I used to have this friend who argued that we (in the UK) used the wrong name for autumn. Preferring the Americanism Fall, because that described the great falling of leaves. Fair enough but I’ll stick with Autumn which for me is the better, more poetic, more enigmatic name. I don’t know the exact meaning of the word, what I do know it’s a word that somehow covers the feelings that get stirred up as summer ends and winter comes.
That sense of change in the air and the shift of the Earth’s axis. It’s a season which throws up complex associations between life and death, given that this is the season which nature gives us a fruitful bounty before essentially dying. I have, maybe pretentiously and before this privately called this time of year as the glorious suicide of nature.
No surprise then this season of mellow fruitfulness attracts artistic interests with its unique mix of beauty and melancholia. Autumn is at the heart of this current Art Assembly’s Saisonscape tour which has stopped at the Kazimier. Subtitled DECAY it promises the exploration through sonic arts of the ideas of death and rebirth conjured by this time of year. Headlining this event is the prime exponent of these ethereal notions the composer William Basinski.
This is what I’m waiting for in the gold tinged blue of the dying light, a chill clinging to my skin. Myself and the handful of people hanging around are let in, where we suffer the curse of the punctual. That is being greeted by a empty place. Soon others will arrive the atmosphere will change, though I was hoping something more immersive.
Anyway I get a drink, get a table and subdue the urge to shout AMIBENT YEAH! While making a devil horn salute. Instead I turn my attention to the stage and the collection of equipment on it. You have laptops, things that have cables sprouting from them and reel to reel tape machines. There’s even magnetic tape stretched from the stage to the Kazimier's mezzanine.
That tape is soon to be set into motion by Howlround. Whose reel to reel machines are his instruments, from them he produces strangely familiar sounds. You have the sound of a locomotives whistle making a connection to musiqe concrete. Also you have noises that sound like the howl of the ID created by Louis and Bebe Barron for Forbidden Planet. There is a hint of Sci-Fi within the whole set, at times there are Radiophonic sweeps and wooshes. While the bass sounds make me think of the Ray Bradbury story The Foghorn.
After Howlround has finished he is swiftly replaced by Kepla. If Howlround is a direct connection to the history of contemporary music, then Kepla is a connection to its current forms. Whereas Howlround is manipulation of the physical Kepla is the manipulation of the digital. The difference or similarities between hard and software. His improvisational set produces sounds which are like the crunching and crashing of a hundred PlayStation games.
Comparing the two performances you could see in them something about the issues people have about transitioning from analogue to digital, the fear of working of loss. Interesting to note that Kepla is occasionally accompanied by textured videos, which made me recall artist Russell Mill's collaborations with Nine Inch Nails. Whether these films are there to provide a ‘bridge’ between two worlds or add a sense of unease and sense that technology itself is as equally open to decay as the organic. Soon Kepla finishes and disappears into the dark.
After a fifteen minute break, its headliner time. Basinski takes to the stage in a jovial manner, springing on the stage promising to start once he sets up his ‘girls’ (his tape machines). During this time there’s a problem with the mixer which sees Basinski break out into a rendition of If I Didn’t Care by The Ink Spots??
This is not what I expect from a contemporary composer.
Though it’s welcome.
The set begins proper and he begins to play The Deluge. It opens with a piano refine, one that is nearly familiar but soon it is lost in watery echoes like a dream on waking. Through subtle control of mixer and laptop the sound recycles, repeats, grows like organic matter.
If there is some kind of truth in Basinski's music it is that it reflects the part of nature which is about the transformation of one form to another. To become part of a ongoing cycle, and our place within it. From our human perspective the ongoing natural changes the world goes through are embedded with our ideas of beauty.
It’s a way of describing our relationship with the sublime, in a very human way. Like knowing that the green leaves will turn yellow, fall then rot, in a beautiful process.