Canadian drone artist Tim Hecker, and Japanese noise artist Merzbow, collaborating with Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandi and Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustasfsson, performed at London’s Oval Space last night.
First up was the Merzbow/Gustasfsson/Pandi trio. Now, I like noise music but I’ve never managed to get into Merzbow. While noise can be interesting in many ways, whether a cacophonous assault on the senses, layered hypnotic soundscapes, or just strange as hell experiments that sound intriguing and different. Merzbow doesn’t do any of these. With several hundred albums (seriously), the music he makes simply, well, just sounds like random noises. No atmosphere, nothing interesting, just white noise. For this live performance he was joined by the aforementioned drummer and saxophonist. Merzbow played his usual white noise cacophony, which is a lot more visceral with the intense live volume and the saxophone added another layer to the din. However, what ruined it for me completely was the drumming. It just sounded like clumsy improvisation, and it just grated. Over 45 minutes I’m not sure there was anything I could get into from his drumming, whereas at least with Merzbow powering away with the electronics and the saxophone being somewhat chaotic they were decent to listen to. Perhaps if a really technically proficient drummer had been playing instead, adding a crazed dissonant sound, such as Mayhem’s Hellhammer’s performance on their Ordo Ad Chao album,then it would’ve really added to what the others were doing, but overall the clumsiness meant the complete performance was that old cliché when it comes to the genre, that it really was just a bunch of random sounds.
Tim Hecker on the other hand was absolutely fantastic. With minimal lights, all that could be made out of his stage performance was a silhouette, meaning he really let the music speak for itself. With intense volume his ambient drones really filled up the room, and the dense layering of all his different sounds created a really beautiful atmosphere throughout the oval space. Playing pieces from Haunt Me,Virgins, and the amazing Ravedeath 1972, as well as improvising for some of the tracks, it’s a really great and hypnotic performance from the drone maestro. In the Fog was a particular highlight, being on of his best compositions and in the live arena it sounds incredible. Tim Hecker is one of the best ambient artists out there, and if you can get the chance to go and see him it’s well worth it, no matter what support act you might have to stand through!