Feedback: Order From Noise
PHYSICAL | 2 x CD + DVD
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Memory is a funny thing. 10 years after touring the UK with the Feedback: Order from Noise tour I am trying to recall the concerts that I experienced in some sort of trance. There I was, the youngest member of a group of musicians that consisted of a mixture of good friends and musical heroes, apparently the curator of this musical adventure, ravaged by self-doubt. Would it all work out? Now, ten years later my memories have been altered every time I have thought back to those days, every time I looked at the photos that Sarah took, every time I listened to the recordings that have spent a decade on an archive hard-drive. Anything that is written here is filtered and might be untrue. Memory is a funny thing. Nevertheless the recordings have stood the test of time for me, 2004 was a good vintage for feedback music. Today dozens of experimental musicians describe feedback as their ‘instrument’ of choice. Time to release the recordings. Time for another feedback tour?
1.Alvin LucierBird and Person DyningConcert date: Brighton, 30 June 2004Alvin performed Bird and Person Dyning at every concert. The piece, while mesmerising when witnessed live, is not easy to capture on a recording. If I remember correctly Alvin mentioned that he was still looking for a perfect documentation. The pitfalls are noisy audiences, creaky floors or PA systems and rooms that do not lend themselves to produce much heterodyning. This recording was made at Brighton’s Komedia in front of an audience that seemed to be looking forward to the noisier parts of the feedback spectrum. However, Alvin opened the proceedings and everybody listened intently to his demonstration of the psycho-acoustic effect, a third voice beside birdcall and feedback strands that manifested inside people’s heads. Some people were reported to have found it so spooky that they had to leave the room. Unfortunately the basement venue had a rather noisy air conditioning which impaired the otherwise excellent recording. To my great surprise Bob Drake had already managed to fix this problem through sophisticated noise reduction by the time I arrived at his studio in southern France to assist with the mixing. In the end it was more about watching a master at work. We kept looking at sonograms of the track to convince ourselves that those eerie sounds inside our heads are really not part of the sound files. They weren’t. Maybe this is Alvin was waiting for, a recording that does the piece justice.
2.Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Billy Roisz + Sarah WashingtonSquashed Maestro HandsConcert date: Exeter, 2 July 2004The quartet of Sarah, Billy, Xentos and myself became a regular fixture during the tour after we had played together for the first time at the tour start in Leicester. Why this track ended up on the CD without visuals I cannot recall, possibly a hiatus with the video recorder. In some concerts Billy also sent an audio output to the mix, but I am not sure if this was the case here either. Nevertheless her influence can be heard, the feedback from video to sound is subtle but tangible. Bob’s mix shows how much life the room microphones add to the live recording. I was not the only one to be a bit overwhelmed by his decision to use them so liberally. Now, 10 years later, I am convinced.
3.Otomo YoshihideDDDDConcert date: Newcastle, 25 June 2004I remember sitting in the audience for Otomo’s set and jumping when it started even though I knew what would come. The noise that emerged from his two turntables and a Fender Twin amp was just incredible. So was the control he could exercise over his instrument. When the volume fades slowly in the middle part of the piece it was still loud enough to maintain the feedback, that should give an indication for a suggested playback level.
4.Knut Aufermann + Toshimaru Nakamuraolm talk and slug speak?Concert date: Leicester, 24 June 2004This duo was the middle part of a sandwich piece we had constructed for the opening concert of the tour. We were expecting a tiny audience as England was playing in the European football championship that night, a fear that was proven wrong. I had foolishly accepted to be the announcer, which was revised for the next concert when Ed took over. I remember being very nervous before playing, but very much enjoyed our two voices mingling when on stage. The title of the piece comes from a Gary Larson cartoon that was stuck on the lab door of a former university supervisor of mine, who was actually studying the communication of olms. Later in the tour Toshi and I tried to connect our mixers together in a feedback loop, an experiment that failed in my mind due to the added complexity of an already complicated set-up. I blame the lack of rehearsal time.
