Sound Architects Review

For their second edition, the ‘Off-Key Sessions‘ took over the main building of Bristol’s Church of St John the Baptist for another night of exceptional music. Whilst the first chapter, organised in the crypt of the same church back in April, had been rather wonderful, this new gig promised to be even better thanks to the grandiosity of the edifice’s interior and the natural reverberation of the space. The organisers showed again an exquisite attention to detail that contributed to the overall success of the whole evening. People were given hand stamped envelopes containing gig postcards/set times and limited edition letter pressed CDs whilst being invited in between performance to join the artists inside the small upstairs bell ringing chamber which had been converted into a cosy pop-up tea room (along with cake) and improvised record store. In the main room, candles placed alongside the aisle of the church and on stage, gave a sheer sense of dark ritual to the four performances.

Peter Jørgensen and Ian Hazeldine, heads bowed and faces illuminated by the glow of their laptop screens, opened up the evening in almost devotional manner, diffusing liturgical drones through the pristine PA whilst projecting abstract visuals on the back wall of the church. Hazeldine had composed a film to accompany Jørgensen’s music that night and the two worked beautifully together, casting their luminous and restrained splendour upon the audience. Jørgensen worked solely with a self-written looping software which he fed for half-an hour or so with samples of indecipherable origin, though clearly anchored within the classical instrumentation register and processed into a rather delightful singular whole. His music was imbued with a sense of meditative quietude, moving unhurriedly through different plateaus whilst navigating an invisible line between light and shadow. Hazeldine’s glowing circles imperceptibly breathing in microscopic cellular respirations echoed themes of illumination and meditative beauty carried by the diaphanous and glowing textures of the drones. Towards the end of the set, Christoph Berg’s violin joined the party and provided some beautiful harmonic layers, immediately incorporated to the main droning current as a way to add movement and illumination to the austere beauty of Jørgensen’s music.

After this first performance, Christoph Berg (Field Rotation) quickly came back on stage to play a somewhat more electronic set than what he did back in April. With attention and delicacy, he first started looping and piling up aether-borne layers of violin motifs against a backdrop of sampled droning textures and cavernous thumping noise resonating metronomically in the distance, only stopping briefly as a way to delineate a clear space between this first section and the next. The violin came back, but this time more prominent, each phrase looped and held suspended in space until the entire church vibrated in one glorious chord reverberated by the whole structure of the edifice. In an interesting move, the last two ‘songs’ had more rigid arrangements featuring drum and percussion loops, delineated chord changes and patterns of call and response that had, at times, a sense of lyrical drama often augmented by heartbreaking violin protracted melodies.

After a short break and time for some tea and cake, Andrew Hargreaves walked on stage and gave a rather exceptional performance played against footages of slow-down sequences of the classic era’s noir that, due to the particular projector setup, appeared to float like holograms crystallising at the back end of the church. On stage Hargreaves drew his sound palette from a fascinating technique inspired by a tape loop process developed in the 70s by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. This particular technique, based around a system of audio feedback between two reel-to-reel decks joined by a single reel of tape, made possible the creation of very organic loops accumulating in thick and decayed layers as the performance unfolded – the warmth and tactility of the ensuing sound resulting from the very imperfection of the machines and the saturation of the tape. Hargreaves had somehow scaled down the process to two 80s cassette players which he used with samples sourced from remnants of orchestral music, aetheral vocal loops and sine waves, all played from his laptop in an improvisational manner. At times, Hargreaves’ music sounded like the decayed soundtrack of a film that never existed, its main theme slowly disintegrating between the two cassette decks. In the middle section of the set, a dreamy choir slowly appeared out of a thick blanket of hiss to later float away whilst passing above fogbound landscapes. Throughout the performance one had the impression that things were repeating endlessly whilst, at the same time, being strangely deconstructed as if escaping through an invisible line of horizon.

Simon Scott performed the last concert of the evening and managed, despite the cold outside the church, to conjure up warm and dense soundscapes. He had on stage an impressive fly-case full of effect pedals, loopers and small instruments that he complemented at times with thoughtful motifs of acoustic guitar and abstract cymbal manipulations. The performance had actually started before everybody realised it, as Scott played a protracted sequence of pastoral field recordings recalling the acoustic ecology of the Fens region encountered in his recent album ‘Below Sea Level’. The innocent evocation of natural environments turned into a dense cloud of hiss and static as if the whole of the marshy land evoked in the preceding section suddenly became fogbound, grey light diffused in a sort of blurred halation effect, giving the remnants of bird songs and aquatic inhabitants noises a shadowy presence literally receding below sea level. At times minor technical problem arose but far from disturbing the flow of the set, they gave the whole performance a wonderful sense of authenticity and humanity that Scott embraced with masterful and humbling abandon, showing that happy accidents are always welcome in such a context. Moving through the mist and the brume, he later distilled and looped solitary guitar phrases whose reach extended far beyond the space of the church, almost reverberating on the surface of a moon-lit pond just after dusk, back in his native Cambridgeshire – a truly delightful performance ending a wonderful night of music.

– Review by Pascal Savy

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