:: Graham Dunning
:: SNDSUKINSPOOK :: Pesticide Organica, Fonik and Noise Research ::
15 January 2010 / The Britons Protection / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine
In the centre, there's mainstream music. Move out a couple of steps and you're in alternative music. If the path you're following is an electronic one, keep heading outwards and you'll hit Fuck Buttons, Worriedaboutsatan et al, a little further and you're in the outer orbit of Warp Records or Wotgodforgot's more leftfield sessions. Somewhere here you cross the Autechre/Gescom event horizon, but beyond this is something else, where sound becomes less music in the conventional sense of melody with rhythm, than art installation - which is where you'll find Electronic Organica. Made all the more disorienting by the fact that it takes place not in some ubercool gallery space but in the slightly shabby upstairs room at the Britons Protection amongst chintzy curtains, B&B-spec wallpaper and cushions that look like they're fed on Pedigree Chum.
The first of tonight's three presentations is billed as a new collaboration between Pesticide Organica, Fonik and Noise Research performing improvised avant electronica / concrete with processed reeds and found sound chaos. Fonik hit the MM radar last summer when they managed to be the most fucked up sounding thing at Dry Bar's not inappropriately named Fucked Up All Dayer; "flicking switches and twisting knobs, playing with oscillations to build an abstract sound-picture stripped of any melodic convention.". Tonight one half of the duo is doing much the same thing, although his source material here comes not from the inside of a physics lab but the natural world: birds shriek and water crashes, processed into something altogether more alien as his hands wander around a table containing what looks like the contents of the world's coolest shed. Meanwhile a second artist (I'm not sure who's Pesticide Organica and who's Noise Research) supplies additional layers from a laptop whilst a third adds occasional sax notes. As the piece progresses the ripples become swamp creatures, more layers are added and the sax gradually moves into free jazz territory. We don't know it yet, but this intricate and fascinating work is also the closest tonight will come to those traditional definitions of music.
After a short break and a dash downstairs to recharge drinks and check there is still a normal city centre pub down there somewhere - albeit one where one of The Plague Doctors is discussing the legality of nine pin bowling in the beer garden - the second act is starting quietly. Very quietly. It's not even immediately apparent at exactly which point he has finished testing connections and started playing; soon however the audience falls silent for the ambient sounds of SNDSUKINSPOOK. At first it's like the clicks and pops of old vinyl overlaid with gentle water sounds, before shifting gradually into pure oscillation, still at whispering volume but punctuated by crackles like someone scrumpling cellophane inside your head. Somehow, he manages to create a sound that is simultaneously as relaxing as a yoga teacher's CD collection and disturbing as a psycho thriller. "Here we are at the... middle of the... fourth large part of this talk and.... again and again I have the feeling we're... getting nowhere..." intones a voice sample. We are going somewhere, though, as the sound transforms into the clanking ghosts of industry and dead factories - or am I just hearing my own subconscious thoughts like some sonic Rorschach picture? This is, of course, exactly what good ambient-abstract music should do. Music? Of course it is. That many would disagree is akin to those who think "paintings" should be pretty pictures and sneer at Rothko's oblongs.
The final performance is from Manchester's premier analogue craftsman Graham Dunning. Sometimes to be found pushing the art-noisecore boundaries with Blood Moon, other times creating audiovisual artworks involving, for example, shattering bottles or one astonishing piece whereby he runs a stick along a very long metal railing to observe the changes in pitch and rhythm, his imagination seems boundless. Tonight he is extending the music-art sphere to include engineering; no computers here, but the three turntables and a variety of microphones and sliders look intriguing. The records in his box are not records as we know them; they're field recordings pressed onto dubplates. We recognise a bit of the railings in there as he manipulates the speeds; natural objects become sine waves, human voices machines. And then he's dropping marbles onto one of the turntables, their bright colours dancing as the needle skips under and over them and the clatter feeds through levels of processing. The abstract and the ambient might sound strange to unprepared ears but this genuinely sounds like nothing we have ever heard before. As he brings the relatively short piece to a close there's a pause while people try and process what they have heard, and then a standing ovation. Yes, it's a handful of people who would rather spend a Friday night listening to largely indescribable noises amongst furry scatter-cushions than, I dunno, go to a multiplex and eat popcorn, but none of them are going to forget this astonishing performance in a hurry.
Watch Graham Dunning's "Long Railing" film here...