Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bill Drummond and The 17


Last Saturday in Zurich, we played at a mix'n'match festival where the concept of a Swiss music trade fair was disguised by clever programming and a large paycheque! Our show wasn't due to start until 2.45 am (no kidding!) and going to bed for a few hours r+r would have been the wise thing to do, but I had the opportunity to partake in a sonic experiment which I didn't want to miss.

Bill Drummond, the man behind the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu, KLF, and agent provocateur in the music industry gave a lecture in the afternoon about how all recorded music is a thing of the past. His new project was about making instant music based on assembling groups of 17 people and recording them singing / humming one note for 5 minutes consecutively. He would record many groups of 17 people, and layer all the different recordings with no added FX, compression, nothing. He will play the piece just once that evening and then he will destroy that recording forever.

Thus at the Schiffbauhalle in Zurich I took part in this happening. I, along with the 3 Kissogram boys, Paul and Alex from Franz Ferdinand, and their tourmanager Rebecca, were part of a group of 17 who were led up to a small, dimly lit room, which had 17 seats arranged in 2 rows. In front of us sat the legend that is Bill Drummond. With a quiet "Good evening, I'm Bill Drummond', he went to explain to us the concept behind the experiment and what we were to do. We are asked to sing a single note that he plays on a keyboard, and hold it for 5 minutes. An engineer sits behind his computer, and a single microphone trails its way to said microphone. We are all asked to stand. At the given sign from the engineer, all 17 of us begin to sing the note. You hear people hit different pitches, people hold their breaths at different lengths, the collective sound seems to wow and flutter, and at a certain point you lose yourself completely in the sound. I forgot I was singing and felt the collective force of the universal voice in that room. The drone is the force and just as you think this could / should last forever, the engineer brings his arm down, and we all stop in unison. We are all asked to have a group photo taken, after which we leave.

Drummond and engineer invite several other groups to partake in this session.

In the evening, in the main hall, the engineer plugs his computer into the house PA / mixing desk, and after a short talk from Drummond, the piece is played. It starts quietly but very soon builds into a wall of drone-a-rama. The room shakes and there is a strange rhythm within the drone. You close your eyes and you are carried away into a sea of unknown sonic pleasures created only by human voices and nothing else. The 5 minutes comes too soon. A sudden stop, and its all over. The piece of art is destroyed, never to be heard again.

Drummond has pushed the concept of instant art a step further, and we were there to take part in it that day.


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