+ Jean-Jacques Perrey + Luke Vibert @
Royal Festival Hall, London, 15 March 2004
(now defunct), March 2004
you have to experience pain to truly appreciate pleasure?
Does the dark side serve to make life's lighter moments
seem brighter and more enjoyable? Is it normal behaviour
for pensioners to have full-blown conversations with toy
philosophising aside, this was certainly an evening of contrasts.
Forming part of the Royal Festival Hall's Ether season,
a series of concerts and events aimed at blurring the ever
flimsy boundaries between classical and electronic music,
tonight's concert/lecture/live performance may not have
caused the inevitable ticket scrum Kraftwerk's
rare live appearance did, but still provided an interesting
evening's entertainment nonetheless.
night kicks off, or rather politely introduces itself, with
some gentle ambience from ex-Krautrocker, Hans-Joachim
Roedelius and US composer Tim Story.
With Roedelius on piano, Story behind the keyboards and
the accompaniment of a lone violinist, the music straddles
the classical and electronic camps with ease. The problem
with much ambient music has always been that it gets tarred
with the 'incidental' brush and rightly so; bland, formless,
self-indulgent sonic wallpaper is all too common within
the genre. But to call Roedelius and Story's shockingly
beautiful piano-led soundscapes background music would be
akin to calling a gorgeous sunset 'background visuals'.
music, while relaxing and uplifting, has enough direction,
momentum, quirks and surprises to keep the audience's ears
open, rather than their eyelids shut. Playing material from
their 'Lunz' collaboration, Roedelius and Story's sound
is at times reminiscent of Brian Eno's
70's Ambient series or William Orbit's
'Pieces in a Modern Style', though lazy comparisons only
serve to do these uniquely stirring and at times melancholic
compositions a disservice. This isn't aural cardboard like
ambient often can be, but bright, vivid, emotional music
that while inspiring calm, also forces the crowd to sit
up and take notice.
good job too as this prevents a rude awakening from groundbreaking
sonic pioneer, Jean-Jacques Perrey.
delivers humourous anecdotes and tells tales of his work
with Edith Piaf and Walt Disney, managing to maintain interest
in spite of the disorganised chaos that ensues as he and
his assistant grapple with the CD player and aged reel-to-reel
tape recorder when they attempt to play some of his much-sampled
body of work. You get the feeling the unrehearsed air of
madness that permeates the stage owes little to the Frenchman's
75 years and more to his general demeanour as he frequently
talks to (and through) a dancing stuffed toy elephant and
often communicates in sounds rather than words like some
kind of psychedelic Rolf Harris. This is after all the man
that, using primitive sampling techniques involving audio
tape, a ruler and a razor blade, spent 72 hours producing
90 seconds of sound to re-record The Flight of the Bumblebee
using the sound of real live bees.
this moment of madness seems inspired, others he shares,
such as Carmen Dogs (the music of the opera Carmen interspersed
with the sound of dogs barking), paint him as the musical
equivalent of his once close friend Salvador Dali; eccentric,
indulgent and manic with odd flashes of creative brilliance.
The airing of his best-known piece EVA helps remind us of
Perrey's surreal and sometimes insane lecture sets us up
nicely, or perhaps nastily, for Luke Vibert's
audio onslaught. Starting with a screech and a squeal, Vibert
forces his laptop to spew out raw streams of dark electronic
mayhem, his performance relying on the kind of challenging
discordance beloved of the Aphex Twin but
minus the stunning moments of beauty Aphex often relieves
the tension with.
interpretation of Perrey's work verges on complete self
indulgence, purposefully crushing any semblance of a coherent
tune or rhythm under another avalanche of clattering, crashing,
head-splitting feedback. Clever? Perhaps. Listenable? Not
particularly, no. This really is tuneless ear-bleed techno
twaddle, making Intelligent Dance Music seem somewhat brainless
and sending it straight to the back of the class. There
is the odd flash of Perrey's humour but nothing of any true
substance escapes Vibert's incoherent musical mangling.
light at the end of the tunnel is provided by Jean-Jacques'
return to the stage to perform a duet alongside his friend
and fellow countryman. Perrey stands at his aging Moog and
Vibert grins behind his laptop as the pair produce their
own take of playground favourite Freres Jacques. It offers
a little melody and humour to round the evening off but
it seems Vibert's sense of melody was stolen backstage by
the first act of the night.
much a night of darkness and light, pleasure and pain, genius
and madness, beauty and the scratching, banging, scraping,
musical beast. A unique experience to say the least.
- Ian Roullier, 03/2004