Live: Eli Keszler + Jennifer Allum + John Chantler @ Cafe Oto in London, 25/05/13

John Chantler’s set originates from the back of the room – where his modular synthesiser sits beneath a network of patch leads – but the sound itself greets Oto from all sides, flooding out of the PA at the front of the stage and emitting squashed signals from two guitar amplifiers at the back, pointing inwards towards Chantler and eachother. There’s a sense of encrypted communication running throughout his set, like a message encoded by abstract tone and rhythm – something significant in the rustle of static, hidden by viscous bubbling and the sound of creatures writhing in air vents. Sometimes I’m reminded of submarine sonar; at others, the dying words of a dialup modem. The sound hovers over certain combinations for seconds at a time before crumpling into something else, leaving me in a disorienting state of constant transit; puzzles that evaporate before I can solve them.

The intangible abstract then turns to the disarmingly organic. Jennifer Allum’s solo violin squeaks and stutters like the unoiled joints of an old Victorian machine – patterns are repeated and gently tweaked all the while, with the back of the bow scraping against the strings and causing slithers of overtone and airy string scrape to crawl out. It flutters and stalls like an injured bird and somehow stays in flight, and its persistence is both agonising and beautiful; it’s cyclic, fluid, like a rusty wheel destined for eternal motion, the nature of its sound changing subtly with each revolution.

Eli Keszler’s set is explosive from the off: a rapid-fire collapse of rimshot and choked metal crotales, breaking down into slow, intermittent slaps of the snare drum and then erupting into 20-second bursts that sound like a box of crockery being emptied onto Oto’s hard Cafe floor. The set’s mid-section spirals off into anti-gravity – bowed crotales emit strands of thin, piercing tones, juxtaposing the set’s staccato opening with a continuous assault on the high frequencies. When the drumsticks re-emerge, the crotales are overturned (no longer flat against the drum skins, but suspended just above to let them resonate), while the bass drum makes its first thumps of entry; an ecstatic low-end release that shakes the crotales into life like windchimes in an earthquake. No one takes to the drums quite like Keszler – his style being possessive both of rigid tension and mercurial relief – and this is another terrific demonstration of such a fact.

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