Polruan, Cornwall April 2013
Open Provocation was a festival of live sound art and performance, held
over 4 evenings in April 2013, in the unlikely setting of Polruan
Village Hall, near Fowey. Featuring 16 performances with artists from
Germany, Italy, Australia, and across the UK and Cornwall, the festival
was organised by Robert Curgenven, a Polruan resident.
It was a festival funded by benefit CD sales,
which these days means that it ran on the good will of those taking
part. Many of the performers had travelled across country and from
across Europe to get here. It was a unique opportunity to see many
performers together who are rarely seen in the UK.
I’d been to an event Rob had organised here last year. It was just three
solo performers I'd not heard of before, two from Australia and one from
Cornwall playing junk instruments, turntables, guitar feedback and
laptop as the sun went down in this cold, scruffy village hall. And
somehow it created something powerful and magnificent, a celebration of
natural forces channeled through battered instruments as the the sun
went down. And it wasn’t repetitive beats, folk music or covers bands or
anything with any sort of tune, it was something else completely - a
mind-blowingly brilliant music experience. Maybe half the people there
were only there being polite because they were local, but for me it was
probably in my top ten gigs ever. Top twenty at least. Anyway it was a
rare event for Cornwall and I wanted more and was chuffed to bits to be
invited to perform here myself this time round.
Although I haven't heard of most of the acts this week, one of them
(Company Fuck) I played with in a club in Berlin last year and I'm very
excited. Oh, and there's a founder member of Napalm Death on the bill.
And two of the guys who were on last time, bonus.
With its steep, narrow, winding little country roads and imaginative
signage, Polruan isn't exactly easy to get to, or get back from, even
when you live only just five miles away like I do. So this is a bit of
an adventure. Polruan is a beautiful place, but off-season like so much
of Cornwall's seaside, it's a dead zone of empty holiday lets. This old
village hall though, seems like a place with a past, rather than
somewhere that is closed when the tourists aren't here. It's a place in
which people have lived and grown up and done their amateur dramatics
and their jam making and bought their raffle tickets. It's not some
purpose-built facility with the very latest equipment designed to open
up opportunities for cultural collaboration, interdisciplinary
connections and community partnerships, if you know what I mean.
So here it is night by night:
The interval music is Ennio Morricone’s
spaghetti western soundtracks. The bar is stocked up with an exotic
selection of Belgian beers, Czech lager, cider, local microbrewery, a
selection of teas, single malt whisky and some kind of flapjacks. And
the theme tonight is three blokes, each with a table-top full of an
assortment of electrical and other junk. To the uninitiated this might
look like a car boot sale, except they're all wired up to a very nice
looking PA. Rob Curgenven introduces the performers in turn and each
performance is about half an hour to an hour. It seems about right.
Dennis Wiehahn opens the proceedings with the sound of a London railway
station, a sonic postcard. Sitting behind a table top full of audio
equipment, he introduces and explains each short pre-recorded piece.
This includes the street sounds of St Austell; a piece featuring the
voice of Maggi Hambling during the making of her Oscar Wilde sculpture
and other textured sound collages.
After a warning for epilepsy sufferers, it's time for Matt Davis. Matt
is standing behind another table, this one's covered with electrical
appliances. But these are appliances like an insect electrocutor and
flickering domestic light bulbs. The sound he produces seems to be
coming from miked up electromagnetic fields - spluttering interference
patterns creating flavours of mains hum and earth loops. No beats, no
tunes, not music as we know it, and not very loud. Manufacturer's
warnings ignored - warrantees void. Sometimes he pokes the appliances
with a pointy stick. Sometimes there is a faint bouquet of Motörhead and
perhaps a hint of 90's digital hardcore (or is it just me having
By heck, this is
Ludomir Franczak and Marcin Dymiter couldn't make it from Poland so
they've sent a video instead, 'Waiting for Emma' is a projection of
street scenes in Eastern Europe with a minimal droning soundtrack. It's
all a bit monochrome, and nothing much happens. Hmm, forget what I wrote
about “the real world”, this would probably work better in a purpose
built cinema with HD screen.
Behind another table now, high up on the stage, is Lee Patterson, very
smartly dressed, a table with some sort of chemistry set as well as the
usual kind of sound equipment. He starts his set by dropping Andrews
Liver Salts into a couple of glasses of water. The amplified liquid
fizzes and the fizzes turn into some sort of atmospherics and there's
other sorts of crackles and heaven only knows what he's up to…He twangs
small springs that sound huge and deep, then there's strange burning
smells and the crackling of small fires – then it looks like he's set
his mixing desk on fire – but he can't have because he's sitting there
It’s a poignant and subtle multi-sensory theatre.
Alex Wendt (above) tells a fairy tale about
little animals, and gently places a rainstick, a group of small digital
playback gadgets and little speakers on a pair of white canvasses on the
floor. They click and make electrical insect whirrings and seem to be
communicating to each other in some sort of insect language. None of
this is amplified.
