Thursday, May 31, 2012

Seaworthy - Bellows and Breath

 This was the last piece I ever wrote for the mighty Silent Ballet. Never got published, so Cam Webb, if you're listening, this was meant to be for you and your listeners.

Cameron Webb’s ambient music has always had the folksy charm of a hobby farm down a long country road. Seaworthy has collaborated in recent years with the likes of Matt Rösner and Fabio Orsi and the project used to be a band, but Webb is officially on his own on Bellows and Breath. Instead of focusing on his familiar guitar abstractions, this album revolves entirely around an instrument that is usually relegated to the occasional color accent in the indie and folk music world: harmonium. Given this organ’s breath-like quality, one might wonder why we don’t hear it more often in this massively expanding musical world of ambient and drone. It doesn’t need any effects or reverb; it’s a natural drone machine. The issue is probably that in most hands it sounds terrible! Not here. Webb has been practicing, and his keen awareness of the instrument’s strengths and hidden versatility make for a warm listen. “Bellows Whispered Breath” instantly plots the course with fuzzy layers of harmonium and melodica rich with overtones. As if this welcome fill of sound were the journey at sea, the track ends with the sound of birds. Land ho! From here Webb explores the beaches, abandoned docks, and coastal forest of a secluded island of sound, perfect for a relaxing summer afternoon. Field recordings are still a big part of Seaworthy’s sound, as washes of water and woodland din dapple the album’s sighing pages. Deeper into Bellows and Breath the acoustic guitar enriches the environment with some subtle meditations, before departing for the wheezy finale. Clearly hearing the fingers scraping the frets (“Rattled Rushes”) or the clank of a buoy (“Breathe Deep”) distinctly puts the listener in a clear place, and the harmonium’s steady presence creates the presence of wind and power that truly feels like a natural occurence. Webb has done an amazing job switching instrumental focus with such grace while maintaining his signature celebration of environmental rhythms and tangents. A lovely surprise.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Oneohtrix Point Never at W2

As a fan and critic of all this experimental music, I thought it was my duty to go see Oneohtrix Point Never. How many chances will a west coast Canadian bloke get? The most daunting aspect of this show was not Daniel Lopatin's off-the-cuff electronic theatrics or the altered state said music can unexpectedly help one arrive at. It was the doors opening at 9pm that scared me. OPN didn't come out to play until midnight - way past my bedtime. And the W2 club in Gastown, while intimate and somewhat secret feeling, doesn't have a ton of seating. My children have taken most of my life points, so it was going to be a challenge just to stay awake.

I expected to meet no one new, conduct zero conversations, and appear as one of the oldest people in attendance. Mission accomplished! I figured this plan of attack likely suited many in attendance, but to my surprise the crowd was quite lively, made up of a lot of students. It was boisterous. Plays:Four opened, and I recognized one of the (three) players from behind the counter of Red Cat Records. Their ambient toolery was quaint and cuddly. Not anything to riveting, but they set up their stage in the middle of the floor which was an enjoyable feature for anyone wondering what the F people are doing on stage with their toys.

 The fellow who is Connect_icut was next, and he apparently knows nothing about music. He (Samuel) told me so weeks later when I inadvertently picked him up hitchhiking from a show at the Planetarium. So he's no Mozart, but his set was lush and fluid, putting me into a very relaxed state of mind. I find it hard to really relax at these basement city shows, no matter how ambient. I fortunately found a seat for this set. The visuals throughout the show were obtuse, frustrating and beyond post-modern. Samuel employed footage from a not-so-old TV show called Gilmore Girls which is apparently based in Connecticut (thus his project's name).

Oneohtrix Point Never
At last when Oneohtrix Point Never appeared, he set up and grabbed the mic. He said a quick thanks, got everyone pumped (i had a faint hope he was going to spit some rhymes) and set about mangling the airwaves with his trademark textural hooliganism. I am not sure how he came about it, but his live set was a smattering of sounds, completely unpredictable. The set had elements from tracks folks might have heard before, but this was a supreme curve ball where laughter could be used as beats and melodies were lethally tortured and reincarnated as lost souls bound for the dungeon of ambient errata.
Oneohtrix Point Never
I fell asleep during the (seldom) quiet parts, and then I would burst into being very awake upon Lopatin's drastic change into something unfathomably active and noisy. His music is definitely a workout for the mind and relentlessly captivating, provided you don't get exhausted. If you stay with it, it is oh so very interesting work with more questions than answers. I think that's why a lot of people like OPN, because the questions are more of the science variety rather than the WTF variety. How does he come up with this type of expression? How did he get from point X to point Q?  People really feel like he's pushing things into new terrain. It definitely sounds like an experiment on the rails, and not off. But man I was tired. When I got out of the show, I witnessed a fight between several drunk hockey fans. The Canucks game had gotten out an hour before, and after a demoralizing loss to the LA Kings, these guys consummated my need to get the hell out of there and get to bed.

Photos 1 and 3 were taken by Steve Louie, a fellow who seems to go to all Vancouver concerts and take nice photographs. Apparently we have similar taste in shows! I took photo 2. See the difference in quality? Yeah.