I finally made it along to Cafe Oto last night, after a few aborted attempts (East London can seem a long way from Oxford at the end of the working day). The event was the first night of the Hit & Run series, curated by Israeli pianist Maya Dunietz. I confess though that I went along for a performance by Oren Ambarchi (in a duo with drummer Joe Talia), rather than from any prior familiarity with Dunietz or any expectations about her curatorial ability.
The evening began with Dunietz herself performing Alvin Lucier’s Music for Piano and magnetic strings, a piece aptly described by the title. The prose score apparently calls for the performer to use e-bows (Dunietz used 5) placed as she sees fit onto the strings of the piano. The creates expectedly long droning tones, with some rhythms caused by interference between the purer single note tones. Dunietz wasn’t always delicate in her placement of the e-bows (presumably deliberately so), and this caused some jarring metallic sounds, which broke up the drones somewhat and added some complexity and abrasion to a piece which I’m sure has a tendency towards Eno-esque ambience.
Next up was Christoph Heeman, an artist whose work I don’t at all know well. I have only one record he appears on, Mirror of the Sea by his duo with Andrew Chalk, Mirror. This lead me to expect long drones, and we pretty much got that from last night’s performance. This looked like a fairly constructed piece of electroacoustic music, featuring some sampled reverbed piano and lots of other repetitive washy sounds (thankfully the very prominent pitch shifting of the initial part of the piece soon dropped away). It was nice to listen to, but not quite challenging enough to be interesting. I wonder if this is representative however; talking to Mark Harwood after his set who endorsed some of Heeman’s old records, so probably more to him than this set indicated. (It was nice to catch up with Mark too.)
Finishing the evening were Oren Ambarchi and Joe Talia. This was a louder set than I was expecting, Talia beginning with an insistent but irregular cymbal rhythm and Ambarchi complementing it with squalls of treated guitar. The piece had a fairly typical build-and-die-away progression—honestly its hard to do improv without some arc like that—but it was pretty consistently interesting for an piece of out rock. Definitely of the ‘everybody solos/nobody solos‘ school. Talia’s drums were busy throughout, always almost but not quite falling into a consistent rhythm, but always broken up by a slightly off beat or additional bit of space, like a rock version of the skittery SME-style drumming of old school free improv. Ambarchi was mostly busy with pedals, the guitar as usual simply an input to his setup. Towards the end he started to delve into the longer sustained tones characteristic of much of his solo work, but for the first 2/3 of the piece it was definitely a more rock oriented approach, even something approaching a riff emerging at a couple of places as he manipulated the wall of sound into fractured but recognisable melodies.
All up a diverse and engaging evening, pretty well attended and well conceived. A good night for my long delayed first visit to Cafe Oto. (The next one is up soon, as I’m going to see Damon & Naomi there in a few weeks.)