Gustav Metzger live in Glasgow

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sat Feb 9 18:38:39 CST 2008

>From the Sunday Herald:

Breaking the sound barriers at      Instal 08

Music literally breaks down at an event that is as stimulating as it is challenging 

By Brian Morton

AUTO-DESTRUCTION? SELF-CANCELLATION? Whatever happened to a few lagers and a bop as a way of relaxing at the weekend? Instal 08 takes place at the Arches this week and you'll see those terms and others in the programme. But if you think that's too strange a way to party, you could be missing one of the most challenging and mind-stretching events to be held outside New York, Berlin or Shinjuku.

 Curator Barry Esson is interested in ideas, which is still an unfashionable thing to be. His annual Kill Your Timid Notion (KYTN) festival in Dundee examines the relationship between sound and visuals, as well as exploring concepts like "post-consideration". Last year's Resonant Spaces event was part-acoustic science, part-psychogeography, as well as a damned good way of getting musicians and (small) audiences out into the wilds of Scotland. He was also involved with NVA on its Half-Life event at Kilmartin in Argyll. But auto-destruction and self-cancellation?

 The practice goes back somewhat earlier than the idea, with Jean Tinguely's metallic sculpture-machine bashing itself to bits in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1960. The theoretical armature was built up at the end of the 1960s by Gustav Metzger, who at 81 is one of Esson's star guests at this year's Instal. Metzger's notion of art that destroys itself, best represented by works that involved throwing acid at nylon fabric and watching the work emerge as it disappears, was set out in a series of manifestos. One of those who took notice was a student of Metzger's at Ealing School of Art - Pete Townshend. As guitarist with The Who, Townshend spent the next 15 years auto-destroying guitars, and fuelling Gibson profits in the process.

In a sonic context, self-cancellation is a more complex business. Musicians have been deconstructing instruments for years. Trombonist George Lewis, also recently in Scotland to workshop and perform with the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, used to dismantle his horn during live performance, exploring the sound potential of the slide, tubing and spit key. However, Instal's programme of events and talks sets about a yet more radical examination of how sound can effectively dismantle itself.

 Nobody, one imagines, will be smashing up pianos and putting the pieces through a letterbox hole, like they used to do on It's A Knockout. But harpist Rhodri Davies will be collaborating with Metzger on a performance involving auto-destructive harp. There will also be sub-bass experiments in the bowels of The Arches looking at the way acoustic science allows sound to be generated and destroyed in the same instant. (It's how they proposed suppressing the noise of generators and pneumatic drills; I distinctly remember Judith Hann in a hard hat, shaking prettily but quietly on Tomorrow's World.) A programme that combines thought as well as old-fashioned jouissance is reflected in a bill that also includes free-folk pioneers MV&EE (root of a collective centred on musicians Mark Valentine and Erika Elder); the great bass and synthesiser player Alan Silva, whose Celestial Communication Orchestra never won the same plaudits as Sun Ra's turbaned space-warriors;
 and saxophonist John Butcher, a veteran of KYTN and Resonant Spaces whose understanding of the broader ramifications of improvised music, its social and philosophical import, make him one of the most exciting musicians in Britain today and an artist who fits the Esson bill almost perfectly.

 At the same time, there's a chance to hear the work of the Wandelweiser group of musicians, notionally led by another improvising trombonist Radu Malfatti. Malfatti turned his back on orthodox - and it was becoming drably orthodox - British improvisation to explore a music of vanishing quietness and near-stasis, a music that in the very moment of articulation explored the phenomenology of sound. It's an enterprise that makes John Cage sound clunky, as indeed he could be. Along with Antoine Beuger and Manfred Werder, Malfatti will create some of the weekend's most challenging sounds, even if they are delivered in a whisper. It may sound like hard work, but it's also deeply pleasurable, even (especially) if you just immerse yourself in the experience.

  Instal is at the Arches, Glasgow, from February 15-17
[Metzger's is the evening of Friday the 15th].

-Brian in Atlanta

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