C.C. Hennix, Werner Durand and Valerio Tricoli at PAN Fest, Cafe Oto, 28 Jan 2012

Forma II

This was the second of a two night showcase for artists associated with the Berlin-based PAN label. The previous night I’d missed the apparently eardrum-shredding European debut of R/S (Peter Rehberg and Marcus Schmickler), after performances by sound artist John Wiese and percussionist Eli Keszler.

What I did see, on the second night, was the first UK performance by drone minimalist Catherine Christer ‘C.C.’ Hennix, in collaboration with Werner Durand, and an opening solo performance by Valerio Tricoli.

PAN is run by Bill Kouligas, who has a hand in the gorgeous designs that wrap its releases. It wasn’t until this gig that I actually got my hands on a copy of Forma II, one of the most rewarding albums of 2011.

Forma II was recorded by Tricoli (Revox tape recorder, Walkman and computer) and saxophonist/installation artist Thomas Ankersmit (saxophone and Serge modular synthesizer). Its first four tracks are a minutely realised blend of electro-acoustic sound-sourcing and analogue synthesis, its last a piece for Ankersmit’s multi-tracked saxophone.

At Oto Tricoli played solo, standing in the centre of the room at a square mixing console to which were attached a variety of inputs, including CD and Minidisc players and a tape-loop somehow effectively rigged to run around a mic stand. This he manipulated to produce a static fug of ambient tape noise, which was textured with the courser textures of his electronics. The music, heavily indebted to musique concrète, implied an allusive narrative that was constantly obscured and occasionally rudely disrupted. I hung on every sound, deeply absorbed, without being fully persuaded by the whole.

The advertised trio of Tricoli, C.C. Hennix and Werner Durand didn’t materialise: instead, Hennix and Durand played as a duo.

Hennix had sat in her seat in the performance area while the cafe filled up, reflexively in the moment, oblivious to the inevitable camera flashes, like one of Duane Hanson’s hyper-realist figures. She moved while Tricoli performed, and then retook her seat behind a microphone, which she cupped in both splayed hands and hid behind for the best part of the rest of the night.

On Hennix’s right Durand stood, laptop within reach, behind a perpendicular array of long plastic tubes, some originally intended for plumbing, one resting on an upturned flowerpot-cum-resonator, and to some of which reed instruments’ mouthpieces were affixed.

To the backing of a tambura-like buzzing and spartan electronic loops triggered by Durand, Hennix intoned wordless drone vox that was gradually, incrementally and subtly layered, while Durand blew low didgeridoo-like tones across the lips of the fatter pipes. He subsequently augmented the layered, low pitch murmur that accrued from these sounds with low-end phonics via his reed instruments.

Hennix coloured her contributions with some Qawwali-like vocalism, a technique which she presumably learned during her period of study with Hindustani raga master Pandit Pran Nath, albeit her take on the form was airier than Pran Nath’s austere style.

Where, usually, the stillness and seeming repetitiousness of drone music seduces the listener into reverie, I remained wide awake to the moment throughout this very long piece, and grew rather bored of it even as I grew increasingly uncomfortable on my rickety wooden chair, well before its conclusion.

So I didn’t experience the same “unchanging same” as Scott from The Liminal or achieve the “deep drone meditation” of another Tweeting friend. There were rather too many disruptive variations from Durand for me to reach quite that far.

A few minor quibbles were insignificant in the scheme of things. The night was an excellent showcase for the richness of the PAN aesthetic.

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