Live: A Whisper In The Noise + Max Bondi + Quinta @ Cafe Oto, 16/05/12

Quinta filter onto the stage one by one: their faces painted white, their hair held stiffly in place by means of a cardboard loo roll tube, breathing into crinkled paper bags and taking charge of all kinds of sound-making devices. Saws are bowed to produce quivering whistles, glasses of water are swigged and tapped with a wooden beater, cookery books are dropped to the floor with a weighty thud, kalimbas are clumsily plucked and twanged, nostalgic tales of childhood baking are pronounced nonchalantly toward the audience. It’s intriguing viewing to begin with, but once the initial curiosity begins to fade, Quinta’s quirky hand-crafted folk really needs some sort of musical substance to swoop in and save it.

Talk about a contrast. Far from the grandiose, theatrical gestures of the band before, Max Bondi switches audience focus to the miniature modulations brought on by knob tweaks and patch lead swaps. He leaves the wiry electronic guts of his synthesizers on show, exhibiting the process behind each gentle growth and contortion of his bass-heavy electronics. Digital clinicalism and analogue warmth are swapped back and forth; musical life arrives as breaths of hand-modulated synth drone between streams of algorithmic calculation, with the music switching between the organic synthesizer muscle-flexes to precise arpeggiation babbles reminiscent of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Generators. It’s an impressive solo debut for Bondi, even if sometimes there’s a sense that he’s trying to do too much, and the insistence on placing multiple textures in parallel often mean that audience is unable to appreciate the intricacies of any layer in particular.

After two starkly different support slots no doubt capture the crowd off guard, A Whisper In The Noise arrive with a few surprises of their own. Tonight’s set is surprisingly dependent on earlier material – with a few cuts from the recent To Forget weaved in for good measure – drawing as much from the band’s harder, more cathartic tendencies as from the sedated melancholy of the later work. The most immediately impressive aspect of their sound is the way in which the recorded versions are carried over to the live setting, with barely a single intricate texture spilled en route; whether it’s via sparingly applied backing track or by Thordson switching coolly between hands on synthesizer keys to beaters on drum pads, AWITN make it all happen and make it look easy. At one point, three songs are threaded into one by a simple drum loop than runs throughout all of them: a device that could look like cheating in the wrong hands, but gifts the music a gorgeous flow in this context. The night’s highlight was arguably “Your Hand”, in which Sonja Larson gazes moon-eyed into the audience and spills a beautiful vocal line, backing away from the microphone to bring beautiful swoops of violin arching out over Thordson’s simple melody undercurrent.