Noise. Sometimes Annoys, But Often Not.

Two more improvisation gigs; when I said there wasn’t much improvised music in Edinburgh, I was wrong: I just hadn’t found it.

The more I listen to live improvised music, the more I am working out what works for me, though mostly I can’t explain it. It is easier to explain what I don’t like than what I do: musicians who create what I perceive as noise, particularly electronically generated, don’t work for me. When they open up their Macs and hunch over the qwerty keyboard, I tend to switch off.

But lots of things that I’m sure others consider noise I hear as art. It is a very fine boundary.

Both these gigs were produced under the banner of EdImpro, which seems to be a band, a collective and a promoter… The first was in the pristine white space of the university’s Infomatics dependent, and was ostensibly part of the Science Festival.

There were three acts. The first was clarinetist Pete Furniss , who played three solo pieces. Ok, he used a Mac – but to loop and interact with his music, not to create noise. Apparently with composed and improvised elements – the computer running along established rules – these were lovely pieces. Their roots were clearly classical, the lines wandering along a western tradition.

The second act were Jess Aslan & Emma Lloyd, a violin and Mac duo. It maybe it was the other way around. I couldn’t hear what the Mac was doing; the violin was making a variety of atonal sounds. Where the clarinet had reeled me in, the violin pushed me away.

The final act was – different. Pure noise, but engaging and compelling. An enigma. Jean-François Laporte makes his own instruments; in this case, a multiple foghorn powered by compressed air. The compere said that Laporte wouldn’t be offended if the audience used earplugs. By chance rather than design, I had a pair with me, and I decided prevention was better than cure. I used them.

The horns were loud. The air rumbled, my lungs resonated. It was noise at its most elemental. But it was strangely compelling. There were overtones – not harmonies, perhaps, but undercurrents as the different horns crossed over. It was visceral.


He slowly unwound the horns. His next piece was much more playful: he stood on a table amidst the audience and swung a tin can, tied to a cord, around his head. As it circled him it generated a sound, much higher and quieter than the horn. The flying can span faster and faster, higher above Laporte’s head (and over the amused and concerned punters), its pitch rising.

As much performance art than music, this was a fascinating close to the evening. (No members of the public were hurt in the production of this performance…)

* * *

This was followed a couple of weeks later by another EdImpro gig, this time in an Edinburgh city centre pub. Well, it now calls itself a club, but since it doesn’t seem to have changed since its pubdom, pub it is.

There were another three acts. The highlight – what had roused me out into the rainy night – was a performance by percussionist Eddie Prevost. I hadn’t realised there were others on the bill.

First up was an ensemble performance by EdImpro, this time featuring a violinist (possibly the same player from the previous gig), a reeds man, a drummer, assorted Mac players – and someone on cardboard box.

No really.

Ok, the box man also manipulated sounds in a Mac, but there was something brilliantly naive about contributing to a performance by bowing a cardboard box.

Bits of the half hour performance I loved – there were some lovely moments from saxophone and clarinet, and from the violin, too – and others less so. I’m not certain the point at which improvisation goes from a bunch of soloists playing at the same time to a cohesive piece played by a group: certainly, there were times when I couldn’t perceive much interaction between the players. (I’m not saying it wasn’t there.)

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And I really liked the cardboard box. Perhaps I really liked the idea of the cardboard box, but again it added some levity to the proceedings. He generated a fair variety of sounds from the box, at times percussive, through a hum to sawing. It is amazing what you can do with a bow.

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As Eddie Prevost demonstrated. Despite having several drums set up, he concentrated on his cymbals – and mostly bowing them rather than hitting them. He even had a gadget rotating at the side of the stage to automatically play his cymbals.

His whole performance was enchanting. Prevost’s imagination seemed unbound, coming up with more and more ways to generate sound from his cymbals.

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I can’t explain why I found the noise produced by Prevost or Laporte so engaging, but both were – much more so than any electronic wibbling. It might be that the very analogue methods of creating those sounds are important took me – both using archaic techniques. But Prevost’s forty minute set didn’t drag at all. Intriguing.

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After Prevost, a Mac duo made noises which drove me from the room. Whatever it is about Mac-noise, I think I’ve a while to go before I’ll enjoy it.


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