fabrique: after the revolution

Richard Wilding

Saturday night of the REV festival and a large crowd gathered for another instalment of fabrique at the Powerhouse's Spark Bar. Many punters had just emerged from the preceding Diversi A and B concerts and headed to the bar for a drink and a chat while others were drawn at the end of the day by the promise of high-profile international names. The previous night had been an exclusively Australian affair but tonight two UK sound artists were headlining: David Toop and Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner).

First up though was Sydney-sider Oren Ambarchi armed with a highly customised electric guitar and a bag of effects units and floor pedals. His vibe at first was purely ambient/minimalist as now and then he plucked a single spare note on the guitar, barely seeming to move. Fed into long, cycling delays these notes formed lines of virtually imperceptible ostinatos that slowly accumulated into a shifting sea of tones. As the density of the tonal liquid increased so did Ambarchi's movement, leaving the guitar to manipulate effects and keeping the currents moving. Inexorably the guitar tones began to disappear and the oscillations and granulations of the effect devices themselves took over as Ambarchi focussed on turning up the level of energy until the grating noise machine seemed to choke itself to death. The performance was entrancing in its slow organic progression and proved to be the highlight of the night for me.

David Toop continued the axe assault by improvising on a Hawaiian guitar with various Inquisatorial torture implements including pieces of pipe, an electronic bow and a range of effects pedals. Toop's work was multilayered consisting mainly of ambient wefts on CD used as a bed for improvisation on guitar and flute with acoustic and electronic manipulation of the instruments. God was in the detail as Toop's improvisatory gestures responded to elements emerging from the intricately crafted background–at one point he even played a descant to microphone feedback using the flute! Unfortunately much of the detail required close listening which was generally impossible in the hubbub of the Spark Bar.

With the second UK artist, Scanner, the vibe shifted into club mode with more familiar harmonic structures and greater rhythmic energy which pulsed with the ambience of the venue. Scanner is one of the breed of laptop warriors and proved a crowd favorite as he extracted and convulsed material from Mini Disc and portable synthesisers with the aid of software on his Macintosh. At times he leaned towards a deconstruction of the bombastic stylistics of anthemic dance music and at others ventured profitably into areas of ambient glitch producing a very polished and structured performance set.

Amorphous Brisbane electronic outfit I/O comprising Lawrence English and Tam Patton finished the night on a postmodern note with improvised turntabling and more laptop action. As Patton scratched and droned with the vinyl, English sampled, fragmented and reconstructed the sounds in real-time using interactive looping software. In a departure from general DJ practice, rather than focusing on the prerecorded material on the records, the performance emphasised the grain of the medium itself.

Overall, perhaps what struck me about the night was that though fine music was being made nothing really new with regard to experimental performance practice or sound production was offered. All the artists worked with techniques and processes that have become part of the canon of electronic art music, whether it was Ambarchi's delay effects, Toop's tortured Hawaiian guitar or Scanner's deconstruction of dance club aesthetic. Is the revolution in electronic music over? Am I just nostalgic for some dubious thrill of avant garde unexpectedness? Of course it's inevitable that “new music” will become generic and that those genres will stabilise and become respectable (for want of a better term). Rather than being revolutionaries these artists are working now with the rich results of a revolution consisting of a range of mature and highly sophisticated techniques along with an accumulated tradition of experimentation. QUT Creative Industries' intellectual and capital investment in the REV festival as whole demonstrates that these genres and techniques are now pedagogically viable concerns. However much we might grasp at defining what is new music it's probably what slips through our fingers that will end up surprising and challenging us.

Though the REV festival has finished, fabrique continues throughout the year at the Brisbane Powerhouse under the guidance of Lawrence English and promises the chance to hear more Australian and international electronic acts continue a rich tradition of experimental music.

REV Festival, fabrique, performers Oren Ambarchi, David Toop, Scanner, I/O, Spark Bar, Brisbane Powerhouse, April 6

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg.

© Richard Wilding; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002