•• Lunz + Jean-Jacques Perrey + Luke Vibert @ Royal Festival Hall, London, 15 March 2004
•• Published: Logo magazine (now defunct), March 2004

Do 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 elephants?

Well, 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.

The 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'.

Their 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.

A good job too as this prevents a rude awakening from groundbreaking sonic pioneer, Jean-Jacques Perrey.

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.

While 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 the latter.

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.

Vibert's 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.

The 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.

Very 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
Copyright © Ian Roullier 2004-2014