A turntablist owing as much to Ornette Coleman and Krzysztof Penderecki as to Grandmaster Flash. A kalimba bouncing around imaginary spaces. Strains of Wagner stretched into sonic Silly Putty. Music, performance art, and smoothies created by two artists wielding knives, fruit, and a blender. All these ingredients were in the mix during the 70th installment of the Lacking Sound Festival (失聲祭) series held at Taipei’s Noise Kitchen (噪咖) on April 13th, 2013.
Two composers visiting from Vienna, Jorge Sánchez-Chiong and Karlheinz Essl, joined locals Cheng Yi-Ping (鄭宜蘋, aka Betty Apple) and Ye Yu-Jun (葉育君) for the event. Sánchez-Chiong and Essl each performed solo sets. Cheng and Ye teamed up for theirs. Cheng is a 2013 artist-in-residence with the Lacking Sound Festival and her performance, titled “Spring” (春), was the second piece in her Feminine Sound Trilogy (陰性聲音三部曲).
As he improvised at the turntables, Sánchez-Chiong bent slightly at the knees, arms outstretched, alternately leaning in to work the decks and hovering over them. His long locks amplified this swaying motion. His stance was slightly spread, almost athletic, or like someone intently playing Whac-A-Mole.
Out of his scratching, looping and effects mixing came rising and falling waves of sound. The source material was vinyl, and at regular intervals he grabbed new records from a rack in front of him and swapped them in. At times, the source material broke through and revealed itself: orchestral snippets, a saxophone melody. Muted industrial beats, like a club heard through the wall, repeated and then retreated. Sánchez-Chiong’s brand of turntablism has little to do with rapid, technical scratching, but his control over the blocks of sound and sinewy, almost vocal, lines he produces is similarly precise. During the Q&A session, he called his freely improvised turntable performances a break from his “day job” as a contemporary composer. Cheng Nai-Chuan (鄭乃銓) did live visuals during the set, and his abstract forms provided an interactive, eye-grabbing counterpoint to the music.
Karlheinz Essl, as he arranged his laptop, controllers, microphone and kalimba (thumb piano) on a tall table facing the room, resembled a professor approaching the lectern. Perhaps because of this professorial air, when he first began swaying side to side, hands on the controls, I didn’t think he was getting down; I genuinely thought he had a back itch that he couldn’t scratch.
Essl is a composer who also writes software programs to use in his live performances, thereby manipulating sound sources in real time. Though the various manipulations seemed largely improvised, the underlying structure and themes of each piece in his set were clear and distinct. The first and last piece both used music of Richard Wagner as source material. In the first piece, Walküren Walk, he manipulated the playback speed and length of a Ride of the Valkyries sample to create both percussive sounds and fuller textures. For non Sequitur, the second piece, Essl took a break from Wagner and turned to the kalimba (thumb piano), playing the keys and tapping the case. He processed this live audio with reverb and echo effects, playing with the sonic illusion of space. In the final piece—Tristan’s Lament, a premiere—Essl warped and bent a chromatic passage from the prelude of Tristan und Isolde. Hearing the passage repeated and disfigured, often in lugubriously slow fashion, created the disorienting feeling that time itself was being stretched and bent. In the Q&A session, he explained that he was reacting to Wagner’s 200th birthday anniversary by doing an “unpolite version” of the German composer’s music. He made it clear that it was not a tribute. The projection during Essl’s performance consisted of a Technicolor sequence of photos controlled by a generative software program that he had written.
The final act of the evening was an improvised “sound-body-poem” by Cheng Yi-Ping (鄭宜蘋) and Ye Yu-Jun (葉育君). They worked from inside the kitchen space, separated from the audience by a thin, semi-transparent cloth that acted as a screen for live projection. The sound of a radio was heard. The projected video showed a view of hands and a cutting board from above. It was unclear when the preparation ended and the piece began. The sounds of the radio were looped and echoed. Illuminated by flashlights, the hands on the screen began slicing indistinct fruits and vegetables. The sounds of chopping and slicing were likewise looped and echoed. Eventually a blender entered the picture and transformed the chopped fruits and veggies into juice. A female voice began describing the contents of the beverage and its restorative powers. At this point, Cheng came out of the kitchen carrying the juice and handed it to an unsuspecting audience member. The juice was then passed around.
They continued in this mode for another couple smoothies. Occasionally, dance beats would pop up and loop for short periods. Once blended and poured, the drinks were passed among the audience. Already feeling a bit under the weather, I declined to share a glass with dozens of other audience members. No word on whether the drinks were tasty or effective. After the third drink emerged from the literal “noise kitchen”, the radio was heard again and the performance slowly wound to a halt as stealthily as it had begun.
During the Q&A session, Cheng and Ye explained that they were working with ideas of protection, restoring the body, and the kitchen as a mother’s realm. The juice and smoothies were specifically formulated to treat symptoms they said women may experience. One remedy was a watermelon/osmanthus/yogurt concoction designed to treat those suffering from “Princess Syndrome (公主病)”, or short temper. (I wouldn’t say that affliction is confined to one gender, but anyway.) I was entranced by the concoction of live video, everyday sounds, the clever use of flashlight “spot” lighting, and the theatricality of the whole thing. It recalled the DIY, anti-art spirit of a 1960-70s Fluxus “happening” and celebrated the loose ends of an improvised and experimental work.
I had been meaning to attend a Lacking Sound Festival show for some time and thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to the series. Artist Yao Chung-Han (姚仲涵) is the founder and curator of the series. Feng Hsin (馮馨) is the project manager. Yao, Feng, and the other staff and volunteers are doing a great service for the experimental and improvised music scene in Taipei. Keep an eye and an ear open for their events (more info below).
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