Day one of the Instal experimental music festival contained a lot of pleasant surprises and no unpleasant ones. It existed well beyond the boundaries of music in parts. Day two pushed things even further out, but this time fell squarely flat on its arse. More about that later.
The proceedings at the Arches were divided into two more or less separate shows: Translation at 4 o’clock and Energy Births Form at 7.30. The former had little to do with music at all. The first piece was underway, deliberately so, by the time the doors opened – one of its precepts being that it didn’t matter at what point you arrived. Spinners is a play-cum-duologue-cum-conceptual art piece that involves two guys in suits on exercise bikes reading a text whilst peddling away furiously. The conceit of the bikes gives it a breathless quality, and the text is made up of passages by the likes of Andy Warhol, John Cage and others of that ilk. Sometimes the two cyclists would take it in turns to read, at others do it simultaneously. It was actually pretty good – especially when they talked over each other. You could tune your ears to one or the other speaker and get some quite bizarre juxtapositions, like overhearing two conversations at once. It was billed as ‘Extreme Reading’ which is like extreme ironing only more intellectual, I guess.
Junko Hiroshige of the Incapacitants, Blood Stereo’s Dylan Nyoukis and a third vocalist (whose name I don’t know) were up next: basically making silly noises and having it played back at them, electronically warped. Hiroshige seems to have two volume settings – loud and ear-splitting. It’s really disconcerting listening to her.
Jarrod Fowler had what had to be one of the best introductions I’ve ever seen. “How ya doing Glasgow” he yelled amiably, in the finest, clichéd rock ‘n’ roll tradition. And repeated it until the response was loud enough for his liking. “That’s better, my name’s Jarrod Fowler and I’m from…”: then everything was drowned in a sudden eruption of white noise. It sounded like the end of the world. Gradually, radio stations, snippets of music and garbled conversations could be picked out, and Fowler walked around talking to people, recording the conversations, and adding it back to the mix. As the noise faded back, more and more stuff could be heard, and the odd bit understood. The only problem for me was, as with so many of the artists who’ve appeared at Instal over the years, Fowler took a good idea, but just ran with it for too long, and by the end people were drifting away to the bar.
Kenneth Goldsmith comes from New York. He couldn’t be from anywhere else really. His act was part stand up, part performance art, part storytelling. The mock letters to jazz-lite artist Kenny G were very funny, and he was an engaging and refreshingly light-hearted presence. Finally, Achim Wollscheid asked everyone to switch their mobiles on, and recorded and processed the resultant din. Not much more than an interesting party trick, but at least he didn’t stretch it out to half an hour.
Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel They Shoot Horses Don’t They is set in the world of the Depression-era marathon dance contests where couples would dance, non-stop, for hours, maybe days, on end for a cash prize. It was a case of last couple standing wins, and there were many people desperate enough to enter. In these contests, a human activity that expresses joy, warmth and bonding was turned into a soul-less and artless drudge.
The pompous programme notes for Energy Births Form, written by David Keenan (a guy physically incapable of writing a paragraph that doesn’t include the names of at least two free jazz musicians), can be basically be boiled down to this. We’re going to play as loud as we can for three hours and see how knackered we get at the end of it. In other words, creativity, expression, and any other point of music, or any other art form, were irrelevant. This was purely about narcissistic self-examination. Like David Blaine in a box, really, only louder.
The collective included the Incapacitants, Michiyo Yagi and others. And yes it was a right din. I stood and watched for 45 minutes (about a quarter of the set!). In that time, there were only two occasions when I could sense anything sparking creatively on stage. For a brief instance, Yagi got something resembling a groove going from her koto which a couple of others followed. Maybe fifteen minutes later, Kazuo Imai got some interesting sounds out of his guitar. The rest of the time, it was just a mess: ironically, given the title, utterly formless. I actually think that this farrago was pretty damned contemptuous of the audience. Three hours of navel-gazing with absolutely nothing to say. Maybe those who stayed the distance got to see someone collapse from exhaustion. Maybe that’s the only reason they did stay. Or maybe they were just conducting their own personal endurance test. A lot had already gone by the time I left – and it was barely 8.30.
Later on Usurper, Neil Davidson and Aileen Campbell and Kylie Minoise and Nackt Insecten were playing at Stereo, but that was three hours away, so I just buggered off home. Sunday should be better.