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Feel the Noise

By Josh Potter

Between a Rock and a Tiny Bell

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Armory, April 25

While most universities pool their rainy-day funds for a springtime showcase of has-been douche-rock (seriously, Saint Rose—Eve 6?), RPI’s version of a Bacchanalian purge was wholly figurative and exponentially more enjoyable. Marking the end of the Experimental Music and Performing Arts Center’s (EMPAC) spring season, Between a Rock and a Tiny Bell featured five acts of diverse, dissonant, and decidedly experimental music, with just enough performance art to snug up the acronym.

It’s been said that noise is the new punk, but the way SoCal noise-rockers Health pranced and pounded their way across the Armory stage, it could be said that their noise is a new sort of pop-rock. The band followed the likes of Animal Collective in their self-conscious approach to muscular musicianship where everything is rendered a drum—vocals included. At times the quartet forsook instrumentalism entirely, crowing through three effects-laden microphones over primal drumming. With the drive and precision of a metal band but the post-everything disregard for occult posturing, many songs drifted into a dystopian new wave that would have translated a little better in sweatier digs.

Before abstract music became cerebral, atonal musicians toed a precarious brink between aloof insanity and hyper-alert genius, slinging hand-packed pockets of vibrating air at any listener lucky enough to share their physical space. Free-jazz godfathers Han Bennink and Peter Brötzmann are still toeing that line. With a practiced outpouring of improvisational ecstasy, the sax-drum duo conjured a near-continuous stream of ideas that remained mostly independent of one another (Bennink swinging below Brötzmann’s lament or oompahing while his straight-man trilled Debussy). Incredible counterpoint developed as passages intersected at a seemingly arbitrary rate before miraculously coalescing to close each piece in a moment of staccato synchronicity. Not to be outdone by Health’s roiling antics, Bennink once rode a snare-roll off his stool and into the middle of the stage for a drummer’s version of soft-shoe automatic-painting.

Blarvuster are a bagpipe-fronted rock band, rounded out by fife and fiddle, who perform funky minimalist variations of Scottish reels in a certain gray area between responsive improve and meticulously arranged chamber music. And it just makes sense. By sequencing simple melodic passages, the band allowed ideas to refract through the ensemble to great hypnotic effect. Drawing on Philip Glass’ variety of minimalism (in a time when Steve Reich is more commonly emulated), each piece spun like a garden ornament, whirring at the rate of wind generated from a drummer who would have been at home in the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Brooklynites Zs displayed exactly how far experimental electro-acoustic music has come since jazz’s emancipation. As much no-wave as free jazz, the trio offered a compelling vision of what might have transpired had Arto Lindsay collaborated with Albert Ayler. Mimicking the sustained squeals and circular overtones of the saxophone, the guitarist performed primarily with harmonics, as subtle tone-poems emerged from each of the band’s protracted arrangements. What seemed to arrive spontaneously proved to be meticulously composed before it descended into delightfully disjointed bedlam. Between the deadlocked tractor beams of guitar and saxophone tweakery, cymbal-less drums pulsed at a black-metal dirge.

The term “psychedelic” almost invariably comes up when talking about Black Moth Super Rainbow. The fact that they’ve logged serious time on the road with the Flaming Lips practically ensures this. However, with a sound akin to Air and a set that synchs to a progression of short videos, “cinematic” might actually be a better descriptor. With analog synth and processed vocals, the band laid down incredible amounts of space as two sanitation workers torched roadkill on screen. The band seemed at their best when providing a proper soundtrack to the short, campy narratives and workout videos; a turning point came, however, when the band pushed a swelling tide of prana up through the chakras of a video yogi to conjure some authentic bliss from the ironic premise. Attention now turned to the band’s musicianship, BMSR followed a Japanese Alice through a dismembering chandelier, past gum-popping valley girls to close the show amid a rain of plastic flesh in a classic Invasion of the Muscle Men toy commercial.

Eat Me

The old and new guard shared the stage Monday night at the Washington Avenue Armory, as emo first-wavers Jimmy Eat World co-headlined a bill with wildly popular “newcomers” Paramore. Singer-guitarist Jim Adkins (pictured, left) and his fellow Jimmies are nearing the end of a tour supporting their latest disc, Chase This Light, released last October. Pop-punkers Paramore would be nowhere without lead singer Hayley Williams (pictured, right) and that’s working out just fine for them as their year-old Riot! album is nearing the million-sales mark worldwide.

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