When I walked in there was a metal frame about the size of a walk-in closet set up on the left wing of the stage. An incredibly elaborate assembly of homemade instruments and machines was affixed to the joints and struts of the frame. It looked like the coolest science fair project ever, or maybe a prototype for the game Mouse Trap that got rejected for being too dangerous. Toilet brushes, CDs, computer hardware, springs, strings, forks and spoons, miscellaneous Erector set components, probably even the obligatory chewing gum and shoelaces: this thing, whatever it was, caught the attention of anyone who came in the room. I was intrigued but also a bit worried. It seemed like this show could become obnoxiously gimmicky real quick.
Luckily, that was not at all the case.
Like almost every concert I’ve gone to at Pannonica, this show did not disappoint. I am now a fan of Pierre Gordeeff because his built-from-scratch apparatus and the ambient music he makes with it have changed my understanding of electronic music, the relationship between humans and machines, and light and space. The man made a drum out of a fork wrapped in a sock striking a compact disc.
When his set began, all the lights in the place were turned off, save a pair of little bulbs attached to two of the stations of his Great Glass Elevator, Supercalifragilistic, whatchamacallit: the big instrument thing. As his songs progressed, different stations went to work - simple machines in motion. The lights were connected to the machines; they moved when the machines did. The ingenious part of the performance was its visual component. Gordeeff had arranged the lights in such a way that they created a stunning shadow theatre on the walls, making the room shrink and expand as they became large or imperceptible according to the position of the light. One bulb shone through a fly swatter, freckling the wall with circles of light and dark.
The accompanying music was mostly a minor key drone with occasional percussion. Although the songs were simply constructed, I think he made a compelling statement about electronic music by showing the intermediary nature of any instrument. He situates himself between those who play traditional musical instruments and those who work primarily with computers and synthesizers, but he does this without relying on traditional electro-acoustic techniques (i.e. modifying the sound of traditional instruments with computers). Anything beyond a cappella involves a machine of one kind or another, and Gordeeff’s performance was a captivating case for the legitimacy of any kind of machine as medium, so long as it is used with skill.
Pierre Bastien had what seemed like a miniature version of Gordeeff’s equipment. His frame was closer to the size of a shoebox. A small camcorder fed the footage of his ensemble onto a projector screen. Among other instruments, he had constructed a kind of music box sans box: a collection of rods with studs in them turned and pressed the keys on a small electronic organ. For percussion, he used slowly turning, asymmetrical wheels whose spokes would push down small metal prongs. He had carefully mic’d the prongs so that the sound approximated that of an actual drum kit; he used a small mixing board to shape the tone of the “drums.” Once he had his organ and erector-set drum loops rolling to his liking, he played standard jazz hooks with a very small trumpet, employing a variety of peculiar mutes to elicit unexpected sounds from the instrument. At one point he took a long straw and inserted it in the hole of the mute and the bell of the trumpet. He put the other end of the straw in a glass of water and blew a Framptonesque solo into the Dixie cup.
The toymanship of the two Pierres made for a provocative, dramatic show. Cheers once again to Pannonica for continually softening the boundaries of its identity as a jazz club by giving these artists a chance to show their stuff.