Speaker by Various Artists


by Chris Knox

Ya gotta blatt, sometimes ya just gotta blatt.

"Blatt: To make indeterminate noise at widely differing decibel and comfort levels in concert with like-minded individuals or merely your demented self" - Ambrose Bierce, 2005.

Y'know, free jazz, noise, glitchcore, whateverthehell ya wanna call it, something not often heard on these timid shores but something we're (ever so slightly) famous for in those shiny continents to our extreme left and right.

We invented the Dead C for fucksake, a seminal - the artnoise crowd love the word, it's the closest they get to sex - free rock combo consisting of Ralph Hotere-endorsed fine artist Michael Morley, radio archivist Bruce Russell and onetime Verlaines drummer Robbie Yeats. They're hilarious, a geeky mix of wildly disparate talents, only one real musician among em, who are capable of making a two guitar, one drumkit and a laptop racket that can be the most beautiful thing you've ever heard one second and a chaotic mess the next. Some fans prefer the latter. More free, man, less constrained by the bourgeois structures of 20th century rock, man, hippies all, at heart, this audience.

And this Dead C were the feature act of the first night of AKL's third Alt.music festival - more details here - following Lawrence English on laptop and guitar - very much in that order - Tetuzi Akiyama on stretched-out minimalist John Lee Hooker-inspired boogie guitar and Alan Licht, making one guitar noise and deconstructing it with an impressive array of pedals.

Stacks of people turned up - the unashamed hippies sitting crosslegged or, in at least one case, lying prone on the filthy Kings Arms floor - tolerated the boring bits and wildly enthused over the rest. Tetuzi was great, showing off his '40s blues chops in a style not a million miles from Jack White but fracturing them with sudden deafening silences or teasing one interminably repeated flailing chord into an extraordinary orchestra of overtones. A bit of a good 'un and humble with it.

Lawrence was probably in the wrong place with his gentler laptop tonals but by journey's end - and with guitar finally engaged in the struggle - he was creating some gargantuan sonorities not generally associated with a Powerbook. And Alan's short exploration of non-rock noisemaking set the stage nicely for the Dead. C, that is. Who were the most consistently interesting I've ever heard em, despite Robbie's desire to just "drum on a song!", Bruce's need to hear Michael playing a bit more guitar please and the latter's lack of determination as to when to sing. The non-drummers in the band have never pretended to or claimed any ability to play properly. They delight in playing improperly. In these circles this is proper. And, y'know, goddammit, that's just the way it oughta be, you can have too much ability in this music business.

I had a day off on Saturday to watch the cricket, missing some prepared piano, cello, contrabass recorder and native Maori instrument hi-jinks plus a seminar or two but returned to the fray on Sunday night at The Silo - which made for a great sounding venue - to witness Infinitesimal use a coupla oscillators, another laptop, a few pedals and some other indeterminate gear to create some pretty spectacular soundscapes from next to nothing. Followed by Tetuzi and Alan plus Aussie Oren Ambarchi taking their three guitars past a tentative start into an intensely loud and symphonic crescendo then simultaneously shifting into a serene neo-silence singing with half-realised, overlapping melodic fragments. They'd never played together previously. All very cool.

Which probably ain't quite the right word for the lovely Bruce Russell who graced us with a solo guitar feedback loop solo show but who also forgot to check the 9 volt batteries in his two indispensable pedals. Forced to eschew the huge, mountainous sonorities he was hoping to create he made the best of a less than perfect situation and set up a delightfully throbbing, snarling, crooning mini-maelstrom of unexpected beauty in their place. He hated it - but will not impede its eventual release on any label that cares to transcribe his tape, these guys are conmen but rigorously honest with it - I thought it was great.

Lastly we were treated to something completely different. Veteran Dutch Aussie free jazz saxplayer Kris Wanders, his Aussie sidekick on sax and a specially imported Wellington rhythm section who'd only all met a few hours before. (I don't have definitive names for the three sidemen) From first blast of pure adrenalised, whiteheat acoustic noise we all knew we were in for a good, good time. Horns rasped and belted, a concatenation of burred frequencies, clashing and embracing, storming the parapets of London Bar Jazz, joined by nanoclusters of unexpected notes from the double bass and the most explosive, propulsive, unrelenting drumming I've ever had the pleasure to hear.

God knows how long it all went, we were all jaw-dropped hysterical at what these substantially acoustic objects were pushing at us. You shoulda heard the bass solo! You shoulda seen the bass solo!! They stopped briefly, Kris muttered something and they went into a second piece, totally unlike the first, more melodic but no less shattering, the drummer a sweaty mess, the second sax serene and calm, Kris all dark eyes and watchful intensity, belying the sonic storm created by his brass bell.

I was forced to admit that pure musicianship, that much-scorned ability, won the day. And the two Wellingtonians were hopelesly young, generations removed from the horn vets. Brilliant! Blatt at its finest.

And there's more to come, the fest don't finish till Monday 12 with highlights including Stefan Neville as Pumice at 6pm for free at Aotea Square - a man you gotta see to believe, harmonium, drums and vocals creating the most intoxicatingly haunting and beautiful drowning dirges and ballads you could ever wish to hear - and Pierre Bastien on Saturday 10 at Artspace at 8pm - a man who makes music outa Meccano, you need to know no more - who Tall Dwarfs played with recently in France.

Read about him, us and our other collaborators in the latest NZ Musician mag or wait till the full article comes online here in a coupla weeks. He's amazing! As are, I imagine, all the other people who I've never heard performing over the next buncha days at this most worthwhile of events.

Call me a hippie. See if I care.