The Room of Grey

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More from the Miguel A. García package of 11 August 2014. Radical Demos #4 (OBS RD#4) contains three CDRs of music described as “live/improv, sensory electroacoustics, noise”, and showcases a number of contemporary talents, released on a curious Russian micro-label called Observatoire and minimally packaged in a consistently grey colour scheme throughout.

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The first item’s a group coalition, featuring Antez, Mathieu Calleja, García and Artur Vidal, calling themselves Malasaña for this outing. Malasaña is a thriving part of Madrid which can safely claim to be as hip as the Lower East Side, Brixton Market and Brighton’s Trafalgar Street put together. More to the point, it has a proud history of “unrest and civil disobedience”, going back to the time of Goya. In this hymn to the glories of the fallen of Malasaña, two percussionists, electronic fizz, and a saxophone are used; it’s like a slower and colder version of AMM with added digital scrunch, but the team gradually begin to thaw out and deposit huge chunks of ice in the frozen waters. These long and portentous groaning tones, with a lot of metallic flavour in mix, tend to create the impression of solemn cranes hauling bundles of stern frowning men from the cargo hold of a gigantic container ship onto the harbourside. There’s a world shortage of “seriousness” now; poorer countries have to import it in bulk, conforming to international trade agreements, or even worse they must attempt to smuggle it in.

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Hamburg composer Gregory Büttner continues his preoccupation with “small sounds”, this time producing his sound art using the needles of a cactus. His ‘Kaktus’ is a microscopic five-act play, using editing and sine waves to reconfigure the basic sounds he recorded of himself “playing” cactus needles, tweaking and flicking them with his delicate fingertips (he rents out his left pinky to the Hamburg-Eppendorf medical centre on weekends, where they use it as a surgical tool). I think it’s not unfitting that his photograph here depicts the shadow of a cactus, rather than the real thing. That’s because we’re hearing strangely transmuted phantoms of reality. Oddly enough, they continue to convey the true prickly essence of these green spiky bastards. I ought to know…when you get the prickles from one of these vengeful desert monsters, they’re with you for life. If Büttner cultivated a garden of these things, then it’s dollars to doughnuts he’d insist on Blossfeldia liliputana, the South American plant which has the distinction of being the smallest cactus in the world.

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Héctor Rey is a Bilbao musician whose name is new to me, but his ‘Myxini’ from 2012 is quite fascinating. Nothing is revealed about his methodology, but since I love to make wild guesses, I’ll plump for a heavily amplified acoustic guitar string combined with some workaday laptop buzzery. The steel and grain of that string just leaps out as clear as a bell. Come to that, maybe he went to the monastery in nearby Cantabria and asked to borrow their incense bells for the occasion. Pound for pound, he’s certainly getting more resonance from his plucks than Büttner with his wimpy cactus spines. Maybe Gregory should have used those needles to play some old 78s instead. What I like about Rey’s work is his very hesitancy to make an utterance, until he’s fairly confident he knows what he’s talking about. This may leave awkward gaps in the performance, but they add to the tension. Of the three acts on offer here, I’ll award Héctor Rey the golden set-square for the precision and gravity of his statements.