Saturday, 1 May 2010

ETHER 10: Broadcast / Oliver Coates and Anna Meredith, 21 April 2010 – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Oliver Coates is an Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre in London. His biog reads ‘Olly loves to play all kinds of classical music alongside new experimental forms’. It’s the latter we’re getting – and how! – tonight. He scrapes and plucks and wallops his cello, playing single bowed notes and sampling them, building up minimalist rhythms that ebb and flow but never do anything as crass as create a tune. He is joined by composer Anna Meredith, who mainly seems to sit immobile, occasionally encouraging a laptop to spew out odd sampled soundscapes. It’s a rum do. Made rummer for the last few songs by the addition of some ‘live drawing’ which can be seen projected onto the screen at the back of the stage. It’s basically someone fannying about in Paintshop Pro doing stupid scribbles, I’m not sure if it enhances the listening experience or just increases one’s suspicion that this is a big artwank joke. Especially when photos of horses get pasted onto the drawing and then squiggly laser beams are drawn coming out of their eyes. Lordy!

During the interval (it’s the kind of gig where the bit when you go to the bar between bands gets called an interval) Broadcast come on and set up. I’m disappointed to see Trish Keenan is wearing old jeans and a shapeless top – wither the groovy esoteric 60s garb? S’okay though, when they take to the stage properly, Trish has on a white a-line frock with big bell-shaped sleeves, decorated with a witchy looking black pendant, long black hair centre-parted. She looks like a member of a cult, or maybe a coven. Cool.

Broadcast are now just Trish and James Cargill (going for the hip professor look in a patterned jumper) and as the first section of tonight’s set begins, an improvised soundtrack to Julian House’s film ‘Winter Sun Wavelengths’, I think about the first time I saw them play, circa ‘The Book Lovers’, when they just seemed like a pleasant but unremarkable Stereolab-ish indie band. It’s been an odd but pleasurable journey from that gig at the Garage to tonight’s refined atmosphere at the QEH. Curiouser and curiouser in fact.

Last year’s collaboration with The Focus Group (featuring…Julian House!) ‘Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age’ was probably my favourite record of 2009, so I am eagerly anticipating a lot of experimental electronic oddness, with hopefully a hint of spooky. This is precisely what we get for ‘Winter Sun Wavelengths’, the duo face each other from behind tables full of electronic gear, twiddle knobs, glance frequently at the film playing behind them and create an unnerving aural spookscape punctuated by Trish’s unearthly keening and wailing. The film looks like it’s been excavated from the attic of a condemned haunted house – probably once used by Trish’s cult-coven. It flickers in black and white hinting at esoteric practices and pagan rituals with eye-blink images of wintery trees and icy December solar flares.

Broadcast experiment with hauntology, music concrete and Radiophonic sounds and in doing so capture that very English take on the occult described by Arthur Machen - an ancient creepiness felt deep in your bones. This they meld with a nice line in retro-futurism, from their clothes, to the analogue equipment, to the science experiment / public service film imagery of the projections.

The next section of the set is entitled ‘Songform And Story’ and includes recognisable Broadcast songs, a juddery ‘Black Cat’ is as funky as things get, electro yet spectral. For ‘The Be Colony’ Trish’s vocals are heavily reverbed, the song scratchy, eerily echoey, it’s two halves, music and voice, only just creating a cohesive whole.

‘In Here The World Begins' sees Trish take centre stage and rhythmically creep towards us and back with the visuals bathing her in dancing coloured light. Her shadowed silhouette on the backdrop grows and diminishes as she dances back and forth. It is a ritualistic performance, spellbinding and slightly sinister.

The words ‘Dream / Ritual’ appear on screen heralding the final film / section of the set and appropriately we get ‘A Seancing Song’, the lyrics intoned in Trish’s ‘Listen With Mother’ voice. The final song sees Trish playing a dulcimer strumstick thingy conjuring an insistent, hypnotic undertow, pulling us under, completing our initiation.

1 comment:

Masonic Boom said...

I can't believe you made it all the way to the end of that Oliver Coates set! I had to leave, about 3 songs in. I can't believe it actually got *worse*.