Attitude Problem 1: Haswell and Hecker at Conway Hall

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Last week I saw Pansonic play at Conway Hall, along with Haswell and Hecker performing with a UPIC computer music interface. I’ve been to Conway Hall before and described that strange little venue last year: I hope the all the noise didn’t distract the seminar on “Mindfulness” being held down the hall.
It was the wrong sort of place to hear a Pansonic gig. (I remember someone saying later that there had been a last-minute change of venue after a double-booking elsewhere.) I enjoyed the last time I saw them, but that was at the end of a long night in an overcrowded, smoky, noisy club. This time, everything felt a bit too flat and distant to get a connection with the music. Besides, the main reason I was there was for UPIC, and Haswell and Hecker had played first.
UPIC is among computer music nerds as the revolutionary musical instrument developed by Iannis Xenakis in the 1970s, but opportunities to actually hear music created on it are relatively rare. Haswell and Hecker’s set, with its harsh electronic sounds clashing against each other, accompanied by strobe lights and hyperactive laser beams, forcefully summoned up flashbacks from The Ipcress File. I’m not sure if that was the intention. The way they exploited UPIC’s features was impressive: for all the brutality of the noise they generated, there was a richness of detail in the sound so often lacking in computer music. Even at its most abrasive, the music was kept alive with nuanced shifts in tone.
The light show was a distraction. It had all the bluster of the music, minus all of the charm. The use of laser was reminiscent of Robin Fox’s gigs, but where Fox’s light displays complemented the music, here it quickly became irritating. It felt like H&H lacked confidence in the ability of their music to hold the listener’s attention for extended periods of time, and used the lighting as a diversion. The overall effect was the reverse, making enduring the complete set a chore.
The lighting was one part of what seemed like an attempt at imposing a type of rock attitude to the set. Despite some wonderfully intricate quiet sounds which punctuated the early stages, most of the music fell back onto a deadening reliance on a uniform goes-to-11 volume level. Meanwhile, Haswell kept pulling mildly ridiculous rockstar moves at his console. No amount of heavy-metal posturing can fool anyone into not thinking you’re some nerd hunched over a computer.