This was a mouth-watering prospect for anyone with an interest in the conjunction of noise and improvised music: a concert bringing together Ikue Mori (Tokyo-born New Yorker, designer and sound artist) with Norwegian composer and improv vocalist Maja Ratkje, with support from Californian free noise artist John Wiese in tandem with veteran British saxophonist Evan Parker. These four artists have moved in related orbits for years, but have seldom crossed paths; until now.
With Mori and Ratkje now forming a (presumably) temporary duo, John Wiese has been opening for them throughout their tour. This stop-off in London gave him the opportunity to reconnect with local saxophonist Evan Parker. They first played together on the ad-hoc Free Noise tour in 2008, and subsequently recorded the C-Section album as a duo for the PAN label, so their collaboration is relatively box-fresh.
Parker has a healthy track record of electro-acoustic work, for instance recording an early Touch label classic in the shape of 1997’s Solar Winds with Lawrence Casserly, and latterly teaming up with Grutronic. Much of that work is fairly academic in nature, whereas Wiese—a founder member of grindcore band Sissy Spacek—has seemingly more hardcore credentials.
With the mixing desk as his primary instrument, Wiese has certainly collaborated with some of the grittier exponents of noise, including Wolf Eyes and C. Spencer Yeh. Yet he also has an interest in installation works and in scoring for ensembles, and he brings techniques and strategies derived from musique concrete into play. Wiese and Parker are well matched.
It was hard to tell how extensively Wiese live-sampled Parker’s sax: he played a cut-and-shunt sequence of train samples, and absorbing swathes of industrial drift, and Parker went with the flow. Playing tenor sax throughout, Parker channelled Wiese’s sonic miasma through the riffle of his sax, filtering out shards of melody and adding a randomised stipple of metallic key clicks and stoppered plosives.
Maja S.K. Ratkje and Ikue Mori are a likewise perfectly-matched duo. Mori has developed her laptop modus operandi from her earlier gig as drummer with paroxysmal New York artrockers DNA. Her stage persona is, at least on the surface, calmer these days, her screen-lit face attentively focused, but there’s a strong continuity in her work. Now, in place of the skeletal irregularity of her on-skins early work, she triggers clouds of teeming digital audio-motes, into which she drops harder percussives like thought- bombs.
Ratkje is still essentially a vocalist, although those vocals are chopped and diced and spliced with sundry other inputs, some acoustic (tiny bells, a harmonica, a toy music box), but mostly digital. Sometimes her flurries of vocal ticks even out into a replicant’s dream song. At one point, when Mori allowed a more-than-usually-emphatic tribal gamelan to develop, Ratkje responded with ritual vocalese. Mostly though, Ratkje’s glottic hics and Mori’s electronic sounds teemed together, enmeshed in a sound cloud.
Neither duo set outstayed its welcome, each composing a couple of relatively brief performances. That left plenty of time for a final quartet performance, pitting the capricious processed breaths of Ratkje and Parker against the more constrained electronics of Mori and Wiese. They meshed together beautifully, while surrendering none of their individual essences; a vivid, lossless recombinantion of four remarkable artists.