Blogs The Green Room Dylan J Hester

Dylan likes experimental sounds, messy words, and natural light. Sometimes he guards art at the Walker. Sometimes he writes things.

Breathing Machine Music: Holly Herndon’s Sound Gallery

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Sound Horizon performance by Holly Herndon. Agree or […]

Holly Herndon. Photo: Suzy Poling

Holly Herndon. Photo: Suzy Poling

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Sound Horizon performance by Holly Herndon. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Holly Herndon breathes into a very loud microphone. Her inhale and exhale pan across the room. Scott Nedrelow’s Movie (Black Swan), a series of six video projections shot inside a cinema screening Darren Aronofsky’s film of the same name, plays on a loop in the background. Herndon’s voice is joined by disjointed, deconstructed beats. Her sharp inhales come so suddenly that we realize we are at her mercy: anything louder than breath would surely send a jolt through the audience.

The music grows dense, and a 4/4 rhythm emerges. Suddenly, we’re awash in drum machines. I briefly wish we were dancing in a warehouse instead of sitting quietly in a gallery. Black Swan continues to loop: an audience arrives in the cinema, watches a scene of the film, the credits roll, the audience leaves.  The amplifiers shake. I wonder if the art on the other side of the wall is shaking too. She gasps. The rhythm dissipates. The focus remains on her voice, constantly manipulated, keeping us in suspense.

Holly Herndon’s work is somewhere between the academy and the club; the performance is at once confrontational and intimate.  Her second LP, Platform, is due out May 2015 on the venerable 4AD label. She is a 21st century electronic artist who sits behind an array of computers – but it is the sound of her breath that fills the room, forms sonic sculptures, and keeps us on edge.

Winter Processes: Dawn of Midi + Nils Frahm

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Saturday night’s performances by Dawn of Midi and […]

Dawn of Midi (left to right: Qasim Naqvi,  Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani).  Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

Dawn of Midi (left to right: Qasim Naqvi, Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani). Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Saturday night’s performances by Dawn of Midi and Nils Frahm, a Walker co-presentation with the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Dysnomia, the second full-length album from Brooklyn-based experimental trio Dawn of Midi, is a single suite made up of nine individual tracks. On paper, it’s avant-garde jazz informed by classical minimalism, a 47 minute record that works just as well in headphones as it does on a loud stereo. In person, it’s a stirring and immersive nine-part cycle.

Bassist Aakaash Israni starts, and Amino Belyamani joins shortly thereafter on electric piano. Both repeat one note over and over. Qasim Naqvi then enters with a bass drum, creating an off-kilter polyrhythmic structure. From here the band’s sound transforms further: it’s jazz, then funk, techno, math rock. At times, I’m not sure whether I trust my own ears.

As their final song (“Dysnomia”) grew softer, I thought I heard the sound of a low-quality cell phone video a few rows behind me. But I was wrong. Actually, I was only hearing the soft ambient chatter and bar sounds from the back of the venue. After spending an hour immersed in Dawn of Midi’s intricate rhythmic structures, my sonic palette had been completely jarred.

Nils Frahm. Photo courtesy the artist

Nils Frahm. Photo courtesy the artist

Berlin-based composer Nils Frahm‘s most recent work is Spaces, an album which juxtaposes the analog and digital, live and studio, acoustic and electronic. Though occasionally referred to as  modern classical, it also touches on minimal synth, glitch, and even dub. It is a testament to his music’s versatility and precision that set opener “Says” also appeared on  a recent mix by Swiss techno dj Deetron. Nils closed with “For–Peter–Toilet Brushes–More,” Spaces‘ seventeen-minute centerpiece which involves the use of toilet brushes as percussion. It won him a standing ovation.

The first time I encountered Nils Frahm was in a title of a song by his friend Peter Broderick. “Hello to Nils” is the last track on Broderick’s How They Are, an album that helped get me through my first winter in Minnesota. Nils’ music likewise helps to ease the melancholy and emphasize the transcendence of the winter months. He does not shy away from sentiment: at one point last night, he introduced a song from his Screws album as a “little bit cheesy” piece of music he wrote after breaking his thumb. But he played it with complete, moving sincerity. It was only appropriate that a fresh layer of snow had appeared outside by the time the show ended.

Structure, Improvisation, Space, Noise: Kevin Beasley’s Sound Horizon

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View Series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on last night’s Sound Horizon performance by Kevin Beasley. Agree or […]

Kevin Beasley 2

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View Series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on last night’s Sound Horizon performance by Kevin Beasley. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

For the final Sound Horizon performance in the exhibition Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take, sculptor and sound artist Kevin Beasley gave three half-hour performances at the intersection of structure and improvisation. Kneeling on the floor in front of Jim Hodges’ breathtaking Untitled (one day it all comes true), Beasley used three turntables, a sampler, and a laptop to create immense, dynamic soundscapes.

The performance began with simple feedback drones, but eventually morphed into a dense array of arrhythmic beats, idiosyncratic melodies, and small bursts of static. These sounds then grew sparse: soft synth tones, distant vocal samples, bells and chimes were heard. For every few minutes of gentle, meditative euphoria, there was a collapse back into sheer dissonance, feedback, and static.

Though each set followed the same rough structure, improvisation played a clear role. At some points, the high and low frequency drones grew so loud that they created a binaural effect. Many people left as the volume in the Perlman Gallery became overwhelming.

Beasley did have moments of hesitance, but he is keenly aware of his use of space. Focused entirely on his equipment and the sounds being generated, he maintained intimate control of the soundscapes. In one of my favorite moments, he established a seriously head-nodding rhythm of static, and then added a vocal sample on top of it. The phrase “how can you take him too serious” looped over and over as he manipulated the turntable by hand – eliciting a few uncertain laughs from the audience.

Throughout the galleries, the sounds of the performance paired well with the artwork on display. It drew me even closer to Hodges’ intimate work. Beasley balances on the borders of analog and digital, high and low frequencies, euphoria and aggression. In a similar manner, Hodges tends to juxtapose the real and the artificial, color and monochrome, life and death. Both weave a fine line between density and sparsity. Merged together, the work of these two artists became a single visceral experience.

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