Supersonic Festival 2011: Day 2 (Mute & More)

It is Sunday morning, and after a solid 8hrs of sleep, it is time for me to write up yesterday’s happenings, of which there were quite a many. Earlier this week, my volunteering schedule was changed to allow me to participate in the Dirty Electronics workshop and performance, so I was not volunteering at all yesterday. Instead, I am working almost ten hours today, so that’ll be quite something… No idea what I’ll be doing yet, but that’s part of the fun. Right up until I find out it’s site clean-up.

Anyway, back to Saturday’s events. First up, the Mute Synth workshop with John Richards of Dirty Electronics.

Here's some people polishing some circuit boards, or sitting on chairs, waiting on a delivery of tables.

It took me about 2 hours to solder the board together, during which time I did not burn my fingers once, surprisingly enough. To my great surprise, the device even worked right the first time.

Almost done! At this point soldering was complete, all that was left was battery and IC installation.
My very own completed Mute Synth, all ready to go.

The Mute Synth is controlled by touch and tilt controls, and makes horrendously cool noises. It does vaguely what you direct it to do, but there is always some uncontrollable element of chance in its design. I recorded myself noodling with it when I got back to the hotel last night, so here’s a sample of this thing’s noisemaking:

[audio:|titles=mute synth improv 1]

I also got to play around with some Sudophones/Merztins, which was great. I was getting some real expressive bird-like noises out of them. We roughly planned the performance for that evening, in terms of what devices were going to be used, and what we were going to do with them, but it was kept fairly loose.

After this, the festival properly started, but since Orthodox weren’t on until 5.15PM, I decided to walk up into the Bullring and get me a shirt for work, and a pair o’ fingerless gloves as mentioned previously. If you want to work in a retail store in Birmingham, may I advise not working in the shops in the Bullring, because they are real busy non-stop.

Got my gloves, headed back for Orthodox, who were good, but I wasn’t really feeling it for some reason. I figured it was a come-down from Secret Chiefs 3.

Just what Spanish doom metal needs, massive blue beam lights!

I popped outside for some food, and found some pretty big burgers for £5. Expensive, but tasty and filling. Tonight I’m probably going to get some Japanese Chicken Curry.

This burger had the taste of a home-made burger, rather than a shitty fast-food burger, which was very welcome. As were the mountain of gherkin slices they put in instead of tomatoes. Mmmm, gherkins...

At this point there was nothing I specifically wanted to see, so I wandered over to the Old Library and saw Agathe Max, performing solo violin to a pre-recording of piano and drones. It was pretty great actually. Without the burden of expectation, I just let myself zone out and enjoy the sound.

After that, I similarly had no idea what I wanted to see next, so I wandered back to Space 2, where Bardo Pond were playing, and that turned out to be the right choice because I went from having never heard of Bardo Pond to being really excited about Bardo Pond in the space of the last half of a song whose front half I missed. They played a kind of psychedelic shoegazey kind of thing, very spaced out and cool.

Pretty lady with a sweet voice, fronting a very excellent band that I previously knew nothing about.
I am going to buy me a bunch of Bardo Pond records. The merch stand got real busy after their performance, and several of the CDs got sold out. Congrats Bardo Pond.

Next up was Wolves in the Throne Room. This is a band I like, but like most black metal related artists, I find hard to really listen engage with them for long periods of time. I do really appreciate their woodsy aesthetic though, and they had a bunch of paraffin lamps and five banners with reversed words that I deciphered as “manifest”, “beauty”, “dethrone”, “unveil” and “love” respectively.

Note the five banners. Owl, heron, wolf, deer and rat/squirrel-looking thing?

Their set was pretty good, but very samey.

After Wolves it was finally time for the Dirty Electronics performance in the theatre. When we showed up though, they were showing the last ten minutes or so of a tour documentary of the band Oxbow filmed by their sound engineer. I love me some Oxbow, so it seemed a reasonably entertaining document of the parts on a tour where nothing happens. Then the director gave a brief Q&A before they cleared the stage for us.

At this point nerves set in a little, but I figured I would just go for it. They set up the four pieces, and after a brief introduction we were off… First, the ICA cubes, which made all kinds of crazy unpredictable noises. Initially the three workshop leaders started, tweaked a few knobs, then one by one placed them on the stage floor. Then, we, the workshop participants, were free to walk on, tweak them in any way we liked, and make some contribution. I walked out and found a knob which produced some ear-shredding high frequencies at its extreme, so I tweaked that for twenty seconds, then walked off.

Next up, some kind of kinetic sound generators, for three performers, conducted by John Richards. In one hand, an electromagnetic generator tube which feeds into a capacitor, in the other, a button which controls capacitor discharge.

Third, a collection of twenty or so Sudophones were lying at the front of the stage under a microphone. John Richards suddenly, and without warning or introduction charges and collapse, pushing his hands into them. Causing them to crackle and chirp in contact with one another. One by one, other participants do the same, randomly manipulating the cans with their hands, one by one they left, and the cans kept chirping. Suddenly when everyone had left, John Richards turns around and gestures saying “come on, let’s pile in again!” But this time, it’s only me who heeds the call, so lying on the floor, with my hands on a bunch of chirping cans, I gently manipulate several of them, and then slowly stop, and together we started to gently separate the cans and bring this piece to a close. Honestly, I’m not sure what the hell I was doing, but when they started to crackle out into silence, I felt pretty good about it.

And finally, the Mute Synths themselves come into play. Unfortunately, we’re short on inputs, so some of us have to swap during the performance. John Richards again conducted us, using broad unplanned gestures, and we jerked and spasmed our way through. Funnily enough, I thought the Mute Synth was the least effective of the group performances, because there were just too many of them going at once. I don’t know what it sounded like for the audience, but that’s the nature of performance I guess.

I know some of it was filmed, so I’m looking forward to seeing that. Due to the physical nature of it, I was not able to take any video myself, but I did shoot some of the rehearsals in the workshop itself. I will post clips in the future as soon as I can.

That strange and exciting experience over, I headed outside to sit by the pool. The pool which in previous years was drained and housed the outdoor stage. Alexander Tucker was due to start at 11.00PM and I kind of wanted to see that. Unfortunately, while I was sitting, a ridiculously massive queue had amassed, going all the way around two sides of the pool. Way too many people to fit into the theatre, so I decided to call it a night.

Alexander Tucker proving too popular for a tiny theatre.

I checked out Electric Wizard for all of five minutes, before wandering off disinterested and ending up in Boxxed, the new venue for this year, across the canal. Here, The Skull Defekts started up, and were actually pretty good. I stayed for the first half-hour, then decided to actually call it a night, so I could get me some decent sleep in advance of my gruelling Sunday volunteering schedule (9.5hrs, right up to 2.00AM) which I have now done.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to be there at 1.00, even though the first band isn’t on till 2.15, so I’m going to get ready and head out for some lunch.

Keep on keeping on!

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