5.Order from Noise Ensemble (Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Toshimaru Nakamura, Sarah Washington + Otomo Yoshihide)LullabyConcert date: Norwich, 26 June 2004With so many performers versed in the field of improvisation it was clear that at some stage of the tour we would want to try out what it might sound like when we bring all our individual variants of feedback together. In Norwich we decided just on a duration and Ed Baxter suggested the theme of a lullaby. Out came a dark and beautifully restrained dreamland, I was wide awake by the end of it.
1.Toshimaru Nakamuranimb 24/06/04Concert date: Leicester, 24 June 2004Toshi’s solo from the opening tour concert is the only piece that is documented without adding any of the room mics in the mix, so you will have to add your own background noise wherever you are listening to the architectural world of his no-input mixing board. All of the tracks are unedited, with very limited topping and tailing where necessary. I must have decided against the inclusion of audience applause but I don’t remember why. Maybe not all pieces had applause when they were part of a quick succession of performances.
2.Sarah Washington + Otomo YoshihideEndConcert date: Exeter, 2 July 2004This was an encore from the last concert in Exeter, the last sounds of the tour but a first for Sarah and Otomo. The duo was decided on spontaneously and for me forged another great combination that should have happened more often. Sarah’s circuit bent ‘Feedback Phone’ was able to match Otomo’s din.
3.Nicolas CollinsPea Soup + Mortal CoilConcert date: Colchester, 29 June 2004In Colchester Nic fused the two pieces that he presented throughout the tour. I chose this performance because I liked it best, even though some unwanted distortion had crept in towards the end of the Pea Soup part. Nic spotted this but was happy with my choice and quoted Robert Poss: “Distortion is truth.”
4.Knut AufermannSollbruchstelleConcert date: London, 27 June 2004My solo was an encore at the London concert. I was happy to make use of the high-end PA system that Mark Hornby had assembled which meant that it could deliver smooth low end frequencies. On top of this I tried to use a hacked hearing aid for the first time. My soldering must have been rather poor, the tiny circuit started to falter after just a few seconds. All of it’s dying sounds are captured in this performance.
5.Order from Noise Ensemble (Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Toshimaru Nakamura, Sarah Washington + Otomo Yoshihide)Block 3Concert date: Exeter, 2 July 2004See also DVD track 4. The majority of performances on the tour were audio only, with Billy joining specific groupings just like all the other artists. If I remember correctly Billy was not part of this piece because she played in the group beforehand. Her video setup needed slightly longer preparation times to switch modes between performances, which meant that she preferred not to play in consecutive pieces during one evening. (Well, the photos from Exeter prove me wrong, so there.)
1.Billy RoiszBÖRSTConcert date: Norwich, 26 June 2004For all of us on the tour this was the first introduction to Billy’s sound world, so far we had only experienced her videos as part of selected performances. Until today I don’t know if the phono cable that can be seen hanging down in front of the small TV screen that is part of her video feedback loop is used to introduce visual noise or picks up the sound we are hearing.
2.Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Billy Roisz + Sarah WashingtonTILTConcert date: London, 27 June 2004See also CD1 track 2 and DVD track 5. This is the only piece on this release that has had an outing before – as a film release. On behalf of Billy Roisz it has been touring film festivals since 2008.
3.Toshimaru Nakamura + Billy RoiszCNSConcert date: Brighton, 30 June 2004The Feedback: Order from Noise tour provided the first public stage for the duo of Billy and Toshi who carried on working together afterwards under the name of AVVA. If the tour was viewed as an incubator for new artistic collaborations, this duo would be the most prominent legacy. After seeing their first performance many people thought it an obvious combination and wondered why it had taken so long to try it out. Eight years after the acclaimed AVVA DVD “Gdansk Queen” you can now see the origin here.
4.Order from Noise Ensemble (Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Toshimaru Nakamura, Sarah Washington + Otomo Yoshihide) + Billy RoiszBlock 2Concert date: Brighton, 30 June 2004See also CD 2 track 5. The longest single performance was at the same time one that combined all performers except Alvin. The Block piece is a simple composition for feedback music that I concocted during the tour. It requires the performers to listen to what is missing in the spectral soundscape, rather than what is there. A more detailed score of it which I wrote down long after the tour can be found elsewhere on this site. After a short trial run in London, Ed Baxter suggested to play it as the only piece for 3 hours in Brighton. In the end we went for half an hour.
