For what promises to be an event full of noise the hub of the Bluecoat feels very quiet (though Calexico appears to be drifting from the tannoy), maybe this is the quiet that prepares us for what's to come, a sonic sorbet of sorts. Soon enough people arrive and find themselves in the intimate space of the Sandon Room. Which has been laid out in a rough and ready, freewheeling nature manner familiar to anyone who has attended a Frakture gig before.
We are introduced Combine as a first of a new platform combining music, sound and art which will consist of three acts. The first act is Takahashi's Shellfish Concern who have set up in the corner of the room, Angela Guyton beckons the audience nearer or they'll miss out. She and the audience are gathered around a blank canvas and she begins to mark the canvas. This action is accompanied by a roaring crushing sound it's apparent that the canvas and Angelas herself has been transformed into an instrument. Of course associations with action painting spring to mind and Harold Rosenberg's ascertain that art lies within its creation rather than with the final product.
What also comes to mind is the almost synesthetic nature of creating art, how the sound of pen scrapping across paper, brush across canvas even your own breathing become somehow part of the process. Takahashi's Shellfish Concern have created a piece which amplifies these private moments into the public realm providing us the audience the opportunity to consider the creative process and the production of art.
For the second act we swap the Sandon Room for the Garden Room where an orchestra of sorts awaits us. They even have a conductor of sorts; a man sits at a trestle table and before him is laid a number of fluorescent cards. He selects one and raises it above his head and it begins. Though it becomes apparent that he is not in charge as members of the 'orchestra' are communicating with the conductor and each other through a series of coded gestures.
To be honest I missed the intro to this piece and I am a little lost to the importance of this arcane signals or the role that wearing hats has. It feels like I've wandered into a private joke and being on the outside of that joke it's hard to so what's so funny. Though there is certain pleasures to have seeing the musicians interact with each other passing on musical phrases. On the whole it gives the impression that this is a piece for musicians, rather than an audience but that's the risk you take with modern composition.
Afterwards I learn that this is a version of John Zorn's 'improvisational game piece' Cobra and it make a little more sense.
Then it's back to the Sandon Room for the final act of the night which consist of Dave Birchall and Bekke Platt a duo comprised of dancer and guitarist. In the middle of the room the dancer (Bekke) sits on the floor with her back to the audience while the guitarist (Dave) sits on a chair facing the audience, facing the dancer. He begins to play in the traditional juttering, plucking free/improve style (he appears to be using a fir cone as pic) the dancer slowly begins to move just her hand at first and then her whole body. Eventually she is rolling around the floor tumbling and sliding nowhere. My focus shifts to the guitarist contorting in his chair and it strikes me that he seems to be lost in the moment while the dancer is not.
Her moments feel planned and of course they are, but as an improvisational piece I want a sense of spontaneity. To see that her movements are plucked from the guitar, to see that there is interplay between her body and the sound around it. This is a little unfair of me as it's difficult to judge something as ethereal as spontaneity from my position in the audience. As a piece I get the sensation that this is a work in progress, of a dancer discovering the extent of her body.
As a whole the night has the feel of a work in progress, in part it like attending a crit session at uni. This may be due to the informal setting and the focus on experimentation. After all this is the first night after all and I think that Combine has the potential to provide a platform for collaboration and experimentation, to celebrate the fluid nature of live performance.