Friday, 19 August 2016

Saul Williams Interview - MartyrLoserKing / UK Tour

Saul Williams Interview - MartyrLoserKing / UK Tour
[2016.06.18] Tom Hollingworth
For NARC Magazine

Saul Williams is an artist who cannot be truly known to world from an isolated timbre or notion. His expressions are masterful in the way they blend and mix inspirations and references, and it is in his capacity to melt or fix ideas with one another that his spirit can be seen. It is his resolve to continue to put energy into this alchemy that keeps his music and art as vivid today in his latest release, MartyrLoserKing, as from when his first album album landed just after the millennium. Across the twelve new tracks our ears are dipped in an international state-of-mind: from European classical piano motifs, to spoken word, from the beat-tradition, to Middle-Eastern chanting and singing. His aim is far, and his palette broad. Arriving five years on from his previous record, MLK truly feels like the warrior in training, unleashed; fierce but controlled.

    In-between these two albums, Williams has been performing on Broadway, in the lead role of Holler If Ya Hear Me - the musical created around the music of Tupac Shakur. It was inspired casting to pair Williams with the late icons work, both invested in activism and social consciousness. Unfortunately, the musical’s run finished earlier than expected. Considering that recent endeavour, Williams remained optimistic about the potential of the medium. “I grew up in the theatre, where political ideologies have often, if not always, been explored & questioned. The plays that came out of the Black Arts movement in the United States & the apartheid regime in South Africa had there place in New York & global theatre, just as the work of Brecht, Wilde, Sarah Kane, all the way back to Shakespeare, not to mention the theatre movements in Brazil, Argentina & across the world.”

     The manipulation and re-appropriation of language has always played a crucial part in Williams’ work, originally gaining popularity for his poetry via coverage in films such as SlamNation. As with his deliciously titled 2007 album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! this recent album evokes a popular figure, and immediately challenges our preconceptions of that person, simultaneously providing a seat for our imagination to ponder what the album might offer, but also rocking at the legs of that chair. “I feel very free in my relationship to language, English in particular, and how it exacts culture. The moulding & remoulding of words in relation to ideas is one of the simplest forms of hacking and declassifying meaning and possibilities of meaning hidden within or behind an idea. In fact, the goal is to get in front of the idea.”
    MartyrLoserKing is packed with such technique, with several songs using phrase repetition to realign meaning to the words. In The Bear/Coltan As Cotton with ‘Hack into…’ crashing the listener through wall-upon-wall of new ideas/images, and in Roach Eggs he continues with the idea of hacking by evoking that form of action in social media, and in an economy. Many colours on the record (the droning sounds, the repeated rhythms and phrases, the political and technological focus) seem reminiscent of M.I.A.’s work, and in particular, her third record Maya. Williams recognises the universality of his political and musical pilgrimages and is optimistic for the future. “We will continue to enlist more and more as people/artists are awakened to the times and the major questions at hand.”
    On MLK, Williams focusses on the effect of the internet and our relationship with it in his songs. When asked about his own developing relationship with this technology, he acknowledged the benefits it has had on his creative process. “On one hand we have the internet and our capacity to share information, and on the other there is the technology surrounding the writing process: the type writer, the word processor, the personal computer, the hand-held device, the smart-pen... So now I can use my moleskin smart-pen & transfer my handwriting direct into my device, like scanning the pages of a notebook... It's an interesting option for a tumblr-head.” Having always lived with activism in his belly, Williams has been inspired by various applications and their ability to unite voices. “Our relationship to these tools are useful, particularly in regards to our ability to follow what's going on in another space/place which holds even greater potential if we can connect what's happening "there" with what's happening in our world (connecting the dots.) In a sense we have the same capabilities as global intelligence to track happenings, communicate and make sense of them and broaden our network with the possibility of aligning a global network for social action and resistance. The difference is the global powers are organised, so the power of our resistance often lies in our ability to disrupt or cog the system - but we also have to work against media while working through it. We have all surrendered to the machine, yet we also power it.”
    Saul Williams is shortly embarking on a UK tour, and is keen to be playing small venues, such as his Newcastle date at Think Tank? on Saturday 2nd July 2016. Joining him on this leg of the tour will be Thavius Beck. Williams also notes that “the virtual presence of Miseal Leon is also extremely helpful. I like intimate occasions to share and make meaningful impressions. A healthy balance between venues and audience sizes keeps me on my toes.”

Friday, 15 July 2016

KOAN 3: Hapsburg Braganza, Paul Taylor, Zassõ Fukei, Jewel - Live at The Globe, Newcastle

KOAN 3: Hapsburg Braganza, Paul Taylor, Zassõ Fukei, Jewel
Live at The Globe, Newcastle
[2016.06.24] Tom Hollingworth
For NARC Magazine

For this concluding night of the KOAN trilogy, curator Martin Donkin invited some personal favourites to guide this special series around improvisation home.  

