Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Coda: Sonar Part 4 – Sunday: Come down easy

Everything comes to an end. Parties, people, friendships, love, empires, time itself. At some stage you have to come down and clean up. Reality is always waiting somewhere. In Barcelona at least, it was awaiting in the streets, where it had been omnipresent lately. Sunday afternoon saw massive crowds gathered in the city centre to protest unemployment, austerity measures and in particular the Euro Pact  which many fear will pass on more economic problems to society. It should not be forgotten that the ironic advertising campaign of Sonar this year was that Sonar was for sale.

How poingnant that message seemed in the cold light of day: while many nursed hangovers and tiredness, the streets filled with protesters, angry people, the unemployed and the inevitable clashes with police arose. Another day and more resistance to control and poor governance and little change. Dismay at the lack of progress in the Magreb after the so-called Arab Spring  is also turning somewhat negative these days and one wonders, where to now?

But like the revolutions and the governments, Sonar wasn’t quite finished yet either. At night was a special and semi-independent concert held in conjunction with the annual Grec festival  in the Greek theatre on the side of Mont Juic. Last year had seen Ryoji Ikeda’s “Test Pattern” show, whereas this year was also Raster Noton artists Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto performing the celebrated collaboration to promote their new disc “Summvs”. If you have heard the discs, you know what to expect live: clusters of notes from Sakamoto plucked from the air and flicked into quivering tones and drones and embellished with sparks of white noise by Alva Noto. However, there is an extra air of virtuosity in the live performance that is sometimes missing from the controlled environment of the albums I have heard. Particularly towards the end of the show, Sakamoto’s playing became more untethered, while Alva Noto’s palette thickened and unwove itself from the need to think so heavily. Graphics wise, the two musicians were accompanied by a narrow band of digital display, much more restrained than Ikeda’s show the year before, and less distracting from the music while obviously accompanying it beautifully. One down side was the audience’s impatience to clap after each song, effectively drowning out the tonal decays at the end of each piece, but nonetheless, their enthusiasm did inspire several extended encores from the performers. Bravo indeed, and bravo once more to Sonar.

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