This Saturday just past, The Chameleon Arts Cafe in Nottingham was the intimate venue of choice for Ambient Électronique, a one off event (there may be more in future but it's unconfirmed) showcasing five of the city's electronic artists. The sounds on display? were a rare diamond in a rough desert of drainpipe wearing 'indie' bands and the Ed Sheeran wannabes that are often not enough to tickle the imagination or - certainly in my case - enough to conjure up any kind of response at all, It frankly tires me; but that's a rant for another day. So let's get down to the important stuff!
The night began with an intimate set by Yumah, who creates soundscapes out of looped phrases of her own vocals and adding various FX from within the mysterious suitcase flanking her on stage; this was her second solo gig to date. What would begin as a voice simply announcing to the packed room "My name is Yumah" with huge psychedelic projections of her face on the walls behind her led us down a dreamy tunnel. This simple statement would soon end up being layered with other phrases and harmonies until a huge wall of voices were swimming around drenched in delay and reverb. The phasing of layers and delay would generate interesting syllabic polyrhythms within it's ambient texture and you'd soon forget that all of these sounds were human in origin. It worked up thoughts of William Burroughs, Laurie Anderson and even Stockhausen's 'Stimmung' to the front of my mind and reminded me of how powerful a tool the human voice can be; its often the most impactful of instruments, even when it's not using words. Yumah continued her set with a few more little vocal pieces such as this, bringing in new words and melodies to provide variation and maintain interest, it was a fantastic way to begin the evening and got everyone well on board for more sonic explorations. Listen out for Yumah and head over to her Facebook for more info, she will also be appearing on the soon-to-be released Plyci album 'Passive', out on OotMRecords on 14/7/17.
Next up was Widows of Europe taking us deep into the abyss of microsonic tape loops to explore all the pops, clicks, rumbles and oscillations within. It was like a beautifully dark nature documentary, except without the super high-res cameras but instead armed with pinpoint accurate microphones. As the loops cycled around you'd hear a deep bass line swimming around, hidden within the ambient textures, like standing in a wood, just within earshot of a night club or busy motorway. All of these sounds were lovingly presented via tape, giving it a ghostly quality, full of hiss and pitch imperfections that really added a character to them. These pops and crackles would soon smear into droning resonances and soft pads, layered with the rhythmic pulses of found sounds hidden within them. It was haunting and relaxing in equal measure, it truly was the definition of ambient and was possibly the most intimate set of the evening with the room full of deathly silent but fully attentive listeners. It would float the boat of anyone who has read any Curtis Roads or enjoyed kicking back to some Oneothrix Point Never, Boards of Canada and Tim Hecker. Top set.
After the calm but hauntingly electric Widows of Europe we dived right into the monochrome, surreal world of Grey Frequency, the brain child of Gavin Morrow. A well known local ambient and experimental artist who has many strings to his bow (not that he had a bow, he usually does, but it's in need of a re-hair I believe. Gavin, call me, I know a guy...), so many in fact he was part of the team who put the event on in the first place, as well as creating all the dynamic visuals for the other performers (more on that later). Here we had a set, played on a couple of tape decks being sent through a variety of fx pedals to create big sonic walls of sound, looping sound sources of various types being slammed through echo boxes and layered with some live instrumentation via a home made 'Nail Violin' (not bowed this time, but tickled by keyrings and stroked with CD-R's). His set took us down many avenues, dark and heavy ones as well as educational ones in the form of an 80's self help cassette ringing out above a droning, cacophonous bed of reverb and tape noise. Touching upon John Cage like ideas such as his 'Williams Mix' with a hint of Warren Ellis and Pierre Schaeffer it was a dynamic and ever evolving set. It was loud and intense, artfully staged within a hypnotic swirling orb projected across the performance space, a set that drew you in and made you ultimately realise you never knew the true shape of your face and that your eyes were too close together... Check out more of Grey Frequency's prolific body of work via his website.
Well, at this stage in the evening, people were beginning to feel the heat, it was an incredible 30 degrees in the room, with punters huddled around the large industrial fan that was placed in front of the stage to avoid evaporating entirely. We were now past the half way point, and people really were not showing any signs of wanting to run away from the intense heat, they heroically stuck around for the final two acts of the night, the next of which was Modulator ESP. We left the realm of the cassette tape and headed into the high tech world of touch screens and hifi synthesis. We were presented with a huge, pulsating sonic wall full of synthetic textures, arpeggiations, huge galactic reverbs and deep bass rumbles, rumbles which shook you to the core through the immense sound system at the venue (the best in Nottingham y'know). Sat comfortably behind a table full of sonic toys Modulator ESP shifted through many thick drones and full frequency washes that you felt like you were in a tumble dryer with a lucid Vangelis, a Yamaha CS80, an ounce of magic mushrooms and one of those Wraiths from Lord of the Rings. The set was confident and monolithic, with everything in the room resonating, with the audience transfixed at the swirling, colourful visuals and feeling every pulse being thrown at them. Modulator is a very prolific synthesist - if his 'merch perch' was anything to go by - and this set made it very clear indeed, do check his body of work out and zone out to some very cool modulations. He also happens to be responsible for another local electronic music night, a monthly event held at Lee Rosy's Tea Rooms called Church of Sound, one worth checking out if you want to delve into some really explorative music.
The final act of the night was OotMRecords's very own Plyci, performing his first fully modular, laptop free (slightly nervous) set, having had a long break from live performance whilst he's been recording new material. The room was so warm at this point, the big industrial fan needed to stay on, otherwise someone would be liable for humidity based manslaughter. To counter the fan noise, Plyci just played louder. Starting with bouncing synth voices minimally interlacing between each other, he soon built up a dense, textured sound adding droning bass, chirping synthesisers and modulations, gradually implementing distortion, echoes and reverbs to build up a thick ambient soup seemingly getting louder and bigger all the time. This soup had bits in it, now and again they would float to the surface as the pot boiled, hinting at previous motifs and suggesting where we may go from there. It was a sweaty mess of huge chordal shifts, deep drones and cables... cables everywhere, like some demented telephone exchange operator. The set was garnished with shifting visuals of neon lights, towering cityscapes and cherry blossom. You can checkout Plyci's other work here.
The night ended with a a unanimous cheer and round of applause for the industrial fan at the foot of the stage attempting to cool everyone off - by this point some of us were growing mushrooms in places no mushroom should be found - and so everyone headed to the bar or outside to get some well deserved fresh air. If any of the above tickles your fancy here are all five sets of the evening for you to listen to, accompanied by the awesome visuals mentioned earlier.
All in all it was a wonderful evening, with an appreciative audience, some well into their experimental music and some utterly new to it, people left smiling. Let's hope we get to taste what Ambient Électronique bring to the sonically under-seasoned table of the local music scene again in the future; my fingers are crossed tight.
*photos courtesy of Gavin Morrow + Gerallt Ruggiero