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Communikey 2012 travelogue

Morton Subotnick and Lillevan at ATLAS Institute
Morton Subotnick and Lillevan at ATLAS Institute
Tom Murphy

COMMUNIKEY FESTIVAL @ BOULDER, CO | 4/26/12 -4/29/12


See Also: Laurie Anderson at Boulder Theater, 4/25/12Q&A Cameron Stallones of Sun ArawQ&A with Brian Williams of LustmordQ&A with Nick ZammutoQ&A with Morton Subtonick

For the lucky few who got to Communikey HQ in time to get an actual ticket, or those who were patient enough to stick around to see if their names on the waiting list would be called, the show at the ATLAS Institute was memorable. The evening started out with Lesley Flanigan. The New York conceptual/performance/vocal artist had speakers set up around her to use as devices to create controlled feedback that she generated with a vocal mike she held close to the speakers when active. In a sense, she sculpted those sounds by altering the distances and by having the speakers set up to create a different resonance from each other when tripped by the mike.

Lesley Flanigan at ATLAS Institute
Lesley Flanigan at ATLAS Institute
Tom Murphy

Flanigan also generated atmospheres with her voice, and she built an variably dense and minimal sonic field with her looping pedal. What was also an interesting component of her performance was the projection of ground level, black and white images onto the large screen behind her, so that it looked like some kind of structuralist film disconnected from anything Flanigan herself might be doing.

The contrast between the black and white and her obvious colorings created a mind-expanding dynamic, as your brain knew that the movements on the screen were those of Flanigan but the image was so big and black and white that it completely threw off your perspective in fascinating way.

Between her use of contact mikes to generate the more textural elements of her sound and her conventionally good voice used not to sing words so much as create a soundscape, Flanigan's set wasn't for everyone. But anyone who has seen a number of noise shows and appreciates that aesthetic would have appreciated Flanigan's creativity in the use of noise, her artistry in manipulating it and the conceptual aspect of its visual representation.

 

Morton Subotnick and Lillevan at ATLAS Institute
Morton Subotnick and Lillevan at ATLAS Institute
Tom Murphy

Naturally, the big attraction for this show was the collaboration between Lillevan and synthesizer pioneer Morton Subotnick, and their performance of his classic album, 1967's Silver Apples of the Moon. The original structure and sounds of the original were recognizable, but Subotnick and Lillevan expanded upon it in ways that built on the logic of Subotnick's original composition.

Between the seemingly minimalist bleeps and bloops that dotted the aural landscape like what you might imagine to be the initial dribblings on a Jackson Pollock canvas, with evolving atmospheres and textures flowing into and through one another like informal movements, the two men sat at their respective desks looking to each other for the most minute clues as to direction.

Behind the duo was a roughly 180 degree screen, upon which was projected constantly shifting imagery, from abstracted weather images and ancient Martian landscapes to pools of water in the rain and waves to alien sky objects and grass and the kinds of spherical objects floating amongst it that might be the depictions of gods in the mythology of sentient insects. There were even times when it looked like someone had created a projection of scratched film or slides of a painting on top of a painting with either the over-painting scratched off with a comb or painted on to another painting with the same.

Chances are, Subotnick and Lillevan didn't use any Stan Brakhage footage for this performance despite Subotnick's long friendship with the influential filmmaker, but the imagery was surely reminiscent of Brakhage's films. And the music matched the shifting colors and moods so that there was never anything particularly predictable about the performance.

At the conclusion, Subotnick held up his hand and then signaled for everything to come to an end. Subotnick and Lillevan came back out after that for a short encore, and it was clear Subotnick was pleased with the enthusiasm of the crowd as he left the room with a big smile.

 

Offthesky at ATLAS Institute
Offthesky at ATLAS Institute
Tom Murphy

The third night of the musical events of Communikey required getting to the HQ early to pick up a ticket for the TRINITY show. It began with Offthesky who sat at the line where the front row faced the screen and projected images and controlled the sound. The black and white footage of waves crashing into shore in slow motion was accompanied by low frequency thrums and higher tone drones. The image looked like intentionally damaged/treated film where shadows and light seemed to mar the image a bit, not unlike footage found in some stash of film secreted away in Berlin in the 1920s from the Expressionist era.

