REPOST: Good and Evil, Ritual and Nightmare, in Sight and Sound

Unsound Festival continues in Brooklyn with the special presentation of Demdike Stare’s work “Concealed”, this will be the duo’s first take on live instrumentation.  Read more from this article.


“Concealed,” by the British electronic-music duo Demdike Stare and the filmmaker and animator Michael England, is an audiovisual project, no more or less aural than visual, about dread and dreams, what happens in the world when the conscious mind isn’t noticing.

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Commissioned by the concert organization Unsound, it had its first United States performance on Friday night at the First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights, in a program called “The Long Tone,” as part of the Unsound Festival. (The festival, which originated in Krakow, Poland, is staging its fourth New York edition.) “Concealed” was Friday’s headlined event, after a short performance for electric guitar, made orchestral with digital effects, by the Polish musician Jakub Ziolek, in a project he calls Stara Rzeka, and a generous, resonant one by the composer Phill Niblock.

The fact that the music of “Concealed” — a bit dark-ambient, a bit post-techno, assisted by the live strings of the seven-piece Sinfonietta Cracovia, often guided by regular beats and arranged with ordinary harmonies, sometimes based in mysterious, decontextualized samples — finally wasn’t that nourishing seemed beside the point. It had a function. That function was to implicate you into some kind of secret, and to creep you out.

Mr. England’s film arrived in discrete chapters. One showed clouds streaking ominously in accelerated motion across a plain. One featured actors in military uniforms, goose-stepping around in shoes with curled toes, and arranging teaspoons bearing special insignia on some sort of dirt map. One featured a Butoh dancer in slow, elegant contortions. So, you know: ritual, nightmare, secret societies, good and evil, the freakiness of nature and the body.

The music was composed by Miles Whitaker and Sean Canty of Demdike Stare, with orchestration by Danny Norbury. It came with a frustrating anonymity: dense or spacious, with strings or without, these sketches often felt like semi-generic atmospheres. It was music once removed: concerned with how sound can conjure complicated emotion, but seldom settling in on the challenges and glories of sound itself.

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Mr. Niblock’s new work “Unipolar Dance” settled in on the thing itself. (Now 80, Mr. Niblock is a local hero: a composer and filmmaker and director of the Experimental Intermedia, in Chinatown, where he has been booking performances for 40 years.) To make the piece, in two movements, he had the husband-and-wife violinists Pauline Kim Harris and Conrad Harris record continuous tones, in multi-track long strokes; there was always a steady drone chord at the music’s base, with layers of detail and dissonance on top.

And during the playback of it on Friday, as recorded sound boomed through the speakers — one gigantic chord, roaring and engulfing — the string players walked the side aisles of the church, further entangling with one another’s sounds, adding more texture and harmony, and making sense of the title, which is an anagram of their first names.

Mr. Niblock showed an accompanying series of his own faded-color nature films: reflections of bright sunlight on the water of a shallow creek, close-ups of leaves rustled by wind or of water droplets on a rock, wobbling slightly but cohering through surface tension. Basically, the images expressed the same concern as the music. What was that concern? How to take in, and be astonished by, an ever-changing continuity.

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