Review: William Basinski, Fennesz and Helm at St John’s Church, Hackney

St John’s Church, between sets (Basinski/Fennesz/Helm concert). Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved 
William Basinski, Fennesz and Helm
(St John’s Church, Hackney, 27 June 2013. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The generous, unimpeded space of St Johns Church, with its demeanour of arrested decay, flickering candles and the paraphernalia of worship was the perfect setting for the first in the adventurous St John’s Sessions series. The insiduously invasive contrasts offered in compelling solo performances by William Basinski and Christian Fennesz were well suited to the church’s admirable acoustics. Indeed, the church’s original architect in 1792, James Spiller, who built the space to hold 2,000 congregants, insisted that the acoustics would only be at their optimum when the church was full.

As the balcony, organ choir and floor areas filled up to standing room only, Helm, (aka Luke Younger) set the mood with an abstract, industrial mesh of conjoined found and processed sound and electronica.

Fennesz’s shuddering, mechanico-electronic gruel, melancholy loops and grinding guitar manoeuvres built up to an insistent, haunting undertow, lapping at the edges of the auditorium with the consistency and adhesion of treacle. An anaesthetising, rumbling drone broke in to the visceral roar of jet engine intensity sans sound insulation, and the sense of an inevitable and terrible machine approaching from an unknown direction. Bass vibrations shook the building, feral power chords, à la Cocteau Twins, were placed in angular juxtaposition with hissing discord and synthetic voice fragments – an electronic detox pitched in an alien no-man’s land of disconnection and loss.

Basinski, making a rare UK appearance, eluded the maelstrom to sketch out the topography of a different uninhabited terrain, less bleak, less threatening, in two pieces that combined a remote, ethereal quality with a hermetic warmth. The contradictions of disengagement and absorption were induced in simple, sealed statements based around light, piano-toned figures, reinforced onstage by a repeating, antique  monochrome back projection of clouds, its focus a mobile, glowing sun, which appeared to be on the point of melting through the film.

The incremental changes within the repetitions had an intriguing, hypnotic quality, with gentle counterpoints and lingering flares that held the attention. The brief, final piece was introduced with a binding, slow phrase, flecked with disjointed pauses and the distant noise of orchestral fragments, chimes and and electronic pulsing that faded and fluttered into celestial orbit. ‘That’s it,’ pronounced a graciously grinning Basinski, as the applause reluctantly subsided.

Categories: miscellaneous

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