October 2008

naw / Keith Fullerton Whitman / Klimek
at the third annual X Avant Festival of New Music
October 23, 2008 The Music Gallery Toronto
Electronics Gone Awry – The Warmth and The Chill
by Tom Sekowski
With two inspiring acts and one that could best be described as manageable, this was one of these mixed bag concerts. Either that or perhaps I’m just an overtly fussy listener and pay too much attention to what I’m being presented with. One of the best things was the use of visuals during the three sets presented. Each one was as different as day is from night and each one had something entirely novel up on offer.

Toronto based Neil Wiernik — aka naw — started off the proceedings in fine fashion. While sitting squarely in front of his glowing laptop (can you guess the name brand?), he produced textures and beats that were multi-faceted but mostly direct and to the point. There was little room for subtlety as Wiernik strummed his guitar and put his Mac to good use. The guitar strings were heavily processed by means of whatever software he was using to produce a mish-mash of mildly dissonant sound. The first 40 minutes of his performance featured a subdued, drone-heavy landscape that coiled in a never-ending spiral. He monitored the video screen often in order to make the sounds fit with what was presented a few feet above his head. The images on the screen were those of slowed down, still-like moving cars, trains and various other objects. The last fifteen minutes of the performance saw an abrupt break in the mode of the whole piece. Terse static beats attacked the ears from out of nowhere. The sounds became rash to the point of being intrusive. If anything, these felt a tad out of place and broke with the encompassing, electric ambience that was set during the three-quarters of an hour preceding this shift. Regardless, the totality of Wiernik’s performance was all encompassing. His mastery of electronic composition nodes is to be applauded. Anyone who can hold the listener’s astute attention for a full hour and entice the ear-buds with new genre sounds is someone worth checking out.

Next up on the agenda was Keith Fullerton Whitman. Anything but a purist, Whitman’s show amassed astounding visuals and music equally as terrific. The hour-long show featured video of Whitman’s travels around the world. Shot on what appeared to be HD camcorder (the crispness of the imagery was unbelievable), the whole was shown in eight, maybe even ten times the actual speed. Hectic pacing featured Whitman making frequent visits to airports spread around the world, restaurants, hotels and various music festivals. We knew he had arrived home when video of his cat was featured. The music that Whitman put on display was perfectly married to the visuals running on the screen above his head. Sitting on the floor, he used a modular system to generate the most abrupt, harshest beats, bass-slobbered slabs and slices of analogue electronic music imaginable. When the plane on the screen was taking off, so was the music. When Whitman was shown in the comfort of his house, the sound became much more attuned to his private sanctuary — relaxed and less stricken by the fever of his travels.
Overall sounds were neither cacophonous nor laid-back but tended to stay in the realm of the middle ground. Break-neck speed video was wickedly entertaining while the music matched the visuals to the second. Live improvisation of two mediums can rarely be pulled off as well as it was in this case. Challenging sounds were pumped out of the speakers at lightening speeds. Just when you thought Whitman reached maximum volume levels, another curve was thrown from around the bend. Unbelievably convincing, the performance brimmed with severe sounds and visceral, eye-popping details. If anything, this was an exemplary instance of a flawless act.

Sad to admit, the disappointment of that night was Berlin electronics artist Klimek (aka Sebastian Meissner) presenting a show entitled “Ghetto Ambient”. The project was based around French ethnologist Marc Augé’s perception of non-places. He describes this notion such “if a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place”. He goes on to describe these places to be ones where social relations are minimal. Examples of these locales are freeways, airports and shopping malls. Everywhere the person feels that they are in some way at home, but yet have a feeling of alienation in a non-place. Unfortunately, the music struck me as being overtly of singular mind and one-dimensional. The ambience of the pieces as they were divided into particular sections was the opposite of poignant. This was electronica that seemed to fall flat on its face. Then again, I thought to myself, perhaps this was the whole intent of Klimek’s performance? In showing the audience shots of deserted buildings, eerily ugly malls and urban architecture torn by conflict, Klimek was in fact subtracting the very human element from the show. Warm for the first two hours, unfortunately I felt an unidentified chill for the duration of the last hour of this otherwise outstanding X Avant night.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tom Sekowski
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