sonic london research

Cafe OTO is an entertainment venue for the unusual and non-mainstream musical interests. One reviewer describes it as a “hipsterlicious blend of chin stroking art and avant garde music. The stuff they play is not for me, or many other music fans, but I think it is important that such hosts and artists exist. Music is changing all the time and if it means we hear tripe like Justin Bieber or the latest product of Simon Cowell’s tune murdering factory a bit less because it’s getting droned out by freeform jazz or whatever, all the better for it.

As part of our primary research expedition, we saw the electronic musician known as Surgeon (Anthony Child) at Cafe OTO. His electronica is a mix of audio and visual, none of it is easy on the senses. Pulses and hissing noises are interrupted by strong reverb and crackly static and blips. It’s not a pleasant relaxing rhythm like a heartbeat or inducing a gentle motion like the sea, but jerky and actually quite stressful, especially by the time it reaches a massive crescendo towards the end. Surgeon was collaborating with Ali Wade, a photographer and videographer. Wade’s visuals certainly helped me better understand the music but not necessarily enjoy it more.

The constructed sounds and beats can seem a bit screechy and random. In truth, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about a presence of maths or hi-tech planning in putting it all together. Some of it is beyond me, like quadratic equations. I think this music is meant to be absorbed, not listened to. Perhaps this is one reason why we didn’t get as much out of it as some of the audience and Surgeon‘s followers. Another might be the fact that we don’t all appreciate the listing of audio equipment used in the evening’s performance. I didn’t realise these things mattered. Just in case you’re wondering:

  • Buchla Music Easel synthesizer (apparently an uncommon sight)
  • Electro Harmonix 45000
  • Strymon blueSky
  • Sony PCM-D50 recorder

The warm-up act was Phil Julian and John Macedo, displaying advanced manipulation of synth noises and electronica. These two only made sounds and performed without any other visual stimuli. Having investigated their work online, I’ve learned that John Macedo has quite an interesting approach to music and creates most of his own sound material.

Also on the Cafe Oto playlist is Limpe Fuchs, German percussionist who prefers to define herself as an acoustic and visual artist. On her website, she describes bringing about the musical memory of those she improvises with, compared to the interpreting musicians that work from [other people’s] paper. Fuch’s sound is generated by playing traditional stringed and percussion instruments, like the organ, violin and drums, and interspersing them with her granite block inventions and bronze basins, and is quite innovative with the results. ‘Sounding stones’ are shaped and tuned bits of the geological world producing primal ringing tones. Her early work and invented instruments in the 60s and 70s with husband Paul was influential on the Krautrock scene and can be heard on Fuchshorn es tropft…

Fuchs, Macedo and Surgeon are examples of how experimental and unstructured music is not new and that the avant-garde really can be the beginning of something. Most of us are too limited in our outlook to see/hear how it can be taken further.


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