Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blixa Bargeld, Jarboe, F-Space: How to Destroy the Universe 5 at Richards on Richards

I've been occupied by other projects and not posting much on the blog lately. I skipped writing about How to Destroy the Universe 5 at Richards on Richards the other week. Blixa Bargeld's Rede/Speech performance was delightful and very, very funny. After noting that the venue was suited more for Celtic fiddling than what he was doing (and soliciting a gin and tonic from the bar), he gave an engaging and intimate solo voice performance that charmed and amused everyone -- verbs that one would not necessarily have associated with a Blixa Bargeld show, given his at times haughty and imperious self-presentation. (He seems to be developing quite the sense of humour as he mellows and gets more successful; check out his readings from the Hornbach home hardware catalogue here, if you haven't already). Rede/Speech, the piece he did for us, involved layering vocal textures and effects -- even a few beatbox-style thingies -- and performing over them with the help of Einsturzende Neubauten soundman Boris Wilsdorf -- whom he routinely addressed as Mephisto, drily hectoring him over the mike for any "obvious fuck-ups" as the night progressed. He created a model of the solar system for us, beginning with some vocal textures he had the audience provide, droning vocalizations (a "gamma ray background") that he directed us to make "as Buddhist as you can," since, Blixa joked, his universe was a Buddhist one... Boris then set these swirling around the room as Blixa continued building his model, making the sun, planets, and so forth out of sound and words, with Boris setting them spinning too. Periodically he interrupted things with very entertaining monologues, casting light on details of his performance, for instance about the naming of asteroids (scientists began by ascribing asteroids names from Greek and Roman mythology, but after these ran out, had to progress to other things; there are, as yet, no politically incorrect asteroid names -- no Mussolini, no Hitler -- but there are asteroids named after Frank Zappa -- Zappafrank, actually -- and John, Paul, George, and Ringo... Click the Zappafrank link to read an interesting little article about all this). A few screeching comets, added as a final touch to his solar system, once it was created, took us so high into the upper register of the sounds Blixa can produce -- and no one can screech like him -- that they produced swirling artifacts in my ears, ghostly auditory phenomena that I could hear very clearly but which were more a matter of the tissues in my ears being terrified and confused and quivering audibly in response than they were sounds actually occuring "out there." (My ears appear to be undamaged, but it was a little scary). The limitations of the Richards on Richards sound system were made very apparent from the outset -- Rede/Speech would have sounded better at a gallery or, ideally, at a performance space with surround sound, like the Scotiabank Dance Centre -- but, as Blixa observed, there was nothing much to be done about that, and the sounds he made were interesting enough in any context.

Blixa also gave a solo voice interpretation of what it was like driving on the autobahn listening to the radio, again with much amusing explication of the piece en route; not a passionate driver, he found the classical music on his rent-a-car radio pleasant but "not appropriate for driving," though he noted that "the landscape makes some sense listening to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings..." He finally decided on a pop station, Sunshine Radio, that played what was apparently canned electronica, computer generated, with little human input; to show us what this was like Blixa laid down beats and then improvised effects over it which recognizably referred to techno, pantomiming driving along to the sound, smirking at his own performance, ever cool. This piece was followed by an onstage conceptual wrestling match between shame and a concept that Blixa asked the audience to provide. Shame had previously beaten doubt, in a recent performance, and was now to be pitted against... someone suggested astonishment; Blixa entertained the idea. Someone else suggested indifference, and Blixa's eyes lit up (a battle between shame and indifference! How pleasing!). Someone else suggested angst (Blixa: "I don't like angst; it reminds me too much of another language that I speak"). Finally someone suggested resignation, but it was too grim (forgetting shame for a minute, Blixa quipped "do you really want to see a fight between resignation and indifference? I hope they both die"). Finally the contenders were shame and indifference, and Blixa (and Boris on mixing) pitted both words against each other in a sound sculpture the architecture of which I simply can't do justice to, though if you buy the DVD of Rede/Speech you might get some clue of what it was like -- see the Neubauten site linked above, for that. Overall, Blixa's performance was much, much funnier than I expected it to be, and Blixa seemed pleased to get the audience laughing, showing us a very warm and playful side that I did not much notice when last he was here with Neubauten.

