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Monday, March 13, 2017

Lines of Flight Festival - 9-11 March 2017, Dunedin

The Lines of Flight festival is part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival, although the Lines of Flight itself has been going since 2000. Three days, four presentations of noise, experimental sound art and improvisations, no actual music was played during the event. Actually that is not true, there were four acts that did actually play songs with beats and melodies, but I'll get to that later.

I had not heard of Lines of Flight before even though this biennial event was now 17 years old, but these things are very low key and the audiences are pretty small. I was alerted to the event by a passionate New Zealand music fan and a appercionardo of drony weird music, Chris Walker, the DJ of the Waiheke Radio's "Counting The Beat" podcast, of which I listen to regularly. Chris posted the event on Facbook and I decided I was keen to go, not just for the event but also to go vinyl shopping in Dunedin and also to meet the man himself.

The first night was held at the Dunedin Art Gallery in the Octagon, on a mezzanine floor above the main lobby. I had a front row seat as a pretty good crowd seated them selves down for the evenings weirdness. Chris soon turned up and joined me for our first meeting and a quick conversation before the first act.
 Hermione Johnson was up first. A fairly young lady who has a background in Classical composition and plays piano. This night she played what I guess was an improvised piece on prepared piano and what a ferocious piece it was with her pounding the keys lightning fast as well as using elbows and forearms. During a quiet moment she was stroking the sticks and wires use to prepare the piano, creating lovey airy tones before thundering back into the keys. It was a very impressive noise and I was pretty stunned with the result. Magnificent. Peter Porteous( the event organiser) Then said it was the best opening act they had had. I didn't take any pictures as they did ask to turn off phones for the concert. The video below is from the 2012 Lines of Flight although I thought her performance this time was better than what I hear on this video,

Next up was a duo of a man on drums and a woman on sax, called Sewage. They played an awesome free jazz set with the young lady improvising on both violin and sax with some added screams. This was the first time I had actually seen live free jazz and I was really impressed.  Their hals hour set went very quick and I was sad to see them finish.

The third act for the night was a fellow called Johnny Marks, who I also understand is part of a fantastic New Zealand band called All Seeing Hand. This guy is a throat singer. His act was him using a box of electronics to make some pretty cool electronic pulses and throbbing and other sounds while using his throat singing techniques to vocalise over the top, it was pretty cool sounding and quite dark, especially when he started vocalising some very dark lyrics over the electronic sounds, An intense set and was impressed how much vocalisation went into the piece. Another great set for the night. Below is a video of Marks in Wellington in 2013 using different instrument for the musical accompaniment. 

The final piece of the evening was by French artist Jerome Noetinger a sonic artist of some international repute. This man played a Reel to Reel tape machine. I was pretty impressed, it was just as interesting watching him work as listening to the weird soundscape he created. The video below describes what I saw far better than I could, of course the show we saw sounded different but it shows his technique.  

Overall it was a fabulous night, better than I thought it could be and highly educational. I have sometimes struggled with some of these types of sound art on recordings but they do make much more sense in a live setting. The art galley was a superb setting for this exhibition and there was some pretty cool echos adding to the sound effects.

The second night was held at a different venue. Still in the Octagon, this time were were in a very old and rundown small theater, next to the wonderful Regent Theater. A smaller venue but also a slightly smaller audience this night, the evening started later than advertised, as usual, with things finally kicking off  about half an hour late(a pattern for the weekend) with a young lady going under the title of Smith. She sat near the edge of the stage on the floor in semi darkness with two microphones and some electronics and proceeded to present us with a quite intense collage of sound effects and vocalisations looped and doubled up several times. was quite an interesting sound collage.

Next up was Eye, a three piece "Band" with drums, guitar and electronics. The event organiser Peter Porteous was in this group. These guys set up a drone with some vocalisations which built until the drums chimed in with some ferocious intensity and volume. Pretty dam cool.
The Video below is Eye at Chicks Hotel in port Chalmers 2012.

The third act was a lot more quite than the wall of noise we got from Eye, Motoko Kikkawa and Jo Osborne playing Violin(Motoko) and cello (Jo). Jo set up the drone with her cello with Motoko supporting before adding some other embellishments with the violin. The piece did have a classical feel to it and some nice violin sounds and Motoko vocalising in Japanese. I enjoyed the start of the piece but found myself losing concentration on the piece later on.

Act four was the infamous Bruce Russell, main protagonist with legendary sonic noise band The Dead C. Bruce set up some sort of feedback drone with his guitar and effects and spent a very busy half hour moving from one pedal to another and plugging and unplugging cords and some knob fiddling. I couldn't always discern sonic changes when he did something but it was cool to watch him at work and the drone was always interesting. I did catch a short clip of his piece.

