Review: Christian Marclay, Phil Minton, Steve Beresford

Christian Marclay, Phil Minton, Steve Beresford
(Café Oto, 5th March 201; review and drawings* by Geoff Winston)

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This was an extraordinary concert from start to finish. Christian Marclay (drawing above) was not only performer, but also the spirit behind the scenes, setting up the contexts for self expression, the laboratory conditions for experiments to succeed.

On the long table at the front of the stage was a rolled-up 30 metre long scroll on which Marclay had assembled a graphic score made up of Manga comic fragments, to include a stream of the ‘pow’, ‘and ‘zap’ words (the onomatopoeias), translated in to English, and premiered last summer in New York.

Phil Minton

As two assistants, one on either side of the table, slowly unfurled the scroll, Phil Minton‘s interpretation of this notation was joltingly visceral, and in Oto’s packed room, electrifying in its immediacy. The piercing, astringent drawing of breath through spittle which defined the start of his epic non-verbal journey was also a signal to attention. The room went quiet. Deep in to a peripheral, elemental universe, Minton’s strained articulations were never far from pain, genesis, death and aggression. He travelled through a tremendous personal gamut of vocal possibility: animalesque utterances and shrieks, harsh singing, the cries of a newborn or a demented soul, leonine purrs, belches, fighting monkeys, feral cats or coyotes, a religious chant, insects and hisses, the hampered enunciation of a football yob – everything on the edge of vocality, clear, yet half-formed – rants, cries, pleas.

Marinetti, early in the 20th century, would have loved this contemporary equivalent of his pioneering ‘words in freedom’, performed from his own onomatopoeic texts describing warfare, as would Kurt Schwitters, causing riots on the Dada tour of Holland as he declaimed from his nonsensical Ur Sonata text. Here, Minton’s exhalations, gargles and squalls were expressed through a wracked body, perpetually malleable facial manoeuvres and gentle hand gestures. A triumph – and without any electronic assistance whatsoever.

Steve Beresford then teamed up with Marclay for a flowing, enervating dialogue of electronic and turntable interaction, held together by a vital imaginative spark. Beresford was alert and intent behind an array of table-top gizmos which, to the uninitiated, could have been taken for hopeful offerings at an electronics fair! He was the operator supremo, hands darting back and forth, reaching over to hit the right devices, fingers working what was effectively a massive, unconventional keyboard to extract clatterings, chatterings, skewed sounds and waves – supplemented by sirens and honks, with the odd hand held noise-maker whirring above his head.

Marclay’s train-like chugging and whiff of Hawaiian guitar were literal reminders of the tactility of the worn vinyl which he not only plays kind-of-conventionally on his bank of vintage (possibly Califone) turntables, but also drags across the pickup arm and manhandles to add the unexpected sounds of damage at their interface.

Minton took to the stage again to perform a mesmerising duet with Marclay; Marclay was the perfect foil and foundation, dropping in very light and exquisitely selected sound extracts behind Minton’s laid-bare vocalisings: a distant violin, a passage of operatic high notes behind Minton’s light whistling and yodels – I swear he yodelled backwards.

Finally, all three worked together and briefly Marclay exclaimed that it was collaborator Elliott Sharp’s 60th birthday, so threw in a few bars of The Beatles’ rocky ‘Birthday’, a suitably fuzzy, grubby rendition swiftly followed by burps and belches, cello sounds … and then it all ended on the sound of a temple gong.

Throughout the evening, Marclay had masterminded the whole session, quietly directing the flow, almost by inference. It was a unique experience, three master performers ‘on song’, extraordinary beyond expectation.

(* Images Copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011, All Rights Reserved)

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