from, even when you live only just five miles away like I do. So this is a bit of an adventure. Polruan is a beautiful place, but off-season like so much of Cornwall's seaside, it's a dead zone of empty holiday lets. This old village hall though, seems like a place with a past, rather than somewhere that is closed when the tourists aren't here. It's a place in which people have lived and grown up and done their amateur dramatics and their jam making and bought their raffle tickets. It's not some purpose-built facility with the very latest equipment designed to open up opportunities for cultural collaboration, interdisciplinary connections and community partnerships, if you know what I mean.

So here it is night by night:

 
WEDNESDAY

The interval music is Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks. The bar is stocked up with an exotic selection of Belgian beers, Czech lager, cider, local microbrewery, a selection of teas, single malt whisky and some kind of flapjacks. And the theme tonight is three blokes, each with a table-top full of an assortment of electrical and other junk. To the uninitiated this might look like a car boot sale, except they're all wired up to a very nice looking PA. Rob Curgenven introduces the performers in turn and each performance is about half an hour to an hour. It seems about right.

Dennis Wiehahn opens the proceedings with the sound of a London railway station, a sonic postcard. Sitting behind a table top full of audio equipment, he introduces and explains each short pre-recorded piece. This includes the street sounds of St Austell; a piece featuring the voice of Maggi Hambling during the making of her Oscar Wilde sculpture and other textured sound collages.

After a warning for epilepsy sufferers, it's time for Matt Davis. Matt is standing behind another table, this one's covered with electrical appliances. But these are appliances like an insect electrocutor and flickering domestic light bulbs. The sound he produces seems to be coming from miked up electromagnetic fields - spluttering interference patterns creating flavours of mains hum and earth loops. No beats, no tunes, not music as we know it, and not very loud. Manufacturer's warnings ignored - warrantees void. Sometimes he pokes the appliances with a pointy stick. Sometimes there is a faint bouquet of Motörhead and perhaps a hint of 90's digital hardcore (or is it just me having flashbacks...?).
By heck, this is good.

Ludomir Franczak and Marcin Dymiter couldn't make it from Poland so they've sent a video instead, 'Waiting for Emma' is a projection of street scenes in Eastern Europe with a minimal droning soundtrack. It's all a bit monochrome, and nothing much happens. Hmm, forget what I wrote about “the real world”, this would probably work better in a purpose built cinema with HD screen.

Behind another table now, high up on the stage, is Lee Patterson, very smartly dressed, a table with some sort of chemistry set as well as the usual kind of sound equipment. He starts his set by dropping Andrews Liver Salts into a couple of glasses of water. The amplified liquid fizzes and the fizzes turn into some sort of atmospherics and there's other sorts of crackles and heaven only knows what he's up to…He twangs small springs that sound huge and deep, then there's strange burning smells and the crackling of small fires – then it looks like he's set his mixing desk on fire – but he can't have because he's sitting there very calmly.
It’s a poignant and subtle multi-sensory theatre.
 


THURSDAY


 
Alex Wendt
Photo by Iris Garrelfs
 
Alex Wendt tells a fairy tale about little animals, and gently places a rainstick, a group of small digital playback gadgets and little speakers on a pair of white canvasses on the floor. They click and make electrical insect whirrings and seem to be communicating to each other in some sort of insect language. None of this is amplified.

Iris Garrelfs does this arresting thing with her own voice, making strange non-verbal utterances like monkey noises. She loops the vocalizations – it looks like she's using some MacBook app - and builds up layers of sound on sound. Somehow this emerges as something enormously trancelike and relaxing.

Robert Curgenven sits behind a laptop playing a piece based on the sounds of a pipe organ. This is highly abstracted, decomposed so that all you are hearing is the wheezy breathing of the organ pumps and wind box, turning the unique timbre of the instrument into something akin to weather conditions, overtones, undertones, creaks and rustlings. Engaging and magical passages, sometimes loud and some that would be silent - if it wasn't for some drunk in the audience giving us a commentary.

Mat Pogo sits on the steps to the stage, unamplified, his body twitches and spasms, he gurgles as if struggling to make speech. Over the course of several minutes of unamplified physical theatre he produces an incredible vocal performance, fitful human beatboxing crossed with jazz scat and dada performance poetry. Sometimes he moves his mouth to a voice processor, many times he misses and carries on eventually a line or two of pure joyous song emerges - then that's all, folks.


