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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Oneohtrix Point Never, White Rainbow, Pete Swanson, Operative, and Robert A.A. Lowe at the On Land Fest

Posted By on Sat, Sep 4, 2010 at 3:45 PM

A sample frame from Robert A.A. Lowe's projection show.
  • A sample frame from Robert A.A. Lowe's projection show.
Oneohtrix Point Never 
White Rainbow 
Pete Swanson 
Robert A.A. Lowe 
@ Cafe Du Nord 
September 3, 2010 

Better than: Staring at trippy video projections and spacing out to abstract music without hundreds of other people around.

Friday night, at the second night of the On Land Festival -- an annual electronic and experimental music event that draws artists and fans from around the country -- Cafe Du Nord felt packed, with youngish hipsters and older weirdos hanging in seemingly every nook of the ornate room, basically filling its ample length. Though organizers of this barely two-year-old festival say they initially worried about how large its draw would be, Friday's bill appeared to be a big draw.

I caught five of the night's seven performers, whose sets included both dance-oriented minimalism and dreamy ambient tones, and were mostly accompanied by hypnotic video projections. The ensuing struggle to describe the night in non-stoned-sounding words is after the jump.

Onohtrix Point Never: Daniel Lopatin began with "Nil Admirari," the grating noise casserole that opens his latest album, Returnal, and serves as a kind of barrier to entry. Friday night, the onslaught drove quite a few who had been up by the stage to retreat. Just as on the album, the box-and-keyboard-produced rains of mechanized clatter and distorted howling gave way to Returnal's bright tonal ribbons, whispering vocals, and distant ripples. With no break in the sound, it felt like Oneohtrix Point Never's magic-carpet ride through a stormcloud, its barbed ambience, was being sprayed upon Du Nord's sweaty forest of humans. The fountain of tones and textures left little to grab onto, but thankfully, Lopatin didn't play for very long.

White Rainbow: Adam Forkner's sizzling electronics fairly overwhelmed the room. The "ambient/hyphy/punk/lazer/future" music sounded like a sonic crisis most of the time, but Forker's emphatic stage presence showed a fascinated crowd that there was indeed human life behind all the noise.

Pete Swanson: Known for the music he made as a member of noise-rock-but-really-noise duo Yellow Swans, Swanson is a sonic misfit now working under his own name. His table of gear bleeped and popped and splattered difficult frequencies, with Swanson adding his own growling vocal noises to the prickly mix. The set was quite short -- I wasn't keeping time, but I'd be surprised if Swanson played for more than 20 minutes. With this music, that's enough. Sadly, both Swanwon and White Rainbow lacked visual projections, which were a highlight of all the other sets.

Operative: This Portland four-piece explores minimalist rhythms -- too arty for a full-on dance party but primally thrilling nonetheless. With a drummer playing real drums, another guy on a drum pad, and two members on homebuilt electronics manipulating the rhythms and other sounds, the group was able to build exacting, pulsating beats, lay fat electronic melodies over them, and get the spaced-out crowd almost-dancing (a/k/a really enthusiastic nodding and swaying.) The light projector shined itching, dense color patterns that hit the fluttering hands of the drum-pad player and the left side of one of the knob-twiddlers, making them look like superhero cyborgs. With the tease of its rhythmic interplay and shifting sonic textures, Operative drew huge applause from the crowd at the end of its set.

Robert A.A. Lowe: Lowe, a Brooklynite, played a captivating stream of ambient electronic sounds. Think that's an oxymoron? You could be forgiven for it, especially when the show consists of Lowe sitting at a box with knobs, his back to the audience. But the set Friday night was hard to turn away from: Lowe matched warm, slowly morphing tones to a visual projection of expanding color circles. As the set continued, ripples developed in the sonics, with a slow pulse rising organically out of the overtones and glacial melodies. The sonic changes were matched onscreen, as the expanding circles -- imagine going through a colorful tunnel really slowly -- turned into ovals, which turned into blobs, which eventually turned into weirdly bubbling puddles of color. By the end, a few major frequencies were loudly eclipsing the pulse and the slow tones, and a black pool consumed the boiling color blotch onscreen. Through all of this, the packed crowd stood almost perfectly quiet, rapt. After Lowe's set, everything else last night was a bonus.

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Ian S. Port


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