5.Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Billy Roisz + Sarah Washington0.47µFConcert date: Brighton, 30 June 2004See also CD1 track 2 and DVD track 2. The driving electronics of Xentos Fray Bentos lead this performance and managed to quieten down a noisy audience in Brighton. A fitting finish for the DVD.
Comments by Knut Aufermann
Documentation of a British tour of international electronicists that happened in 2004, spread across two audio discs and a DVD. Heard are Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Alvin Lucier, Toshimaru Nakamura, Billy Roisz, Sarah Washington and Otomo Yoshihide in various combinations, including a smattering of solos.
Alvin Lucier's sole contribution is a live rendering of his composition "Bird and Person Dyning" (sic), a great recording of a good performance. If you've not heard it, this would be a nice alternative to tracking down the high-priced original LP. It would be hard to pick any standouts from the remaining sets, and listening while not paying attention to the track list (as I did the first time I listened) yields nice long slices of electronic texture, from harsh and loud to very quiet and simple. If you're familiar with any of these artists' works you may recognize a tactic or three.
The DVD, which I thought might contain live footage from the tour, actually consists of five video works with accompanying sound. All these videos have similar elements, a lot of which looks like manipulated TV interference on an old black and white unit. I had strong memories of watching "Video Visionaries" on PBS back in high school. "Block 2", the longest of these videos at 27+ minutes, has a soundtrack from the entire ensemble, though it's hard to know that given the sparseness of the sonics. What seems to be a slit in the screen through which we see a wavering shaft of light eventually becomes a virtual three-dimensional pole with modulating rings rising and subtle colors fading in and out. Blocky, pixilated interference appears in front of and behind the pole, as bright yellow bricks and wall sections blot out large portions of the screen. Fascinating and at the same time difficult to watch. Nakamura and Roisz give us "CNS", which modulates from barely perceptible horizontal bands on white to a full screen of pulsing, wavering grey and black patterns. The title is apt, as it seemed to be doing odd things to my central nervous system as I watched.
Hard to believe these documents are 11 years old!
Lastly there is a three disc set by Feedback ‘Order From Noise’, which is a bit unclear what it is, but if I understand things correctly this was a tour of people playing all things feedback like, including video mixers, as a sort of modern music ensemble. They toured in 2004 and the recordings on this release are from that tour. As a proper modern ensemble they don’t play a bunch of noise pieces, but compositions, such as ‘Bird And Person Dyning’ by Alvin Lucier or ‘Pea Soup’ from Nicolas Collins. Sometimes a piece may be performed solo, sometimes by more people. Involved are Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Alvin Lucier, Toshimaru Nakamura, Billy Roisz, Sarah Washington and Otomo Yoshihide. It’s quite interesting to hear and see this. The DVD part is not a concert registration as such but video feedback material generated with the feedback music. This is certainly something different from Mikroton: it’s at times quite loud – and I am the first one to admit I may have lost a bit my hearing over the years – and piercing, but it’s also quite a fascinating selection of works, sometimes working it’s way down in the very low ends of hearing. It’s quite a long ride, this release, and perhaps one to be doing in parts only, but it’s a great release.