    Donkin and Davey Sax (Jewel) set about calibrating ears for this more gentle instalment, with a continuous piece of saxophone / electric guitar improvisation based around Śūnyatā. The rising tides of sound inside were tonic, but mixed with the Referendum rain outside the windowpane.

(Photo: Hazel Donkin)

    After preparing the space meticulously with an array of tools, Zassõ Fukei played with the idea of communication; opposing immediate moments (cymbal-head-hit) with lengthy unveilings of written poetry, using looped music and a guitar-paintbrush.

"the lengths we go / stone / upon stone / to remain / apart"

(Photos: Hazel Donkin)

    Introduced as someone who should be “performing on the stages around Europe,Paul Taylor’s face was bashful, however, such a sentiment was soon proven warranted as the keys took over his form, ingeniously mixing a multitude of influences including Debussy’s Impressionism, and 70’s Fusion.
(Photo: Hazel Donkin)
    As Phil Begg (Hapsburg Braganza) took a seat with his five-string electric, the accumulated warmth upstairs at The Globe rested gently on the faces, and, combined with the dying light, welcomed dreaming. Begg’s shimmering instrumentals lead from Lute-esque dances to slower pieces, evoking such images as sprawling cornfields, perhaps. Turning further to more abstract compositions, his confidence realised itself here, playing with the imperfections.

(Photo: Hazel Donkin)

Friday, 1 July 2016

Mbongwana Star - Estere - Live at The Sage, Hall 2

Mbongwana Star - Estere - Live at The Sage, Hall 2.
[2016.06.11] Tom Hollingworth
For NARC Magazine

Quickly appearing behind her dashboard of electronics, Estère confidently took the early birds in Hall 2 straight to the heart of her funk; a jam built with bold, brassy and frivolous sounds from her MPC. Splashed in colourful lights, her unabashed and expressive dance moves whipped her pop around the room, flipping speculators over into new-found appreciators. 

    From hearing some of their From Kinshasa album prior to this performance, you would be forgiven for not expecting such a rock spirit to Mbongwana Star’s show, but constantly sourcing attention amongst the complex polyrhythms was Liam Farrell’s (Doctor L) guitar: possibly the warmest distortion tones I have heard emerge from an SG.

    Dressed in varieties of black clothing, sporting leathers (and in one case, a cheeky green wig) the quintet occupied a certain appreciation for ‘rock-band’ sensibilities, but paralleled that inspiration with songs made fluid through Afro-folk harmonies and rhythms. Dance was the only disposition possible by the third song in, streaming from the five distinct personalities on the stage, out to the venue floor where a wave of happy, smiling movers and shakers could not be broken from the spell. C’est bon? Theo Nzonza checked between songs. C’est tres bien! said the brow-sweat and sore soles at the close.

Darren Hayman - Nev Clay - Live at The Mining Institute, Newcastle

Darren Hayman - Nev Clay - Live at The Mining Institute, Newcastle
[2016.06.19] Tom Hollingworth
For NARC Magazine

Studying a display in the main hallway of The Mining Institute of late-19th Century photography, depicting curious social scenes, further resonated how in tune this venue was for Darren Hayman to present his most recent project, a set of songs inspired by Thankful Villages; places where every soldier returned home safely from WW1.
    Nev Clay’s winding wit was the perfect thread to pull our imagination into action at the head of this evening of story, from meandering thoughts on gravitational waves and missteps in Metal bands, through to feather-light performances of songs with intimate observations. Including a cover Women Of The World by Ivor Cutler, with its bold sentiment, sat seamlessly alongside his original work, united in a brave spirit - a faultless hallmark of Clay’s performances. 
    To present this new collection, Hayman’s trio assumed the position of the pit orchestra, whilst above them, opposite the audience seating, diary footage of his visits through each of the villages was projected onto the wall. The set amalgamated unique sounds from the trip; including the metronome of Aisholt’s church clock, and recordings of poetry read by residents. The riddling songs were bracketed with Hayman’s humorous expositions of the journeys travelled to find them.


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Chris Watson - The Town Moor: A Portrait In Sound - Interview

Chris Watson - The Town Moor: A Portrait In Sound - Interview
[2016.05.20] Tom Hollingworth
For NARC Magazine

Chris Watson generously agreed to talk with me in the daytime following a 3am morning walk and recording event in Exhibition Park, as part of, and in preparation for, his up-and-coming sound performance. Though his face was softly weathered from the early rise, the appreciation on his tongue from having just witnessed The Dawn Chorus was palpable.

     “[It] starts with The Dawn Solo. We listened to this Blackbird really close; we got a really great perspective on the sound of this bird singing. Then we moved-off around the lake and heard The Dawn Chorus develop. One of the great things about the Town Moor is it’s got this great mosaic of habitats. The next thing we’d do is go right to the edge of the grassland part of the Town Moor. There, we heard some Skylarks singing.”

