Carter Tutti Void
, March 23rd, 2012 19:07
"Launch me into space" - Nancy Whang/The Juan MacLean
The attraction of a good gig venue to a young mind - whether debutante or dilettante - is obvious. (Or at least this is how it felt to me when I was about 15.) A pitch black room full of weird older people, all angry, serious or drunk. Grilles covering giant speakers, bunches of snaking cables everywhere, mixing desks, monitors, blinking red LEDs everywhere, banks of strobe lights, malfunctioning dry ice machines coughing out belches of fog, mixing with tendrils of cigarette smoke and a haze of stuff possibly even more exotic. A carpet blackened with toxic abuse and awash with the DNA evidence of moral irregularities. A good concert hall to my teen mind was more like the galley or loading bay of some down at heel industrial or merchant class space ship - the kind that would be dreamt up by Andrei Tarkovsky or Ridley Scott - rather than just some licensed room with a stage and a PA down a provincial high street.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that when I was in my mid-teens it didn’t matter primarily who I was watching play loud, live music, so much as it was simply necessary that I was there full stop. The experience of being there - on the cusp of somewhere or something dangerous – especially after a few cans of Special Brew was enough to throw the rest of my life into sharp relief. This was the opposite of something I might do with my parents such as go to a suburban, red brick church, or visit my gran's chintz blitzed house or hang around in Argos for an hour while my dad chose a new ratchet screwdriver.
When we navigate the tricky path between teendom and young adulthood we lose something essential to our appreciation of experiencing live music. Or at least that is how it feels to me. We may feel mortified at how gauche we were just a few years previously but subconsciously many of us will carry on chasing fresh paths back to experiencing live music with virgin ears and eyes again well into our adult lives.
Excessive alcohol or drug consumption is a gateway for some back to teen abandon. So are many forms of excessive physicality associated with concerts such as punishing volume, strobes, light shows, heavy bass and pyrotechnics. But even live soundtracks, gigs played in unusual locations and old albums revisited in full are strategies to combat adult ear fatigue.
One band who place me in a deep space sling shot of sorts nearly every time I see them is Sunn O))) because each gig reminds me of the epiphany I had when I first heard a really loud guitar chord played with distortion through a massive PA, except now the chord has been time stretched and dilated to last for over an hour, is much louder, much heavier and is played by monks.
Sadly, I don’t actually feel like I'm in a space ship any more when at a gig. I'm too used to the interiors of all the venues I visit habitually, my imagination isn’t what it once was and the amount of drugs required to warp my perception to that extent would now probably kill me or render me insane. But under certain circumstances a profound transportation to a different (head) space can still occur. And in this process the concert venue is a vessel of sorts with the music acting as the fuel.
During May last year, the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, North London was home to Short Circuit, a hugely enjoyable weekend long celebration of the MUTE record label. Friday the 13th already featured a formidable line-up including Richie Hawtin, Nitzer Ebb, Richard H Kirk and Alan Wilder’s Recoil, playing in a main room that looked more like the interior of an exploding gasometer frozen in time or a giant bass cone being pointed out at space, than it did a live music venue. But secreted away down a small corridor in the venue’s theatre space – for those who got in early enough at least – an extra special performance was taking place.
A bond developed between Factory Floor and Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti after the former played Cosey Club at the ICA (another fine and much under-appreciated London live venue) on March 27, 2010. At the time the two former Throbbing Gristle members shared a manager (Paul Smith) and a sound guy (Charlie Chicken) with the three piece and they were curious to see them in action. After the show, they realised there were many aesthetic similarities between TG and FF, even if they didn’t sound all that similar. Carter ended up standing in for Factory Floor’s Dom Butler when he took a few months sabbatical during the festival season and Nik Void ended up working on the Transverse project with the couple.
The four ten minute long pieces that were performed at the small space at the Roundhouse Theatre – known simply as ‘V1’ – ‘V4’ – were written and practiced at Carter and Tutti’s converted schoolhouse home/studio in Norfolk and then performed live on the night with all three members using electronics and Tutti and Void playing guitars. (Void also provided vocals that she manipulated with effects.) The way the trio faced the audience under minimal, unchanging white lights, heads down over tables of equipment was not combative but at the same time it didn’t even pay lip service to notions of showmanship or stagecraft. Yet had this tiny space been stage managed by Industrial Light & Magic the intensity of the performance could not have been any greater. (In fact, more to the point, the intensity would probably have been lessened.)
Carter told me recently in an interview that he felt that both guitarists were holding back slightly on the night. This may well be the case but it led to the most delicate of balancing acts in a form of music that is essentially a ballet between the scored and the improvised. The rigid frame work of industrial and techno in this instance provided the framework for freeform noise, as well as no wave and electronic improvisation. The guitars are harmoniously interacting in unison in their search for the disharmonious, the abstract and the abrasive, exploring the space provided intuitively and effectively.
If pressed, before hearing this recording or even knowing this was getting released, I would have happily told you this was one of the best gigs I’d seen in the last five years. So it comes as something of a relief to be able to declare this album utterly remarkable. (Not that the essence of a great gig is necessarily always captured by a mere recording but thankfully it was on this one. Thirty plus listens in and I’m still utterly captivated by Transverse.) But was there more to this inverse perfect storm than just a triumvirate of forward looking, mould breaking musicians being caught on a particularly great night? I’d suggest yes.
The conditions have to be ideal for something of this nature to stand a chance of happening and even then it’s not a given. However, I can guarantee you that there’s no way the blue touch paper would have been lit in any venue with visible sponsorship or branding. It doesn’t matter how good a film with product placement is, it will never be any more than a film with product placement. Actually I’d place money on the fact that any of the live albums or concert bootlegs that I consider worth hearing were recorded in venues completely free from beer or mobile phone branding (with the noble exception of Iron Maiden’s Live After Death no doubt).
Also, 100% of the audience have to be 100% behind the band. No matter how much you want to see a band, how much of a hot ticket it is, no matter how long it has been coming round, no matter how far you have travelled to see it, if even 5% of the audience are there under duress or because they got a freebie or because they simply feel it’s the kind of place they should be seen, then the ephemeral bubble of what these things are will almost certainly burst. (Wait a second, I hear you saying incredulously, is this guy reviewing a live album, bigging himself up for being in the audience? Well yes, I guess I am. Tutti told me in interview that the crowd reaction had been so electrifyingly positive on the night that she had struggled to put it out of her mind and felt in danger of paying more attention to that than the performance.)
Thirdly the venue has to have good sound.
When you actually stop and think about it, it’s a miracle that this gig was allowed - by forces outside of the group's control - to be as good as it was, and miraculous again that we have such a perfect document of it. Put simply, this is one of the most exciting live albums to be released in many, many years.d