In 2004, a formidable group of musicians assembled, briefly, for a tour of England, ostensibly centered around the use of feedback. They included (at various times, I think) Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Alvin Lucier, Toshimaru Nakamura, Billy Roisz, Sarah Washington and Otomo Yoshihide. This release offers two discs worth of music performances and a DVD of Roisz’ video with musical accompaniment/interaction, curated by Aufermann.Disc One opens with Lucier’s “Bird and Person Dyning”, always a joy to hear. This is the only appearance of Lucier on the set and I’m wondering if he actually ever performed with the rest of the ensemble or only realized this piece, which he apparently did at each of the seven tour stops. A quartet of Aufermann, Bentos, Roisz and Washington offer a crunchy, hum-filled noise-fest, followed by a solo by Yoshihide in hyper-noise and, yes, feedback mode, raucous, thick and uncompromising. Aufermann and Nakamura present a more somber duo, dark buzzes with small, silvery sounds flitting through, very attractive and the disc closes with a sextet(sans Lucier and Roisz), “Lullaby”; soft but not exactly lulling, it’s a fine exercise in control, the six members retaining composure, contributing solidly to a thick, complex whole that traverses its twelve minutes with tenseness, an outstanding piece.Disc Two begins with a Nakamura “nimb” work, all quiet sizzle and pop, vintage Toshi. A groaning, gnashing snippet from Yoshihide and Washington leads to a solo work by Collins, “Pea Soup + Mortal Coil”. I almost always want to enjoy Collins more than I end up doing so; not this time. Gentle waves of feedback escalate into a wild, complex array of electronic moans and screams, wonderfully unconstrained, not nearly as “tight” as his music sometimes gets. A short, scratchy solo from Aufermann feeds into another performance by the sextet above, “Block 3″. It’s far less concentrated than the other performance, more in the cracked electronics/Voice Crack area and not as special, more of a routine performance from that time.I’ve never quite warmed up to Roisz’ video work though a couple of the five presented herein go some way to correcting that. Her solo piece, “BÖRST” exemplifies what I don’t care for, both in the chunky, pulse-driven electronics and the ragged, pale green on black videography who’s flatness and sharpness puts me off. Far better, visually, is “TILT” (set to music by the quartet listed above, which doesn’t do much for me), where four thin, gray verticals form a kind of framework for the dancing and meandering of red uprights that begin as near-matching overlays but mutate throughout, creating an interesting tension. Presaging their duo formation as AVVA, we see a collaboration between Roisz and Nakamura, my favorite of this set both musically and visually. Toshi’s sounds are subtle, thoughtful and concentrated while Roisz’ video, all black and white, anticipates the work of Kjell Bjørgeengen (at least, my awareness of same) in its usage of minimal input to generate complex patterns that veer between regular and irrational. The sextet is once again represented, giving a performance rivaling “Lullaby”. The accompanying images recall Richter’s smear abstracts but, as I often find, lack the depth to really draw me in. Finally the quartet is melded with image system unusual in my limited knowledge of Roisz’ work, sixteen monitor-shaped, gray lozenges with red and then green amoeba-like forms making inroads to various degrees, each different though related.An uneven but intriguing compilation, then, and a worthwhile documentation of this particular, one-time nexus of sight and sound.
Under lite drygt en vecka i slutet av juni 2004 turnerade ett gäng elektroniska musiker i Storbritannien under feedbackens flagg. Det är som en enda lång hyllning till rundgången och alla de former den kan ta. Konserterna spelades in, glömdes bort och har nu slutligen, över 10 år senare, letats fram, redigerats och släppts på två CD och en DVD med titeln Feedback: Order from Noise. Den röda tråden är just feedback, och även om det finns ett visst mått av Noise, så finns det även lågmäld vacker elektronisk komposition och improvisation av hög klass. Medverkar gör Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Alvin Lucier, Toshimaru Nakamura, Billy Roisz, Sarah Washington och Otomo Yoshihide. (Se