Cool Comforts

Where did all the music geeks go? As I continue visiting half-filled venues playing host to what few imported musicians have the courage to come to our cultural behemoth of a town, I keep expecting to see the artsy crowds of the metropolis back playing the part of community support group. It was especially disconcerting to see London's Fridge make their long-awaited New York debut at fashionable Williamsburg's Northsix on October 16 and attract barely a cluster of people. After all, the trio's previously import-only albums—the new Happiness is out on Baltimore's Temporary Residence—have been selling out at Other Music for the past five years. They are buzz-worthy and hipster-friendly.

Of course, if they sucked, the snub would be a non-issue. But the wordless epics that drummer Sam Jeffers and multi-instrumentalists Adem Ilhan and Kieran Hebden constructed live were pint-sized epiphanies at the intersection of noisy post-rock's density, experimental electronica's fractured composition, and ambient jazz's folk melody. Jeffers sat comfortably back in the pocket, motoring the rhythm whichever way Ilhan and Hebden's guitars and keyboards chose to guide it—slamming through Godspeed/Mogwai-style avalanches, shepherding intricate Kraut-centric mosaics, and surfing the cymbals on quiet, cinematic interludes that hinted at Bill Frisell's tone colors and John Fahey's traditionalist gusto (one featured Ilhan's melodica dueting with Hebden's bass). The performance was an exercise in how not to forget while moving slowly but confidently onward, and the insight wasn't lost on the supremely attentive attendees. Not the girl in the black elbow-high gloves who writhed to the sonic sprawl as though she were Axl in "Sweet Child o' Mine" mode, and not the guy who exalted, "There's only 35 of us here, but we really really liked it" to get the trio back onstage for an encore. These weren't people who'd forgotten why they'd gathered here in the first place. —Piotr Orlov

Pint-sized epiphanies: Adem Ilhan of Fridge
photo: Taylor Pope
Pint-sized epiphanies: Adem Ilhan of Fridge

Noise Addicts

The No Music Festival even sounds like something that happens at Tonic; which the fourth one did, last week. What's weird is that the first three took place in London, Ontario, not widely known as an outpost of experimental shenanigans. No Music's organizers, the Nihilist Spasm Band, were seven London-O artists and professionals who got together to make noise. That was in 1965, and they've been gigging southern Ontario ever since. This puts them (by my shaky art history) in the Fluxus/process camp; but when you stick to ideals 30 years longer than anyone else, you're not an ideologue, but kind of an old nutter, is what you are.

The NSB rejected such dubious virtues as composition, tuning, or training. To overcome any instrumentalist backsliding, they invented their own (the three-and-a-half-string bass, the giant kazoo, and the Pratt-a-various, which sounds suspiciously like a cheap guitar) and switched instruments every couple of years, or every couple of songs.

But the international noise community caught up with NSB's droney, rattling contraptions: You can't have influence and yet remain singular. (It's their actorly recitations that have dated, though with style and wit.) Joe McPhee sat in on one set, and seemed to feel that grandstanding alongside part-timers would be uncouth. Still, his elegant cornet parts, encrusted with melodic variation, made the whole improvising ruckus into backdrop.

The volume pedal is now a must-have for the young bucks in electronica. Flirts, the duo of Gert-Jan Prins and Cor Fuhler, went in for shock value and grandeur of effect. Fuhler generated some of his input on a thumb piano, processing it to simulate Rhys Chatham's infamous 100-guitar army. Compared to Ovalcommers, Oval's recent attempt to pump up the volume, Flirts had a sound palette made of plywood: some knots and splinters on a sturdy sheet of off-white noise. They were joined on stage by Lee Ranaldo and the PowerBookist I-Sound. Ranaldo's bell-like feedback tones sounded rather lovely against Flirts, and his showmanship—scraping his guitar against the wall—was a welcome distraction from three men at tables.

Old-school improv looked fresh as a daisy. One set showcased diametrically opposed styles of guitar noise: Arto Lindsay's slashing and percussive, Alan Licht's calculated to the overtone and decibel, while Ikue Mori's drum programming served as motivic engine. On another night, Christian Marclay worked the decks with Toronto's CCMC, and I haven't heard him with such challenging and sympathetic cohorts in years. Michael Snow's jazzy pianisms cleverly inflected the loungesploitation selections; the creepy, sputtering vocalist Paul Dutton and saxophonist John Oswald wove their lines indistinguishably while engaging Marclay's musique-concrète elements. The quartet formed a tapestry of sound that was utterly transporting, and not very loud. It's not that the noise guys can't play; it's that they don't always listen so good. —David Krasnow

Songs for Mitya

Last Thursday night at the John Jay College Theater, "The Noise of Time," a multimedia drama-cum-concert by the Théatre de Complicité and the Emerson String Quartet, taught an important lesson: The fusion of theater and classical music doesn't always have to seem forced. British director Simon McBurney's Théatre, founded in 1983 by graduates of the École Jacques Lecoq, has made an art of using sound and gesture—not narrative—to tell stories, in acclaimed performances of Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles, Ionesco's The Chairs, and Mnemonic, in which the challenge of portraying the existential manifestations of memory is central.

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