May 25th, 2008


Periodic Table of the Elephants

Saturday night's installation performance at the Vienna Technical University was more of a performance performance than either Tomoko Miyata or I expected it to be. For two hours and forty minutes we sat in a glass box making music which sounded like a cross between Stockhausen's Stimmung and a watery gender wayang. We expected people to wander through the space and check out our ambient sounds -- me vocalising around the Periodic Table of the Elements, Tomoko chiming her water-filled Chinese bowls -- for just a few seconds or minutes. Instead, a small audience sat rapt for hours. What was designed to be boring was in fact exciting, and what was designed to skirt the peripheries of the audience's attention managed to dominate it. So much for "ambient".

It helped that we were visually quite striking -- there was a kind of spiritual gravity to our yin-yang forms, me hidden in a white robe which served as a screen for the watery reflections glittering off the bowls, Tomoko intensely focused on her spoon-mallets, and dressed in black.

My live shows are usually file playback plus singing -- a sort of karaoke leavened by play-acting and Scottish Country Dancing. This time, though, in the privacy of my big cream hood, I was composing in real time, listening to Tomoko and making up folksongs about the elements, or building up big vocal loops with a mic attached to a sampling delay pedal. In the quieter moments I did some talking stuff, telling a story abstracted by the fact that all the characters were metals, or playing on the title of the table:

The Periodic Table of the Elements
The Periodic Table of the Elephants
The periodic embellishments, by elephants, of the Periodic Table of the Elements
The epic and episodic embellishments by smelly elephants who rudely intrude into the Periodic Table of the Elements
und so weiter