Logistics precluded my attendance at the first day of Denovali’s second spring takeover of London’s east end, but for me the smaller-scale second day over the Easter weekend promised the festival’s highlights anyway. Set in the welcoming intimacy of Café Oto, it offered four acts and an extensive selection of the label’s back catalogue on CD or vinyl – too tempting an opportunity to pass up.
Local artist Petrels was first up, lulling the excitable crowd into silence as the opening swells of hiss became more pronounced. It takes 10 minutes for the opening track from recently released Mima to near its crescendo, during which Oliver Barrett cut an engaging performer by frenetically rubbing an upturned cymbal rigged to provide an electric signal. After a brief pause, “40 Year Mission to Titan is Overtaken by the 40 Minute Mission to Titan” erupts; the drummer and guitarist lurking inertly in the background convulsed into life; the room was held captive. Wordlessly and seamlessly, Barrett morphed into “Concrete” off Haeligewielle, the triumphant choral section emerging silken in timbre and reassuring in sentiment – a homecoming for the intergalactic traveller.
While the dearth of visual accompaniment for Petrels was disappointing, what followed more than compensated. Self-proclaimed audio-visual collective Origamibiro presented a set largely drawn from latest release, Odham’s Standard, which was inspired by the phenomenon of spirits imprinting images onto photographs. The record’s theme and exploration of a possible audio equivalent to ‘spirit photography’ permeated the set, from the almost spectral layering of natural textures and caressed guitar from Tom Hill and Andy Tytherleigh to the live-feed projections of third member, The Joy Of Box. Most of the tracks commenced with a percussive foundation formed from looping sounds of the everyday: rustling and tearing paper, clicking typewriter keys, turning the pages of a book. These same props were then filmed by a small camera, with the feed projected and manipulated in real time. The highlight was the weighty and aged tome, the exploration of which assumed a furtive then desperate quality as pages were turned with increasing freneticism. Family names, biblical references and grainy portraits – bereft of context – attained an esoteric and haunted depth. Devoid of palpable crescendo at any point, the music seemed to serve as a soundtrack to a visual feature.
Following such intricacy, the visceral intensity of jazzy and compositional Piano Interrupted created the perfect counterpoint. The full quartet was on show: Tom Hodge on grand piano (taking up more than his fair share of performance space) and electronics producer Franz Kirmann both skittish and lithe around the lately added cellist and double bassist. With each acoustic instrument having the potential to dominate in such a confined space, the group impressed with a performance that pared each voice in preference to a unified whole while retaining the sonic space around each. Nonetheless, there were moments in the spotlight for the rhythmically captivating double bass and for Hodge’s delightfully flighty ivories, with occasional notes ensnared and moulded into glitchy designs of the industrious Kirmann’s creation.
While much of the set was drawn from last year’s The Unified Field, songs from the earlier and more lively Two by Four were arguably the more successful in this setting. The jazz-infused marching menace of the magnificent “Hobi” was a clear highlight, with its thematic melody passed between the instruments to be wrapped in their different timbres – as though in some sombre variant of ‘pass the parcel’.
Wide-eyed and flushed, the audience yet had a further spectacle. Knowing little of Thomas Köner ahead of the event, I found the abrupt change of pace to languid drone jarring, but quickly appreciated his position on the bill; anywhere else would have disturbed the exquisite momentum of the evening, but at its close the German electronics artist was best able to draw his surreal shadow over the venue. As a multimedia artist, Köner used a projected film to establish the setting and mood as much as his music. Distorted footage of train tracks, stations and dark cities in almost inverted colours lent an ominous cadence to the soporific drone, from which occasional public announcements in Japanese allowed something of the mundane to seep in; the whole presented a reality tinged with a layer of otherworldliness. Or perhaps we were privy to an unwelcome future?
The night air felt sharp and invasive after the stuffy warmth of the café. Provided Denovali returns to London next spring, the future can’t be that bleak. (Chris Redfearn)