While Bruce was still assaulting our ears with that incredible noise, Robbie Yates, the drummer of the next act, BYG, snuck on the stage and started looking round by his kit and slapped his cymbals with his hand a couple of times before sneaking off the stage again. The rest of the members of BYG(Alastair Galbraith/Robbie Yeats/Mick elBorrado/Reg Norris) sauntered on to the stage and started setting up and playing while Bruce was still packing up his gear. I though perhaps things were running behind schedule and they wanted to get on with it before going over the stated finish time(which they did most nights), but I found out later that the intention was for Robbie to start in with his drums while bruce was still making his noise and the rest of BYG would come on and the five of them would play together as they had apparently done in the past at some point under the name A Handful Of Dust. Unfortunately Robbie could not find his drumsticks so that all kinda fell apart. The four members of BYG were playing as Bruce finished packing up and created a bloody heavy wall of noisy rock music(yes, actual music was played by this group in a conventional sense). It was bloody loud and Alastair's singing was pretty hard to discern over the other instruments but I got that there was some pretty good melodies happening in this heavy music and the fellas were getting right into it. Chris was over the moon as it turned out they were doing songs from two of Alastair's earlier  bands, The  Rip, and Plagal Grind, to bands that Chris really liked but I was not really familiar with their music. The set was bloody great though and it was a kind of very heavy rock I had not heard played like that before. Below is a live clip of Plagal Grind some time in the 90's which gives a little taste of what we heard that night.

Day three, Saturday and the festival moved to Port Chalmers and a dingy old hall called The Anteroom. Two shows were to be performed this day with a total of  nine acts.
The first of the afternoon session was LSD Fundraiser a solo dude in a balaclava with a guitar and another guitar like instrument that he used to set up his drones. I think it was for this one that I just closed my eyes and let the drone and it's manipulations wash over me like a meditation, it was quite pleasant.
 Teen Haters are a duo (guy and girl) from my neck of the woods(Christchurch) I think they were interesting but already my memory is fading as to what that actually did. Another drone like piece but like all the others had it's own idiosyncrasies and originality. For some reason though what they did hasn't stuck in my mind like some of the others.
 The next act I will never forget though, Hermione Johnson was back this time with a drummer and she was playing an old casiotone keyboard put through some effects to make it sound like some cheesy 1950's electric organ or something, it was supercool and Hermione played some great little melodies with the drummer playing along like Meg White. An excellent set. I got two shot clips of them.

The last of the afternoon sets was called Fuck Buttons with Michael Morley from The Dead C and another player both sitting on the back of the low stage with towels over their heads manipulating electronic gadgets to create their soundscape. With some of the sounds they were making I kept waiting for them to play the 5 notes from Close Encounters, I also was evoked to remember the early minimal works of Philip Glass while meditating on their sounds.

We had about 2 hours to kill before the last presentation so asconded down to a lovely old pub overlooking the port for a few drinks and a check up on the cricket before fish n' chips for tea.

First act of the evening was a young  Canadian woman going under the performing name of Blanket. She was travelling New Zealand for several weeks and playing the occasional show when she could. She had a show lined up in Dunedin on this weekend but when told that much of her intended audience would probably be at Lines Of Flight, she asked to join the festival. Another act with a box of electronics which she manipulated to create her sound art. I don't quite remember what she actually produce that night now, so many acts getting to be a blur but none of what I saw over the whole weekend had me going that was bloody horrible or anything. All the acts were interesting and engaging.

Rachel Shearer was next and Chris informs me that she has been around quite a while and played in some local groups. She was sitting at a desk with a laptop to create her sonic art. Her piece started of with a static sort of drone which sounded a bit like air escaping from an air compressor but with a static crackley timbre to it. i wonder if it was suppose to approximate rain, especially as she played some waves gently crashing at one point. The static drone went on for quite a while and I was loosing my interest until she started to change things up and the piece morphed into a more industrial sounding soundscape which I enjoyed much more. Below is a clip of Rachel from 2013 from the Audio foundation.

There was a pretty good crowd in the hall this night in anticipation of the next two acts. first up was The Negative Nancies, two girls, one on drums and one on keys joined by Mick elBorrado on guitar as they pumped out a very raw and primitive set of tunes. Pretty up tempo mostly very amaturest bur most enjoyable. My only gripe was the keys were hard to discern over the guitar and drums and the vocals were pretty distorted but they were bloody excellent and great fun. A taste below from this Audio Foundation video from earlier in the year.

The next band could almost be called the headline act of the festival. I think they are one of the best and most creative bands in the country at present. A proper band playing real music(sic) with three full albums under their belt, I had been in anticipation of seeing them all weekend. Orchestra of Spheres are a four piece of two women on Keys and electronics and vocals and  two blokes on drums and Oud? A funky afro inflected dance band, they were almost out of place here but who cares. Their set was short, although the longest of the night, and they stretched out the songs quite a bit and had a real cool groove going. The drummer is fantastic and the guitarist plays his oud like Jimi Hendrix. Best of all they did Sun Ra's Rocket #9. Phenomenal. Below is a live clip from 2013.

The night and the festival finished with Jeff Henderson, I know very little of Henderson or what to expect. Here is what happened. After OOS the crowd thinned a bit, Jeff then went round handing out clacking spoons and recorders to random people and told everyone to do what ever they wanted with them but not to stop until it was over. He then wandered round the hall with his sax blowing quietly and freely along with the noise created bu the audience. There was some nice freeform recorder playing from one of the other musicians in the audience and some were getting quite creative with their clackers. Jeff's blowing really didn't do much for me and because he wasn't miked he was hard to hear a lot of the time. Not really the John Gilmore free blowing I was hoping for. I said to Chris after it could have been pretty interesting if the participants had of kinda synched together and maybe created a recorder drone against the clackers or something, I could imagine this happening but it didn't this night.

Overall, I had a fantastic festival and learned a considerable amount about this form of sound art and how to appreciate it better. Looking forward to the next one.

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