Portland Arms

Darkroom - Portland Arms, 22nd November 2000

By a curious co-incidence I was thinking just yesterday morning about a TV advert that used to run in Britain for a particular brand of mobile phone, where a concert-bound but airport-trapped string quartet play the gig nevertheless by playing over a mobile phone to the concert venue. What a stupid idea, thought I. Until last night that was. Os's mobile phone played no little part in Darkroom's giglet at the Portland Arms. On the other end of the phone was Tim Bowness (or at least his voicemail), otherwise absent last night. Unfortunately the phone also produced a fair amount of that particularly irritating bip-biddi-bip-biddi-bip sort of interference that phones produce. We were even invited later to call Os's phone ourselves, although no-one realised at the time, so we didn't. Although I suppose we could extend the performance, with a kind of post-Duchampian futility, by calling him at 3 in the morning.

The evening's other curiosity was (by popular demand, apparently ;-)) a guitarless Michael Bearpark, choosing instead to operate drum machine, mini-disc player (with recordings of guitar, natch) and his immodest collection of effects pedals. A single piece of (I estimate) some forty minutes was created, the form of the sound being more sculptural than musical. By sculptural I mean that one of most important tenets of this kind of music is that it is the subtraction of elements that is at least as important as the addition of those same elements. The most deeply affecting part of such pieces for me is the few seconds after the end where mind suddenly has to fill up those spaces driven through it by the sound.

The piece transformed slowly over its duration, incorporating noise, mobile phone calls, synth patches, drum machine and other recorded elements including Michael's absent guitar. Although the sound was often dense and tense, the elements were never strident or incongruous and at times were, relatively speaking, quite mellifluous. Myself and the Goodly Wife were surprised to find ourselves much relaxed by the end. If you have only ever heard Darkroom through recordings then you have to experience them live. The greater space afforded the music means it seems to make much more *sense* and impact. (OK, the same could be said for any kind of music but I think it particularly applies here.)

A word about the visuals. This consisted of a really rather appealing CD-controlled oscilloscope and a gentleman who projected a series of Win98 screensavers onto the stage backdrop. This was rather better than it sounds and was oddly apposite. There were also two or three video cameras in evidence so some footage may well surface on the black market.

Peter Thompson