In the borderlands of noise, ambient, experimental, industrial, minimal and techno we have iDEAL the Swedish label that has long been in the forefront of an alternative music scene. Started by Joachim Nordwall it has now grown to a force, promoting artists that are pushing the envelope in contemporary music.
iDEAL has successfully run its operations since 1998 and has over the years grown to host many interesting events, such as the Swedish Energies in New York. This year’s iDEAL-fest at Inkonst, Malmoe Sweden, had an intriguing line of artists; Puce Mary, Ectoplasm Girls, John Duncan, as well as Joachim’s on act Saturn and the Sun.
The noise scene is definitely in a state of flux – the traditional setting of beardy men in black is replaced by a much greater plethora of artists and one of the forerunners for this new movement is noise experimentalist Puce Mary. Hoffmeier achieves on stage a deceptive complexity through the apposite deployment of “traditional” noise (white noise, feedback, distorted synth) with cleverly manipulated field recordings and vocal interjections. Never overtly rhythmic, many tracks nevertheless include drum patterns to drive them forwards, whilst the synths settle like dark clouds, forming a moody, horror-movie undertone that makes the harsher moments all the more disquieting. Her use of vocals is equally potent, moving from hushed mutterings to warped, androgynous bellows of fury.
Her performances are easy to be dragged into but brutally hard to get out of. The underhand of control as censurable nurture—this dialectic is a perennial tonic in sound. Dominance against submission. Puce Mary is primarily a live performance artist but over the years she has been releasing more and more recordings and in a recent interview she was asked about the difference between performing live and doing recordings: “I know what you’re saying but the process you are detailing in this question just isn’t the way I have ever really composed. My recorded material has really followed from a practice that evolved in creating live sets. The first pieces I recorded were things that I had rehearsed for performances – cohesive moments that emerged from a set I’d played a couple times, sequences of sounds or sonic gestures that I’d become fond of in certain parts of a set I had played maybe a handful of times. I think that recording and practicing like that has served me well. It’s very different to that common tradition in experimental music where a final recorded piece is mostly an editing job, a collage of the most successful of a series of experiments. I think writing and recording like this has played a significant role in developing my ear, so to speak. Now, as I work longer and more often in the studio, I have keener sense of what I want to do and how to figure out how to do it. That in turn keeps my live performances interesting. This I think is truly experimental – having a controlled set of variables and a system that is able to bear reproducible results. That is what an experiment is, getting lucky a bunch of times and making a backing tape that contains something that you did once, happened to sound good and never really happened again… It’s not how I work or perform though and that frees me from that kind of immobility that you’re talking about where people can’t ‘play’ their music. I don’t feel tethered to prerecorded material. Just because a piece has been published doesn’t mean that I feel the timing and exact tones or whatever are trestles I can’t stray from. I rely on my ear and an intimate knowledge of my gear to craft what happens live.”
A perhaps more surprising ‘wow’ moment was the performance of the two willful sisters of Ectoplasm Girls. Obscure voices and ambient textures meshed into a web of noise generated by the two girls sitting on the stage floor all through the performance. Ectoplasm Girls is an audiovisual project initiated in 2007 together by Tanya and Nadine Byrne and within this project and on stage they express their joint experiences with death and dreams.
Stereoklang took the opportunity to speak them right after their gig and really get to grips what they were actually doing on stage and the story behind their music and visuals.
To us Ectoplasm Girls was a new experience and the fact that they were sitting down on stage during their entire performance did not make it less exotic. The two sisters started their journey into ambiance and experimental music back in 2007 having no formal musically trained background. Residing in Norway and Sweden respectively they discovered that they had music going on both sides and that the similarities in their approach to music had lots in common – two countries and two soundscapes merged to form Ectoplasm Girls. Within the band they discover and re-live their experiences.
Intriguingly enough they are for a gross part during their performances using live captures and old audio recordings from their childhood and onward, that they keep on cassette tape recorders and dictaphones, all present on stage. Together with Ableton they loop, edit and reuse these sounds and recordings to reflect their inner state of mind. Around 70% of what they do on stage is improvisation – with a base emerging from the DAW they experiment with the mixer to generate their sonic landscape.
Their latest album is, thus, just one snapshot or version of Ectoplasm Girls, and as they state they never rehearse anything before their live performances. As they say themselves this has been a long journey but going forward they are leaning towards a more structured approach to their work. When asked about what´s important for them in their music endeavors they say: “We fancy beat orientated music, but it has to be based on emotions.” And wrapping up our interview stating “A larger audience is completely uninteresting to us”, as a statement towards moving into more mainstream “underground minimal techno acts or similar.
Coming back to the beginning of the events we had the founder of the iDEAL label himself on stage performing as Saturn and the Sun. Joachim’s track record in the minimal noise scene and other related genres is as rich as anyone would expect, and the performance made on stage confirmed this with pleasure. Screaming machines and aggressive high pitched noises generated a state of trance that engulfs the audience. Although not as easy to accept as a listener it really underlines the importance of noise in today’s outer rims of music evolution. With background influences like Throbbing Gristle, SPK and Cabaret Voltaire it is easy to see the links to today’s performance by Saturn and the Sun, but also the roots and ambitions of iDEAL and iDEAL fest. Joachim has been arranging noise events more or less dating back to 2002. iDEAL fest is today a respected event not just in Scandinavia but also their recurring events in New York. Having worked its way through noise, experimental music and NuJazz (read our report on NuJazz here).
iDEAL Recordings has released some 150+ titles over the years and as a forebearer of the underground noise flag we are of course interested in understanding what is planned going forward and in a recent interview Joachim stated the following: “Yes. In 2016 a lot of new stuff will be released including Stephen O’Malley, John Duncan, Frederikke Hoffmeier and Jesse Sannes with their new project JH1. FS3, Saturn and the Sun, Joke Lanz, Dave Phillips, Trepaneringsritualen, White Stains, RM, Bob Bellerue…believe I will be able to fit in some more.” (edited from Swedish)
Speaking of John Duncan he was the last act of the evening. John is a multi-talented artist who has lived and worked in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Amsterdam, currently lives and works in Bologna (Italy). His body of work includes performance art, installations, contemporary music, video art and experimental film, often involving the extensive use of recorded sound. His music is composed mainly of recordings from shortwave radio, field recordings and voice. His events and installations are a form of existential research, often confrontational in nature.