So last night was in London to see Matmos and Cornelius. Absolutely awesome performance, though due to poor planning I missed half of Matmos, which cuts deep to my soul because I was so excited by them. What I saw was amazing. They really work to get a rich tapestry of sound going in front of you. Quirky inventive and relentlessly fascinating. It’s definitely good stuff. They did a version of Steam and Sequins for Larry Levan that failed to include my favourite noise, but still blew me away.
So much energy and life in the music.
Anyway, they ended on a strange note, with MC Schmitt reading from a book by Robert Ashley, whilst Drew Daniel toyed with some rather minimalist guitar and harp patterns. It was fascinating, but what it got me thinking about was the way that words and music get your attention
I found my attention wandering between the two, but each of the parts sounded more satisfying when my attention was on the other. If I paid attention to the words, it was like the music became brighter. If I paid attention to the music, I could feel more of the almost musical content of the words (but with a detachment from the immediate meaning).
Like I say, it got me thinking. It was a great little piece, the words were poetic enough to move, but retained a kind of abstract minimalism that suited the music.
Anyway, a short break, and it was time for Cornelius. He put on quite a show. I wasn’t expecting a band, but that’s what I got, the man himself in the middle with a guitar and a theremin, and an excellent group backing him up.
By the time they played drop, I was starting to think it was essentially a Japanese, Techno inspired version of the Beach Boys. The vocal harmony was often a key focus. Beautiful harmonies, layered thickly (like some kind of elegant chocolate sauce over rushing and bursting guitar noise (like some kind of moist cake), with a pounding urgency and rhythmic sense.
But none of this was really the star of the show. The incredible band, tight and perfect, were accompanied by what I have to say were the most impressive array of visuals I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen quite a few in my time. Endlessly inventive, and perfectly synched to the performance. It was an absolute delight.
It added so much to the performance, not distracting from the noise, but complimenting it, helping draw sense out of it.
But yeah, the words again. Here there was something different going on, most of the lyrics were in Japanese (where they existed) and hence incomprehensible (to me). Which I felt bought out the harmonies. I always seem to appreciate singing more when I can’t understand it. This is good as my ears are kind of shoddy at picking out words amongst chaos anyway. Melody, harmony and rhythm I can find pretty sharpish, but words not. I think my aural acuity is m0re musical than logical perhaps. I can never hear people in clubs and pubs (which affects my ‘pulling’ technique endlessly…though that might jsut be the smell), though I can recognise snippets of song barely heard in the distance. I’m weird like that.
Anyway, it was a great performance all round. (Videos of cornelius’ visual element shall follow.)
But yeah, there’s such a complicated relationship between the different forms of communication used in a live show like that. The visual element, both from lights, videos and the performers themselves. The audio element, all the music and sounds produced, and within that (in fact, at least potentially, within both) is the textual element.
It’s the fact that they transmit information in such totally different ways. The musical element, the sound, is a kind of strange abstract narrative, it can never be anything else. It’s just noise put into a semblance of order. It’s partly about pattern recognition, but also about surprise and emotion. By being so abstract, it is something you relate to in an emotional rather than logical way (as a rule, one which is made to be broken of course). it can’t be communicated in the same way again. It is very much of the moment. The way you listen is important too, you can pick out entirely different threads from a rich musical piece. Different harmonic elements, or perhaps simply focus on the rhythm of things. I have a tendency to hear music totally differently each time I hear it. You pull your own narrative out of the whole jumble on display…and it’s fun.
The visuals are a strange one. You really can recognise things there, but it’s often about seeing them move in a way you aren’t used to. Whether that’s the time lapsed footage of cars, pumping like blood through cities, as seen in Koyanisqatsi, or the dancing tea spoons and sugar cubes seen below, it’s about seeing things and being surprised almost. You can tell a story with a video, and people will be more likely to come out with the same story. It’s not that the visual medium is a simple one, it’s jsut that it’s the one we use most readily. It tends to be our primary mode of perception. We have barrels full of signs and signifiers to pick from, we recognise it and make sense of it, almost involuntarily. We rationalise it so much, piecing it together.
And we love it when it goes with the music.
The words are the part that always escapes me. Odd for someone who delights in words so much. I just never extract them from music as I listen, not for a while anyway. When I do (normally by looking them up) I’m often blown away. I love tight imagery and evocative words, but they never piece together with the music for me. Even when they are abstract they are logical, they have a meaning (though not always as fixed as you might think) and you have to integrate them into thought processes; interpret and understand. But you don’t have to. Often it’s distracting, though sometimes it helps you to focus.
Anyway, I just wanted to point out that it’s all very interesting, and it’s strange how much I think even when I’m entirely wrapped up an incredible performance.
To stop me rambling nonsensically, I shall post a couple of Cornelius’ videos. If you want more (and I recommend it) just search for him on your favourite video service. But that’s pretty obvious really.
Here’s a few of my favourites:
Ok, so they didn’t two others I wanted to put up, but this’ll have to do. Fit song was absolutely incredible, as you can see. The other amazing moment for me, was a song I didn’t know, with stones dancing around a park, only then they were people, and it was all in a kaleidescope, this huge group of miniature people orbitting each other in repeating patterns. It was just gorgeous to stare at.