September 28, 2010
@ The Swedish American Hall
Better than: Wearing a tuxedo to a Das Racist show or something.
The Swedish American Hall is a lovely place to see music -- and I use the term loosely -- but I left last night mostly confused. The concert, in which two very accomplished solo artists stood in polite succession at the helms of their respective electronics setups, felt uncomfortable in every way except musically: we were all seated, drinkless, stifled by the heat but too shy to fan ourselves. We were a collectively lifeless audience, subdued the way our grandparents were subdued wherever they went to see music in their day; it was as though we were unwitting participants in a concert in the conventional, civilized sense of the word.
I say unwitting even for those of us who relish the opportunity to sit and consider cascading mountains of sound -- even those of us who knew what to expect from the venue (hell, I've been to a concert at the Swedish American Hall that had programs). We didn't sign up for this, everyone around me seemed to say silently. We wanted to mill about and drink and have conversations and sneak out during the part that sounded like an air show rehearsal. This is all so... adult contemporary.
It also could have been the heat.
But the punctuality -- dear god, the punctuality! Odd Nosdam didn't play long enough, especially not for the liking of anyone who arrived after 8 p.m. sharp. The Oakland-based producer, founding member of the Anticon collective and unsung luminary of the noise-hop genre (such as it is), played a leisurely, unmoored set: he had stripped his phase-shifting drones of their usual good-natured breakbeats and errant noises, leaving only an undertow of sputtering electronics and a weirdly inviting hum whose rhythms were implicit. And then he was done at 8:35.
Austrian experimentalist Christian Fennesz put his expansive palette of artful audio decay to comparatively wide-ranging use. His set was a single, circular piece, departing from a heavily processed guitar theme and, after a few dramatic stop-shifts and the occasional bout of amelodic clicks and pops, returning to a further-warped echo of it. The composition was long but strangely restless, changing from doomy to idyllic to alienating quicker than you'd expect from his records, riding a repetitive groove just long enough to process before it derailed. His sense of drama was borne less by volume than by surprising additions of new noises--the right noises, but loudly.
Fennesz is a more seasoned performer before what we might as well call modern classical audiences, but he seemed a little at sea in last night's setting as well. (I, for one, would have been more comfortable if he'd spent the set seated, not standing and wiggling his thigh in time to the chop and shear of his guitar feed.) He often stared intently at what should have been a music stand but was actually a Macbook, nestled next to some gear sitting on a milk crate. And then, at the end of the set, he too just stepped down from the stage and walked tentatively through the audience, all of us still seated, just beginning to remember what silence sounds like.
Critic's notebook: Descriptions of passages in Fennesz's and Odd Nosdam's sets that could be used as titles or taglines for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies if you replaced "noise" with "death":
Surprising bits and bursts of noise
Spinning serrated sawblades of noise
Noise sheathed in plasticized casings of noise
Mobius strip poem of noise