clock work

greg hooper: clocked out duo, wake up!

Janet Baker-Finch, Erik Griswold, Nicholas Ng, Vanessa Tomlinson

Janet Baker-Finch, Erik Griswold, Nicholas Ng, Vanessa Tomlinson

IT’S CLOCKED OUT DUO’S SEASON OPENER AT QLD CON’S RECITAL HALL. NICE SIZED CROWD, NICE PRE CONCERT BUZZ. STAGE SET-UP IS A COUPLE OF PIANOS, PERCUSSION, VIBES, BIG DRUMS. UP THE BACK, HIGH OVER A TALLISH THIN PLATFORM, HANGS A WIRE BASKET AND A LARGE CIRCULAR CONE, POINTY SIDE DOWN. ERIK GRISWOLD INTROS THE PROGRAM (SEVEN PIECES IN 60 MINS), THANKS THE GUESTS, USES THE ‘EXPERIMENTAL’ WORD. TELLS US THE WIRE BASKET AT THE BACK HOLDS ICE THAT WE WILL HEAR MELTING ONTO STUFF LATER—I MUST ADMIT I DID NOT NOTICE IT AGAIN OTHER THAN TO WONDER FROM TIME TO TIME IF I SHOULD BE NOTICING IT.

Clocks tick away (tonight’s theme) and the concert starts with Wake Up!—a sort of programmatic journey across the sleep cycle. Percussive tic-tocs and prepared piano chimes move into fast rolls on skins, then a long middle section of hits on wood like a bunch of clocks ticking to their own individual time frames. Tube cut metal bells tinkle out a lullaby against sparse piano before waking to a strangely funkless swamp groove.

Now that everyone is awake it’s onto breakfast with two guests—Lawrence English and Janet Baker-Finch—and Tomlinson playing what could be cereal bowls. Tomlinson is doing percussion-as-Foley and even though it is really nice to hear the different sounds and consider the transitions from beats to clicks to noise to tones as one clicks and taps and scrunches ever faster, things get a bit formless. I invoke audience privilege and blame the performers for my wandering attention rather than thinking it is my fault for not understanding what is going on. But…in come some seagull sounds via English’s field recordings and that gives the whole thing a bit of retrospective sense. The dynamics of the previous section anticipated the seagulls. They have taken the formless and unpredictable and retrospectively predicated it on familiar nature. This is a great touch as so much of listening is about forward prediction and this piece reverses that default. Instead of modulating prediction to give meaning through elements of musical surprise and familiarity we get storytelling and memory to make sense of the past. Then again, as Griswold starts rolling a ping pong ball on the strings of a zither and yet another instrument gets its time in the sun, I wonder if perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into it. Then the seagulls disappear and cycles of soft ocean waves fade in to gently underpin the form with another scale of repetition.

A few shorter pieces follow. Griswold sings what sounds like a Chinese street vendor’s call to Nicholas Ng’s accompaniment on erhu. Fast atonal bits and pieces come in on percussion and piano then it all syncs together through a majestic chordal sequence before more traditional tune, riffy piano and vibes. Like an update to mid 70s jazz fusion a la Jean-Luc Ponty.

The guest spot with Joel Stern introduces old school electronic FX—squealy pig snorts, booming bass drums. The interplay between the performers is excellent; they seem to be really listening and adapting to each other. Switching on and off, back and forth, bursts of noise then a quick stop tight with the drums–like stadium rock gods trading ever-harder solos as a contest in status updates.

The final piece is Spill Redux with Baker-Finch, a re-working of the earlier Spill [www.clockedout.org/projects/dsfpercussion.html]. Here we discover the purpose of the hollow inverted cone suspended at the back. It is filled with rice and swung as a pendulum, rice slowly leaking from the bottom. The rice spills onto a variety of surfaces, such as bowls and paper, to make gentle bursts of percussive noise. Using a leaking pendulum to drive a rhythmic pulse is a beautiful idea, as the period of a pendulum’s swing remains constant even as the arc of the swing gets shorter. Another link to clocks.

Baker Finch moves in and out of the arc of the pendulum’s swing. She wears a garbage bag dress, outsized castanets on her fingers, metal kitchenware on her limbs. She drags her foot through the spilled rice to make sound, slow and hypnotic, then reaches into the falling stream of rice, making washes of sound that hint back to the earlier field recordings of ocean waves. The rice runs out and the evening finishes on church bells and a call to prayer. The weekly rituals. Awake and asleep. Waves and the ocean tides.

Wake Up! Clocked Out Duo (Erik Griswold, Vanessa Tomlinson) with Janet Baker-Finch, Lawrence English, Nicholas Ng, Joel Stern, Queensland Conservatorium, Brisbane, March 23

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. 41

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

14 June 2011
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