Oceans & Ornaments Film / Review

After holding two editions of the Off-Key Sessions in the Church of St John the Baptist, the organisers decided to move almost round the corner to the oldest building in Bristol still in use today, the Priory of St James. Founded in 1129, the Priory was home in the medieval period to Benedictine monks until it was dissolved under the reign of Henri VIII. Nowadays St James Priory provides ongoing support for people in recovery from addiction in their Supported Accommodation at St James House while the church itself is used for worship. As it happens, the Off-Key Sessions are quite a friendly and low-key affair where audience, artists and organisers can meet and get to know each other around an impressive selection of tea and cake while sampling a fine selection of records representative of the scene. Last Saturday, before the performances effectively started, Clothbound label-head Bryan Ruhe, greeted the audience with an impressive mix of his own unreleased tracks, mostly assembled from tape loops.

Katie English opened the evening in diminutive fashion using flutes, home-made dulcimer and field recordings. At times whistling to provide an underlying harmonic bed to her compositions, she gave rhythmic motion to her live improvisation by looping the sound of her tongue clicking against the microphone. As she layered incredibly intricate flute motifs, her performance ebbed and flowed in the vast space of the church to conjure vivid pastoral images and melancholic meditations that set the tone for the whole evening.

After a short break, Sara Galán and Edu Comelles, playing as Cello+laptop, more than lived up to the audience expectations during a set that condensed in 20 minutes haunted film noir atmospheres and disjointed spectral sonic clusters. Cello+Laptop have made quite an impression on Fluid’s writing team at the end of last year when they release their much acclaimed album Parallel Paths, so it was quite logical to have them play live at an Off-Key Session. They worked pretty much within the realm of pure improvisation, Sara Galán playing sombre and dystopian cello motifs fed into Edu Comelles’ laptop for additional processing and looping. If at first Galán appeared to be the obvious driving partner in this improbable duo, Comelles was working in the dark, slowly absorbing the devastating narrative of his collaborator and furthering the emotional impact of the cello through careful use of electronics. It’s only half-way through the set that he really engaged in the improvisational dialogue and launched a sparse sonic onslaught in the form of spectrally processed granular clouds. The sharp contrast between those disembodied granular clusters and the emotional heft of the cello gave the whole set a strong sense of structure and movement moving along in a sort of impossible and rightly impressive balancing act.

Following the spanish duo, Danny Norbury and Flau label-head Yasuhiko Fukuzono (aka aus) explored in their own way the interplay of cello and laptop augmented by piano and machines. They have played together in the past either in the UK or in Japan but somehow never have the time to properly rehearse their shows together, things usually happening the very intensity of the performance. It might be a exciting or a counter-intuitive approach depending how you look at it but it’s surely the risk of the unknown that make they collaboration such an interesting proposition. On Saturday, Fukuzono literally landed in Bristol in the middle of the afternoon and headed straight to St James Priory where he had just enough time to set up his equipment. Positioned on both sides of the church’s altar, both musicians looked like disembodied shadows barely moving against a backdrop of tiny candles, Norbury on cello and Fukuzono playing piano and electronics – a stunning view, especially for members of the audience seated at the back end of the church. Throughout their improvised set, Norbury was always careful to find appropriate gaps in his partner’s sonic tapestry, so his presence was never overbearing but on the contrary thoughtful and considerate. The overall performance had thus much contrast, depth and articulation, both musicians playing like a singular entity moving in slow undulating movements.

After a long break, Orla Wren came on stage as his music unfolded in near complete darkness despite the slow-moving visuals projected above the altar floating like aether-borne holographic projections. His tones and sounds were so delicate that they conjured iridescent images of ice crystals melting on the surface of grass blades. Using diminutive melodic lines, field recordings and digital processing combined in wonderful kaleidoscopic motifs, Orla Wren was at time playing music of such graceful and restrained beauty that time seemed suspended to allow the audience to observe the life of a microscopic ecosystem ebbing and flowing in slow-motion. In the last section of the set, long cello motifs came unhurried, gently hovering over Orla Wren’s echo garden until they dissolve into the enveloping silence of the church.

Closing the evening, Andrew Hargreaves and Craig Tattersall playing as The Boats gave the whole evening a unexpected twist as they unleashed for half an hour or so remnants of Detroit Techno laced with Industrial undertones whilst always avoiding to be bound to a particular genre. Standing in front of an intricate assemblage of machines and computers, Tatersall and Hargreaves never put their 4/4 beats center-stage but opted on the contrary to twist their sounds until they got deeply scarred. All the way through their set they seemed more interested in the grittiness and abrasive textures of their analogue circuitry than in all-to-easy trap of becoming alienated to the repetitiveness of their beats. Superb!

– Film: Gianmarco Del Re / Words: Pascal Savy / Images: Richard Outram










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