Unsound at Luminato in the Hearn Generating Station

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Loooook! Rocks!

In art, industrial spaces in disrepair are not new. There’s nothing left to wring from either the glory-of-human-progress, man-vs-nature thread, and the globalization-made-this-rubble anti-capitalist critique is so played out, the concept itself ought to be in a museum. And yet, wandering among the enormous hulking I-beams in the decommissioned Hearn Generating Station in Toronto’s port lands, hired and lit up for Luminato by European music presenters Unsound, I felt roughly the same way I did wandering along the Cleveland Dam in Vancouver, or looking down from the CN Tower for the first time: damn, that’s really big, and people made that, not nature.

Loooook! Rocks! And lasers!

So much for theory. I wouldn’t necessarily give the act of putting abstract electronic music in a big empty building the Turner Prize, but that doesn’t make seeing Robert Henke’s Lumiere II in an awe-inspiring space any less worthwhile.

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Bringing in a performance involving lasers was an inspired choice for the venue; a little dry ice for the light to play off before hitting the screen heightened the anticipation, despite whatever comparisons to Cirque du Soleil it may also have invited. The music was, it has to be said, less inspired. Henke is certainly no slouch in the electronic production department, having written more software than most producers will ever use. But while techno and its offshoots don’t need much in the way of melody to move a crowd, the bar is higher in experimental/’listening’ music. Personally after living through the IDM thing, and having given far too many hours of my 20s to wilderness-years Autechre records, my feelings on extended metallic-sounding percussion workouts are about the same as a classic rock morning show host’s – indifferent, bordering on hostile. Still, I expected to like Henke’s performance anyways, and I’m surprised by how much I ultimately did. He’s an inventive programmer, and the interplay between the visuals and the beats was perfectly hypnotic. A series of fuzzy shapes flitting across the screen gave me a feeling of being on a merry go round, or looking at a rave siren revolving away, while rumbling bass prodded insistently at my insides like a nutritionist asking me how many carbs I eat in a day.

Lumière No 6 Excerpt II from Robert Henke on Vimeo.

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I’m really glad I didn’t give up on the piece after its first few minutes, either, because the middle section managed to grab me and pull me back in with – wait for it – melody. Sounding like a piano’s strings being plucked, the second act made the Hearn space feel even more like a haunted house, a place where ghosts mourn their passing by throwing huge, post-corporeal-form raves and screenings of Blade Runner. It totally lived up to the potential of the evening, and I was swooning.

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The side-room event, Ephemera, was more confusing, mostly in a good way. I’m not going to spoil it for anybody with too many details, but let’s just say that it takes place in a smaller, windowless space that purports to use smell (curated by “conceptual perfumer” Geza Schoen, whose business cards must be a hoot) as well as visuals by Marcel Weber a.k.a. MFO and sound by Tim Hecker. I enjoyed the post-apocalyptic disorientation of the visuals, felt the music was below Hecker’s usual standards thanks to some fairly aimless noise-drone sections, and couldn’t discern the smell part at all. Worth the extra $10, but not for claustrophobes. Nuff said.

Throwing events like these are hard, finding the right act for the room is harder, and using the space properly is harder still. It wasn’t quite an unqualified success, but Unsound Toronto was really exciting in ways I didn’t anticipate, and I would love for it to be an annual thing. Hint hint: Bitchin Bajas. Make it happen.

Unsound Toronto continues June 20 with Morton Subonick, Ben Frost, Atom TM and more. Click here for details.

Tuesday downloads: Austin Peralta and Siriusmo, separated at birth?

Austin Peralta (left); Siriusmo � they're not the same person, we think

Ah, jazz prodigies. They�re like some rarified tropical fish�often strikingly beautiful but not very good at adapting to changes in their native environment. LA pianist/composer Austin Peralta has been playing since age 5 and though he�s racked up collabs with the likes of Chick Corea and Ron Cater, he seems to have already stretched beyond jazz-police conservativism to embrace electronic sounds, which bodes well for Endless Planets, his album on FlyLo�s Brainfeeder label due out Feb 15. You don�t have to be a trainspotter to hear echoes of In A Silent Way in the disc�s brief final track (a collaboration with The Cinematic Orchestra and singer Heidi Vogel):

In my experience as a young student (certainly not any kind of wunderkind, for sure), the hardest part of growing up playing jazz was the feeling that you needed to love it to the exclusion of other music, and not worry about the fact that you were in effect turning your back on the pop culture that for most other kids was the whole world; too many former prodigies either end up making the most terrifyingly gauche fusion/jam band stuff, or just turning into bebop arch conservatives. It seems from what little of his music I�ve heard that Peralta manages to comfortably reconcile hip underground electronic sounds and jazz changes, and I�m dying to hear the record and find out whether I really need to be jealous or not.

On an unrelated musical note (but a similar haircut one � see above), I thought for some reason that Monkeytown (Modeselektor�s label) signing Siriusmo was putting out his record in early February. So after thinking I had missed my chance to preview it (Rule #2 of blogging: don�t take three weeks off after being embarrassed at having taken two weeks off), I was pleased to discover that it doesn�t drop until March 1 in North America, thus giving me a chance to yell BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT in all caps as a preview. If I had to describe Mosaik in, say, a police report filed by my irate, deafened neighbours, I guess I�d call it a tech-house album? But really it�s gloriously all over the place, with all the capital-F Fun you remember from early rave era and none of the cheap brain-battering tricks that four/four producers have binged on of late. There are more fist-in-the-air stuttering synth stabs on Mosaik than I care to remember, mostly because my copy is one big MP3 file that I never want to stop, pause or otherwise interrupt. I wish everything with a straight-ahead club beat was this giddily enjoyable. I also wish it was 1992 and someone had just given me something with a happy face on it, but enough about me.

[LINK]

At first the fact that I would rather listen to Tim Hecker�s beatless productions than anything with a kick drum had me believing my brain had begun the inevitable decades-long slide into mushy Phil Collins fandom. Then I remembered that I felt the same way about Harmony In Ultraviolet and An Imaginary Country as I do about Hecker�s upcoming tour de force, Ravedeath 1972, so maybe it�s just that the rest of my listening is catching up with what I�ve enjoyed all along. To be fair, Hecker�s latest is mostly harsher than the likes of the Cluster, Tangerine Dream, CFCF and Emeralds albums I�ve been sloooooshing around in lately; there�s no ambiguity in tracks like �The Piano Drop,” just sadness turning to menace and the occasional moment of pure aggro. You ask for miracles, I give you the grisly middle of �Hatred Of Music I.”

[LINK via Pitchfork]