A hint of permanence

Gail Priest

Kaffe Matthews, mr snow

Kaffe Matthews, mr snow

Next door to Hibernian House, home of the Frequency Lab and monthly sound event impermanent.audio, is a pub called the Evening Star. In the 80s and early 90s it was called the Evil Star. I vividly recall as a terrified 18 year old in flowing Stevie Nicks robes being dragged into this den of all things loud, grungy and just right out there. The Evil Star is now the Evening Star again and features art deco table lamps and faux leather booths, and not a soul in sight. It gives me a sense of great nostalgia, and joyful anticipation as I climb the decrepit stairs of Hibernian House to discover that there is still a little hidden corner of Sydney real estate where the warehouse performance event can live and make a racket. There’s something gloriously lo-fi about the multitude of leads snaking across the floor and power boards piggybacked to the ceiling, the lighting setup that’s turned on and off by pulling out the fuse and the old car seat I’m sitting on. There is nothing lo-fi about the sounds we hear.

d.Haines and Vicky Browne take us on a tidal wave of tones. A constant swathe of sound is established, layers of tones added, some settled, some shifting around us. As the frequencies are tuned and retuned various objects in the space begin to rattle—a live percussive response. It’s a solid, clean block of sound with internal undulations and fringes of static. A sonic snow storm textured by tiny bleeps, like blinking lights, chasing each other around the speaker system. I hear a child’s voice, is that part of the mix? No it’s an unplanned addition, but intriguing—tiny, warm, barely emerging over the tops of the huge waves, adding a disturbingly earthy and innocent texture. I would have liked to hear the unconscious duet expanded on, but the set came to an end abruptly—rupturing the audience reverie.

Stevie Wishart’s performance is gratifyingly “live”—her sound production and sources embodied. Plucking on the strings of her violin, we hear the dry sound which is then sculpted—delayed, pitch- and shape-shifted into myriad new timbres. Vocal evocations, barely heard when first uttered, erupt in full glory curling around the space, mingling with the morphed violin. There is no longer one performer—there’s the live Wishart and all her other imagined selves. Her sibilances shimmer around the space, colliding, bouncing and finally merging into a harsh buzz. Coaxing that buzz into a pulsating drone, Wishart produces the hurdy-gurdy for a duet between her live presence and her processed emanations. Grinding, plucking, and scraping, the treated emissions form rhythmic loops—sounding like otherworldly circular breathing or the creaking of a ghost vessel. Wishart carves a space where the analogue and digital flow, meld and then break apart with an enlivening tension.

UK artist Kaffe Matthews’ set is a hypnotic journey through deftly crafted electronic atmospheres. Sending out a series of loops into the system, she then snatches them back from the live mike near a speaker and reprocesses them, creating a growing, evolving entity. It’s a curiously fleshless sound—pure electric and digital emissions. This entity has no imaginable form, just energy. Yet all the sounds are honed, specific. A click with a cavernous echo hooks us in, morphs into a burble, into an air-swatting chopper, into a morse code bleep that sweeps through the stereo channels, dynamic and surprising. I can’t help wondering what other audience members are visualising. Me, I see the electric transmission beaming out into the ether and Matthews catching the loops in a digital butterfly net. I get a real sense of the structure of her improvisation—sending the sound out there, and then plucking it back, remolding it, sending it out again. She has a light touch, mixing only a few chosen elements, teasing them out, dropping them. All her butterflies beautifully controlled and musically combined create an intense and rewarding sonic vision.

caleb k’s impermanent.audio is a vital addition to Sydney’s live music/sound scene. It is a serious and immersive listening environment, devoid of distractions—no talk, sometimes no light. Not only is it creating a regular space for live play but it’s also training up a whole new audience in active listening. I was suprised at the size of the audience and its reverence. Listening in such an environment becomes a creative act—honing in on elements and structures, remixing in your mind, imagining. It gives me hope for a thriving artistic underground burrowing away beneath the rip-it-down-and-renovate Sydney and its double glazed, reflective surfaces.

impermanent.audio, curated by caleb k, the frequency lab, March 10

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. 36

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2002