FRIDAY
There's a higher proportion of women in the audience tonight and more women in the show, too. And everyone's a lot better behaved than last night. It all kicks off with JD Zazie , armed with turntables and CD player, she boldly seeks out all the ways you are not supposed to play records and CDs. The surface noise of vinyl wibbling with off-centre wobbles, amplified CD motors fast forwarding and skipping. Elements once intended to reproduce hi-fi sound create something dirty, organic and lovely.

And now the red stage curtains open to reveal an icy white cube stage set where Kathleen M stands half naked. She moves slowly to minimal drone soundtrack, in a slow dance of a some tortured, abject spirit, face is blotted out with smeared makeup, vulnerable and with a great sadness.

The next piece is a Supergroup - many of the performers who have been performing solo now take turns to perform in improvised duets. The recombination of sonic elements in this more social music works very smoothly. Sitting in the audience I get lost in music and it becomes timeless and it's hard to figure out what is going on. It's fab though.

And then the chairs are pulled back and stacked up, and Polruan Village Hall becomes Company Fuck’s dancehall.…OMG! 
Company Fuck
Photo by Iris Garrelfs
Company Fuck is a mad Aussie in nerd spectacles wearing a crotch-hugging two tone purple leotard. Yelling DJ clichés into a wireless karaoke mike he remotely triggers Euro-disco trash punctuated by sudden explosions of HIGH VOLUME HARSH NOISE. This lunatic crawls round the floor, climbs over things, pushes and shoves and humps members of the audience, regardless of gender. “Shut up!” he hollers in the faces of a couple of women who happen to be enjoying a private conversation, “..this is my art, I've been working on this piece for years!”.
Apparently there were complaints from the neighbours.




SATURDAY

Dominic Allen has set up his crazy analogue sound system: loads of flashing LEDs and dials and elements of fairground organ and banging drums, untidy components salvaged from skips. A handmade 10-step analogue sequencer drives electro mechanical components, gutted re-purposed reed instruments, and backwards-engineered fragments from crashed UFOs. 

Dom Allen's machines -detail
Photo by Nigel Ayers


As the sun goes down, Dominic does an incredible live performance with this living scrapheap. This is supposed to be the hyper-efficient world of digital information, but the scrapheap seems to be winning.


 So, tonight I'm performing as Nigel Ayers. Look, we're talking about the Grandfather of Industrial Noise, the one out of the Nocturnal Emissions here. I've a new hand-painted film to screen and some new sounds, based on my own digestive system. I perform a Space Cornish magic rite which sends me off into a pisky-led state of consciousness, I safely make re-entry back to Earth, Cornwall, Polruan then all recordings of a lifetime flash past. A brief section of vintage harsh noise and then earthworms dance to self-actualisation grooves. I finish with an amplified cat purr. The set is brilliant, as per usual, I enjoyed that.

Nigel Ayers makes the sign of the fire goddess
Photo by Iris Garrelfs


Apparently I'm a tough act to follow. But this isn't a competition. There's no Simon Cowell here. As I chill out with the nice beer that Kat has kindly put aside for me, Jorg Maria Zeger plays a wickedly energising multi-harmonic guitar feedback drone through a large collection of guitar effects. The drone becomes extended and hypnotic and after a while he hands the guitar round the audience.

Nicholas Bullen screens a DVD made up of vintage and recent super 8 holiday home movie footage, old fashioned cars, shots of stone circles, Gaudi's architecture all mixed up together and subtly colorized with a live contemplative soundtrack. A nice dreamlike sequence bit of personal and family history blended with a minimal soundtrack.

So there you have it, a great week of modern sonic fun with a beautifully clear sound system. Nothing corporate, no sponsors, nothing academic, nothing too desperate to please. The audience was fab, attentive, friendly and well behaved most of the time. Rob Curgenven was a great curator, host, and bouncer. Some good Belgian beers and herbal teas and flapjacks.

The festival was an entirely an artist run initiative and as such was staged entirely without conventional arts funding. Sales of the 2CD festival compilation provided a large percentage of the costs of the festival (artists’ transport, accommodation and food). Get it here: http://www.recordedfields.net

Get it here: http://www.recordedfields.net


Written for www.artcornwall.org  

 



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