If you’ve never been to London’s premier experimental music venue Cafe Oto, then you really must: their programme for 2011 is already looking staggeringly good. But rather than going just once, try taking in two consecutive nights: in 28 hours between 8pm one day and midnight the next, such a huge amount of ground can be covered. Take these two, for instance. There is no specific connection between the two events of this post’s title, other than that they did indeed occur on consecutive days: they demonstrated a wide range of music, and in particular the full spectrum between the idiotic and the truly savant. Thursday night saw Sicilian electro-acoustic improviser Valerio Tricoli and Australian prepared pianist Anthony Pateras following the performance art of Tim Goldie, whilst Friday had the duo of Neil Campbell and Michael Flower taking to the stage after the sculpted psych-noise of London’s Morgen Und Nite.
More regular attendees to Cafe Oto will have been more than a little surprised by Thursday’s layout. The musical equipment stretched right out into the middle of the room, with the stage being decorated in the manner of an amateur theatre production, a silent chorus of mic stands all draped in bin bags lining the stage (you certainly don’t get that when Evan Parker plays). The shadowy figures stood sentry as a blindfolded Tim Goldie entered from the fire exit, blowing a bird whistle to attract attention. His set was clearly designed to evoke an actual nightmare, with flickering strip lights and vicious stabs of industrial noise – but much like an actual nightmare, a lot of it has quickly faded from memory. All I can recall are Goldie’s scripted antics: tumbling like a drunk over the monitors, spitting and howling, tossing the venue’s snare drum around in the manner of someone with little care for the property of others (similarly, he dropped a mic through a bazooka to the concrete floor), hiding behind a curtain at the back of the stage, spitting and howling. Also, much like a nightmare, I really wanted it to end rather more quickly than it in fact did.
The performances of Tricoli and Pateras could hardly have been more different from this silliness. In particular, Pateras’s solo set was an astonishing demonstration of technique, hammering at the top end of his keyboard whilst jabbing at the low end with his elbow, mixing the dense melodic flurries of a Cecil Taylor with the fractured rhythms of an Autechre. Tricoli’s solo set was more ethereal, sucking in and capturing room ambience, and running it back round the room via a huge tape loop (several metres long, kept in place using mic stands) and deep echo, mixing this with samples of his own vocals and recorded glitch. Their solo work is arguably less well known than their work in improvising groups (Tricoli in 3/4HadBeenEliminated, Pateras with Robin Fox and with the excellent Baxter/Brown/Pateras group), and so it was to be that their duo was the highpoint of the evening, Tricoli diligently and intelligently processing and responding to Pateras’s constant output of musical ideas. During the quieter, glitchier periods, comparisons to the Noto/Sakamoto pairing were unavoidable, but elsewhere, with Pateras switching to modular synth, and Tricoli really getting deep into the material, digging in and spreading in his own pulses and burst of intense noise, it had as much to do with the likes of Wolf Eyes as anything else.
Eyes were attracted to the floor at the start of Friday night’s event: were there really seventeen pedals connected in sequence? Seventeen pedals? Can you imagine what Hendrix would have done had he access to all of this? Hendrix is perhaps less of an inspiration to Morgen Und Nite than Richard Pinhas, guitarist with cosmic French travellers Heldon; Lee Nite’s guitar being matched as it was with Frances Morgan’s collection of synthesizers and oscillators. You can certainly imagine Hendrix approving of Nite’s sculptural approach to the sound of his instrument, however: at times all he had to do was give it a slap, releasing a few waves of sound which he could mould and manipulate with his bare feet into something that would ultimately become ultimately unrecognisable as being of guitar in source (huge serrated pulsations which mingled with Morgan’s sine wave drones) but something that was unmistakeably psychedelic, deeply experimental, and rather good indeed.
The approach of Astral Social Club’s Neil Campbell to his instruments had far less of the deft precision that Nite was demonstrating. In fact, for large parts of the set it appeared that he really didn’t know what he was doing at all. His performance with his ex Vibracathedral Orchestra colleague Michael Flower lurched into life on a preset rhythm, a primitive-sounding Kraftwerk riff, with the duo building a wall of distorted guitar on top. Campbell put his guitar aside, and the piece quickly broke down into a meandering mid-section in which it looked like Campbell had only just become acquainted with the very concept of a keyboard: jabbing at it with index fingers, producing a succession of staccato Rhodes figures. But yet, and I’m not entirely sure how, these all seemed to eventually come together into something quite magical, a fidgety krautrock beat emerging through the squall, Flower locking into its groove, the pair blasting off once more to the cosmos. This was Idiot savant stuff at times, not in any sort of pejorative sense, but more in keeping with the French translation of unlearned skill. You couldn’t teach this – and when they were in full flight, you certainly couldn’t touch this.