The London public’s appetite for being challenged seems to know no boundaries: at Cafe Oto this week we had two consecutive sold out, well-received nights of avant garde music from relatively unheralded French musicians. Michel Chion (who played the previous night in what I’ve heard was an immersive ten speaker musique concrete experience) and Ghédalia Tazartès are two outsider figures who have been known to each other for decades, if not necessarily to the wider public. Thanks to a reissue programme by the Italian label Alga Marghen, Tazartès, probably the more obscure of the two, has had an increased level of attention in recent years, but none of the people I talked to before this show really knew quite what to expect.
That also applied to support act Rashad Becker, but for very different reasons. Becker’s name will be known to a lot of people – indeed it appears on many, many records – but his music won’t be. His day job is as the mastering and cutting engineer in Berlin’s world-famous Dubplates and Mastering, where his role involves entering into a creative dialogue with the music of others, helping them to achieve what they set out to with their compositions in the final product. Before he got the D&M gig, he was originally a musician in his own right, and he continues with this as an irregular sideline, making and manipulating loops and electronic sounds. What wasn’t a surprise about his performance at Cafe Oto was how precise it all looked and sounded as he carefully twisted dials to produce a sequence of very crisp and discrete tones, sparse and improvisational (if you had to pick something from Becker’s other work to compare this to, it sounded like an early, experimental, Mego, a less harsh Pita or Hecker). What was more unexpected was just how conversational it all sounded. Aside from the samples of human voices that he dissected and looped, most of the other frequencies used were within the range of the human voice – it sounded like a long stream-of-consciousness sentence made up short syllables, electronic oohs and wahs, sections of muttering, and occasionally bickering. Whatever he does, it seems Becker has the knack of giving sound its voice.
Conversely, Ghédalia Tazartès uses voice for its sound. He sings in his own personal made up language over an ever-shifting backdrop, a collage of the aforementioned musique concrète, industrial rhythms, samples, and even what at one point sounded like a loop from an old soul record. So essentially, it is just a man singing over a CD backing track… but what a voice he has. None of the Ghédalia Tazartès records that I’ve heard prepared me for just how good it is; at this Cafe Oto show, it was an absolute revelation: strong, beautiful and restlessly itinerant, ranging from French chanson (supplemented by occasional bursts of accordion) to the call of a muezzin to the split notes of Tuvan throat singing. Regardless of the level of artifice involved, the emotions involved always felt real, as if Tazartès was tapping into something deep within himself. However, with a man in a wide-brimmed hat with a necklace made of seashells singing in an unintelligible language, the ultimate sense of reality was very Lynchian, with that same strange, constantly surprising and very dreamlike quality. And while those hats and necklaces aren’t quite yet the uniform of choice round Dalston way, Tazartès seemed to really speak to this crowd: at the end, the ovation was huge. Which really did say it all.