Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Deep Listening, Vancouver Style; and an appreciation of Jeffrey Allport and Solder and Sons

Pauline Oliveros performs at FUSE, by Femke van Delft

Last month, Pauline Oliveros, pictured above, played two sets of dreamy avant-accordion at the FUSE event at the VAG, treating us to the experience of her Expanded Instrument System, a sort of surround-sound aural paradise (with a few snaps, crackles and pops thrown in for good measure). She then did two workshops at the Western Front. These were events that I was much excited about; I've listened to a few of the Deep Listening Band's recordings, and find them so profoundly meditative and enrapturing that, yes, folks, I've even used them as "mood music" for making out (beats the hell out of Barry White! ...I also highly recommend Zoviet France or LaMonte Young's more subdued piano works. I kid you not). Troglodyte's Delight, in particular, is a particularly interesting form of "underground" music, in that it's recorded in a cave - Tarpaper Cave, an "old limestone quarry near Rosendale, New York that had lovely dripping water sounds and Valhalla-like mists,” DLB member Stuart Dempster says of it - the band's improvisations interacting very quietly and beautifully with the environment and the musicians being highly affected by the unusual circumstances of their performance and their need to attend to ambient sound and space. Oliveros is not the only musician to experiment with caves and cisterns as environments for recordings, mind you - I'd recommend checking out the linked recordings by Lustmord (Heresy, I believe, is the most relevant), Vancouver's own G42 (The Cistern Sessions), and Don Cherry (playing the stalactites - or were they stalagmites? - in a cave on this Live from Soundscape DIW release, now apparently OOP)... all of which are pieces where the spaces become another instrument; feel free to comment below if you know others! Still, Oliveros - some of whose scores make up an exhibit at the Wack! event at the art gallery, as well - is the person whose work inspired the entire concept of "deep listening," and is an extremely interesting composer and artist; it was a privilege and a pleasure to meet her, to hear her play, and to partake in one of the workshops - thanks are due to Ben Wilson and DB Boyko for making the event happen (and whoever else at the Front I'm supposed to thank...). Oliveros' music exists in such a way as to make one even more aware of the silence around it, inviting you to expand your awareness into that silence, merging with something beyond the self - a kind of transcendent experience, which is what I go to these sorts of events in pursuit of, generally (doesn't everyone?).
Ione and Pauline Oliveros by Femke van Delft

For her Vancouver appearance, however, Oliveros came complete with her partner and collaborator Ione. Ione - an interesting character in her own right and someone many Vancouverites would have delighted to hear - Common Ground readers, say - is (it says on her website) a spoken word artist, an Ordained Inter-faith Minister, a Certified Hypnotherapist, a Certified Qi Healer, and a Certified Helix Therapist (the last being a domain completely unheard of by me). Her most interesting role, and the one most visibly brought to bear at FUSE during her spoken word performance, was that of "dream facilitator;" as Oliveros played, she sketched an indeed rather dreamlike narrative of travelling to a land of thousands (or was it hundreds of thousands?) of forgotten dreams, a strangely familiar place which we were encouraged to explore. Dreams are a fascinating province and her suggestion, at the end of the workshop, that we pay attention to SOUND in our dreams was fascinating and thought-provoking, since it made me aware that my dreams, while having narratives and visuals and meaning, do not seem to have sound per se: I have the understanding of sound - I register that people in my dreams speak to me, and "hear" what they say - but there is no sense of the sound having quality or existence on its own; I'm sure in order to really "hear" in a dream, I would have to carefully train myself into it through the sort of attentive behaviour she suggested, which would probably considerably enrich my experience of dreams - or even the dreams themselves. Interesting stuff, to be sure. I liked her suggestion of keeping a dream journal, too, and having workshop attendees share it with each other - I've kept dream journals at various points in my life, and am glad to see friends of mine explore the idea at her suggestion... though admittedly I didn't take up her suggestion myself, as I've been trying to recuperate from over-writing.
Ione by Femke van Delft

However, I must say, when I listen to quiet, meditative improvised music, it is uniformly done with the intent of escaping my normally dominant linguistic self - of getting away from words and thoughts, getting at something deeper, more profound; and so to have someone telling stories, however abstract or poetic, throughout Oliveros' improvisations - stories which required me to think and process language at a time when I really didn't want to do these things at all - was basically about as welcome and useful as having someone repeatedly tapping me on the back of the head throughout the performance; it did more to make any actual "dreamlike" state completely unattainable than to facilitate one. I liked it far better (and heard similar comments from friends in attendance) when Ione made tentative forays into vocal improv - clicks and tweets and trills which complimented Oliveros' fascinating, multidemensional sound explorations much more effectively and were thus much more welcome. As for the workshop - which had a charmingly unpretentious, dare I say "high-school-drama-class" feel to it - a good thing, with the 30-some attendees happily lying on the floor at its peak making a delightfully weird and quite unself-conscious group vocal improv together - I must further 'fess up that Ione's suggestion that we hold hands and close by making a sound from a "wonderful dream" that we've had also didn't really connect with me at all, as my best dreams are my most interesting and dramatic ones; the idea of "wonderful" doesn't really enter into things. (As I recall, I'd had dreams the night before of being stalked by a slasher, which were quite engaging, but by no means "wonderful;" a good dream for me is like a good horror movie - intense and thought provoking - but seldom even pleasant). Ah, well -the group improv was still really fun, and I look forward to acquiring the Deep Listening Band's new double LP - the first in their history, previously dominated by CDs - which features the Tarpaper Cave sessions and more.
Pauline Oliveros, by Femke van Delft

