The first (audible) sound Oren Ambarchi made was a brief, quickly tweaked-off blat of (presumably) errant electricity. It was the last coarse sound (from the performers, at any rate) we heard all evening. John Tilbury set the tone, coaxing long sustained notes of aurally liminal subtlety from a pristine Yamaha grand piano, newly installed at Cafe Oto earlier the same day. Apparently its pedal (the sustain, I’d guess) wasn’t as responsive as Tilbury would have liked it to be. On the evidence of what followed, I can’t begin to appreciate the sensitivity of his ear, because the nuance of control over sound sources and empathetic understanding the duo demonstrated was hypnotic.
Ambarchi played, cradling his guitar, with at least one hand constantly attending to a tabletop clutter of effects units, constantly making tiny adjustments, less often making precisely executed combination switches, always finding creative ways to blend his warmly synthetic sounds (one recurrent like the whuphwhuphwhuph of a helicopter’s rotor blades, endlessly diffused) with Tilbury’s natural harmonics.
Dispensing with the usual two-sets with an interval format, the duo’s single uninterrupted (bar the occasional bottle sent skittling over Oto’s concrete floor, and the sole, inevitable fuckwit with an unsilenced novelty ringtone, but otherwise uninterrupted) set probably lasted little more than an hour, but it seemed to touch on infinity. In a good way. No matter that on the night it was as hot as satan’s armpits in the cafe (no dissonant air con spoiling the vibe) and the lateness of the hour, I don’t think I’ve ever before been so compelled to stay constantly, acutely alert to sound at a concert.
The whole concert was executed with such sustained quietude that I couldn’t use the camera without disturbing it, so I had to snatch these pictures on my (silenced) phone.
Full credit to John Tilbury, who has done as much as anyone to define the terms of such lowercase improv (by applying his Morton Feldmanesque approach to AMM music since joining forces with drummer Eddie Prévost and guitarist Keith Rowe in the 80s (tonight’s sound was very much late-period AMM redux)), but this date only added to the mounting stack of evidence that 2012 is shaping up as a real annus mirabilis for Oren Ambarchi.
In addition to the two sterling albums featuring Ambarchi I’ve already reviewed (see below), Ambarchi has also delivered this year on both the doom-prog banquet that is the Nazoranai album (with Keiji Haino and Stephen O’Malley), and the largely solo multi-instrumental, post-Krautrock juggernaut Sagittarian Domain. Each one distinctly different, none giving any idea of the capacity for sustained sensitivity he demonstrated tonight.
Oren Ambarchi, Charlemagne Palestine, Daniel Menche, and BJ Nilsen at Cafe Oto, April 2012
John Tilbury and Marcus Schmickler + John Butcher at Cafe Oto, April 2012
Fire! with Oren Ambarch – In the Mouth – a Hand
Oren Ambarchi – Audience of One