Beyond Laptops

Disquiet:

Concert Review: Fe-mail with Otomo Yoshihide and Ikue Mori

By Marc Weidenbaum. April 24, 2005

TWO TURNTABLES & THREE GUESTS: Japanese turntablist Otomo Yoshihide played a small quartet show at Naut Humon’s space in the SOMA district on Wednesday, April 14. He was joined by Ikue Mori, the former DNA drummer, who has transformed into an adventurous laptop performer, and the Norwegian noise duo Fe-mail (Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje and Hild Sofie Tafjord). They performed in a white cube of a room, the lights kept on to aid two camera operators shooting DVD footage. The bright illumination diminished the concert’s intimacy, but laid bare various strategies and affinities. Can noise art survive outside of its native shadow realm? In a word, yes.

The half-Japanese, half-Norwegian foursome played one half-hour piece plus three shorter pieces that added up to a second half hour. A cardboard box of individually wrapped earplugs greeted concert attendees, but the music never registered near the level of discomfort. The second piece, for example, began with beading, soft guitar lines, a kind of melodic minimalism that provided Yoshihide and Mori their most pronounced period of interplay that evening.

Yoshihide switched back and forth between that guitar and his trademark equipment (his turntables) while Mori sat patiently at her laptop, the image of composure. Both members of Fe-mail alternated between an array of secondary electronics (mixing board, Kaoss pad, ring modulator and more) and what amounted to a “primary” instrument: French horn for Tafjord, voice for Ratkje, whose high forehead creased when she shrieked. More often than not, those shrieks were muted, clipped or otherwise transformed by whatever black box she’d hooked her microphone into. Tafjord and Ratkje have such a remarkable musical kinship, it was possible, at times, to forget anyone else was playing. Each knows the other’s routine backward and forward, and one would occasionally smile, knowingly, when the other opted for a particular move.

Yes, a “move,” as in a game, for these four works were, in essence, game pieces, along the lines of the dueling makeshift ensembles that John Zorn has curated. There was a sense throughout the evening that the individual players were passing a baton from one to another, each taking the momentary lead, and contributing to a consensual tumult. Of course, it always came back to Yoshihide, whether he was providing a blanket of sound with his feedback-laced guitar, or commanding attention by clanging upturned record albums like the small, vinyl gongs that they are.

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