Tortoise

Tortoise

with Autechre, Russell Haswell, Nobakazu Takemura, Prefuse 73, and DJ Rob Hall

The Club at Firestone, Orlando, FL • May 22, 2001

What a night! May 22 saw a cataclysmic shakedown at Firestone. A group of the bigger names in electronic experimental music (dare I say it, IDM) converged for about five hours of floor pounding, head nodding, and chin scratching delirium.

Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73 opened the show. Prefuse is his latest focus, and the most overtly hip-hop oriented of all of his many projects (Delarosa & Asora, Savath & Savalas, and Communication Project). DJ Rob Hall and Mr. Lif joined him. Mr. Lif is an MC of some renown; I was somewhat disappointed to see him only do an intro and outro to the set, due to voice box damage. Herren, however, was well equipped. His beats are more cut-up and fractured than what you’d expect from a “hip-hop” act. Here, he mainly seemed to be running sequences and tweaking sounds texturally. Rob Hall scratched over Herren’s beats, which added a nice counterpoint to the crisp electronics. I noticed the progression of tracks, but the transitions between them were utterly flawless. Herren played one of my favorite songs, “Livin’ Life,” near the end, which thrilled me to no end. Rob Hall stayed on stage to play between all of the bands.

Nobakazu Takemura was on next. Aki Tsuyuko, who recently released a record on Mokai, Jim O’Rourke’s label, joined him. I’m not familiar with her work, but after the set, I get the feeling that I should be. Their set was the first one to use visuals. The projected images give you something interesting to look at; watching two people hunched over their laptops, while interesting in some contexts (Andy Warhol comes to mind), does not a make good stage show. These visuals were great! They consisted of many small pictures moving around the screen in patterns, occasionally being layered and affected. The music went perfectly with the images. One of Takemura’s projects is called “Child’s View,” which epitomizes his approach to sound creation. Like Oval, he uses skipping CDs, but his songs are playful and buoyant, never coldly academic like many of the Mille Plateaux releases tend to be. Takemura and Tsuyuko’s set was filled with fractured beats and dizzying, sweeping, and buzzing textures/melodies. My favorite moment was at the end, when a giant cartoony robot filled the screen. The robot began to make faces as the images replaced each other faster and faster while the music came to a frenetic, bouncy head. I felt about seven years old again.

This segued quickly into Russell Haswell’s set. Haswell is a stalwart of the Mego label, an Austrian collective that is at the forefront of the burgeoning glitch and electronic noise genres. I didn’t know that Haswell was playing here; after reading tour reports from other cities, I complained to a friend about his absence on this schedule. Imagine my surprise when I heard screeching wails of electronic noise. “YES!!!!” I screamed internally.

Layers and layers of digital wails and screams meshed with violent thuds. Haswell essentially played a DJ set, mixing noise with death metal and drum n’ bass. A friend spotted some Plug in the mix, while I reveled in the sheer amount of sound. Haswell’s set was easily the highlight of the entire show for me. I don’t think my ears have properly recovered yet.

Autechre moved in quickly after Haswell. I wasn’t watching the stage, so I couldn’t actually tell where the transition occurred. Haswell and Autechre are occupying sonic space that is growing closer and closer together. With their newest record, Confeld, Autechre are moving further into exploring generative music and atonality. The set they played was very rhythmic; however, the beats didn’t feel very danceable (I danced, but if you saw me, you could scarcely call my spasmoylytic jerking “dancing”). The extreme repetition they used was beautiful. I got that feeling that I get while listening to Morton Feldman’s longer ensemble pieces; time doesn’t move as it used to move. I wander mentally in a sort of alpha-state trance while time crawls by. Temporal dislocation is one of my “things,” I suppose. Regardless, their exploration of texture and nuance really worked for me; each of the 10-15 minute long pieces seemed a long plane filled with eccentric scenery.

After a short break, Tortoise came on. I’ll get this out of the way now: I’ve never been much of a Tortoise fan. While they were the “headliners,” I was there for the other acts. Their set rubbed me the same way their CDs do: pleasant, but forgettable. The band is tight and hit the changes well, but the playing is never very inspired and their melodic work is often excessively meandering. However, it was nice to see them take a political stand, as the visuals for the first song were of some sort of demonstration/protest. The band members changed instruments fairly regularly, but to little interest. The vibraphone playing was really lacking, while the synths felt unnecessarily jarring. John McEntire’s drumming and Jeff Parker’s guitar playing helped to keep the music out of a somnolent morass, however. Only the encore really worked for me, and that was primarily because of the visuals. They featured looped and manipulated images of buildings and landscapes in Chicago. The music seemed so appropriate in context of the video of their home city.

Overall, it was a wonderful and joyous occasion. The future of electronic music seems secure in the able hands that these many musicians represent. Glory be!

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