colour out of space - day 1 review

Colour Out of Space. Somehow I've never managed to get down for this festival in previous years. Mostly because it's in Brighton. I'm really glad I made it down this year though.

So here's a review from my notes sketched down as it happened. Since I didn't recognise most of the performers, and the programme doesn't follow the running order I don't know exactly who played when. That's an especial problem on the Friday where I either missed taking notes for one act, someone on the programme didn't play, or I just missed one act altogether. If anyone out there has an accurate running order, or can correct any factual inaccuracies (and there will be some), get in touch in the comments or direct.*

Something to note: I mention electronics, or tabletop electronics a lot. That might mean anything from tablets, through tape/digital recorders, pedals and no-input mixing boards, to amplified objects and any other generic box with wires sticking out of it. I mention these things partly as a mnemonic for myself, partly to give a sense of what a performance sounded and looked like, and partly because I didn't concern myself to find out in great detail exactly what every instrument/noisemaker was.

Links via the Colour Out of Space page.

*Edit 16 Nov 2013 - I've had confirmation of the performers  I couldn't name initially, so thanks for that. In the interests of honesty they were Primate Arena (1st), Skin Graft (5th), Kiko C. Esseiva & Vincent de Rougin (8th), and Dog Lady Island (9th). Acchiappashpirt were unable to be there, which explains why I saw fewer acts than were listed. All edits are either existing material left in but struckthrough, like so, or new material in italic. Except the performers' names which have simply been added in the existing format.

Day 1 - Friday 8 November 2013

Primate Arena
The evening performances at The Old Market kicked off with a quintet on the main stage. My notes tell me the main sound sources were a drum, voice, electronics, and (I think) bass clarinet.

These are one of the groups I haven't been able to identify from the programme descriptions. There's a list of the names I haven't been able to attribute at the end of this section, so it's most likely one of them.

My sketchy description of the sound was 'granular and textural. gentle. flashes of play.' That I'm afraid is as much as I remember of them, though I did enjoy the performance.

H'm, can't tell you who they were, or give you much sense of how they sounded. This review hasn't started well at all. Apologies to the performers and anyone reading, I think both my notes and my memory gradually improve from hereon.

Occult Hand
I'm pretty sure the second performers, a duo, were Occult Hand. They played on the side stage, with laptop, tapes, and keyboard. The music felt less detailed, or to put it another way, constructed more of atmosphere and washes of sound than the previous performance.

Poulomi Desai & collaborator
Poulomi Desai and a collaborator whose name I didn't catch were third. They were again on the side stage. Desai played a prepared sitar, and her collaborator tabletop electronics.

For me this was where the festival really took off. A loud collaboration that totally grabbed my attention, with a variety of methods and tools used to draw sounds from the sitar, including what appeared to be a wand vibrator. There was noise and buried snatches of recordings that I took to be Vedic chants.

A little frustrating that there's insufficient mnemonic information in my notes to give more detail of how they actually sounded. That does change. After the next two performers my notes are a lot more expansive and helpful.

However, Desai and her collaborator were one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

Acrid Lactations
Next up on the main stage were Acrid Lactations, the duo of Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot. They used voices, along with pedals and noises (from tapes, keyboard and electronics).

There was a genuine sense of fun about them. At times the performance seemed a little scrappy, but that's generally a good thing. If I were going to be harsh their extended vocal techniques might have benefitted from a little more diversity. That's really nitpicking though.

Skin Graft
Since I was taken by surprise by the next performer, and especially by how brief their blast of noise was, I can tell you very little about them. My notes say it was one person, though I can't be absolutely sure. They were operating their tabletop electronics from the side stage.

What I do know is there was a brief blast of harsh and loud electronic noise that was over almost before you knew what was happening.

Refreshing. Had it been longer by a couple of minutes maybe more variety would have been welcome. But as it was it didn't stick around long enough for that to be necessary.

Woven Skull Core of the Coalman
Back on the main stage was a sextet consisting of three drummers and three others playing violin, guitar, and what I believe to be mandolin. Again I couldn't tell you who they were. Possibly Woven Skull with Core of the Coalman.

I fucking loved it, though it was one of the more musically conventional sets of the festival. In truth probably a better fit for something like Birmingham's Supersonic.

The percussion was compelling and hypnotic, though there was enough detail in the (often voice-like) strings to add variety and interest. But I happen to like numbskull motorik dance anyway, with or without additional detail.

The group also had a slow, sepulchral projection of someone walking in woodland behind them. I only mention it because while it was good it operated with a little more subtlety and a little less certainty than the music, creating an interesting mismatch of sound and image.

This was another highlight for me, though in truth felt different from pretty much everything else at the festival. Think drone, psych, motorik.

Enzo Minarelli
Enzo Minarelli, exploring sound poetry with voice and pre-recorded backing should have been more up my street. But honestly, though well performed, something about the set just didn't excite me.

In part because I don't find text in itself a hugely compelling subject. But also because in sound poetry I'm more interested in the sonic potential of the voice than in linguistic events. Which really means that any problem I had with the performance is to do with me framing it in the wrong way. Applying a set of concerns and principals that run counter to what Minarelli was doing.

The pieces also came across as a little sketchy. As though they were fragments of ideas that had been fixed prematurely, where they could have stood to be expanded or deepened a little.

Despite my reservations the performance was very well received throughout.

Kiko C. EsseivaVincent de Rougin
I'm honestly not entirely certain where the next set happened. I think on the floor towards the back of the room. I was stuck somewhere between the main stage and the side stage. As far as I could tell the sounds were generated by tabletop electronics, laptop, or a combination of both.

