This concert was scheduled for the day after the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival ended, underlining the fact that original music can’t be boxed-in by a calendar.
I walked in for the final minutes of Erin Sexton’s set. Exploring the thresholds of pure noise, Sexton’s performance was one of crunchy crackles, whizzy whistles and gut shaking rumbles. A small video camera pointing at her hands and the interesting objects she was manipulating projected onto a large screen above the stage and gave the performance a refreshing directness.
I was very keen about hearing Susan Alcorn perform live, being a huge fan of pedal steel guitar. For those who may not know pedal steel outside of its de-rigueur presence in country and western music, it is possibly one of the most difficult musical instruments to play, what with its multiple pitch-shifting pedals and knee-levers, foot operated volume control and non-tempered strings. Alcorn, seated centre stage at her impressive looking instrument, began her performance with fragmented melodic passages referencing classic C&W riffs, eventually strumming out more complicated textures. Her set was crowned by a beautiful long passage that was reminiscent of French impressionistic music of the early twentieth century: shifting chords and a roller coaster ride of tension and resolution, like the musical equivalent of a three dimensional kaleidoscope. There were three or four moments when Alcorn performed short stringent and loud improvisations, which I found to be jarring and out of context with the rest of her music, but appreciated that she was taking risks making her instrument produce sounds it was not intended to.
The night was capped by a performance by Andrea Jane Cornell. Standing in front of the stage behind an interesting assemblage of hi and low-tech objects (laptop, accordion, a spaghetti mess of cables and doo-dads), she started with a series of low hums accompanying fragments of the song “ The First Time I Saw Your Face” interpreted by Roberta Flack, which sounded like it was coming from a time machine damaged transistor radio. A succession of overlapping tones and field-recordings of birds, wind, and rain produced a calm/tense atmosphere, recalling the soundtracks in some of David Lynch’s better movies. The sound voyage continued with Cornell panting into a mic with spooky echo (à la Inuit throat singing), shifting pure sine tones, squeeze-box and very pretty old-timey analogue-sequencer riffs, always with a background of low-end rumbles and drones. The performance conjured a dust-bowl era carnival heard through mescaline-tinted earphones. It was impossible to gauge how much of Cornell’s set was improvised: the entire performance had a very cinematic and highly orchestrated emotional development, all the more impressive by the fact that the anachronistic hodge podge of stuff she used meshed seamlessly from one sound to the next.
A night of beautiful and engaging sounds, I highly recommend seeking out the music of these three performers. Satisfaction guaranteed.
– Marc Montanchez