    Watson has developed his life intertwined with recording sound, a passion inspired in his teenage years by the pioneering practices of Pierre Schaeffer. From work with Cabaret Voltaire, throughout numerous ambitious projects with the likes of the BBC, capturing sound has been at the essence of his practice. Recently he has been inspired by a trend in ‘dark’ cinema.

    “Like lots of good inventions, it’s happened in cities, certainly around Europe, almost simultaneously. I was in Copenhagen a couple of years ago, and they were doing it there. It’s like experiencing a film, but without any images. There’s a cliche in the BBC about sound - that radio is better than television because the pictures are better.”

    Marrying with the enthusiasm of Murphy Cobbing (BBC Newcastle) to create an aural tribute to the history of The Town Moor, Watson recently presented and contributed to a resulting four-part radio series, which featured anecdotal description, as well as recorded environments. Having captured his contributions for this programme in ambisonic sound, Watson and Cobbing were keen to present his commission in an environment which could relay the material in its fullest capacity - a truly surround-sound experience.

    “I met Elisabetta [Chloe Barker] at The Tyneside and we looked in The Gallery, and it seemed a very appropriate space for an ambisonic system.”

Utilising 16-channels, Watson’s journey of a year in the life of the Town Moor will immerse the audience, placing them where the Sound Field microphone caught the audio pictures. The terrain will be intricately remapped in sounds that come from above and below, side-to-side.
    “Everybody will have different images upon hearing the sounds. The Town Moor lends itself… it’s like a real piece of theatre - everything that happens there.”
The piece starts in June, where The Hoppings descend upon the lawn, and ends the following May, with his freshly captured Dawn Chorus.

    “I think listening, actively engaging with your environment, is quite a creative function - and we enjoy it! In most urban environments we’re excluded from it by noise. That’s one of the things I am looking forward to - take away visual distractions in The Gallery and just be surrounded by this environment… To just sit back, and tune into it. Take your imagination up to the Town Moor, throughout the seasons.” 

    Chris Watson’s ‘The Town Moor - A Portrait In Sound’ will be showing, for free, in The Gallery of the Tyneside Cinema from 20th June - 24th July 2016.

Super Furry Animals at Northumbria University Union - Live Review

Super Furry Animals at Northumbria University Union - Live Review
[2016.04.23] Tom Hollingworth
For NARC Magazine.

NUU was steadily buzzing, filled almost to capacity at the beginning of the night, as Ffug offered a boring support set sadly their own enthusiasm for could not leaven.

    Out of a pulsating blue flush on the stage, with matching heartbeat, SFA, in their white coveralls, blossomed with Slow Life and Ice Hockey Hair. As the set progressed, drawing from a catalogue reaching back from as far as the mid-90s, these present performances further clarified the strength in the design and imagination of that songwriting; strong melodies and textures that sound fresh and positive today.

    Rhys’ vocals really cut through the PA tonight. At the coda of Run Christian Run, the overlaying cries cleansed like a waterfall. The sonic experience was married with typically playful visual idiosyncrasies, such as laser lights, queue cards and costumes; often registering as absurd and glorious, but somehow never contrived.

    After a string of hits, including Juxtaposed With You and Receptacle For The Respectable, SFA finish with The Man Don’t Give A Fuck. As the troop return to the stage with a reprise of that song’s ever-relevant chorus, Rhys raises his final placard with ‘Resist Phoney Encores’ on it, marking out a dignified exit for this band which show no evidence of rust.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Pentecostal Party - Is This A Ruse?

Pentecostal Party - Is This A Ruse? & Let's Storm Heaven
[2016.03.12] Tom Hollingworth
For NARC Magazine

Dawn Bothwell’s project Pentecostal Party is born of her interest “in the type of euphoric high you experience in groups of people worshiping together: an experience that is both solitary and collective.”

    Is This A Ruse? took its inspiration from the migrant crisis and themes around a ‘blameless culture’. Though Bothwell sings the lyrics of her song, the presentation feels void of an ego; the voice used more as a tool to deliver the universal questions; to engage an audience in thought.

   This tape-recorded version of Let’s Storm Heaven off-sets two layers; a creeping pulse established with a prominent hi-hat and light analogue synth on the surface, whilst the ear is more and more drawn to what lurks in the depths, the yearning and relentless army of voices plotting beneath.

    Music can be loved for an infinite amount of reasons, but the characteristic that I find particularly special about Pentecostal Party’s music is the way it unlocks depths through deceptively simple, minimalist patterns.

    Small synth lines and repeated phrases map the contours of her songs, but as a listener you are compelled to imagine the terrain. The music’s majesty reveals itself like a magic-eye picture, or faces forming in tree-bark.