länkarna nedan för mer info, anekdoter och foton. Titta även på ”instrumentationen”. Mycket fascinerande, det ser ut som en sida i Claes Olsson-katalogen).Jag kan inte säga något om hantverksskickligheten, elektroniska ljudgeneratorer vet jag mycket lite om. Jag kan heller inte höra vem som gör vad i de olika subgrupperingarna så personliga prestationer är också svåra att ge sig in på. En sak som jag däremot kan reflektera kring är det rent musikaliska och improvisationsbiten. Det är ganska varierad musik som ljuder under de dryga två och en halv timmarna och kvalitén är även den lite blandad.Mindre lyckade improvisationer hörs i kvartetten med Aufermann, Fray Bentos, Roisz och Washington som på ”Squashed maestro hands” följer något slags gyllene snittet-tänk, med inledning, uppbyggnad, klimax och (en något misslyckad) avslutning (följt av en liten halvdan coda). Gammalt grepp, föga upphetsande (även om bråket i mitten är rätt fräckt). Vidare är jag ett jättefan av de två japanska pionjärerna Otomo Yoshihide och Toshimaru Nakamura, men deras två solostycken känns tyvärr ganska misslyckade. Nakamura saknar sin härliga känsla för ljudens struktur och placering och levererar ett stycke musik som gör fruktansvärt ont att lyssna på. Onödigt. Otomos turntable-solo ”DDDD” en ganska trist Noise-historia som saknar vilja. Känns lite rutinmässig. Även duon ”End” med Sarah Washington känns lite fantasilös.Lyckas gör däremot duon Aufermann/Nakamura som skapar musik med en viss skönhet och mystik. Det är lågmält och svävande, men riktningen finns där. Tankeväckande, jag skulle vilja höra mer av dem. Skivornas absoluta höjdpunkt finns dock i ”Lullaby”, en mörk, tung historia som kryper in under huden. Det finns ett mått av återhållsamhet som är mycket tilltalande och trots att sex musiker medverkar så är det ingen som stör den drömlika (mardrömslika?) stämningen i stycket. Det är otroligt laddad och meningsfull musik som får tala sitt klara språk.Det finns även ett par “skrivna” verk som är värda att lyfta fram. Alvin Lucier bjuder på ett psykoakustiskt verk ”Bird and person dying”, ett långsamt stycke för fågelsång och feedback med små förskjutningar och en gradvis men stillastående metamorfos. Här bevittnar vi ett famntag mellan höga frekvenser, det är fascinerande hur feedbacken och fågelsången interagerar, ibland åtskiljda ibland oskiljbara, frekvenserna krockar och skapar övertoner. Några psykoakustiska effekter känner jag kanske inte av, fast å andra sidan, jag sitter kanske och lyssnar på ljud som inte finns. Det är hur som helst riktigt läckert men känns kanske ändå mer som ett forskningsprojekt än ett artistiskt verk. Niclas Collins ”Pea soup + Mortal coil” är även de skrivna och lutar mer åt det droniga hållet. Ljuden är genererade av något slags gitarr och ”Pea soup” är lågmält och vackert med spöklikt, lite kylig stämning. Stycket går omärkbart över i ”Mortal coil”, en noisig, distad gitarrvägg som är riktigt bra.Jag hade hoppats på live-video från konserterna på DVD:n, men istället är det Billy Roisz videokonst hela vägen. Det flimrar och blippar, bilden är störd och rå. Feedback-kameran genererar färger och former som dansar omkring och jag känner en olustig lo-fi-90-tals-surrealism. Fruktansvärt obskyrt. Jag har ingen aning om musiken påverkar videon eller om videon genererar ljud som finns i musiken, och tyvärr känns DVD:n mest lite konstig. Och något jobbig att titta på. Man skulle dock kunna stänga ögonen och lyssna endast till musiken, för stundtals är det ganska intressant. Roisz duo med Nakamura har en pulserande rytm som inte är så dum och det långa ensemblespåret med sju musiker närvarande (endast Lucier frånvarande) är långsamt och ödesmättat, med låga frekvenser i botten och olika störljud runt omkring. Det är ett av Aufermann skrivet stycke som är både intressant och mäktigt. DVD:n avslutas med kvartetten som jag nämnde som mindre lyckad ovan. Här låter det bättre med piggare sounds, oväntade vändningar och de fyra känns mer samspelta. En värdig avslutning.Efter två och en halv timme feedback blir man lite trött. Det är utmattande lyssning som stundtals gör riktigt ont i öronen. Men det omväxlande soundet gör det hela (med några få undantag) roligt att lyssna på. Man gör bäst i inta Feedback: Ordet from Noise i små portioner. Om man dessutom plockar russinen ur kakan är det en rysligt bra release.