Drones and Dreams
May 15, 2002
by Tony Mostrom
WORLD OUT OF TUNE FESTIVAL at Highland Grounds, May 4
Most of the lineup here promised sure-fire microtonal goodness, including two of L.A.’s best exponents of the kind of Eastern-tinged drones and repetitive, trickling mallet-and-string minimalism one associates with microtonal composers like Lou Harrison, Harry Partch and Terry Riley. Then there was the wild card: the ominously unknown Microtonal Rock & Roll Act . . .
Arriving just before showtime, I find the place pleasingly noisy and packed; loud espresso noises hiss from behind the counter, while some cornball Pretenders-ish pop plays over the PA. First on the bill is the acoustic drone trio Voice of the Bowed Guitar, and I see San Franciscan Doug Williford (thereof) sitting cross-legged amid piles of gear, his violin bow in hand; attentive. Three shiny acoustic guitars lay on the stage.
Joseph Hammer walks in and crouches down, and once Rod Poole announces the “band” above the din of people talking, all is quiet.
Then it commences.
The drone: a huge, dark, buzzing-edged chord rises up from the three slowly bowed instruments, lush and tense, violin bows crawling back and forth without a break, scree-ing high overtones tinny in our ears, above the one dark note. It’s a loud, densely layered forest of harmonies; buzzes and high squeals hover above, then get lost again in the resulting distilled chord that plows consistently on.
Some people sit with eyes closed, letting the gigantic, overlapping sighs envelop their faces and the room: ssshhhhiiiisshh . . . It’s menacing and satisfying. (Later:) What time is it? Who knows? But suddenly the sawing becomes insistently louder (and I cup my ears, and it becomes even sharper and more powerful). Standing up to sketch the crouched-over trio, I see they’re sawing the guitars faster now, but who would’ve known? Then, one by one, it ends. Audience pleased, ravished.
Following some overwrought and out-of-place ’70s rock by Swallow (of New York) that goes too long and empties the place, the 10 or 12 of us who stay are rewarded with the incredibly beautiful, dreamy, wind-chiming, abstract, bell-like flutters and swirling patterns of a gorgeous Kraig Grady piece for two vibraphones. Bong . . . It ‘s the only piece that gives me hallucinations: bursting magenta flowers, dreams inside a Japanese children’s book. It feels like water.
Last up: David Beardsley (of New York) plays a short piece of humming, layered tones on his densely fretted electric guitar, bravely competing with the cashieress, who, oblivious, loudly closes down the register. Pissed at her, but we like Beardsley.