Jeffrey Allport and Tyler Wilcox, by Dan Kibke

In terms of "deep listening," tho' - which I understand as listening that requires and produces a profound attentiveness that transports one from the mundane into a different sphere - I got a bit of a better workout, I must confess, from Jeffrey Allport's set last weekend with Seattle's Tyler Wilcox at Solder and Sons (a hip little bookstore/ electronics shop/ music shop/ cultural space, located at 247 Main, near the Cordova intersection). Allport is a drummer, but calling him that in no way prepares the reader for what this man does with his instrument. It's like calling LaMonte Young a pianist, or Phil Minton a singer, or Derek Bailey a guitarist; while accurate, these designations are only a small slice of the story, and without more elaboration, get you nowhere; for instance, drummer or no, Allport seldom - at least during the performances I've seen - does anything so crude or primitive as to hit a drum with a drumstick. (Sometimes he'll hit a drum with a mallet, but odds are it'll be on the side of the drum or the rim, rather than the actual skin). The picture above is quite revealing of his method; we see him with an array of cymbals, in his hand or placed in different configurations on the drumskin; a mallet in his hand; and a reserve of bows and sticks on his lap. It's a tad too dark to see, but he also has a spring (I believe) attached to the rim of one of his drums, which will be used to produce subtle vibrations and buzzes, often happening in reaction to what he is doing elsewhere, as Allport hits or rubs his cymbals gently with the head of his mallets; rubs the mallets, or bits of tinfoil, on the surface or rim of the snare or floor tom; places a tinfoil plate upside-down inside the cymbal, itself lying on a drumskin, to let it reverberate as he bows the edge; or does other things with the sides or rim of the drum that one simply would not normally see a mere "drummer" do. He brings an intense, dare-I-say meditative focus to his investigations of his instrument, and is quite comfortable - as was Wilcox - in letting silence reign for long periods, choosing when to insert another sound into it, so that the absence of sound itself is a cue for attentive listening; when the Art Ensemble of Chicago talk about the "drum and silent gong" in "Illistrum," on Fanfare for the Warriors, it's come to be Allport that I think of. I'm excited to hear that he'll be curating a three-day event at VIVO in February - I believe featuring many people who will be playing at the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, whose artistic director, Gust Burns, is a past collaborator of Jeffrey's... Hopefully I'll have more on that later, as the date approaches.
Jeffrey Allport and Tyler Wilcox by Dan Kibke

And what a great environment for a concert! Fake Jazz Wednesdays suffers from the Cobalt's foul smells, sticky seats, so-so sound system, and occasional mood of yahoo-ism among the audience, who sometimes are more interested in socializing than listening. 1067 is among the least aesthetically appealing spaces I've spent time in - it looks like exactly what it is, a disused office space, and I can no longer sit in its thrift-store-quality furniture without fear of picking up bedbugs or such. The Western Front is great - probably my favourite venue for hearing live music in Vancouver, mostly due to the superb programming - but, unless one sits right up front, is not particularly intimate or warm. By contrast, what could be more comfortable than gathering with 20 or so interesting people in a flippin' used bookstore? I love used bookstores, and Solder and Sons is a good one, tho' it has somewhat quirky hours; last I checked, it's not open weekends, save for occasional evening performances. For quiet music like Allport's, it has the added bonus of being right on the street, so passing cars or even passing pedestrians can be unofficially "incorporated" into the soundscape, which is more charming than one might expect. You can even park pretty safely, knowin' the courthouse and cop shop are right across the street!

The show at Solder and Sons, by Dan Kibke

Good news, then: Anju Singh tells me that there will be another show at Solder and Sons this Saturday, December 20th. One Jake Hardy described the main act, the Italian Husbands - in the email that Anju forwarded to me - as "romantics of the trash-core," who "will bring you the deep pervasiveness in the form of ultra lo-fi ritualism and hippy nihilism." I'm really not quite sure what that means, but it sounds like it might be quite interesting (the "lo-fi ritualism" part, anyhow). Apparently these guys are affiliated with Sludge House in Alberta (see the link above, which has a video of them performing there) and have an album coming out. Also on the bill are Burrow Owl (Hardy: "harsh noise, pins-and-needles style;" I am unsure of their Myspace and unwilling to weed through websites about actual owls to find it); and Anju's project with Shearing Pinx guitarist/ fellow Her Jazzer Erin, Set Sail to Sea (Hardy: "Set Sail to Sea will dampen the walls and bookshelves of Solder and Sons with thick layers of down-tuned doom sludge" - which is not exactly how I would describe the one set of theirs I saw at the Cobalt awhile back, but it WAS the only occasion, of many at which I've seen Erin and Anju perform, where I thought briefly of Black Sabbath, so I do kind of get what Jake is sayin', here.) You are recommended to show up around 7:30, since things will begin early. You can always browse the books, or better yet, check out the CDs - Jeffrey Allport has a few (and an LP, too); I particularly liked Hawker's Delight, with Angharad Davies and Chandan Narayan on violin and autoharp, which I bought after seeing Jeffrey awhile back at 1067, with Arrington de Dionysio and Yamauchi Katsura.

PS: Single women in attendance at the Saturday show are encouraged to offer me sexual favours, or at least say hi. Do not be alarmed that I have shaved off my beard. I am growing it back.

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