From there, the footage evolved, and at one point, it was a grass field with red spluming from the center like a paradoxically casual geyser of blood. The sounds at this point were impressionistic and following a pattern like the complex systems logic of raindrops before the storm proper. The recurring visual theme was a kind of energy vortex/mysterious natural phenomenon, like a manifestation of ley lines opening up into a circular loci that glowed with an inner light at various points of the landscape.

The final section of footage looked like something right out of a sequel to Cloverfield, except it was in mostly black and white, and the scenes looked like one slide out of time in 3D, with the perspective switching and moving in and out of the landscape, so that soldiers with particle beam weapons floated in air, some fired into the distance. A vehicle could be seen to have rushed off a bridge and buildings were in mid-collapse. But most striking was the giant creature with teeth and red eyes, ravenous and ready to strike.

Lustmord and Biosphere at ATLAS Institute
Lustmord and Biosphere at ATLAS Institute
Tom Murphy

The Lustmord and Biosphere collaboration, with both men at their laptops, started off with textured white sound and low frequency flow and scenes of what could have been landscapes shot while traveling along I-40 in New Mexico. After the show, someone who was there when some of the footage was shot revealed that it was, indeed, New Mexico, but probably closer to the places where the nuclear testing had been done in the 40s.

Lustmord and Biosphere at ATLAS Center
Lustmord and Biosphere at ATLAS Center
Tom Murphy

During one section, the famous speech given by J. Robert Oppenheimer on building the atomic bomb came over the speakers. You know, the part where he references the Bhagavad Gita and speaks a quote with, "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds" from verse 32 of chapter 11.

This was entirely appropriate for the visual and sonic elements developing across the show, as it was a kind of abstract, visual history of the Manhattan Project, from the machines, the scientists, the facilities, the first two and only wartime use in human history to the atomic bombs and the planes that carried them to the aftermath -- the remnants of nuclear testing as a blight on the landscape.

But Lustmord and Biosphere never showed actual footage of the deployment of nuclear weapons, just a mushroom cloud of its initial testing. In that moment, all went quiet and then the sudden image of the nuclear weapon was striking, as it should be.

Lustmord and Biosphere at ATLAS Institute
Lustmord and Biosphere at ATLAS Institute
Tom Murphy

As the screen showed the image of a plane that had "82" and a "P" marked on it, it was not a P-82, but a B-29, the sounds of air raid sirens went on and then sustained for who knows how long. But the image of bombs being loaded into a plane went on, and then images of sky, and when the sirens died down, a red light bled through, and a female voice spoke a famous Native American saying, "We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow from our children."

 

Pole at ATLAS Institute
Pole at ATLAS Institute
Tom Murphy

For Pole's set, we were told the cushions some people brought in had to be put away, and the chairs set back for us to stand. The front screen and area was bathed in a vibrant blue, while a brilliant red illuminated an area back from the stage for an interesting visual contrast.

But there were no custom projections and Pole made a kind of IDM dance beat with some chill out synth work, not unlike a downtempo artist one would find on the Warp roster in the '90s but updated. It sounded like dub-infused house music without being dubstep, or '90s trance with more robust low end and any and all rough edges smoothed over. The music struck an appropriately soothing yet lucid note to end the night at the ATLAS.

To get the final night of Communikey going, Brandon Brown did a DJ set. And not the kind where someone just plays records. If Brown did play other people's music, he really made it his own with some mid-tempo, chillout sections and during the course of his hour or so long set, more and more people filtered into the room, many of whom were drawn in by his able modulation of the low end and textured beats which produced an overall excellent combination of the rich sounds of late '90s house music and an expanded sonic and rhythmic palette.

Lulacruza at BMoCA
Lulacruza at BMoCA
Tom Murphy

The first band to play was Lulacruza. The duo of Alejandra Ortiz and Luis Maurette was fairly impossible to classify, which was something of the theme for the night. Through most of the songs was an electronic component, often electronic bass to help contrast with the acoustic instrumentation and Ortiz's strong, expressive voice. It didn't sound like any of the lyrics were in English, but that only added to the overall appeal of the music because the tonal sounds fit the music more accurately than clumsily trying to fit the logic of the song in a language not entirely suitable.

