Live: Maja Ratkje + Ikue Mori, John Wiese + Evan Parker @ Cafe Oto

John Wiese and Evan Parker have been musically acquainted before: initially as part of the Free Noise tour 2008, and then on the collaborative release C-Section, released on PAN back in 2009. Having never witnessed the pairing myself, I’m left somewhat optimistic in the knowledge that previous meetings had compelled them into exploring the collaboration further. However, not only is the end result a rather predictable fusion of the two sounds – Parker’s saxophone chatter, Wiese’s swirling motorway pile up – but there’s something rather awkward and distant about this combination too. Parker rises and falls in dynamic parallel to the metallic crunch and scrape spewed forth from Wiese’s mixing desk, but actual points of communication and interconnection (generally during the set’s quieter moments) feel all too fleeting.

In contrast, Ratkje and Mori are in deep and unbroken conversation throughout. Often the dynamic feels antagonised, argumentative; firing sub-bass shots and plosive grenades into each other’s chests, pinging electronic yelps that zip like pieces of elastic. With Mori sat behind a laptop and Ratkje operating various synthesizers, vocals effects and other toys, it’s no surprise that the latter can afford to be the more physically animated of the two: she convulses and sways from behind the mixing desk, recoiling from the aggressive blows of sound and jerking between shapes in mimicry of the music’s snappier, more erratic rhythmic movements. But pay close attention to Mori’s hands and one can see how her physical manner also adapts to the situation, as she interchanges between sharp zips across the trackpad and the more careful, deliberate strokes. Neither participant holds the floor here, and there seems to be an unspoken agreement to keep the music in ungraspable flux; Ratkje and Mori toe a brittle line of simultaneity, wriggling away from one another but constantly connected, frantically feeding off of an impulse that gifts the music a jittery, pinball dynamic. It’s no surprise to see that stereotypes of the “organic” in music are subverted here, with Ratkje’s voice occasionally resembling the hydraulic hiss of machine process, and Mori’s laptop electronics often possessing a fleshy and amphibious squelch.

“We’ve got a surprise for you,” announces Ratkje as the performance ends to an enthusiastic applause, and Parker and Wiese resume their seats on stage. What follows is a cacophonous four-way improvisation: laser guns firing into twisted 18-wheeler chassis, chipmunk chatter mimicking bubbling saxophone breaths, platonic ruptures morphing into a crackle of vocal spit. “We thought it might be fun,” explains Ratkje, prior to the whole thing kicking off. It’s absolute mayhem on stage, with each participant jostling for a spot in the audio space, but it’s as fun and enthralling to watch as Ratkje had hoped.

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