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LIVE REPORT: Merzbow/Gustafsson/Pándi and Tim Hecker
Tristan Bath , May 13th, 2014 11:58

Tristan Bath reports from a noise ridden night at Oval Space that reduces crowd goers to punching their own chests. Photo by David Jones

As Monday night entertainment goes, the lineup on this unseasonably warm mid-April eve is going to be some of the most brain smashingly severe. Just after the sun has set behind the dominating gas silos behind the Oval Space, 45 minutes of improvised free noise is due from the trio of Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson and Balázs Pándi, to be followed by a set from Canada's top laptop abstractionist, Tim Hecker. Both acts paint in staunch opaque shades that threaten to burst every speaker in the room, yet they are for all intents and purposes inversions of one another. The noisy trio assaults the senses and destroys all neuroses in the room, while Hecker's overbearing sound sculptures allure the crowd and tap into a collective unconscious. It's noise versus music, good versus evil, Jung versus Freud all over again. As always, those fluid boundaries blur - and even more so in such quick succession.

Anybody who has heard either the trio's Cuts album, or any of the previously released duets between Merzbow and drummer Balázs Pándi will know the music is very much defined by the Japanese noise originator's presence. For sure, Balázs Pándi's propulsive madman power rhythms (previously documented in Jamie Saft's free-metal Slobber Pup project and Pándi's own Rope Cosmetology) aline him very much in the vein of full heaviosity when it comes to improvising, while the quite literally countless projects of saxophonist Gustafsson are almost an encyclopedic walk through varying degrees of musical abrasiveness - yet both players do still come from a place inhabited by semblances of melody and 'music'. The sheer nihilistic rejection of music as music, save perhaps some aspects of rhythm and texture, is what Merzbow is, and the trio tend to improvise with this very much in mind.

Their set opens with a wall of white noise. Merzbow stands to the right strumming away at what looks like a gutted, miniaturised guitar plugged into a complex of anonymous digital detritus, while Gustafsson's bent over a sea of pedals and keys, blasting out fuzz from the hefty amps behind. Pándi starts riding the toms, tracing out headbangable figures for the throngs of hoodied noise heads. The reaction from the crowd is zealous to say the least, going beyond the omnipresent appreciative nod. One bespectacled East Londoner was so "into it" he gets tired from punching his own chest, only to make his girlfriend take over (she seems more than happy to oblige).

Pándi drops in and out as the jam requires, with Gustafsson's keys taking a turn towards the occasionally doom-esque drones heard in his Fire! project as the drummer slows his pace, Merzbow all the while spewing mercilessly from his tabletop setup of god knows what. The Swede picks up a sax and clarinet at different points throughout the set, steering the sound from rhythmic white noise to more coloured abrasiveness centred around the man's signature post-Brötzmann parps, and menacingly beautiful string like tones respectively. After several crescendos, the trio eventually steer things back down to earth, settling on the same wall of white noise they opened with, however it seems this time almost tame in comparison to the earsplitting heights of the set's central half. Ultimately, "noise" is an ironic name for this music, as that's exactly what it proves itself not to be.

Since Monday, the trio have in fact announced their name here on out is to be the much simpler Cuts via Merzbow's official Facebook page "with many future plans and releases coming up". The excellent news comes not long after sharing images of the group having recorded earlier in the week with none other than Thurston Moore here in London. So, truly stellar news all round for improvised noise this week.

Having been present at the mass Tim Hecker gave last year at St. John-at-Hackney church around the time the much lauded Virgins got its release, I think I know what to expect from Hecker's show. On cue he takes the stage, the room plunged to near pitch black, the Canadian's silhouette barely discernible behind a miniscule tabletop setup. Two key factors separate the Oval Space and St. John sets - firstly, the space of the church itself lent a cavernous additional layer of ambience to last year's performance, with a much larger gap between the speakers, and further gaping space between them and the walls for Hecker's opaque ambience to bounce around in. The Oval Space is conversely somewhat more intimate, the stereo field shrunk and the sound blunter. Secondly though, this evening's music continues with the ensuing darkness that's permeated Hecker's post-Ravedeath output. While much of the luminescent synths and zither esque virginal tones ricochet through the room familiarly, the alien sounds of bone crunching and meat appear, as do the most melancholy piano samples in the artist's arsenal.

The set could be arbitrarily divided into passages, but is better thought of as one long whole. Loops hint at rhythms, threatening to emerge, but never quite fully forming as they drop out of phase as quickly as dropping in. One decisive moment sees Hecker tease us with extended silence, stretching it as long as possible before introducing streams of effervescent synths. In stark contrast to the openers, turning one's back to observe reveals a sea of closed eyes rather than banging heads. The darkness and menace of the set, punctuated by the titular speaker-blasting stabs and sound effects from Virgins' 'Stab Variation' eventually dissolve into a reverent, extended finale of sustained drones, and finally applause. Physically, mentally, and sonically exhausted, we head home from an evening of guitarless amplifier worship. Off to face everyday banality - where noise remains sadly just precisely that.