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LIVE REPORT: Matana Roberts & Kelly Jayne Jones
Ben Graham , May 14th, 2018 11:17

US saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts and UK sound artist Kelly Jayne Jones play the first show from the Outlands National Experimental Music Touring Network at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion

Photo by Agata Urbaniak

Experimental music is an approach rather than a genre - as soon as it hits upon a working formula for making ‘good’ music and refines that through practice, it ceases to be truly experimental. This is not the case here: Roberts and Jones engage in an ever-evolving dialogue via the manipulation of sounds in an ongoing experiment, investigating notions of what music can be.

Equally inquiring is opening act GOITT: a youthful mad scientist seemingly in search of the fabled 'brown note'. Over throbbing digital loops like Daphne Oram's worst nightmare, suggesting chittering insectoid alien hordes from Alpha Centauri, irritable saxophone blurts grumble querulously. Cavernous bass pulses rattle the cheap seats - and they're all cheap seats - until GOITT takes up the saxophone again and blows classic bop phrases through a delay, letting them hang and decay as a Korg MS-20 is tweaked well out of its comfort zone, embarking on a sonic dirty protest in retaliation.

For the main act, seated behind tables piled high with gadgets and doohickeys, Roberts and Jones begin by reading simultaneous texts, the meaning dissolving in the cross-current of words even as themes rise and dissipate. The rhythm of their speech becomes mere sound, merging with a sonic bed of electronic noise that while never dominant remains unsettling and unpredictable. Jones begins hitting and scraping a lump of rock, while Roberts contributes a saxophone phrase; Jones plays a singing bowl, while Roberts ‘plays’ her saxophone with a tuning fork - or is it the other way around? Everything is grist to the sonic mill, to be sampled, treated and looped, reworked and repurposed.

There are some beautiful glissando flute passages from Jones, but the overall performance rejects the privileging of ‘music’ over a deeper reality of sound, even as our ears and hearts strain to find melody within the resulting collage. Maybe I’m also striving to find meaning - another abstract, relative, human-made thing - where, as in nature, none exists. Rock scrapes against rock; a pure tone; a dying echo. It can be hard-going but, as the spoken text suggests, this is an infinite rehearsal: questions are raised, conclusions are deliberately avoided.

Matana Roberts & Kelly Jayne Jones are playing this week:
Thursday 17 - Peninsula Arts, Plymouth
Friday 18 - Birmingham - Centrala Gallery, Birmingham
Saturday 19 - Manchester - The Portico, Manchester
Sunday 20 - Fuse Art Space, Bradford