At times, it sounded like the music shifted into a Middle Eastern mode with a touch of some kind of Chinese classical music sound. That's probably not what the duo was going for, but in not following any kind of standard Western musical paradigm, Lulacruza took some interesting chances with the kinds of sounds it created with its songwriting.

At one point, Ortiz told us they were going to do a song about death, and how death is a tool of renewal -- making space for new things. The song was obviously not some dark dirge but a gentle, welcoming song. During that song, it seemed obvious that when the emotional intensity of the song increased, so did the complexity of the instrumentation and back down when that intensity let up.

The last half of the set began with a dance song that was reminiscent of something like Sneaker Pimps, only more stripped down in the electronics with more emphasis on the melodica and other organic textures. Both Ortiz and Maurette played the floor drums and the tambourine in front of them throughout, but it all felt completely integrated into a sound that incorporated a bit of that worldbeat sound. In the last song, it became more apparent that this band had some kind of musical kinship with a band like Gang Gang Dance circa God's Money.

 

Peaking Lights at BMOCA
Peaking Lights at BMOCA
Tom Murphy

Someone in the audience remarked that maybe only thirty people were at the last Peaking Lights show in Denver at the Further Shoppe. Maybe the same for when the band played at Rhinoceropolis in 2008. But apparently word got out and the room was still pretty full when the duo started its set. Most of the material seemed to come from its formidable 2011 album, 936 -- formidable in the sense that the sounds are huge and hypnotic and irresistibly transporting.

Sequenced polyrhythms, shake-box hip-hop beats, space echo dub synth, and Indra Dunis' echoing voice gave the music a dimensionality a lot of music doesn't possess. It wasn't just dub that informed the music, another song, one Dunis told us was new (possibly from the upcoming album Lucifer), had a summery air to it but evolved quickly into a weird but wonderful '70s pop song from the late disco era -- like something Broadcast might have written for a dub sequel to Tender Buttons.

From there, for the remaining three songs of the set, Peaking Lights seemed to go deeper and deeper into dub, uncoiling different facets of that sound from its repertoire, including a truly chunky, hard bass line for the final song. A lot of bands have mined reggae and dub territory, but not nearly enough have absorbed that sound and done something new and interesting with it. For this show, however, Peaking Lights displayed their innovation by truly fusing that sound with a lo-fi noise aesthetic without compromising either.

Sun Araw at BMoCA
Sun Araw at BMoCA
Tom Murphy

Sun Araw began the show with "Ma Holo," thus continuing a kind of reggae theme with the first song from the Sun Araw album On Patrol. It was hard to tell what the two-piece would pull from the Sun Araw repertoire because this band is nothing if not prolific, and in being so, quite varied in its songwriting style.

Rather than a song by song rundown, Sun Araw showed that it could completely and utterly blend reggae, especially dub, together with psychedelic rock and create a mutant funk not related to the Contortions, for a change, and not another version of space rock. Rather, Sun Araw's sounds from its guitars and the way the keyboards were processed were a bit like what one would expect if George Clinton got together with Afrika Bambaataa to make a techno version of an R&B song but more tripped out.

The two created atmospheric textures with phased guitar with heavy delay to make a sonic water flowing by your ears. Again, the effect was nothing typical or easily classified, and we were all the better for it. Something went awry with the sound system and apparently the Sun Araw drums and low end were too heavy and blew the subs. But, to its credit, Sun Araw finished its final song in spite of any and all limitations.

Ejival at BMoCA
Ejival at BMoCA
Tom Murphy

The whole festival came to an end, appropriately enough, with a DJ set from Ejival who runs the Static Discos label out of Tijuana. It would be a mistake to call the set "trance" but it was the kind of music to bring you down from a more or less psychedelic music show with major chord progressions and what can only be described as vivid sounds that seemed to bring a bit of mental clarity after a long and hot night. Perfect ending to a festival that didn't exactly skimp on bringing talent and plenty of activities for people who showed up.



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ATLAS Black Box Theatre

1125 18th St.
Boulder, CO 80309

303-735-4577

www.colorado.edu

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Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art

1750 13th St.
Boulder, CO 80302

303-443-2122

www.bmoca.org


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