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.

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