Points of Failure
Tresor, Linz. 8.3.22
It was one of those situations where loads of technical stuff was laid out on the floor by a bloke in a coat who, at a certain point, was going to start turning the bits of stuff on and off again. It was going to last a certain amount of time. I was going to hear and see all that technical stuff doing its thing, choreographed by the bloke in the coat. He might ‘play’ a few things. But it looked like he would mostly be managing on/off switches. It was another sound art performance in Linz!!! I had committed to it. Now it was a simple question of whether it was going to be any good or not.
More often than not they’re bad. The value is placed on the stuff, but little attention is paid to musical ideas like composition, duration or even, heaven forbid, melody. You sit through it, you get bored in a wary way, concerned there might be a sonic spike that further ruins your precious ear drums. Having had enough of the bloke, your eyes glaze over and you patiently wait for it to end, meanwhile entertaining yourself by watching the other people sitting around, trying to work out if they are genuinely enjoying it, or if they’re rather there to look cool and pretend they know shit about jack, rather than the opposite.
It turned out good! Hence this waffle.
The stuff was comprised of little motors attached to dangly things, various plastic and glass bowls, a couple of dangerous looking circuitry blocks, some sachets of bath sparkle, an oil drum, some light bulbs, lots of cables, some gaffa tape, a mixing desk and so on. It was time to start:
The coated bloke, Tim Shaw, turned some little motors on. They were attached to floppy lengths with dangly bits at their ends. They kind of wound themselves around their own motors, the wappy dangly things dinking at an increasing frequency until they found their equilibrium. The sounds fit together ok, their cyclical dinks kind of chiming. It was a good start - my eyes and ears were both happy.
Shaw turned some other stuff on. A device that sounded a bit like a late 90’s internet router laid down its familiar watery burbling anti-tune. A low-hanging light bulb flickered briefly to life and went out again. He fiddled with the mixer. A kind of groove stabilised. Sounds rose up and dove down. It was nice, once you let go of the need for 4/4 time or an actual tune that my regular listening has engraved. I was happy, and glad I'd made it out.
Then he poured some water into a big wide bowl. There was a contact mike in the bowl. This sounded good too, glugging in. He adjusted some of the whirling bits - one of which had wrapped itself up too tight and stopped functioning - so that their dangles klangled the bowl of water. This also sounded good - decent gonging clongs, and was fun to watch. I liked his attention to detail, rescuing the suffocated spinner. Then he wandered over and turned the light out.
The stuff kept on doing its thing in the dark, its collective industry continuing at night.
He approached the blocky chunks of circuitry. Each one came to life with a horrible, dangerous crackling sound, sparking electricity jumping between their pronged ends aggressively in the dark. Handling them slightly too casually for my taste, Shaw set all three of them off, one after another. Their tones intertwining, their sparks proximal. They lit the scene up : electric white on his hands, on the water, on the oil drum, on the watching faces. This went on for a while. We dug it, our brains flickering.
I think at this point he fiddled more with the light bulb and the mixer so that its came on and off again too. But that might have been later. After long enough but not too long Shaw turned the lights back on again.
He added the popping candy to the water. It too started to crackle. He turned off the spark gaps. Then the light again. The whole space was buzzing and fizzing like mad, late stage capitalism, going on and on relentlessly with no sense. He fiddled around with something on a string for a moment. The light came on again. A spray can started to spin round on a string, its discharging contents propelling it round in a tight loop, much to the horror of the people sitting nearest. The gaffa holding the nozzle down unstuck and its spin petered out, half finished, anti-climactic.
Waiting whilst all the things did their do, Shaw fiddled more with the mixer, reducing sliders appropriately. Eventually he added a bit more water, glugging it into the bowl. The popping candy stopped. He turned a few more things off. The internet gurgled and g-gonged its last. Things seemed a little uncertain. Shaw waited some more. Paid attention. Moved over and re-affixed the gaffa, its neighbours edging warily backwards, prepared for the worst. The spray can span! It puffed out a white something into a circle of nothingness, spewing its contents out in a constrained burst of mad energy until the can went dry.
One by one the spinners were turned off.
I enjoyed it. Nothing outstayed its welcome. There was always something to look at. Just how I like my entertainment. The sounds were interesting, and had moments of actual niceness. There were various allegories to be drawn, but each thing was also fine in its thingness - interesting to puzzle over and listen to. The space was brought in to play its part, everything arranged neatly around us. The light connecting Shaw to the walls. The audience were given various moments of tension, release and continuity. It was like a decent piece of theatre really, with tiny little self made performers. Thanks very much, Fischli und Weiss, Pierre Berthet & Rie Nakajima, various other influences I have no idea about, Tresor, and of course, Tim Shaw.