AV Festival Opening Weekend Review

August 10, 2012

I was asked to write for the AV festival blog back in March. I attended various events, but this piece was based around three events on the opening weekend: Leif Inge’s ‘9 Beet Stretch’, Phil Niblock’s ‘The Movement of People Working’ and ‘Lament For John Cage’.

However, it never got posted on the AV Festival website and I’ve just found my write up on my hard drive. So, instead of leaving it hiding for no one to see, i’m putting it up here.

I hope you enjoying reading about it as much as I enjoyed viewing it. Hopefully it will remind you of how brilliant AV festival was.

AV Festival 12 – Opening Weekend

The whole concept contained within AV Festival 12 was to look at things from a new perspective, to see things in a different, more abstract manor. Living in an age where everything revolves around the idea of being fast; technology strives to be the ‘fastest yet’ and everything has to run as quickly as possible, it’s refreshing to be able to ignore it and think about the opposite. We live in a time where the art of simply relaxing and letting time pass is an extremely rare occurrence. This, mainly, is why AV Festival: as slow as possible, is offering something truly unique and essential in this current climate.

9 Beet Stretch

 Leif Inge’s 9 Beet Stretch is, to put it simply; Beethoven’s 9th symphony stretched over 24 hours. It was at the Star and Shadow cinema with a ‘come as you please’ attitude. I went for the very beginning. With a packed out cinema, the 12am start time loomed near. We entered the bar to take our seats on the luxurious cushions that decked out the room. As the midnight hour approached, we were ordered to turn off our phones and then the noise commenced. One long, atmospheric drone after another made up this beautifully ambient setting.

When the crowd started to disperse and the room started to empty, the true beauty of this work became apparent. The meditative state that this work can put the listener in is incredible. I sat for almost three hours listening to every minute detail, letting it take over me and completely relax me. I could feel me self drifting in and out of a sleeping state.

I think the true credit of this work is the artists’ imagination and curiosity to create such a thing. Yes, many people before may have wondered what it would sound like played at such a speed, but it’s the true dedication and inquisitiveness of the artist that allows for other people to actually experience this. It could have simply been put on the Internet for people to listen to, but actually having it in a tangible environment showed its true potential.

Sadly, I had to leave at 3am due to having an early morning start at work the following day. I wish I could have stayed the whole night, maybe grabbed a blanket and let the noise guide my dreams. I’m worried that this might be something I will never get to experience again, but I really hope that I’m wrong.


Phill Niblock: The Movement of People Working.

The Sage in Gateshead was host to numerous shows on the opening weekend of the festival. I was lucky enough to visit the first, Phill Niblock: The Movement of People Working. This piece of work is fairly simple in set up but managed to convey such a powerful mood. Taking place in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall, I walked in to find two screens, an array of amplifiers and some seats.

Photo courtesy of Colin Davison

The evening started without hesitation and never seemed to let up during its two and a half hour duration. It features a projection of numerous pieces of film documenting the working life of people accompanied by an ambient and abstract soundtrack. First thoughts would suggest that this show could become tiresome. With such a minimal set up, I wondered as to whether the lengthy duration would suit the context of the work. Thankfully, it did. The whole concept of this performance is to focus in on the detail, to highlight and celebrate the things that we usually take for granted and don’t fully appreciate.

This performance included a guitar duet, entitled Stosspeng, performed by Susan Stenger and Robert Poss, in addition to the ambient soundscape created by Phil Niblock. Musically, it was beautiful. It was loud and abrasive but also seemingly relaxed. With such a dense sound being projected throughout the room it had an all-encompassing feel to it. While it was uncompromising in parts, it still did not feel unbearable. I personally think it’s quite a talent to walk the fine line between these two. To create a sound that has such a harsh feel to it while still managing to offer a relaxing atmosphere.

Even though the music would have been sufficient enough in exciting the senses, the addition of visuals really helped bring it to life. The film projected throughout the performance featured countless videos clips, all shot on 35mm film, of manual labour. The clips were shot in Peru, Mexico, China and Japan and covered various different ‘jobs’ so to speak. Admittedly, I was slightly skeptical of the relevance of this, but all became apparent as the performance started. Being set in such an environment and being subjected to such a unique soundtrack, these simple yet inventive video clips let the viewer see the detail, repetition and dedication that are involved in the movement of manual labour and really gain an alternative insight into it. Whether it is fishermen casting their nets, workers thatching roofs or people sewing fishing nets, there was a definitive mood of the entire work. I felt myself being lulled into the film, completely entranced by the experience.  The music and visuals complemented each other and at times even seemed to be intertwined. They both presented similar characteristics: dedication, repetition and concentration. That’s partly why the music and film accompany each other so well, but also why the work has such a strong impression. I’m glad my skepticism was overcome as it allowed me to quickly be entranced by the performance and give my full attention to the quality of the work being presented to me.


