Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Canal knowledge

That's Lisa Knapp and Leafcutter John in the photo that is - courtesy of my digital camera straining at the limits of its powers.
I saw them tonight playing on a barge on the canal at Stoke Bruerne.
They're touring the Grand Union canal as it winds its way up country from London to Birmingham - performing work based on traditional songs processed through various effects and devices operated by both musicians.
Lisa Knapp comes from a more traditional folk background and supplies the more conventional input on instruments and voice while John captures and manipulates a variety of found sounds linked to the canal - such as water, engines or machinery.
Sounds and vocal/musical phrases were sampled, looped and layered to produce dense, evocative atmospheres over which Lisa (and occasionally John) would add melody and lyrics.
With just two musicians I felt the process of building these soundscapes was sometimes a bit slow. Sounds and phrases could have been sampled earlier rather than there and then but there seemed to be an imperative to show us how it was done - step by step - which sometimes worked against the dynamic of the performance - kind of like those programmes which show you what different instruments contribute to the sound of the orchestra.
I was talking afterward with a friend and we noted that this process of sampling, manipulating and repeating sounds had been done over 35 years ago by Eno with Roxy Music (and before him by Terry Riley - and no doubt others). John Martyn was playing his guitar through an echoplex unit around the same time so the process itself is not new.
Despite these (slight) reservations it was a rich and engaging performance which suggested the possibility of developing into something even better in the future - perhaps with some additional musicians.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

This Kind of Fire - video

Here's the video from Friday night - the sound isn't brilliant and is best heard on headphones. The performance was repeated at least five times and grew better and better...

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Rickie Lee Jones - White Girl

I've been a fan of Rickie Lee Jones for 30 years. I own most, if not all, of her records; I've seen her live three times and I'm due to see her again in November.
Like most women performers in popular music she doesn't get the respect that she deserves - certainly not compared to her male counterparts. She is often linked or compared to her ex-boyfriend Tom Waits but he has rarely if ever matched her capacity for musical reinvention and for translating intense personal experience into rich, powerful performance.
I think the public perception of her - if there is one - is that she is West Coast/Jazz-lite - probably on the strength of Chuck E's in Love which is the song for which she is best known (and which is way better than that description suggests).
She has not helped to alter her profile by releasing a number of cover albums over the course of her career - partly due to writers block, partly to satisfy record companies and partly because she loves the music . Although these albums have their strengths, what fans really hunger for are albums of new material.
Most of her work does reference jazz in some ways but often more in spirit. On Ghostyhead she blended it with trip-hop while on The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard she conjured up the beatnik roots of the Velvet Underground.
I think the Youtube performance linked here is from around the time of Ghostyhead and hopefully explodes some preconceptions.

This Kind of Fire

Last night saw the performance of This Kind of Fire - an installation/performance by Strange Beast at BAC in response to the work of David Lynch. I played a small part in the creation of the piece including these programme notes:

What is so theatrical about David Lynch?
The "memory theatre" was an aspect of a science of the imagination, practiced from Classical times up to the Renaissance.
It was used for the development of memory, and also as a "mind-map" - a connected symbolic space, often represented as a building, which spanned the imaginative or conceptual faculty.
In the magic theatre of Lynch’s movies:
We draw back the curtains - promenade to the next scene – we focus on words and actions but sense escapes us and attention wanders – what lies beneath? We draw back the curtains...

Through the darkness of futures past
The magician longs to see
One chants out between two worlds
Fire walk with me

Where was I?

That's a good question. One I may answer later. Let's just say I was outside and I was there for some time..