Live: Cage Rattling #2 – Echo Of Nothing @ Kings Palace, London, 05/11/2011

An eerie, childish laughter down a telephone, broken violins in giddy see-saw, crickets chirping, a strange gurgling that sounds like the amplification of some alien micro-organism. “Junk Operatic” – a pre-recorded tape piece featuring the contributions of Gen Ken Montgomery, Seymour Glass, T Mikawa (Incapacitants), Doglady and I’DM Theftable, overlaid and played back over speakers – is a blanket into which the seemingly incongruent and unexpected are woven, each element firmly distanced in terms of context (social, cultural, geographical etc) but linked by their occupation of a certain time stretch and audio space. What did John Cage mean when he said that “every something is an echo of nothing”? No doubt there are many interpretations, but in watching tonight’s programme of performances, I interpret the phrase to refer to the illusionary anchor of meaning; the paradox that leads the search of artistic significance back to its very roots in the insignificant. Tonight’s performances capture that point between “nothing” and artistic creation – the materialisation of impulsive action, prior to its embedding in a plethora of conventions and connotations.

And so we have “Rocket Science”, in which an array of children’s toys (wind up caterpillars, squeaky mice), deodorant spray, metal beakers, service bells, bicycle horns and toy clocks are all played with, thrown into eachother, and launched down the aisles between members of an amused and intrigued audience. This approach is later expanded in a group improvisation by Bolide, in which the players utilize cans, combs, magazines, lampshades and cushions found between their walk from home to the venue. Shortly after, Duncan Harrison reads texts on Cage from paper strips – some comprehensible sentences, some reduced to loose plosives and vowels where words have been fragmented and obfuscated – while Jo Henderson bows a severed violin neck and a cardboard box. The sounds are then layered over themselves as loops, with half words fighting over broken sentences fighting over ugly frictional scrapes. At one point, a strip of paper is blown out of Harrison’s hands halfway through reading it; his face flickers with mild panic before he shrugs and continues, and this shrug acknowledges Cage’s influence brilliantly in its acceptance and incorporation of the unpredictable.

Lizzy Carey moves the evening’s performances back to the realms of tapes and sampling, with television reports, flushing toilets, animal sounds, living room chatter and feedback hurriedly cued up and played out over speakers, their sequence determined by a tin of yarrow sticks (wooden sticks that are swirled around the container, with Carey’s next move determined by which stick(s) fall out of the tin first). The clatter of the sticks acts as its own form percussion; the sound of chance spiraling in the ether, yet to materialize into present tense action. Even when virtually all of sticks cascade out at once – causing a frantic rush of faders and sample preparation – Carey adheres to chance’s (often unforgiving) will.

Despite having to dash off early for the train home, my night ended with two personal highlights. Ali Robertson encouraged the audience to throw bog rolls at him, and moved between various setups (a transcript of a comedian’s routine, a tape recording of a speech at his wedding, a small thumb piano) depending on where the bog rolls made contact with his body – as expected, what followed was a fragmented collage of several seemingly unrelated sound sources, patched together beneath a tirade of paper torpedoes. Finally, five vocal improvisers hurl all variety of sounds out into the crowd – wheezing, shouting, whimpering, growling, whispering, screaming, laughing – taking the night to its peak of anarchy and impulse, breathing in Cage’s processes and expelling it instantly out of their lungs.