One detects the saplings of an Elephant 6 backlash these days, or as I overheard one fellow record store customer put it, “It sounds better than it sounds.” And one might wonder what differentiates Olivia Tremor Control and Elf Power— E6 wheelbarrow-pushers who, along with Wales’s Super Furry Animals, played Bowery Ballroom last Saturday night— from any number of indie rock potentates. One answer: generosity of spirit. We were not there to bask in the sunshine of future asshole superstars.
But SFA, I don’t know. Despite their admirably half-digested politics (best song: “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck”), their aggressive Bowie rawk hits the sort of banal post-Radiohead chords that for some sad reason are considered hip-ish these days. They’ll break out big-time soon enough.
OTC are fine purveyors of old-world mishmash. Even the (rather amateurish) films projected behind the band concerned themselves with time travel, dead historical figures, and the era of door-to-door salesmen (Elf Power, on the other hand, prefer a Tolkien-esque land of fantasy, although if their newfound confidence is any indication, they’ll soon be trading in their unicorns for monster trucks). Melodically, Olivia Tremor Control have come to terms with the B’s (Beatles, Barrett, Big Star), and they performed several new arrangements that did an exceptional job of cloaking their influences. Like Elf Power, they’ve tightened up— even their screw-ups looked professional— and, for better or worse, seemed more like a band than a summer-camp pageant. This didn’t mean that there were fewer clarinet duos (although the sousaphone was underutilized), but that the falling apart we were all waiting for didn’t occur until the end, when the band and entourage marched into the audience, Sun Ra style, banging on tin cans. Even afterward, a security guard kept up the beat on a snare drum. — D. Strauss
Memo to self: next time Ryoji Ikeda plays, do not, repeat, do not sit right next to the tweeter. The high-pitched electronic ticks and tones of Ikeda’s work stake out their places in the stereo field like live cinders, and he cranked them up mercilessly Friday night at his SRO appearance at Experimental Intermedia. For the first half of his 40-minute set, he was a relief artist, shaping negative sound-space with noises so brief or so pure that they cut through it cleanly. Lit only by the red and green glowing dots on his console, with which he seemed to be doing something even if it wasn’t clear what, and a penlight propped on it, Ikeda got his simplest tricks over on sheer volume. The seemingly random intersection of a bone-shaking bass snore, a midrange drone that bisected the room, and a flickering ultrahigh chirp sounded menacing because it was secretly a stretched-out minor triad; when a scattering of mechanical clicks arrayed themselves into a backbeat, it came off like a tiny wonder of funk.
Then an announcer’s voice broke in— “It’s the most beautiful ugly sound in the world”— and signaled a shift from abstraction to referential and representational sound: cut-up radio transmissions, a scrambled string quartet, shortwave bleeps. It also gave the game away. That spoken phrase opens “Trans-missions,” from Ikeda’s new collection of early material, 1000 Fragments, and the rest of the track followed right after it. As he continued to tweak his board in the darkness, it became clear that he was mostly just playing bits of his own CDs. Their flash-cuts and high-bore sine waves were no less bracing, and very few leases could survive them at those intensities, but it raised the question of why Ikeda was standing center stage, dressed in black. Does music that’s completely estranged from the idea of real-time creation still need a performing star?
— Douglas Wolk
Feel Good All Over
“Your body becomes one big ear.” Charles Ganz, the soft-spoken Zurich expat who operates the Genesis Center in the Soho Wellness Center (at 177 Prince Street), is describing what happens at one of his music therapy sessions. The Genesis approach is meant to bring about “entrainment,” a state of harmony that happens when two vibrating systems lock into phase with each other— for example, he says, when the menstrual cycles of women living in proximity synchronize. He explains this as we stand in the small, sound-insulated therapy chamber; I’m looking over his shoulder at a stack of CDs that could be a bestseller display at Borders and wondering whether I really want to lock into a state of blissful reciprocal flow with the Pure Moods compilation. But Ganz explains that part of the experience is letting go of one’s prior notions— listening with the body, not the mind.
I climb onto a jungle gym–shaped structure with a cushioned platform in the middle. Three speakers hang at the head and three at the foot, and four giant woofers are affixed underneath. I recline upon the platform; the lights dim and tribal beats and panpipes fade in. As the volume increases, the vibrations from the giant woofers do literally provide a massage, not unlike a hi-fi version of those hotel beds that accept quarters. At first I am a little resistant to the Deep Forest–y music, but the vibrations are soooo relaxing that after a while I succumb, deciding that I never liked Deep Forest because, all this time, I’ve been putting them in the wrong part of my body— my ears (which are inconveniently close to the brain, after all). (The music turned out to have been not Deep Forest, but a New Age group, Kudzu, and an Indian composer, Hari Prasad Chaurasia.)
The last few minutes of each session are devoted to a program called “MindSong”: biofeedback sensors in the cushion interact with the body’s “energy field” to trigger computer-stored samples, allegedly reading the frequencies that the body responds to most positively. “Your body plays the instrument, and vice versa— it’s the sound of your inner orchestra,” says Ganz. After nearly an hour of musical massage, my “inner orchestra” sounded like the intro to a really killer Pet Shop Boys number. And who wouldn’t feel good about that? — Sally Jacob