Loops within loops
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: SISTER, WORK, laptop Marco Cher-Gibard, electric guitar Ben Speth, lighting, installation Matthew Adey; Old Fire Station, Bendigo, 2 September 2016
Promising the audience an “exceptional, immersive and transcendental experience” with not much else said about the elusively titled Work, collaborators Marco Cher-Gibard and Ben Speth, playing as SISTER, created a piece that displayed not only the connection between performer and medium (laptop processing and guitar) but between the network of performers themselves. I would go so far as to say that with the inclusion of artist Matthew Adey on lighting design and smoke machine, this work represented the synergy of a collaborative trio. The improvisatory nature of their performance, the lighting design, the use of the space—and some free whiskey—made for an absorbing and at times deliciously antagonistic sonic experience for both audience and performers.
The work opens with an unapologetic cacophony of audio feedback as Cher-Gibard swings a microphone back and forth in front of his bass amp. The feedback sits on a layered sound of electric guitar (pitched up) which sounds like distant bells and carillon looped and processed. These harmonics become a feature, emerging in various parts of the work. In quieter sections they evoke an ethereal mood when juxtaposed with the droning bass. The lighting design in the beginning burns red, engulfing the space. Once the audience settles into this meditative sound bed, the improvisation begins with Speth alternating between single tones, chord shapes, noise and scraping strings. These licks/riffs are picked up by Cher-Gibard on his mixer, processed on his amp emulator and fed back into a loop that undulates ceaselessly followed by scraping of guitar strings and the hiss of the smoke machine processed as white noise on the laptop. The lighting design reflects this as coloured gel is removed to expose white light. White noise escalates into thunderous amp feedback and unexpected explosive crackles. Using a drumming algorithm to trigger the drum rack, Cher-Gibard sets off a series of drum patterns that add to the animalistic frenzy of the loop.
Adey scurries around the space, swapping coloured gels, unplugging and re-positioning lights, taking part in the sonic conversation through the medium of light. In a transcendental moment the illumination of yellow light on purple gel evokes a sunset. In the second section, the light turns green, signifying a renewal of energy. The guitar drone emerges again from Cher-Gibard but this time more like a cascading glockenspiel, which Adey then deploys as a rhythmic device for introducing a flickering light pattern. This gradually becomes red alternating with darkness and juxtaposed with a thumping techno-like bass (pitched down guitar) and the sigh of Speth’s guitar as he moves closer to his amp for acoustic feedback. This felt like the climax of Work. The three artists had worked till that point to create this energy around the space by swinging microphones to amps, creating feedback and a loop current. It felt like a culmination of the deep synthesis between the three of them within the context and outcome of the sound and light dialogue they had created through their improvisation.
Towards the end, things got more eardrum-shattering. At one point Cher-Gibard seemed to turn down the level but I suspect that was only so he could highlight the introduction of a new sound idea (a sample of guitar harmonic) to the mix. The end was abrupt but effective, almost like a pull of the plug or a minor explosion, audience leaving with trails of smoke still in the air.
Work, being improvisational, was hard to predict and, safe to say, the feeling was mutual among the performers. At some points, Speth appeared visibly surprised at the direction of their discourse, as was Cher-Gibard when selecting his guitar noise motifs to process.
The alchemical energy generated by the three performers was built from the pulse Cher-Gibard created through his foundational soundscape. He moved to the meditative drone, reiterating the idea of looping sound energy in the space. It became a reference to the Larsen effect, or acoustic feedback, which is a sound loop in itself: a sound loop between audio input and output. This relationship between the loop of listening, feedback, reaction and reflection demonstrated an effective sonic partnership, the chemistry developing a piece that was resonant, electric and loud.
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First published on RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016. Doeanddoe Sound Director, Claudine Michael, was a participant in the 2016 BIFEM Music Writers’ Workshop for five emerging reviewers, conducted by Matthew Lorenzon, whose blog Partial Durations is a joint project with the Managing Editors of RealTime.