I didn't enjoy the set. I found it protracted and uninteresting. A featureless, passionless grey drizzle of blips, crackles and meh that left me desperate for it to be over.

But evidently it's not made for me, and others undoubtedly understand it better, and get more from it. I wish I could tell you who it was so you can listen and decide for yourself. And now you have a name and links so you can check out how wrong I am for yourself. Actually for Esseiva this link and this might be more informative. For de Rougin try this for Aethenor, and this for Shora (both MySpace).

Dog Lady Island (video starts on page)
Most of what I just said about the previous performance could also be said about the one that followed. On this occasion from a solo performer on the side stage with turntable, violin and electronics.

I could say the same, because to my ears it was almost identical. My notes say 'structurally + sonically very similar to the previous act. except the sound was muddier.'

So again, you won't get a sensible review out of me, since I fundamentally don't get this music, and don't enjoy it.

In my notes I do observe that my problem with the eighth and ninth performances this performance and the previous one is harder to overcome than my problem with Enzo Minarelli. There I simply have wrong expectations, and am framing my listening experience in the wrong way. That kind of thing can be changed round. With the two subsequent performances I simply dislike the sounds being made, and find they deplete my interest, enthusiasm and energy.

But again, now there's a name and a link for you to make up your own mind. And remember, this is all just my opinion, I expect - hope - you'll disagree with a lot of what I say.

Richard YoungsNeil CampbellLuke Fowler Trio
The trio of Richard Youngs, Neil Campbell and Luke Fowler came next on the main stage. They used voice, electronics, and what appeared to be a tablet. Despite knowing the names I can't say I'd previously heard much by any of the trio.

They played the second very short set of the evening. Thankfully it was another set I enjoyed, though not quite a highlight. Both voice and beats were fairly familiar, echoing variously English folk music, serious-minded 80's pop, 70's electronics, and some 90s post-rave electronics. But there was sufficient energy, variety and interest to keep my attention.

Alessandro Bosetti
Alessandro Bosetti performed solo from a tabletop in front of the side stage. He used voice, and samples of voice triggered from (I think) a laptop.

For me this did everything that I wanted Enzo Minarelli's performance to do. It was sonically, and to my mind especially linguistically and peformatively much stronger and more developed. Definitely another highlight of the day.

The live voice and triggered samples integrated very well, and the whole came off as funny and smart.

Kenny MillionsRat Bastard
I often find it easier to write more about performers I dislike than those I enjoy. In which case, strap yourself in because it's about to get rocky.

Friday night closed out with the duo of Kenny Millions and Rat Bastard on the main stage. Rat Bastard on guitar, Kenny Millions on mini guitar, mini sax, and vocals.

Now don't get me wrong, they're not bad musicians or performers. Quite the opposite, they're really fucking good. They are however really fucking irritating too.

So what's the problem? I think in part it's generational, you see among a lot of the punk generation, as well as immediate precursors and those following, a desire to deliberately violate taboos. I guess obvious touchstones would be the generally quite sly and insidious Throbbing Gristle, or the often preposterous Whitehouse. And that's certainly a valid approach to art, with a long history in most media.

On the whole there seem to be fewer musicians from subsequent generations doing similar things, except in the cartoonish braggadocio of some 80s metal, ditto some hip hop, and the galumphing stupidity of contemporary no-marks like Miley Cyrus.

The attack on audience sensibilities here consisted of projections of porn, a sex doll on stage, and Kenny Millions jumping into the crowd and berating people.

The last of these I have no problem with, it's something I've done myself, and I think it's to be encouraged and applauded. The sex doll wasn't too much of a problem either - I generally find them so removed from any resemblance to actual women, and conceptually so far removed from any notion of mutually enjoyable sex that they become absurd.

The porn however, I really didn't like. Now to be honest you could barely see it due to the projections overlapping with lighting. I could also have moved elsewhere and ignored it, and really enjoyed the set. But I knew it was there, and that got in the way.

I'm not a fan of porn. It mostly looks ridiculous and uncomfortable. It seems to rely very much on the viewer bringing to it a willingness to ignore these problems and use it as kind of a trigger for their own imagination. And that's ignoring the way it breaks up and objectifies women's bodies as sites for male gaze and male sexual gratification.

Porn is also much more easily accessible to much younger audiences than it was 30 or 40 years ago. As such it is a very different entity, with a very different relationship to contemporary culture than it was during the 70s or 80s. Which to me means that you perhaps need to be a little smart about using it in art.

Now I've seen very good use of still and moving porn images in some visual art. But here there seemed to be no engagement with the content of the porn beyond 'Hur hur, it's porn, it's shocking. Hur hur.' I mean Jesus, even switching out the heterosex porn for some gay hardcore would have indicated a little thought, or a genuine desire to be transgressive.

As it stands though, without context, without any apparent thought or intelligence, it just risks pissing off a huge section of the audience who are actually on board with you in almost every other way. tl;dr - great music, good performance, juvenile presentation.

I mentioned performers I couldn't definitely attribute. They were Acchiappashpirt, Primate Arena, Kiko C. Esseiva & Vincent de Rougin, Skin Graft, and Dog Lady Island (video starts on page).

Even though there were a few things I didn't get on the day, and at least one performance that actively irritated the shit outta me, I enjoyed the evening a lot. There were at least three real standout performances, and a few artists whose work I'll look out for in future.

Reviews of Saturday and Sunday to follow. I'll also add links to those reviews here when they're done.


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