REVIEW: Nicolas Collins and Okkyung Lee at White Cube

Cellist, Okkyung Lee, at White Cube
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Nicolas Collins and Okkyung Lee
(White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey, 21st and 22nd March 2015. Part of Christian Marclay’s exhibition programme. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

“A live recording session – you don’t know how strange this feels!” So proclaimed electronic music artist, Nicolas Collins, on the eighth weekend of the Christian Marclay season at White Cube. His improvised performance and that of the innovative Korean cellist, Okkyung Lee, whose commissioned work with the London Sinfonietta, Pub Crawl, Day One, was performed on the following afternoon, were recorded live for output as limited edition vinyl albums, to be pressed and packaged in the gallery, as with all the concerts.

Both events owed as much to the exuberant artistic melting pot of New York as they did to the vibrant London platform around which Marclay has built the series. Collins is a native New Yorker and, like Marclay, frightened the horses at CBGBs in the 80s. Lee is based in New York via Boston’s Berklee, and Marclay, who conceived the entire series, now splits his time between the two cities.

Collins and Lee responded to Marclay’s brief in unique engagements with the hundreds of drinking glasses crammed on to the shelf running round the pristine gallery.

Collins, in his first piece, worked carefully with feedback, using mics to interact with glasses hand-picked off the shelf. He captured, distorted and moulded the feedback from each mic, manoeuvring the glasses around them to shape the sounds, then poured water into each before extracting the liquid with a giant pipette, moving it from one glass to another to induce variations in pitch, with high hums and jamming signals adding highlights.

Small vibration motors were put to work in the fragile, active anarchy of his second piece, tapping on the glasses and beer mats placed over them, their echoes, tings, tinkles and tiny thuds eliding with lightly invasive feedback and sudden ear-crunching screeches. Collins turned each one off, singly, to return to silence.

Nicolas Collins, electronics artist, at White Cube
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Lee, for the Sunday commission, envisioned the entire space as the performance area. With the Sinfonietta’s quartet positioned centrally, a large bass drum as visual focus, each musician faced outwards to the audience. In the initial, arcadian spell, Jonathan Morton opened with tentative violin scutterings, Joely Koos drew out fluffy sounds with her bow on the cello’s wood, Scott Lygate turned his clarinet horizontally to blow through the keys and Oliver Lowe used chains to play on his timpani and cymbals. ‘Think of water sprinklers … going off unevenly’ was one of Lee’s scored instructions.

Departing from the central podium, they walked into the audience area, continuing to play, halting for moments as they wove around the packed room and were joined by Lee, playing her cello with gusto, emerging from the corner where the recording team were based.

Delicate sounds drifted in from all directions as in a constantly changing multi-phonic dream. Drama was added with Lowe’s thunderous pummeling on the bass drum, and with a final, magical touch, audience members who had been primed by Lee, played on the shelf-based glasses with pens to add a shimmering, tinkling cascade. Lee had immersed the whole room in a beautifully crafted sound world that spun on a perfect balance between structure, imagination and engagement.

Okkyung Lee’s Pub Crawl, Day One will be repeated on Sunday 29 March at White Cube Bermondsey with a solo improvised set from Lee, too.


Categories: miscellaneous

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