Lament for John Cage

 My third night of AV festival antics in a row took me back to the Sage, this time for the Lament for John Cage. It was my first experience of The Sage’s Hall 2, but it was a beautiful setting, perfect for the performances it was to house. Made up of 6 separate parts, it was a perfect celebration of the life of pioneering composer John Cage. Consisting of recitals of his own work alongside two new pieces inspired by the life of the composer. As you might have already guessed, this night had a main focus on the slow, repetitive details found in his work.

While it may have been slow, it certainly didn’t lack in content. Two readings of John Cage’s work started the two halves of the night. The first reading, by UbuWeb founder and poet Kenneth Goldsmith, entitled ‘Lecture on Nothing’ delved into the idea that music and words are not different. That poetry is composed in the same sense as music. It humorously pointed out the structure that is present in both writing, speaking, composing and listening. It was an interesting take on poetry providing a fresh way of looking at things. The second reading of the night, by artist Alec Finlay, was entitled Indeterminacy. A less succinct effort this time, but powerful nonetheless.

Two of John Cage’s previous works were performed this night. Firstly, a harp piece, ‘Postcard from Heaven’ performed by Rhodri Davies. Starting with a simple sustained note, and ending in a similar vein, this piece relies on improvisation on the part of the harpist. This was simple yet elegant. I felt completely enthralled by the soft lulling notes emanating from the harp. The room was filled with gentle, sparse sounds. While the notes from the harp were used sparingly, the silence present through the whole hall managed to become part of the performance. The natural ambience in the room seemed imperative in order to add to the atmosphere and really made the piece come together effectively.

 The second of John Cage’s works of the night came in the form of ‘Ryoanji’ performed by Susan Stenger, Robert Poss and Dominic Lash. Carrying on from the feel of the previous harp piece, this performance matched the soft mood already present. It began with a strangely simple yet rhythmic beat, which served as the backbone for the various pieces of sound to attach themselves to. Frequent outbursts of flute surround the entire 30 minutes of the performance. What really made this performance though was the use of a double bass. The low end noises emanating from the instrument all throughout the performance really added that extra level of detail to the entire show. Strange and wonderful notes appeared almost at random from both the flute and bass, but they always seemed to have a peculiar sense of togetherness and structure to them. I must say, it was a truly unique performance that must be accredited to the genius of John Cage’s composition.

 The second half of this night featured the premiere of two new works. The first was another harp piece. This time written by Phill Niblock, but again performed by Rhodri Davies. Quite a departure from the subtle harp work of before, this second piece concentrated on noisy drones manipulating live harp as well as pre-recorded sounds. The mood was completely changed. After the quiet and delicate performances we’d already seen this definitely felt like a step in a different direction. Fuzzy drones filled the room building in intensity throughout the 30 minute set. Fairly similar to the sounds I’d heard the night previous from Phill Niblock but this time in a much different setting. While it may have had a coarser sounds compared to the works we heard previously it still has it’s place in this show and rightly so.

The final performance of the night shares names with the whole night: Lament for John Cage. Composed by Yoshi Walda, this piece was a rework of an older piece by Walda. Again, this is something going in a completely different direction. I think it’s safe to say that this night definitely hasn’t lacked in variation. It’s clear that this is the centrepiece though. Featuring two guitars, three bagpipes, one snare drum, reed organ and timpani the complexity of the different sounds on offer was something to admire. While maybe not the most conventional mix of sounds, Walda certainly manages to make them work together. Anyway, the whole idea is to not be conventional, to think outside the box, to push the boundaries, to do something new and fresh! The depth and density of this performance really make it what it is. By building layers upon layers of noise from different instruments, a beautifully unique wall of sound was created, helped along especially by the long sustain stemming from the work of the timpanist. The number of textures to be heard really added a lot of power to the listening experience. There was a strong focus on musical dynamics and even though it started off fairly loud, it managed to slowly build volume until it erupted violently in a huge crescendo only to quickly subdue again. It was a fascinating performance to experience. A truly remarkable and respectable tribute to the great life of John Cage and a perfect way to end my three days of experiencing the slower side of life.


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