(King’s Place Hall Two. 19 November 2022. Review by AJ Dehany)
Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Giske’s performances are shamanic studies of physicality, vulnerability and endurance, made with just the body, breath, saxophone and space. Bendik’s two albums Surrender (2019) and Cracks (2021) are deep hauntological statements of appeal to diverse fans of minimalism, genderqueer intersections, dark music, solo sax, or just anyone interested in observing something that feels genuinely fresh and original in the history of Adolphe Sax’s fantastic and completely mad instrument.
If you weren’t that into minimalist music of a certain gloom you could still thrill to the show as pure physical performance, like a martial art. The sheer physical technical facility of Bendik Giske’s saxophone technique is immediately evident. “Ass Drone”, the opener of 2019 album Surrender, takes just a single note, held using circular breathing, the cheeks puffing back and forth as the drone is held for minutes with increasing tension. Microcontrolled fluctuations irrupt and the sound expands with overtones riding up and down the harmonic series, until the drone is almost overtaken by sounds and noises. It’s a thing to wonder at: circular breathing is far from simple, the tension is created, and when at last the breath breaks, the whole room contracts like spacetime bulging and bending back.
One key signature track from 2021’s Cracks is Cruising, the title a reference to José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Bendik’s music and performance enact a notion of “queer time” which, taking the cue from Muñoz’s style, employ fragments and odd couplings to break with the “here and now,” striving for “a then and there.” The otherworldly quality of the music has a bold and beautiful bleakness that reminds me of images of timeless lunar and extraterrestrial surfaces cropped by peaks and mountains and the sky a black canvas of twinkling points of light, the image of the sun from Mars, which at that distance is creepy, so small and pale.
The music obeys a trenchant emotionality, though times there are moments of abstraction and disorientation as time is queered, and then there is also the sheer sexiness of the physical performance. Like a beatboxer swaying to the slow funk of the arpeggios, there’s a groove to Cruising. The lighting picks up with a halo of glowing gold and Bendik is glowing gold too. The sound is drenched in echo that sustains the overblown high notes that are like cries from the deep, all the while painting the soft arpeggio, tapping the buttons of the saxophone percussively. There are three clip mikes on the horn, one in the main bell, and two near the hands, as well as unseen room mikes. Each has a different level of effect so that the mikes on the hands don’t add echo to the tapping, which would get chaotic, but epically bring out the high-note overblowing that is the emotional fulcrum of the music.
There are still mysteries about the sound—late on a low rumble seemed to come from below the range of the horn. The second album expanded the studio manipulations of the live take, but it’s still profoundly a solo achievement of body and breath. You can see the ebonite mouthpiece, the ligature fastened on the top side, you assume a soft reed or his lips would be like a leather saddle. Maybe they are, with Bendik rubbing his lips, clearly sore after forty-five minutes of almost continuous blowing, and stretching his arms, which are locked into those repeating figures in a set lasting a whole hour. An unforgettable figure in a tableau deeply burned into your brain, he smiles that Rutger Hauer smile he has, and says, “Thanks, my last show of the year— my teeth are killing me.”
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Categories: Live review