In which I continue talking about the recent Hunters Moon music and arts stuff festival in Carrick on Shannon.
I mentioned laptop music last time, one of my great bugbears for its visually boring nature and the complete opacity regarding how it is produced. I was expecting a lot of laptop music at this festival, and ended up getting virtually none, which was a pleasant surprise. Maybe because of its scarcity, the one piece of purely laptop action I caught seemed rather enjoyable. This was by one Mr Herv, one of those names I see on bills a lot but someone I think I might just have never seen before. He was playing what one might broadly describe as dance music on the Sunday night in the Dock. Some of the more usual laptop problems were avoided by having him playing in front of a film or TV documentary featuring loads of clips from old 1930s horror films (it was Halloween weekend, remember).
I am not sure to what extent Mr Herv had picked the visuals or whether he could even see them himself, but it did seem like he was timing his music to go with them. His set also featured the amusing sight of a load of people in unheimlich fancy dress costume dancing in a spookily undead fashion.
So Hunters Moon did not feature much in the way of laptop music. What it did feature a lot of was people doing funny voice stuff – either making strange noises with their voices or using electronic treatment and looped samples to build abstract tunes out of vocal sounds. One of the bigger name artists they had along doing this was Jennifer Walshe, recent Wire cover star. She joined Tony Conrad on the first night, accompanying his violin stuff with a vocal performance that seemed to have been inspired by Tourette's Syndrome (I mean the involuntary tics rather than the swearing). I was a bit ambivalent about this – it seemed like her contribution was running against Mr Conrad's attractively droney sound and making the piece more abrasive and less conducive to relaxing avant-garde snoozing.
We missed Jennifer Walshe performing on her own in the church on Sunday, but those present were very impressed. She was recreating the experience of living in New York and tuning randomly from one radio station to another. Cynical me cannot but wonder whether an actual recording of someone channel hopping could do this more effectively.
Other stars of funny voice music included various people from the Sheffield-based Singing Knives record label. There seemed to be a small group of these people who combined and divided into several bands on the bill. I particularly liked The Hunter Gracchus, who created a rather spooky and unnerving soundscape from their vocal samples combined with various other instruments. The weird film compilation of low budget schlock horror films accompanying them added a lot to their performance, with the giant blob of horror appearing in an operating theatre during a gynaecological operation being a particularly gruesome moment. As with Herv, I could not be sure whether or not The Hunter Gracchus were playing against the film or not, but their music went very well with it and it did seem like it was paced in time to it. In some ways they reminded me a bit of Double Leopards, another band of voice experimenters that I saw some years ago in Glasgow.
Partly because she used the same film, I liked the performance by Blue Yodel, a solo performance by one of The Hunter Gracchus. Ms Yodel did more or less the same kind of stuff, though it has to be said that I enjoyed her set more than my less easily pleased colleagues.
The real daddy of the funny vocal music was one Dylan Nyoukis. He just stands on stage and makes funny noises, without any obvious sign of electronic treatment or sampling. He had already started when I came into the Dock he had already started, and for the first few minutes I did find myself wondering whether this really was the kind of nonsense that gives avant-garde music a bad name. But then I noticed that some of the small children present were laughing their heads off at him (in a good way), so I started appreciating what he was doing on a less poncily cerebral level. What he does is both very impressive and very entertaining, though one might argue that he sails a bit close to the ethnically-stereotyping wind.
When Mr Nyoukis finished his performance, some people suggested that he had not played for long enough, with the small children being particularly vehement on this point. So he invited anyone who wanted to have a go up on stage, and they (children and adults) all shouted away for a couple of minutes. It was a bizarre moment.
What I think was striking about all the voice stuff in general was how high quality it was. One could easily imagine some chancer being inspired by this kind of thing to get up onstage and start making ugly grunting noises in the hope of finding themselves added to the bill of some future music festival, but all the voice performers had an air of polished technique that buried any "Sure anyone could do that" scepticism. This was especially true of Jennifer Walshe, for all my ambivalence about how her work fitted with that of Tony Conrad.
* It was suggested later that these might actually have been his small children; if so then I suppose they must be used to their father and his funny ways.
more blurry pictures
An inuit panda production