[live review] christian fennesz, philip jeck, old apparatus @ st. pancras parish church

May 27, 2011

Concert date: Friday, May 20, 2011

Old Apparatus video projection at St. Pancras Parish Church, May 20, 2011

I’ve fallen badly out of the blogging habit over the last few months – and, more regrettably, the listening habit too if I’m honest. I could blame starting a new job, but in any case it’s time to get back on the wagon.

One thing I managed to do was go along to a Miles Of Smiles event at St. Pancras Parish Church last Friday that brought together a trio of ‘beautiful noise’ practitioners, established and new: Christian Fennesz, Philip Jeck and Old Apparatus. I’ve since lost the notes I scribbled during the performance, so this review will be a little more impressionistic than usual.

Fennesz’s set, which closed the evening by a civilised 10pm, saw him push his use of reverb as an active instrument to near total saturation – the originating sounds became almost entirely forgotten beneath layer upon layer of self-sustaining, infinite echo. Yet he maintained a harmonious quality throughout even the most intense, piercing sections of the set.

It was a shame, therefore, that the points of departure for this sonic drenching were Knopfler-esque melodic guitar phrases, albeit with the distortion cranked up a notch or six. They seemed unimaginative, twee even, in comparison to what they became as a result of Fennesz’s deft processing, undermining some of the music’s power as a result.

Fennesz (pictured below, right) announced a new solo EP earlier this week, his first major release since 2008’s Black SeaSeven Stars (Touch), due for release in July. Based on this performance, I’m tempering my expectations.

The evening opened with a video-augmented laptop set from experimental dub-steppers Old Apparatus, who built a pulsing electronic accompaniment to their audiovisual projections of anatomically-themed scans, scopes and symbols (see main picture, top).

Old Apparatus’ music suits headphone listening better than ‘live’. It is in the detail – much of which was lost (to me) in the perfect atmospheric but imperfect acoustic environment of the church – rather than the vision that they excel.

Nonetheless Old Apparatus – whose identity, typically for the genre, is something of a mystery – provided an absorbing and aptly dark introduction to the evening.

Philip Jeck and Christian Fennesz at St. Pancras Parish Church, May 20, 2011

In between Old Apparatus and new Fennesz came the unassuming figure that is Philip Jeck (pictured above, left), “multimedia composer, magician, choreographer and taxidermist” (Wikipedia).

Jeck’s simply wonderful An Ark For The Listener (Touch, 2010), his mediation on Gerald Manley Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutchsland”, is but the latest addition to an outstanding oeuvre of sonic collage-sculptures. His performance here was perhaps slightly freer in its shifting timbres and dynamics but no less coherent than Ark.

One phrase I recall from my now-lost notes from the evening I wrote in relation to Jeck’s set: “meta-drone”. This now seems like pretentious frippery, of course, but at the time felt like useful shorthand for how Jeck (deliberately or otherwise) uses the drone form both within and across his works.

No matter how much variation in sound, tone, rhythm (as distinct from percussion) or atmosphere he injects – which is plenty, by the way – the spell is never broken. Stretched or mutated yes, but never broken.

Magnificent.

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