Patton + Fred Frith,
Meltdown 09 @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 18 June 2009
No More front man Mike Patton has been dabbling in the outer
reaches of experimental metal as part of supergroup, Tomahawk,
since 2000. 60-year-old Fred Frith, meanwhile, is best known
as a prolific avant garde, improvisational guitarist and
composer who was part of pioneering band Henry Cow during
what happens when you put these two creative free spirits
on stage together at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of
this year's Meltdown festival? Well, the best way to sum
it up is simply: abstract noise.
Patton tweets birdsong style chirrups through a mixing desk
and beatboxes while Frith plays a guitar with a violin bow
and drags random objects across the strings. Whether it's
inspired creativity or merely pretentious racket making
is a matter of opinion but this certainly seems to be an
exercise in noise rather than music. Stockhausen
springs to mind as the extended track evolves with no discernible
tune or melody present.
bass rumbles like a fleet of Lancaster bombers and while
the overall sound touches upon ambient at times (imagine
Brian Eno in hell), it is firmly avant
garde and uncategorisably experimental. There's not a chord
or a melody in sight. God knows what staunch Faith No More
fans make of it but perhaps they have been prepared for
this sonic onslaught via Patton's Tomahawk
project (apparently a recent influence on The Knife's
Karin Dreijer Andersson).
second composition sees Frith play his guitar with two paintbrushes
to build up an apocalyptic beat while Patton spills electronically
mangled vocal effects over the top and hits an upside down
microphone on the table to create a springing bass effect.
The result has the feel of some kind of nightmarish bad
acid trip, Patton skatting down the mic as the effects pedals
hooked up to Frith's guitar create a rumbling backing.
does sing a few notes but never words; his voice used as
percussion while the guitar is used as a drumkit one moment
and a source of a multitude of out-there noises at others.
A mellower section brings some relief as birdsong mixes
with the sound of Frith chucking a stone at a metal plate
he's placed on top of his guitar. Whether this is creative
genius or the height of self-indulgence is genuinely hard
third movement sees the duo joined by highly talented beatboxer,
Shlomo. His jacking beats and scratching
add some much needed form to proceedings and the trio's
combined interjections make for the first genuinely enjoyable
moment of the night.
encore begins sweetly with some searing chords, Frith plucking
his guitar as Shlomo sits on the floor singing and tribal
chanting. This brief moment of musicality doesn't last long,
however, as more freeform jamming sees the track darken,
grow more menacing and build into a horror soundtrack. Shlomo's
heavy beats thud down as Patton screams over the top but
the effect is as beguiling as it is disturbing.
that's it, all over. The performance may have lasted just
over an hour but how much longer could the audience's nerves
handle? That said, their reaction seems positive and enthusiastic.
It was certainly interesting and clever but large parts
of the performance certainly weren't pleasurable and overall
this was more of a sound experiment than a gig, a memorable
exercise in stretching the boundaries of music itself.
jazz icon Ornette Coleman curator of Meltdown
2009 though, the possibility of him playing it safe with
his line-up selections was remote to put it mildly. Tonight's
performance was at the very least a worthwhile spectacle.
Ian Roullier, 06/2009