Iris Garrelfs does this arresting thing with her own voice, making
strange non-verbal utterances like monkey noises. She loops the
vocalizations – it looks like she's using some MacBook app - and builds
up layers of sound on sound. Somehow this emerges as something
enormously trancelike and relaxing.
Robert Curgenven sits behind a laptop playing a piece based on the
sounds of a pipe organ. This is highly abstracted, decomposed so that
all you are hearing is the wheezy breathing of the organ pumps and wind
box, turning the unique timbre of the instrument into something akin to
weather conditions, overtones, undertones, creaks and rustlings.
Engaging and magical passages, sometimes loud and some that would be
silent - if it wasn't for some drunk in the audience giving us a
Mat Pogo sits on the steps to the stage, unamplified, his body twitches
and spasms, he gurgles as if struggling to make speech. Over the course
of several minutes of unamplified physical theatre he produces an
incredible vocal performance, fitful human beatboxing crossed with jazz
scat and dada performance poetry. Sometimes he moves his mouth to a
voice processor, many times he misses and carries on eventually a line
or two of pure joyous song emerges - then that's all, folks.
a higher proportion of women in the audience tonight and more women in
the show, too. And everyone's a lot better behaved than last night. It
all kicks off with JD Zazie , armed with turntables and CD player, she
boldly seeks out all the ways you are not supposed to play records and
CDs. The surface noise of vinyl wibbling with off-centre wobbles,
amplified CD motors fast forwarding and skipping. Elements once intended
to reproduce hi-fi sound create something dirty, organic and lovely.
And now the red stage curtains open to reveal an icy white cube stage
set where Kathleen M stands half naked. She moves slowly to minimal
drone soundtrack, in a slow dance of a some tortured, abject spirit,
face is blotted out with smeared makeup, vulnerable and with a great
The next piece is a Supergroup - many of the performers who have been
performing solo now take turns to perform in improvised duets. The
recombination of sonic elements in this more social music works very
smoothly. Sitting in the audience I get lost in music and it becomes
timeless and it's hard to figure out what is going on. It's fab though.
And then the chairs are pulled back and stacked up, and Polruan Village
Hall becomes Company Fuck’s dancehall.…OMG! Company Fuck is a mad Aussie
in nerd spectacles wearing a crotch-hugging two tone purple leotard.
Yelling DJ clichés into a wireless karaoke mike he remotely triggers
Euro-disco trash punctuated by sudden explosions of HIGH VOLUME HARSH
NOISE. This lunatic crawls round the floor, climbs over things, pushes
and shoves and humps members of the audience, regardless of gender.
“Shut up!” he hollers in the faces of a couple of women who happen to be
enjoying a private conversation, “..this is my art, I've been working on
this piece for years!”.
Apparently there were complaints from the neighbours.
Dominic Allen has set up his crazy analogue sound system: loads of
flashing LEDs and dials and elements of fairground organ and banging
drums, untidy components salvaged from skips. A handmade 10-step
analogue sequencer drives electro mechanical components, gutted
re-purposed reed instruments, and backwards-engineered fragments from
crashed UFOs. As the sun goes down, Dominic does an incredible live
performance with this living scrapheap. This is supposed to be the
hyper-efficient world of digital information, but the scrapheap seems to
So, tonight I'm performing as Nigel Ayers. Look, we're talking about the
Grandfather of Industrial Noise, the one out of the Nocturnal Emissions
here. I've a new hand-painted film to screen and some new sounds, based
on my own digestive system. I perform a Space Cornish magic rite which
sends me off into a pisky-led state of consciousness, I safely make
re-entry back to Earth, Cornwall, Polruan then all recordings of a
lifetime flash past. A brief section of vintage harsh noise and then
earthworms dance to self-actualisation grooves. I finish with an
amplified cat purr. The set is brilliant, as per usual, I enjoyed that.
Apparently I'm a tough act to follow. But this isn't a competition.
There's no Simon Cowell here. As I chill out with the nice beer that Kat
has kindly put aside for me, Jorg Maria Zeger plays a wickedly
energising multi-harmonic guitar feedback drone through a large
collection of guitar effects. The drone becomes extended and hypnotic
and after a while he hands the guitar round the audience.
Nicholas Bullen screens a DVD made up of vintage and recent super 8
holiday home movie footage, old fashioned cars, shots of stone circles,
Gaudi's architecture all mixed up together and subtly colorized with a
live contemplative soundtrack. A nice dreamlike sequence bit of personal
and family history blended with a minimal soundtrack.
So there you have it, a great week of modern sonic fun with a
beautifully clear sound system. Nothing corporate, no sponsors, nothing
academic, nothing too desperate to please. The audience was fab,
attentive, friendly and well behaved most of the time. Rob Curgenven was
a great curator, host, and bouncer. Some good Belgian beers and herbal
teas and flapjacks.
The festival was an entirely an artist run initiative and as such was
staged entirely without conventional arts funding. Sales of the 2CD
festival compilation provided a large percentage of the costs of the
festival (artists’ transport, accommodation and food). Get it here:
Text by Nigel Ayers, photos by Iris Garrelfs