Friday, May 15, 2009

ERGODOS Day 7: Expressway to Yr Skull

More Unitarian Church action. Expressway to Yr Skull is what the festival organisers and their pals call themselves when they are playing music with electric guitars. The first piece was written by Brian Ledwidge-Flynn and performed by him with (I think) Benedict Schlepper-Connolly. It was enjoyable enough, but I kind of ruined it for myself by looking at the programme notes before they started. Ledwidge-Flynn said that this piece was meant to sound like a recreation of some of that "shoegazing*" music that was popular in the early 1990s, and was divided up into four movements to recreate one of the four track vinyl EPs you used to get back then. The problem was that I found myself focussing on all the ways the piece deviated from the shoegazing paradigm, as opposed to appreciating the music in and of itself. The crucial missing elements were: ethereal vocals, extreme volume, drums, and the general all-enveloping nature of the shoegazing sound. The last is something that two blokes on guitars cannot really recreate. If anything, the actual music sounded a bit more like Durutti Column (a band of an earlier vintage) than anything from the shoegazers themselves. That said, the third and fourth sub-pieces sounded like they could have been turned into a Ride b-side if given the correct instrumentation.

One funny thing in the programme was that Ledwidge-Flynn mentions that he deliberately made the guitar parts simple enough that a beginning player could play them. I interpreted this as a dig at the musical abilities of the various stars of the scene that used to celebrate itself. I could not but think, though, that even Chapterhouse were able to play live without looking at sheet music. This was a bit of a problem with all of the pieces performed tonight – the combination of electric guitars and sheet music is just wrong. If nothing else, when you are looking at sheet music you are not gazing at your shoes.

The second piece was composed by Brian Bridges and featured some fellows on violin and viola playing with a guitarist. They managed to create an impressively droney sound, though I reckon their performance would have been improved by the addition of capes and dry ice (surely an opportunity missed, given that they were playing in a church).

After that there was a piece composed by Simon O'Connor, performed by Garrett Sholdice and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, doing a kind of call-response thing on their guitars, and then a piece by Larry Polansky that BSC performed on his own. For that one he did that thing of playing things, sampling himself playing them, and then playing back the samples while he played more things, but he was not doing this to create ever more complex layers of sound (i.e. no wall of hundred guitar lines by the piece's end). Rather, the replayed samples were used partly to cover him retuning his guitar to the funny tunings required for the next bit of the piece. As with a lot of pieces that use live sampling, you would have to wonder whether you could just get the same effect by having several musicians playing the piece. Still, I liked this piece a lot, it was rather enveloping and I could imagine it making great music to, you know, relax to. It also sounded a bit like Sonic Youth (whose work was referenced by the title, a lyric from the song 'Madonna, Sean and Me', which, as you know, appears on the album E.V.O.L.**).

The last piece was composed by Garrett Sholdice. Now, do you know the story about Ravi Shankar and the time he played at George Harrison's Festival for Bangladesh? He came onstage, played away on his sitar for a bit, and then took a breather. Everyone applauded, and then Shankar said to the crowd: "Thanks… well, if you have enjoyed me tuning up so much then I hope you will really like the actual concert"***. This last piece (Electric Guitar Quartet) was a bit like that, and was preceded by all four of said guitarists doing a lot of retuning. No one applauded when they stopped, because we're not stupid, but when the piece actually started it all sounded astonishingly similar to the noises being made while they were tuning up. It did get a bit more involved as it went on, especially once Dennis Cassidy on drums joined in, but it still seemed maybe a bit hampered by its contemporary classical sensibilities. You can do a lot of rocking out if you have four electric guitars on stage, but there was none of that tonight. Of course, you might not want to rock out, but… no, that's crazy talk, why would anyone not want to rock out?

* I understand that in the USA this music was known as "Dream Pop".
**Note deleted.
*** A true story rather than a KFR, as it is apparently included on the live album of the concert. Or so a guy I know once told me.

Dream Pop Pandas


Belinda Butcherer said...

Hey Panda,

You make a fair point or two re:Showgaze piece. Although you're mistaken about any intentional digs at the musicianship of the movement; If you ever hear teenagers playing their favourite tunes on their cheap guitars, they are often playing them quite poorly. In a sense, 'Zeitgeber Gears' represented the well-meaning mind of teenage fans distilling the form down into something skeletal & expressible without bells or whistles. For example, the main tools of the movement;the array of guitar pedals;were also absent from the performance.

There is a real danger in overly descriptive programme notes and I definitely take your point on that one. They garnered quite a mixed reaction and perhaps influenced the listening experience too much.

I'll be checking out 'Durutti Column'too.

For taking the time to listen and consider the merits of the piece; you have earned a free copy of the performance to listen to whenever you wish (when I finally get it from the organisers.)

For now here's the score to play at home with a friend -

Many Thanks,
BLF ;-)

ian said...

Cheers. I think I was on a bit of shoegazing frenzy that night, having seen shoegaze legend Steven Lawrie of the Telescopes play a couple of weeks previously.