Various Artists: s3d (ear and eye) Atoll CD/DVD

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Yek Koo on cardboard record players
Various Artists: s3d (ear and eye) Atoll CD/DVD

In 1996 Ellipsis Arts in the US released a CD and book package entitled Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments. It was compiled by Bart Hopkin who had edited the journal Experimental Musical Instruments for over a decade at that point.

The foreward was written by Tom Waits who had begun his career-changing journey into using odd instruments and machinery, some of them not disssimilar to what Harry Partch had used.

This collection preoccupied a number of people (it was certainly Elsewhere) and lead to a new interest in unusual, not say downright oddball, instruments.

In 2007 at the Auckland Festival there was a three day mini-fest of just such instruments and international performers under the banner s3d. Among those present was Hopkin himself playing "catsface, bentwood chalumeau, magstrip, collandar, corrugahorn and savarts wheel". True.

Others used cardboard record players, rubber bands, tin cans, PVC tubes and an array of instruments which probably dare not speak their names.

This sonic circus was captured on both film and DVD and here is the result.

The disc includes pieces by Phil Dadson (of From Scratch), Walter Kitundu who has worked with Kronos Quartet and Matmos, sculptor and musician Ernie Althoff, and Akio Suzuki using a variant of the old kids telephone made out of tin cans and a string between.

As you might guess this was a festival of "sound" rather than what we might call "music" so when James McCarthy plays what looks vaguely like a lute with a weird gramophone horn attached at the top you shouldn't expect anything close to Dowland or Julian Bream.

That said, there is much fascination to be had and the CD works remarkably well as a stand-alone item. The DVD (with split screen of 14 performances) has its moments: in some instances you are utterly seduced by seeing how the strange sonics are created, at others it is much like watching a DJ fiddle with knobs. Not a lot to actually look at.

As a document however which has captured this event, s3d is not just valuable but often quite diverting, much like the Gravikords set.

Beautifully produced and presented -- and with potted biographies and website links -- this set will perhaps only have limited appeal beyond certain artistic circles, but that takes nothing away from it.

This is experimental work and not all experiments are succesful. Those that are open doors and suggest possibilities, in this instance aural doors and possible changes in our perception.

The subtiitle nails it: "A world of fresh sounds from new sonic sources".

For further information on the album artists check the Atoll website or this weird one.  

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