Diatribe Live: M.C. Schmidt/Jennifer Walshe/Nick Roth

Jennifer Walshe at the Grand Social, Dublin (Photo © Olesya Zdorovetska 2015)

Diatribe Live: M.C. Schmidt/Jennifer Walshe/Nick Roth

A night of improvised music hosted by the Diatribe label was experiential, experimental and more, writes John McLachlan.

Those who are familiar with French may know that the word expérience can mean experience or experiment, depending on the construction. This might lead us to mull over the relationship between experiment and experience. What is an experiment but an experience that you learn from?

The evening of 16 November at the Grand Social in Dublin involved three line-ups who each improvised in an extremely free way things that no sane musician would attempt to write down in music notation. It was a night of experimental improvised music. Pieces might last a long time according to the performers’ instinctual and mutual signals. I am sure some readers are already thinking how glad they are not to have been there. They would be quite wrong; they missed a rather wonderful evening. The experiment was well-imbued and marinated with the long-served musical experience of those involved. The headlining act was M.C. Schmidt and Jennifer Walshe, with Nick Roth, and the first two line-ups were ‘The Water Project’ (consisting of Olesya Zdorovetska, Keith Lindsay and Nick Roth) and a duo of David Stalling and Anthony Kelly.

The first set was a twenty-minute weave of water dropping and pouring onto and into glass, with pick-ups allowing this source sound set to be amplified and processed. It was processed in a subtle way for the most part by Keith Lindsay, while Roth and Zdorovetska controlled the flow and churn of water from a collection of curious vessels. The effect could range from electric rainforest to a pleasing send-up of vapid ‘beats’ music – and sometimes both at the same time – as the drops ignored all neatness. Processing never completely removed the sound result from the sound source, which made this engaging to watch and hear.

The second act moved the focus to a table crammed with dozens of objects such as transistor radios, effects pedals, hand-made idiophones with springlike wires projecting from wood, electric steel guitars, and cast-offs from factory floors. Oh, and a variety of tuning forks both miniscule and majuscule. Again there were pickups to macrophone a micro world. The result was a twenty-five minute shaggy carpet of noise, with prominences of clarity, colour and fascination, where Stalling was the tone-master and Kelly the noise-chief.

The third and crowning act was a long set from Jennifer Walshe partnering M.C. Schmidt, with Nick Roth in a more background role on saxophones and whistles. Here the vocal dimension from Walshe and Schmidt – and his screwing turntablism of spoken-word records – allowed a grand admixture of pathos, bathos, sarcasms and zany fun (among much else) to send mood tendrils along a quite abstract and varied trellis of time.

The phrase ‘experimental music’ is redolent of something from four decades ago, often involving self-indulgence and audiences feeling had. It focuses attention on the doer. Perhaps if the term were replaced by ‘experiential music’ the focus could shift to the listener and also to the dues already paid by musicians.

Published on 30 November 2015

John McLachlan is a composer and member of Aosdána. www.johnmclachlan.org

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