Back in October, I went to two concerts in St, Audoen's Church, organised as part of the DEAF festival. In this post, I will discuss the first of these. But first, I must explain to you what this DEAF thing is. DEAF stands for Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, and I think the festival is meant to be about crazy weirdo avant-garde musical events of a vaguely electronic nature. I have never made it to previous DEAF events. My making it to ones this year is perhaps testament to my changing tastes, but it is also a tribute to the DEAF organisers breaking the habits of a lifetime by issuing a semi-legible festival programm. Previously, the festival programme was this weird folded up object that was very nice to look at but almost impossible to actually read. This year's came in magazine format, and while it is still very much a case of When Designers Attack, it was just about possible to read it and work out what events were taking place where and when. It was the Friday concert that most piqued the fancy of my beloved and me, but we reckoned that if we were in for a penny then we should be in for a pound.
The Church was an atmospheric venue for these concerts, being both darkly lit and somewhat cold, suggestive of ancient events and arcane acts of worship. Both of the concerts featured visuals by Tim Redfern. He did not really try too hard on the second night, but on the first he did the great amusing thing of projecting onto the back wall of the church images of himself tracing the back wall. Nice.
So anyway, the first night featured performances by three musicians who all kind of did the same thing – sampling themselves playing notes and stuff, then playing back the samples and playing more stuff over the playback and sampling that, and so on. Daniel Jacobson was playing a guitar and using a laptop to recover various synthetic and sampled noises recorded there, including the sound of a dog barking. The end results were pleasant enough, but I thought maybe Jacobson could do with more performance charisma. Takeshi Nishimata followed, playing and sampling guitar lines and adding new layers onto them. His technique was admirable, but the music was a bit less appealing to me. The guitar as an instrument is a bit less than exciting, and on its own lacked a certain something. That could just have been my taste, obviously.
Pamelia Kurstin was the real star of the evening. She was playing the Theremin, an instrument one seldom sees let out to play, and one which is as fascinating to watch being played as it is to listen to the noises it produces. As you know, the Theremin is an early 20th century electronic instrument invented by a Russian guy whose name was anglicised as Theremin, hence the name of the instrument. It is perhaps unique in that it is played without being touched, with the musician instead moving their hands around it to change its surrounding electromagnetic field and so produce the instrument's music.
Kurstin had her Theremin linked up to some kind of synthesiser thing that would allow her to change what kind of sounds it produced, so sometimes it would be the classic 1950s space ship noises for which the instrument is famed, sometimes other sounds entirely. Framed by her hair and wearing a look of rapt concentration as she moved her hands in the most precise of patterns, Kurstin presented an entrancing figure.
Beyond that, Kurstin basically did what the others did, creating music defined by its development from simple to complex through the use of overlaid samples. What brought her to a higher level was her undeniable star quality and the unique sounds of her instrument. Her performance was mesmerising and fascinating. Particularly amusing, though, was her between-song-chit-chat persona, which was basically one of scary twee kookiness, entirely at odds with her serious musician performance while playing. From thesis and antithesis come synthesis.