This does not mean that the warmth carried over offstage. A friend of mine observed Blixa's exit, and mentioned that he was "being a prima donna" and a bit of a prick, shrugging off fans in his aloof manner as they tried to tell him how much they enjoyed the experience, which soured a few people on the night. He was observed to then leave the venue, a young woman in tow, and march directly to a cab, which he tried to get in; the cabbie was waiting for someone else, and rebuffed him -- who is Blixa Bargeld to a Vancouver cabbie? -- and my friend was most delighted to see Blixa get his comeuppance, being reduced to standing on the sidewalk, ego deflated, trying to hail a taxi.

More can be read about Rede/Speech here...

Blixa's reasons for going on first were somewhat obscure to me when the night began, though Ethan Port at, the company/website that put together the festival, told me over email that it had to do with the late start of the night (Richards on Richards did one of their famous 2-f0r-1 evenings where they had an early concert, cleared everyone out, and had a late show; it was the first time in the history of their doing this that I was on the "late show" side of the things, their "curfew" previously meaning that acts I was dying to see, like Mission of Burma or Rocket from the Tombs, were cleared offstage early so that disco nite techno shit could take over). There may have been another reason, though, because at some point the great God clusterfuck began to hold sway over the evening, as a ruffled Port tried to hold everything together; the bands had been held up at customs, and the 2-for-1 nature of the night made soundchecks impossible, so it took a generous helping of time to set up some of the acts that followed Blixa. If he'd gone on last, he would have been performing to a somewhat frustrated and very, very tired crowd of people at 2:30 in the morning, which is around when things started to finally wind down.

What to say about the rest of the night? Blixa was followed by the Living Jarboe. I owe her one: I interviewed her for the Nerve Magazine, but they didn't run her requested sidebar, that I noticed, on her friend's Unfinished Journey -- an artist who has done work with Jarboe is attempting to complete Shackleton's on-foot journey to the South Pole, and is selling art to help finance the event. Check out the site and send them lots of money, because I feel a bit guilty about what follows; because though I enjoyed interviewing Jarboe via phone before the show, and respect her as a singer and performer and pretty nice-seemin' person, I have to admit that I didn't find her set particularly exciting; she seems to still be in the shadow of Swans; based on what I heard the other night, she hasn't carved out any musical territory that's distinctly her own yet (though one surprisingly bluesy number came close), and I was inclined to think back to how Roger Daltrey's solo albums never were anything to equal those of the Who; singers are not always songwriters. She still has a great voice and stage presence, and her piece about Courtney Love that she closed the set with had some interesting lyrics, so it wasn't terrible, but it didn't thrill me, either.

Unfortunately the most noteworthy fact about the following act, F-Space -- the thing people will remember -- is that took way too long to set up, particularly given that few people here really know who they are; many people left long before they actually began playing. Described on the Mobilization site as being "the Led Zeppelin of noise" (someone's gotta be), they had some unique Neubauten-esque homemade instruments that were interesting to look at, including something that looked like a cross between a bazooka and a dijeridu (but, when the performance got underway, turned out more to be a cross between a percussion instrument and a stringed instrument); I stayed, because I wanted to hear what these things were like in performance, and I was quite pleased when things finally got cooking (as I was by the ferocious, tribalistic drumming and Ethan's glowing hot guitar skronk that he sliced the other sounds with). Though I was getting pretty tired, at that point, it was engaging enough, though I will leave aside mention of the final piece of the night, a bizarre improvised bit between the uuhh rather quirky-seemin' lead singer of the Sixteens (a band on the bill who didn't get to take the stage otherwise) and Ethan. Mostly the way the evening worked served to illustrate that there is great wisdom in having opening acts open shows, and main acts close them; the experience was akin to watching a film like Memento or Irreversible, where you're waiting to see how the story begins, so you can come to terms with the meaning and worth of the experience...

What else can I offer you? There are gay penguins in a Berlin zoo whose refusal to mate with newly introduced females will do no help to getting the particular species off the endangered species list. Why does it deserve a separate entry?

1 comment:

Morgan said...

Hi Allan,
Just wanted you to know I linked to your article about Blixa. Thx.
Morgan, Seele Brennt blog.