As smoke rises from the floor, so does the sound from Jan Jelinek's modular setup — illuminated by a single white spotlight — hard to describe, almost white noise; but pleasing. As the crowd take their seats and gather themselves, becoming acquainted with the ornate venue's stain-glass windows and wholesome aura, the sound develops. This ambience, finely tweaked and modulated, already has people in eyes-closed engrossment. Comforted by the scene of my peers also feeling the power of this obscure, elongated note...I lean back in my pew and let it soak in.
Jelinek is most famous for his hypnotic seminal 2001 LP Loop-finding-jazz-records, consisting of melodic, minimal beats supplemented by jazz samples morphed and skewed beyond recognition. From the offset it was clear we were in for something far less structured and more experimental; I became very excited.
The general murmur of the crowd quells almost simultaneously with the introduction of a rhythmic bleep. As the bleep integrates, a blop accompanies, and just like that heads are bobbing and thoughts were swirling. The two notes almost in conversation — call and reply — starts to create a circling sensation in the soundscape which was very surreally mimicked by the enshrouding smoke, spiralling up in a vortex toward the ceiling. Building on this, Jan eases in some hauntingly warbled, warped voices, adding a distorted human connection. From nowhere another duet came in to force, this time from the outer nebula. The chapel reverberates to the sound of outer realm spaceships, all familiarity dissolves, the spaceships ready to blast and we have a one way ticket. A heavy beat is teased, the energy builds, is the spaceship about to launch into a thumping electro jam?
All energy dissipates into a solid, anti-climatic sine wave.
It's a good time to mention that this whole excursion has been a solid soundscape, in the whole (I check my watch) 45 minutes?! No break in sound, a solid but continually distorting landscape. A very impressive feeling and display that I have little to compare with, completely breaking down the boundaries of traditional song structure; a single vibe that you can truly lose yourself in.
As the sine wave grew, the bass swelled, teased, and warped to a distorted voice. As the low ends intensified, the voice gained clarity to share a closing nod to the current climate of data-distrust: “To prevent further damage …this virus is sending your credit card details… *inaudible*… Facebook” With that a resounding round of applause.
An interval was well needed to collect and process, before the main performance from Midori Takada. A groundbreaking, pioneering Japanese artist who made waves in the 80’s, breaking through in a male-dominated, minimalistic ambient scene. Her first, and most famous record, 1983's Through the Looking Glass, is nothing short of a masterpiece, an adventure through her lucid dreamscape. Recorded in just 2 days, Midori played all the instruments herself, including marimbas, gongs, ocarinas and even Coca-Cola bottles! She once proclaimed “Everything that exists on this earth has a sound, even if humans don’t call it an instrument, on this earth, there exists a significant vibrancy.”
A subtle chime as her introduction, Midori eased through the centre of the pews, supplementing her movement with chimes on hand cymbals, almost masking her transition through space with a bigger movement of sound. Gradually moving her presence to the magnificent gong nestled to the left of the stage. She gathers — what appears to me — as two almighty cotton balls on sticks (gong hammer) - and tenderly hammered some notes. Gradually building up and up, the resonant sounds amplified by the grand Union Chapel. As to go a step further, more intimate, she sets down the hammers and massages the side of a still-sounding gong. Calmly keeping the note in balance, she moves it in her palm, from one side to the other. The pin point accuracy to which she manipulates such minute vibrations, with such precise control, is a testament to her intimate relationship with the sound; I was in awe.
After playing out a section of the gong, getting the show off with a bang, she drifts across to the great marimba on the right, a vast selection of horizontal wooden bars laid out across vertical resonating pipes. From here she engages in an almost theatrical display, reciting esoteric stories of wisdom, freedom and self-development before reminiscing childhood. "Practicing the perfect perception, perpetuating the five elements of all things - emptiness is in fact form” she wailes whilst chiming excitable, precise marimba notes. This was my favourite section of the show, the dancing rhythm and rapid change of pass, made possible through exquisite technique (grasping four hammers at a time to allow the playing of multiple notes), accompanied by thought provoking poems really galvanised my imagination and brought me deep into Midori's world.
The rest of the performance, although equally controlled, left me a little waining. The selection of cymbals, still struck with absolute control and precision, lost my attention. Midori managed an amazing feet carrying the performance through as a solo percussionist, but I felt that the subtler, more minimal, sections were a bit lost in the large space within of the Union Chapel. I saw a similar set from Midori in tiny Cafe OTO last year where the intensity levels felt almost fever pitch, barely having time to absorb the sounds before the next section. The larger space did whoever allow more expression through movement; I had not appreciated the elegant and deliberate nature of her physical transitions through the performance.
The finale was nothing short of sensational - back to the gong, she gradually builds up the tempo and then starts pivoting 360 on the spot, striking two vertically mounted toms. Her ritualistic ferocity unfurls and builds to a climax of catharsis with a resounding GONG. The crowd, almost shellshocked with the power, break out slightly hesitantly into a raucous round of applause, an air of genuine appreciation for this visionary artist and moving performance.
Up next, Krankbrother are hosting William Basinski & Fennesz at Union Chapel on 31st May. Not to be missed, grab your tickets here - https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/1088044