Reviews and Previews

Photo by Rocio Jungenfeld

This review appeared in the online List on the 18th November 2008
By Neil Cooper

University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum
Sat 15-Sun 16 November

Photo by Rocio Jungenfeld

The interior of Edinburgh University’s just-built Informatics Forum on the site of the old Bristo Square car park is a retro-futurist delight resembling the set of some minimally uber-cool science-fiction movie. Perfect, then, for the very 21st century Happening that typified the best of this year’s Dialogues festival of new electronic music.

The main events in the venue’s large room were Michael Edwards’ ‘Electric Cowboy Cacophony’ project on the Friday, and Christoph Ogiermann’s far more full-on ‘Exhautions!’ on the Saturday, though what was billed as a side-stage curated by Lin Zhang of local noise promoters Grind Sight Open Eye served up equally maverick fare. The night opened with Zhang’s own group, Diva Abrasiva. Last time a version of this combo made up of assorted particle physicists played Edinburgh they really did bring the kitchen-sink. This time out thy teamed up with electronicist Owen Green for a set of textured extrapolations and crazed twitters involving clarinet, harmonica and guitars which occasionally clattered into a conventional groove.

The first of two sets of Michael Edwards’ ‘Electric Cowboy Cacophony’ provided an unlikely live mash-up between lap-top, electric guitar, bluegrass banjo, classical piano and saxophone, all played in wonderfully realised quadraphonic sound. The effect is of duelling banjos distilled through nouveau classicist avant sensibilities with brooding panoramas floating in from some outer limits angles. One piece threatened to get dangerously close to full-on hoe-down.

If Helena Gough’s solo laptop set sounded rumblingly generic, to finish the night, Blood Stereo and Ali Robertson of slobber-gob noise duo Usurper are an obvious fit, with Dylan Nyoukos and Karen Constance’s similarly styled outbursts adding a less passive bent to Robertson’s splutters as they’re bent out of shape by electronics.

After the relative calm of Friday night, Saturday brought the storm of a puckishly mercurial Christophe Ogiermann, who began the evening by electronically altering his voice to introduce a breath-taking programme of works that combined the performative and the provocative with a loose-knit but exquisitely orchestrated display of confrontationalist mischief-making that was part Brechtian polemic, part Fluxus action.

Opening with a short electronic piece, Ogiermann followed up with a similarly brief but fantastically physical assault on a violin. ‘Exhautions!’ itself somehow managed to pack into its forty minutes a two cello and guitar power trio recalling the insistent clusters of Glenn Branca, megaphone rants, piano improvisations and the scattering of slogan-daubed paper scraps, aided by a slide-show and projection of a twin screen film of Ogiermann’s assorted limbs crashing to the floor in close-up. Part sensory assault course, part eye and ear-popping spectacle, this was an unforgettable performance of a life time that was a thrill to witness.

The Informatics Forum has been well and truly christened. With Joby Burgess’ Powerplant still to come with a programme of new works by Graham Fitkin and Gabriel Prokoviev falling under the ‘Import/export’ banner, it really feels like Dialogues has this year come of age.