March 31, 2016 | Los Angeles, CA | PØST
Written & photographed by Ben Manzella (More Than Flashing Lights & Sound)
As I think many, if not all, who consider themselves readers on Heathen Harvest realize; music will not & cannot be limited to a group of musicians playing common instruments such as guitar and drums. In fact, it seems what can be used to create music of some sort varies in a far more vast way than most anyone actually realizes; it’s just a matter of discovery, followed by experimentation. I am not saying it’s always done in the interest of quality work, as is shown even by the terrible excuse for music which comprises the majority of mainstream artists, but every now and then there are composers who help redefine the way we listen to music, and possibly to all sound.
On the 31st of March, I arrived at what seemed to be an old office building called the Bendix in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles. In the PØST gallery which offered a spectacular view of the Los Angeles skyline and with it being on the 10th floor, there would be an intimate gathering to witness performances by Ashley Bellouin, Robert Crouch, & Lawrence English. I had the opportunity to chat with Lawrence about the tour he has now just completed (and will soon present that conversation), but for now, I want to try describing an evening that is very hard to do justice with text.
First, here are some excerpts from the official biography on Ashley Bellouin as found on her website: “Ashley Bellouin’s work explores the merging of sound art, electro-acoustic composition, and instrument building. She focuses on the studies of sonology, psychoacoustics, and the interaction between sound and architecture. Her compositions emphasize and exploit the sonic potential contained within a single musical gesture, regularly using electronics to develop latent qualities. Spatialization, beat frequencies, auditory illusions, and microtonal tunings are frequent compositional tools.
Ashley holds an MFA in Electronic Music & Recording Media from Mills College, where she studied closely with Maggi Payne, John Bischoff, and Daniel Schmidt. Upon graduating she was awarded the Frog Peak Collective Experimental Music Award for most outstanding thesis. She has presented her work at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Soundwave ((5)) Festival, the San Francisco Tape Music Festival, UC Santa Cruz, and Stanford University, among other venues. She has additionally been awarded a YBCAway grant from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and has held residencies at the Paul Dresher Ensemble Artist Residency Center, the UC Berkeley Center for New Media, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, and EMS in Stockholm, Sweden. In November 2016 her debut solo LP, Ballads, was released on Drawing Room Records.”
Performing with her collaborator, Ben Bracken, the duo presented a unique set of sound and visuals for an audience they effortlessly gripped into a state of captivity that didn’t end until all the performances had concluded for the evening. Something I’ve come to truly appreciate as I discover artists, especially those who work within the world of electronic and/or ambient genres, who make an effort to quite literally fill the room with their music. Somehow, it’s as if their study of sound and its effect upon people allows them to sonically inhabit all who are in the room in a way that is both welcoming and exciting. The massive sonic frequencies produced in these types of listening environments are often found to be both draining and relaxing; or in the same comparative fashion, overwhelming and uplifting. With a mixture of synth sounds and strings, Ashley & Ben together created a perfect beginning set for the evening; allowing all who were there to hone in their senses and intend to be consumed by the sound.
Again, a brief excerpt from the official website of Robert Crouch: “Robert Crouch is an artist and curator whose work encompasses sound, performance, and technology. As an artist, he locates his work with the intersection of post-phenomenological listening practices, conceptual sound art, and contemporary electronic music. At its core, his work can be understood as a conversation between tonality, context, history and subjectivities. Similarly, Crouch’s curatorial work focuses on the overlapping disciplines of sound, technology, movement, and performance.”
As you’ll find mentioned among his other credits, Robert is also a founding partner of VOLUME, which is the curatorial collective who presented & organized the performances of the evening. During Robert’s performance, which was of unreleased material from what info I’m aware of, visuals were shown yet again, but this was specifically the photographic work by Joel Westendorf. The best way I can describe the audio formed, as they call it “red thread” which tied the evening together was that of an encompassing intensity. The longing to feel the sound just as much as you were eager to listen seemed to increase throughout the night; this music isn’t necessarily for “everyone” and I’m glad it isn’t. When I have the privilege to witness unique performances such as these, it highlights again the value of an underground music scene. You know that that the people in attendance are not there by accident.
Finally, the projector would be shut off and Lawrence English set up his equipment so he could present his latest work, Cruel Optimism. In order to have a more full experience, Lawrence suggested that we all lay on the ground and as close as possible to the sound system. Once I managed to capture a few photos; I found a space to lay down and loved the effect of the vibrations being felt through the concrete floor and coursing through all of us in the room. I noticed that while electronic music can be a stationary act, on occasion you find composers who are rather physical even when they use their equipment to trigger samples or modulate sound; I was even further intrigued by Lawrence’s performance when I saw that he seemed to occasionally rock back and forth his feet as the sound would punctuate or spike in volume. As I told him as we said our goodbyes, it was as though I melted into the floor and time seemed to shrink as well; my attention was fully grasped in a way that doesn’t happen often enough, especially with music as of late.
I am grateful to VOLUME, Lawrence English, Robert Crouch, & Ashley Bellouin for presenting a great evening of music and sound exploration; and I encourage anyone who comes across this review to look into their respective works as well as analyze the way the listen to all forms of audio including speech. Are we actually paying attention or are we just filtering through what we feel we prefer to hear?