June 18th, 2005

operesque

I'm your fan, you're my orchestra

Favourite group: Last night I went to see Fan Club Orchestra, who performed at an event organised by the Staubgold people to promote Ekkehard Ehlers' compilation Childish Music. I've spoken before about this compilation and how it might have been called "Childisc Music" in tribute to Nobukazu Takemura's label, which pioneered the particular combination of cuteness and formalism on display here. Because, unlike the forthcoming Belle and Sebastian children's music compilation, which mostly features tasteful jangly indie bands with a Peter Pan complex, Ehlers' selection emphasizes polymorphous perversity and experimentalism. Instead of giving the impression of adults looking back on childhood wistfully as a small and safe place, the Staubgold record has a sense of children looking forward to adulthood—and the future—as a big adventure playground, a complex messy place where a basic sense safety allows you to do risky things.



Hebbel Am Ufer: The event was staged at the Hebbel Am Ufer theatre in Kreuzberg. This is a place I've been meaning to visit for ages, a three-stage experimental theatre which produces some of Berlin's most adventurous theatre and dance events. The invitation listed the start-time as 8pm sharp — the promptness is unusual for Berlin, a town where 8pm can mean midnight. The sequence of events was also unusual:

1. At 8.15 a bunch of Berlin children, maybe ten in all, bashed on instruments in the theatre, following the instructions of a member of the Fan Club Orchestra.

2. At 8.40 Fan Club Orchestra themselves took the stage and played for over an hour. (Fucking great.)

3. At 10 Harald "Sack" Zeigler played a Frippertronics show in the bar, looping and layering his voice, French horn and mouth beatbox. (It felt a bit twee, actually.)

4. Then there was a panel discussion about the Childish Music album. (I left with Hisae and Dimitri to go to another event involving sheep and pirate radio.)

Children's orchestra: The children's improvisation on Fan Club Orchestra's instruments (could we call it an "impersonation" of the group? And which band was it who did a video with children replacing them, was it Talking Heads?) was amusing for a while, but the music soon became themeless and bland. The guitarist just played open tunings, the vibes player struck at random, nobody seemed to be listening to anyone else. The best bits were the fierce crescendos; a group of little girls sitting at the front bashed away at cymbals, giggling excitedly.



The audience: I looked around. There were only about thirty people. Many of them appeared to be the parents of the children; they took snaps with phone cameras. The rest were probably Staubgold people or panellists. I reflected again on the paradox that I both enjoy and deplore this kind of emptiness and deadness, the failure of the public to respond to things I think are utterly wonderful. On the one hand I like to be in a big empty theatre with my favourite band. On the other, I wonder why on earth they provoke so little interest. Even Anne Laplantine, who appears on the compilation and said she'd come, didn't appear.

Band history: Scratch Pet Land and Fan Club Orchestra are basically the same band. They come from Belgium. They improvise, mixing laptops, gameboys, little trumpets. SPL recorded for Sonig. They also had close ties with DAT Politics' label Ski-pp. But apparently the two brothers at the core of SPL, Laurent and Nicolas Baudoux, fell out. So SPL no longer exists. FCO is basically SPL without Nicolas, although when they started as a SPL side project, Nicolas was involved. FCO also record for Sonig. Their Sun Papa and the Fan Club Orchestra Vol. 1 and 2 is an excellent record. FCO's records sound exactly like SPL records. They play SPL jams live, as well as newer stuff and stuff that might be made up on the spur of the moment. I heard about the split from Olivier, the tall one with the beard, who plays (very divergent) drums, trumpets and Casio keyboard. I'd assumed he was Nicolas, because Laurent also wears a beard and a white shirt, and they resemble each other. Laurent is obviously the leader of the band. He plays laptop (PC, I think) from the obligatory trestle table.

Visual: This band is not very pretty. Laurent is losing some hair on top and is quite corpulent. Olivier on drums looks a bit like Devendra Banhart, though, which is good. A woman in a flowery dress sits on the floor. There's a wispy waspy guitarist who looks a bit incongruous, like he was added later. (He also sounds a bit out of place, adding a retro experimental rock touch.) For some reason the band on stage look like Jewish settlers. The highlight of the set is when Laurent goes backstage and returns with a huge blue balloon which he holds above his head, then whumps down on a mic at the front of the stage to make a kick drum sound. Later there's an odd ritual where a heavy (in a Mike Oldfield sort of way) guitar motif interlocks with a screamy religious chant by the rest of the band, grouped around the balloon like a big blue talisman. Later, Laurent pops it with a shy grin.



Tones: The live stuff was less warm and throbby than the records, more improv, with gradual controlled shiftings between various types of textures. Sometimes pointilliste, sometimes urgent, sometimes insistent in the trancelike manner of Terry Riley, this music felt like it could have gone on forever. I'm sure they do jams at the residence Baudoux that last for days, and are accompanied by film shows and performance art. They're a collective, full of surprises. There's something of the surreal Belgian tradition of zwanze here, a carnavalesque anti-authoritarian absurdism you can see in Ensor and hear in Brel. You can also hear that these people listen to African music, ethnographic field recordings of kalimbas, musique concrete, Sun Ra, and children's records. They've been a huge influence on me: their recommendation of the INA GRM CD-ROM La Musique Electroacoustique (not just a history of electroacoustic experimental music, but a fully-functioning studio that I used extensively on Travels With A Donkey and Oskar Tennis Champion) basically sent me off on my current tack of "vaudeville concrete". You can read more about their impact on my last couple of albums in The Electroacoustics of Humanism. I was too shy to speak to Laurent at this show, but if you're reading, Laurent, I love your music, you're my hero, the show was great, and although you deserve to fill enormous arenas (perhaps in some parallel Shadok-world you do) it's kind of nice to have you to myself... well, me and the thirty other people who seem to care. I'm your fan, you're my orchestra and that's club enough.

Here's my souvenir of the show, a 3.5MB stereo mp3 file of excerpts, starting with the children's band:

Fan Club Orchestra Live at HAU Theatre, 17.06.05 (3 mins 52)