“I have to finish by twelve, maybe one tonight,” Wassim the taxi driver tells me. That’s cool. I’ll be home by about eleven in any case. “I must only do short shifts, because I am fasting. Not much energy.” I agree with Wassim about the importance of rest. He asks me what I do for a living. Interesting question. I tell him I’m a musician, but that’s not much of a “living.”
“A musician!” he exclaims, veering onto Thomas Street. “I like some very different music…” he flicks off the dull murmurings of AM talkback and fires up a CD. “You might not like this, but…”
Simmering sitars and frantic tabla begin to flow from the cab speakers, but instead of the usual drone associated with sitar music, the piece follows a pop-song style chord progression. Impassioned vocals join the party.
“The music is not quite classical, not quite rock. The word are ghazal poetry… very beautiful. The singer is a very young man. Young musicians… I am always amazed by all these young musicians.”
His comment is as timely as could be. Barely two hours prior, I’d loped along damp streets to the Bakery, arriving just in time to hear a host of young composers perform their latest works at Tura New Music’s CLUB ZHO 102.
First on stage is a young man named KYLE WILSON. This, as it turns out, is the mysterious “K Wilson” I wrote about in a recent article, “K Wilson” whose true identity had totally baffled me. Here he is, with close-cropped curls, semi-acoustic electric guitar, tabletop of electronic hardware. Does it disappoint me to see the strangely elemental and timeless sounds of K Wilson now iconified by a young, unassuming-looking man? A little, but barely: the sounds soon to emerge maintain their sublime quality, carrying the ears above and beyond mundane-level corporeality. Wilson builds a fire, beginning with soft major-triad kindling, harmonic twigs weaving and overlapping, before adding friction with confident tremolo statements. Combustion arrives in the form of a bright chordal mass and an undulating noise-crust, all the while having the distinctive sonic quality of cassette tape (somehow). The guitar assemblage eventually falls away, leaving behind a pair of humming synthetic tones, soon to be embellished one last time before silence prevails. Gorgeous.
CHRIS HONEY ascends the stage promptly, seating himself behind a midi-controlling keyboard and laptop. There’s a strange tussle between seeing and hearing when Honey hits the keys and produces, from the plastic-y looking thing, an impeccable grand piano sound, transcending any piano-emulating keyboard sound I’ve come across to date – this must be some kind of impeccable digital mellotron. Honey moves through a few simple chords before they begin to drip and ooze, tripping over each other and blending into discoloured clouds. The purity of sound makes way for an even more striking beauty – one of chance, layered resonances and compelling interplay. The piece, entitled P2, offers nothing unusual as far as experimental electronica/sound art/new music/ambient whatever goes – in some ways it casually ticks off all the tropes – but it’s well conceived and flawlessly executed.
Honey melts into the silhouette of Dave Mustaine – which turns out to actually be someone named Chris Kotchie, but it’s an easy confusion. Outlandish angular shred-axe and all. Kotchie is providing the live instrumental component of SAM GILLIES’ new work – Sam is on laptop, as is Jack Moriarty. Low-end guitar rumbles splutter and pop before being put through the electronic wringer; the program notes suggest a reference to shoegaze, but to my ears this seems to draw more upon the likes of Sunn0))), if only remixed by Aphex Twin. There are some truly thrilling moments amidst the piece, but it jumps between ideas and intensities too readily to sustain itself over its full length. It’s not that there aren’t dynamic peaks and valleys – rather that they come too often, too casually for the work to develop an overarching sense of emotional purpose. It feels like a noise-driven jam, which is fine. A more concise iteration, meanwhile, might elevate it to something more affecting.
Laura Jane Lowther (of Kucka fame) is hosting the night, and she now announces a short intermission. We rise, refille glasses, chat and reshuffle a little before the final two composer-performers are introduced.
JAKE STEELE’s work is next and by far the cheekiest of the evening. The fiendishly coiffed Steele (of Injured Ninja / Yarhkob) strolls on stage with a beer, hits play on his laptop (mounted atop a glowing cubic plinth), and as a thumping beat fires up, strolls off again. This is no faux-pas; his piece is billed an ‘installation,’ not a live instrumental performance, but there’s still something wonderfully irreverent about placing a laptop, alone, in a spotlight center stage. The piece supposedly focuses on ‘minimalism, electronic dance music and torture,’ which essentially means that we’re hearing a pretty minimal techno-house beat, looped with only slight variations, for an extended period of time. Recontextualized to Club Zho’s formal sit down setting, the doof-doof that could otherwise signify reckless abandon instead becomes an insistent and inescapable frequency in a piece of foregrounded sound-art, demonstrating how the ‘elevation’ of an art-form can render it ‘torturous.’ Mind you, it’s still not so much torturous as it nods at torture. It remains pretty damn fun to listen to. Steele pops back on stage for a second and closes his laptop.
Finally, it’s HENRY ANDERSEN, formerly (or perhaps still?) singer/guitarist/electronics man from local band String Birds and meanwhile music writer, with his piece ‘Colourfield II.’ It’s an impressively stripped-back affair, with a concept that leaves plenty of sonic space – two percussionists and sporadic Max/MSP manipulation. Timpani, floor toms and crotales are struck, gently patted and sometimes even bowed to spell out a dynamic taxonomy of possible sounds – from the tribal and pounding to the ethereal and barely audible. All the while, Andersen stands guard at his laptop, ready to capture the sounds and rework them in real time, introducing distorted reiterations of rim-rolls, seething loops of brass resonances and corroded, boiled-down replays of cacophonies.
Anderson abruptly swings his laptop shut, bringing the night’s aural excitement to a close. I shut swing the taxi door and bid Wassim good evening, though I was enjoying his Ghazal CD plenty and could have gladly rode around to it a little longer. Man, all these young musicians. Amazing.