I was still deep in recovery from the previous day’s mini-fest when I pedaled up to the Black Cat for the grand finale of the ’09 Sonic Circuits. We had truly been promised an epic evening, and, beleaguered though we were, there was electricity in the air.
Arriving unintentionally fashionable, I missed Alexei Borisov & Anton Nikkilä , and pushed through the upstairs doors to see Pekka Airaksinen, whom I recognized from the Jandek ensemble, studiously commanding a laptop and a small array of gear. This is where my only real criticism of Sonic Circuits would come in. I wholeheartedly support what they are doing, and their attempts to raise their own bar each year. But, for the most part, they come from a very clinical and classical school of noise. A pedagogy more based in Maurizio Bianchi (who I actually love), and skronk free-jazz than the contemporary trends of Prurient, Emeralds, or even more modern classics such as Cock E.S.P. Therefore, the shows seem to be hit and miss to the followers of No Fun, Not Not Fun, Hospital, or anything Aaron Dilloway might carry. I hope this is not taken too strongly, but in the future, I’d love to see more Fckn Bstrds, and even HEALTH than, say, post-jazz theory.
It was clear, sadly, that even more so than for Faust, the crowd had packed in to see the LA based, sassy noise pop group, HEALTH. Such as when I went to No Fun Fest, and saw all the Blank Dogs and Sonic Youth fans, (who knew nothing of the band’s origin), standing around in angsty confusion, the HEALTH fans went reeling as though hit by an uppercut once Rat Bastard+Chris Grier+Ulrich Krieger stepped onto the stage to unleash a sonic chaos. And while it’s true, this group consisted of two guitars and a very skronky saxophone, the way the group carried out their set made it highly effective. For noise fans this was a pied piper tune indeed. Just when it seemed as though the moment had played out, Ulrich Krieger carefully lowered his horn and proceeded to let fly a Fear of God style guttural eruption through the vocal mic. This instantly pushed the stage through the roof, and up onto the next level. After he was finally spent, Ulrich, with the same calmness, picked his sax back up, and musically re-joined his partners for a denouement.
As bodies pulled themselves up off of the floor, HEALTH began hauling out their equipment to pick up the pieces. Following in suit, they too started off with a cacophonous bang. But gradually, order came from chaos, and parts of their set transformed into pure pop aesthetics. They pulled all of this off in a way that, instead of confusing their fans, actually convinced them to come along for the ride. The rest of the set became calmer and calmer, but still merged back and forth between the two styles. Their non-stop, hi-energy performance left their eager fans absolutely sated. Ten years ago this band would certainly have been a rising star on the Thee. One. G label.
(Of course, I had my own personal drama with a novice photographer who, even though he free reign of the entire space along the stage, kept insisting on standing directly in front of my camera and I…)
Finally, the moment the rest of the crowd had been anxiously awaiting since it was announced several months before, Krautrock legends, Faust, had arrived and taken the stage with their massive set up. The curiosity surrounding the cement mixer in the middle of everything was almost more than the anticipation of the band itself.
In true Krautrock style, Faust kicked things off by sliding into a spacey, instrumental psych jam, perfect for turning on, tuning in, and dropping out to. After taking the audience to the place they needed them for the duration of the evening, they went deeper with another epic audio tome, wrapped around a spoken word piece, that in so many ways, described the bands connection to the philosophies of their legendary, German namesake.
It was in the middle of this deeply reverential moment that Jean-Hervé Péron, one of the original members of the band, turned on said cement mixer enigma, and let its whir gently rumble through the system. As the rest of the band quietly supported this sound, Jean began to pour pitchers of pebbles into it, augmenting the effect, and periodically tossing great handfuls onto the unsuspecting crowd. Somewhere near the disorienting climax of all this, Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, Faust’s other original member, picked up a grinder and carefully applied it to the metal thunder sheet hung near his drum kit, thereby sending a shower of sparks up and across the ceiling of the stage. The swirling finally reached its headspinning end, and the audience was Faust’s for the taking.
Faust seized full control, and soared through track after track, making new fans, and old fans bigger fans, along the way. At one point they stopped to say that, since things were going so well, during the next track, Geraldine Swayne, (who apparently is also a painter, writer, photographer and filmmaker), was going to create a painting while the band played. It was obvious that this was the type of maneuver that made the audience suspect. And even I would have to admit that it sounded like a terrible idea. But, not only did they pull it off, both the music and the painting were excellent. I’m quite certain that this was the first time in history something like this has worked.
In the end it was an excellent set, to wrap up another excellent Sonic Circuits. With the odd popularity of noise, I’m certain that this organization and fest will only grow in popularity and success. Here’s to hoping so anyway, because I’m looking forward to Sonic Circuits ’10 being an even more expansive and crazy event than this year’s. Unfortunately, (but fortunately, for the organizers), I’ve got a long time to wait until it gets here……