After one of the mildest winters in history, a sudden chill came. The land turned white, the city’s sounds softened and muffled, and everything slowed down. As I watched the show fall onto the roof of a Dalston church from the queue outside Café Oto, I wondered whether Stephen O’Malley could have asked for a more perfect setting for the first of his Ideologic Organ events at that venue. While it is only four releases old, his curatorship of the Ideologic Organ imprint has steered him away from the lightning-cracked skies of Sunn O))), towards something quieter, softer and more austere. While doing so, he has pushed further out into an exploration of ancient musical forms and spiritualities, transposing his sonic interest in decay (death) and sustain (preservation) to other cultural settings.
The reclusive Andrew Chalk rarely makes public appearances (or even utterances), so the chances of him playing live, in climatic circumstances which so complemented his music, were similar to those of finding two identical snowflakes. The common description of Chalk as a ‘drone’ artist would have been woefully inadequate for this: drone implies a constant something, but here there was almost a constant nothing. His Elodie duo, with the Finnish multi-instrumentalist Timo van Luijk, gave the sparsest, softest, slowest, quietest performance I’ve seen within these walls. Chalk stroked and caressed a few clipped notes from a close-mic’ed guitar sitting on his lap, while van Luijk barely blew through his flute, and only just touched a gong with a mallet. It was so hushed you could almost hear flecks of snow landing outside. The combination of the openness, processional pace and the focus on timbre reminded me of Japanese court music, like a gagaku composition set in a wintry oriental landscape. But there was a slight human presence in this scene, which lent it an emotional quality as well as an elegance: it was like watching someone disappear into the dark spaces. If these sounds were snowflakes, they were snowflakes made of frozen tears.
The work of Jessica Kenney and Eyvind Kang, as documented on their Aestuarium LP, draws more overtly from other places and languages, but there is something particularly haunting about their choices. Gaelic and Latin, Persian and Tibetan, these are dead or dying languages, and places you wouldn’t find on a modern atlas. The stark pizzicato viola of Kang and the ethereal voice of Kenney had a diaphonous, ghostly air which added to this sensation of listening to a vanishing past. They started in ritualistic mode, a one syllable call and response ceremony taking place amongst the crowd, before they marched through to their seats. The show continued to feel enjoyably unshackled from western conventions thereafter, full of long sliding glissandos and microtonal passages, moments of close harmony falling away to dissonance, but always retaining that austerity, slowness, softness, and spirituality. In the dark, silent space of Cafe Oto, “Dies Mej” sounded majestic in its delivery, but monastic in its purity. Setting this off against that all-white backdrop outside the venue’s windows made for a perfect introduction to this new series of shows, and not one that can be easily repeated. By the time we left, the snow had already started to melt.