J.G. Thirlwell (Foetus) live at Art’s Birthday Party 2013, Stockholm

J.G.Thirlwell @ Art's Birthday Party 2013

J.G.Thirlwell @ Art's Birthday Party 2013

Images taken from http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=3676

I just finished watching a live stream of J.G. Thirlwell’s (Foetus) solo performance at Art’s Birthday Party 2013 in Stockholm. For some reason, this is the first live stream I’ve watched of a show rather than taking myself to a gig place.  How was it? One hour later, I am still at this moment much impressed both technically and sonically — if I can, I’d offer many thanks to all responsible for organizing this public stream. Let me write a little bit more about both these sides starting with the performance itself.

To date, I’ve seen the artist perform live once in 2005. Then — incidentally, just around leaving a job and with the savings I had made, but that’s another story — I traveled alone to Vienna to see him perform with a big band at Donaufest his then new album Love and conduct the orchestra for an older album by the side project Steroid Maximus. It was an excellent experience with fond memories and whereas I traveled alone, I even managed to meet a few students in the audience and discuss the gig afterwards.

Rather than a big band, today’s show, Cholera Nocebo, starts with something more familiar to those who frequent electronic festivals like I used to. Namely, it is a man behind a laptop. We see this laptop played via small keyboard and familiar-looking video footage from a driving car and hear what seem like incidental noises. But already now, the atmosphere is, somehow, cinematic, perhaps reinforced by the musique concrète artifacts that are lying around ready to be used. Soon, the piece indeed turns towards the orchestral: manipulated samples of a real orchestra blast across the speakers, an actual bowed string is played, as is a triangle and other metallic percussions, a music box, and what seems like a treated piano getting its chords pulled. (With my apologies for any faux musical terminology.) Just like a classical soundtrack to a movie unfolding.

This is and always has been my fascination with this performer and his Foetus project in all versions of its name. As I think he has said when interviewed, he uses the studio — or in this case, a laptop, some real instruments, and one extra performer for a while — to make it sound like a full-blown orchestra. At this age, I’ve discovered I have some fascination with classical music, be this due to being a Finn and accustomed to Sibelius or some insignificant musical talent I seemed to show at some point. But I’m afraid I’d never found this out through the normal way of listening to classical. This music just never was ready at hand. For instance, as far as I can remember, I’ve never seen a classical concert performed in a concert hall and don’t know if I will — with no prior experience of going to a concert as a child or later, it is difficult if not impossible to start at 35. However, the kind of music heard today manages to shift the typical venues and the technique of this genre: namely it is just one person, with a laptop or a studio, at a gig, creating the atmosphere, the dynamics, the tensions, and the appeal of orchestral music at least for me. Suffice to say, today’s show accomplished this end very well and I recommend testing the audio stream that is linked at the end of this post.

Secondly, being a computer music hobbyist with some tinkering experience, it was appealing to see this show performed up so close via the video stream. Whereas I know next to nothing about playing most instruments, the using of musical keyboards, laptops, and an incidental manipulated instrument I can appreciate. That they make sound like an orchestra is moreover rather impressive to see in such real time. Also excellent to this end, there was virtually no delay or lag between the audio and the video stream.

Let me now turn more to the technical side of watching the gig from a stream. I must have had some doubts about gigs over stream at least as far as I’ve never managed to see and listen to one before. But today’s stream beat any of my prior expectations by far. Almost the first thing one notes is that the sound is coming from the gig’s mixer and that you receive it in clear stereo. So, in one way, you get clearer, crisper audio than the audience who attended the show. This is not to downplay either way of experiencing the gig but just to note that there can be something inherently different to watching a stream to going to a gig yourself. You also get to see close-ups from cameras including those mentioned instruments getting played. Indeed, all in all, the cutting among several cameras seemed very well done. This is written by someone who is not a professional, but has got long experience in making visuals in the VJ’ing scene. Tonight’s show’s all successful video mixing notwithstanding, I was also charmed by how the crew managed to include an ending by zooming, blurring, and fading away some object in the ceiling. For me, from my prior experience in the VJ scene, this is the kind of sensitivity to the real-time that is crucial for creating visuals, and in my humble opinion, not often done that well. So, many thanks for this stream through this blog marking. 🙂

In the end the audience clapped loudly and I felt I really should have clapped too, but then that would’ve waken up both pets and people.

(It seems that the web site has added the live stream of the sound here: http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=3676. If I see the video become available, I shall link it as well.)


Swans, Flow festival, Helsinki, 11 August 2012

I just saw Swans live at the Flow festival, Helsinki. A stunning gig; and very apt for this event, in my opinion.

Rather than trying to  “review” my experience  more – a genre that I really don’t know how to write, any way – let me flesh out some impressions.

All in all, this gig goes against expectations — whether it is that of a “show”, of a “rock band”, of “rock songs” or of the ways in which bands interact with the audience. Memorable moments range from:

  • Michael Gira’s surrealistic (in this context, anyway) welcoming of the audience, “Good morning”, it is 20:00;
  • the long portions of songs that comprise one note;
  • the abruptly shifting vocal styles (from whispers to shouts to clear singing);
  • the short beautiful portions of acoustic music including harmonica (I pictured Apocalypse Now for some reason) ;
  • the gig finish which was just a snare drum (and not really a drum solo);
  • lack of choruses, verses, or bridges albeit certainly there was a structure;
  • the rock mannerisms which were somehow not quite like mannerisms (which showed, perhaps, that such manners are usually very much structured and almost always predictable);
  • the sheer loudness at least based on people talking about it afterwards (with earplugs, which the volunteers hand out enthusiastically, it is not too much to bear; the loudness was felt rather than heard near the front row).

It was a very good, satisfying and almost shattering experience at least to me. I also kept following the reactions near me part out of curiosity, part because they were unusually explicit: some just walk away hastily; some gaze at the audience around them with curiosity maybe trying to sense what others think and then they leave; some make sense themselves and start moshing in the heavy parts, or doing moves in the mellow parts, glancing at their friends maybe for a kind of an approval.

It is also obvious that a lot liked it. “The best rock gig I have seen”, someone says I hear when I walk away after the show is over. I catch some people I know and they seem to concur: it was an excellent gig. And I concur of course. Maybe this is the lesson that was hammered home by the show at least to me: music that defies expectations can still be enjoyed and remembered. I do look forward to other similar experiences.