Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sequential Circus 2: All livePA event review

Show Review: Sequential Circus 2

Sequential Circus 2 was a show at Open Studios, Vancouver BC, on January 19th of this year, put on by East Van techno guru Mux of the Listening Room Collective, which has previously been responsible for a popular series of shows at the Vancouver Planetarium. The show featured a sound system that was actually two systems put together, a total of four double-18" Yorkville bins and four Yorkville tops plus an extra system to help flush the sound out (two Mackie SRM450s and a pair of Mackie 1501 powered subs) that delivered perfectly balanced highs, a crisp, appealingly crunchy midrange and very, very visceral bass. Also utlized was Open Studios' large video wall, upon which mixed psychedelic visuals were projected during the performances.

The night opened with a performance by Haagen (aka Dasz), a factory preset designer for the popular Clavia Nord Modular G2 synthesizers, who delivered a smashing first-ever livePA performance that mixed minimal and hard techno with a truly energetic progressive house flourish. Naturally, a pair of red Nords were utilized for the show, as well as a Yamaha RS7000, among other things. Dasz prepared his innagural set with care, and only after borrowing my headphones several times did he deem his instruments ready. During sound check, his music exploded to life, possibly larger and louder than he had ever imagined. It filled him with giddy adrenaline and pride, which resulted in a very well executed and highly energetic set that seemed to have a style all its own. If this first-ever set is any indication, "Haagen" Dasz is someone to keep an eye on in the future.

Next was yours truly, J. Wells (aka God In The Machine) with a set of stripped down breakbeats underpinned with amp crushing bass. Overall, the set was described by many as "heavy metal dubstep", and drew comparisons also to hip-hop, DnB, trip-hop, and of course industrial music. Though the sound system cut to silence very abruptly a couple of times during the set, possibly from too much bass tripping the main mixer's internal failsafe, the overall result still made many heads nod.

Following closely was Vancouver livePA staple Transgress, who dropped an absolutely flawless set that drew heavily from old skool techno, breaks, trance, and even psychedelic dub-like textures. Having worked under many different names and in several bands, Transgress, aka Peter "Fish" Fisera earned his stripes by performing techno and trance live, with no sequencing or automation on stage, playing everything by hand. He has since entered the MIDI age, using a pair of Alesis MMT-8 sequencers and an array of old school hardware so complex and well coordinated, it requires a handwritten manual in order to play-- which made an remained in Fish's lap during most of the set. To describe this old school angle is somewhat misleading, however, as there is nothing stale or overplayed about Transgress' music; on the contrary, it is a more refined sound than one might expect, a clear progression of electronic music that seems wholly separate from the long succession of unimaginative dj music which has dragged electronica down over the last decade. It seems to spring from something older than the fatal popularity of the so-called techno sound, and springs straight past those lowered expectations to present itself for what it really is: extremely well crafted, unpretentious, and futuristic electronic music.

Next came San Francisco's Komega, who used a minimal setup of an iBook, two control surfaces and his colourfully lit home made wireless controller, the keytar-like Live Pad, to drop an Ableton Live-fueled set of what he terms "tech breaks". Resembling a cross between cutting edge tech house and west coast chemical breaks, Komega's glitching IDM leaves other Live-based performers in the dust without a clue. Unlike many Ableton Live performers, his set was anything but repetitive and predictable, proving once again that software performance is only limited by the creativity of the performer.

The final performance of the night came from the duo John Tennant and Ricardo Almeida, whose brilliant set of 100% improvised music went well beyond the scheduled cutoff point of 3:15 am. With a setup that could only be manned by two master technicians like themselves, John and Ricardo's sound took shape right before our eyes as an ever-changing yet entirely cohesive continuous mix that was as engaging as it was creative. Particularly interesting was the duo's use of Nintento DS handheld game systems running custom sampling software, which they used to record, warp and playback samples on the fly. Truly defiant of categorization, their set was a feat of true artistry fused seamlessly with remarkable engineering.

The above photo, courtesy of Matthew Trentacoste, gives a limited view of the geargasmic chaos from the back of the stage. Setups for five of the six performing artists can be seen (although not in their entirety), with John Tennant and Ricardo Almeida's gear resting in the foreground (John to the left of the mixer, with the Electribe and Akai sampler, Ricardo on the right with one of the three red Nords visible); above and to the left are Komega's shiny silver boxes, the iBook and controllers (Live Pad not shown); on the right, just behind Ricardo's vintage Roland JX-3p analogue synth is my own setup, identifiable by the trusty livePA hallmarks that are the Juno 106, Yamaha RM1X, and another Electribe sampler, and a bottle of water, among other things; finally, at twelve o'clock is Haagen's dual Nord and RS7k setup. Transgress' old skool gear wonderland not pictured.

It was the kind of show where it is hard to pick a favourite performer because everyone brought their best to the table. Differences in style, gear and aesthetic brought a lot of variety to the show, with each act having something significant and genuine to offer the crowd. All in all it was a rare chance to see a truly diverse group of artists from near and far throw down their best, brightest, or in my case heaviest sounds, the sort of show that could never happen twice. There isn't the remotest possibility of an exact repeat, in fact; the venerable Mux tells me that each Sequential Circus event includes an entirely new lineup, with no repeat artists, in order to ensure the most variety from show to show.

Recordings are due out soon. Until then, be sure to check out the Sequential Circus website for news about the next Sequential Circus, tentatively slated to happen every six months, plus recordings from the previous show on July 7 of last year. When the recordings for the Jan. 19 show finally escape the post-production blackness, they will be there too.


vizzie said...

wow this is brilliant! I wish I could have witnessed this firsthand. Thanks for the detailed writeup.

Thomas said...

agreed, sorry I missed out.