Ideas Of Noise
The Edge & Vivid Projects
August 3-5, 2018
Noise isn't really noise. Much of this weekender's content was somewhat sculpted, even if often rough (or scaly, or oozing) to the touch. A 'noise' outcome is usually in the eardrum of the victim, as interpreted by prior taste. The first edition of this festival operated in such a manner that it could easily lure listeners who held ostensible backgrounds within free improvisation (jazz-descended), electroacoustic music, moderne abstraction, minimalism, drone and/or ambient scuzzing. Whatever route of arrival, open-and-clear-tunnel ears were an advantage.
The festival is a joint operation between artistic directors Andrew Woodhead and Sarah Farmer. At this first stage, Ideas Of Noise operated on a smallish scale, but this was to its advantage, creating an aura of intimate immersion. There were a good number of performances, but always with the chance to pause and reflect in-between sets. To mull, and swill around.
At the Vivid Projects gallery on the first afternoon, local performer Billy Lucas sat on the floor with his personal cassette players plugged into a pair of big ass speakers. His insidious colonisation of audio perception began in a small alcove, and it was instructive to loiter outside its opening, conversing with folks, but with one ear on its steady short-loop development of sonic seepage, beginning to blanket beyond its enclosed corner. At four hours, "Fragments I" was designed as a slowly evolving environment, and it was also even more pleasurable to actually step inside the mini-room, and give the evolving music some complete attention.
Simon Paton gave a 30 min performance along conventional physical lines, though still with some unusual playing relationships. His bass was central, but also acted as a pushing goad for the more delicate inventions of his colleagues. There was much swapping between guitar, trombone, djembe, xylophone, French horn and mask-flute, the orientation poised between rock, jazz, improvisation and moderne composition, by turns delicate, fuzzed and humorous.
The violinist Richard Scott began his solo set outside the building, but this turned out to be unwise, as his subtle unamplified traceries were soon overwhelmed by stray rock'n'roll sounds bouncing out of an open rehearsal room window, drowning out his efforts. It was best to follow Scott back upstairs, and into the gallery, where the music continued in earnest, with a more linear folk-minimalism development than some of his accustomed improvisations.
A brisk stride across Birmingham's old industrial quarter, Digbeth, led to The Edge, another cultural home that combines visual art and music events. It would have been easier to have these two venues at closer proximity to each other, but ultimately, the Saturday and Sunday programmes would concentrate most of the performances at The Edge anyway.
The evening set featured a duo between harpist Rhodri Davies and percussionist Mark Sanders
, with a beefy rock drive to their beginning. Davies sounded more like a guitarist on his feedback-loaded homemade harp, while Sanders chose a narrower palette than usual, more direct and punchy. A howling overload grew, as if produced by an Ethiopian kraar, a traditional lyre, but in deranged mode. Davies dipped into tonalities that suggested Japanese koto, but still rooted in East Africa. Sanders skittered around with his brushes, and the pair seemed to avoid an improvising vocabulary, making the listener contemplate the similarities with an African session, as Davies created a Konono No.1 vibrational buzzing, in both the lower and higher frequencies. Sanders spent more time using his core drum kit tools. As the set climaxed, more and more of the harp strings snapped, as Davies brutalised them with abandon. This is apparently a deliberate self-destruction strategy, and it sure sounded exciting, justifying the future time spent re-stringing. Half of them were gone by the end, leaving a balding harp. For the next set, they were joined by violinist Angharad Davies
, which took the extreme levels down a notch, it being difficult to follow the previous set's explosiveness.
As already erected at the Supersonic festival a few weeks earlier, the Ideas Of Noise shed made a comeback for its own weekender, sitting just outside The Edge, encouraging not much more than duos due to its tiny space. Dropping down from Sheffield, Garlic Hug made a mark with one of the weekend's most arresting sets, right at the beginning of the Saturday evening run. Helen Papaioannou played speed-glottal alto saxophone, whilst Alessandro Attavilla worked at untying his electronics tangle, otherwise known as a Microbrute analogue device. Laptops were also involved. The Garlics capered in racing prog fashion, making a math-freedom sound, with appealing metal percussion samples, either as beat decorations, or as pure grinding distress, as they veered into an extreme slow-dance minimalism. These were the sounds of the garden shed: sawing wood, over rollin' beats, a dark humour in place throughout. Isolated bursts of drilling magnified the near silences. The set sped by, due to its rich mineral content of micro-events, always trowelling up some fresh audio truffle.
The Celebrating Sanctuary organisation presented its own set soon afterwards, inside The Edge, on the main stage. Ideas Of Noise co-organiser Andy Woodhead played keyboards, with Didier Kisala (vocals/guitar), Millicent Chapanda (mbira/percussion) and Aaron Diaz (trumpet/electronics). This group was called Elda, and involved the blending of naked Afro-acoustic sounds with curlicued jazz atmospherics, wefted via effects manipulations. Their beguiling impact was magnified by following Garlic Hug, as Elda savoured a softer, gentler area of adventure. Chapanda's mbira was one of those full models, set inside a gourd, complete with metallic rattles, whilst Woodhead provided copious bass line input, pulses growing, a swirling mute-trumpet captured then released via cloaking fx. Their second number utilised Congolese rain stick, high vocals, and a clipped jazz funk feel, whilst the third had Chapanda holding Zimbabwean court. This was well suited to the ambient groove-making. To conclude, Woodhead delivered another of his hookline bass figures, and Diaz removed his mute, for full crisp jazz solo effect. Comparing Garlic Hug with Elda was a positive tactic for understanding the changing faces of 'noise.'