The Gatherings Concert Series
18 November 2006 8:00pmSt. Mary's Hamilton Village
Review: AirSculpture - The Gatherings, 18 November 2006
Handicapping the parking situation at Penn on Gatherings night is a black art which I will probably never figure out. One of these days I'm going to have to learn to leave for a Gatherings concert in enough time to find an open parking spot. Fortunately the good folks at CIMA lag the start of the evening's proceedings enough so that us stragglers won't miss a note.
With the November show bringing the 2006 Gatherings season to a close, AirSculpture seemed as good as any a choice to bat cleanup. The first thing that the concertgoer was struck by was the equipment on-stage. Courtesy of Vince LaGrand were three tables loaded with a large array of modular synths. Given the band's name, the synths may as well have been slabs of marble ready to be chiseled into something wonderful. Indeed Adrian Beasley, John Christian and Peter Ruczynski would wield the gear to produce a work of art for those in attendance. As stated on their website, "All aspects of the music are performed live with no preparation whatsoever"; music being realized in the moment.
After the introduction by Gatherings compere Chuck van Zyl, the trio took to the stage. The first set started off swirled in mellow tones. Slowly a rhythm began to emerge, coalescing a structure on which the rest of the set would build. As an aside, around the ten minute mark The Gatherings Unusual Moment Of the Showª was revealed to be John Christian's ability to adjust his synths with his teeth. This listener was beginning to wonder why all the unused-until-this-point modular kit was necessary when the sequencers were finally brought into the fold. Having the modulars onstage added that little extra something to the presentation that would have been lost had AirSculpture gone virtual.
Throughout the show, all three band members would venture back and forth between the computers and keyboards down-stage and the modulars up-stage. But John Christian seemed to be most at home in front of the modulars. His hands flashed between knobs and patch cords, ensuring the sound was just so. Pete Ruczynski filled the space between Adrian Beasley's leads and the chortling of the sequencers with aplomb, occasionally donning headphones to check the mix. The set built to crescendo around the half-hour mark and stayed there for much of the remainder of the first set. A fine start to the show, the set ended and a brief interval was announced in order to allow Airsculpture to retool their equipment for the second set.
One often overlooked aspect of The Gatherings shows is the equipment. A lot of the gear you see on stage is put together by Chuck, Art, and Jeff from various sources throughout the local ambient, electronic and space music community. The night's show was no exception, with AirSculpture arriving state-side with only their laptops and assorted bits and bobs. Much gratitude to those who lend the gear that makes these shows possible.
The second set could be described in two words: Full On. As the band started up one could get a sense of what was coming by checking out the pattern lights on one of the modulars; a manic sweep back and forth. Once the set was in full swing you could feel it in the seat of your pants. A lot of on-the-fly sequence programming kept the audience engaged. Some head-nodding was proof that Adrian Beasley was well-chuffed with the results. Not paying attention to the time, I hadnÕt realized how far into the set AirSculpture was until they began the process bringing the set to a close. Much like exiting an amusement park ride, you had to stop and catch your breath. A hearty round of applause accompanied AirSculpture off-stage but they would soon return for an encore. Once more the recipients of hearty applause, AirSculpture retired for the evening. Thus ended the 2006 edition of The Gatherings. Chuck van Zyl hinted at big things to come in 2007. Is March really that far away?
by Chuck Nixon - December 2, 2006
Review: AirSculpture - The Gatherings, 18 November 2006
A crisp autumn afternoon was giving way an evening of biting cold, and I could feel the mercury dropping as I stood there, apparently locked out of St. Mary's church. I put all my weight onto the huge red door and still it wouldnÕt budge. Once, twice, three times I dug my shoulder into the door, before stopping and wondering - is anyone in there? Is the show even happening? I put my ear to the door and sure enough, synthesizer trills came trickling through from the sanctuary. This required an inside man, I thought, and I called on Jeff Towne to come and help me heave the stuck door open.
On the altar of St. Mary's tonight was a panorama of gear - not least of which was a modular synthesizer in several parts, squatting under its own spotlights and flashing ominously. The three members of AirSculpture were loosely jamming over a low-tempo sequence, walking back and forth, chatting amongst themselves. Above their heads, green lasers began to hiccup on and off, and Jeff bustled past, saying to himself, "If only we could get enough fog..." A few seconds later, a fresh belch of fog brought the lasers into clearer focus. On the apse of the church there was a sudden fluttering, huge blots of color, while the modular sequence suddenly flipped to a slightly more energetic tempo. Sitting in the dim aisle, Art Cohen quietly adjusted the soundboard like the stalwart captain of a ship. After last month's show with Slow Six, where the church played host to an easy, almost coffeehouse-like atmosphere, tonight the church reminded me of nothing so much as a dark vessel ready to move out to the farthest depths of space.
Before long, people were huddled in the vestibule, trying to take a little shelter from the cold. The inner door was cracked open and one guy in front of me caught a glimpse of the modular synth, emitting a cackle of delight. Tonight the tumult seemed well spirited, everyone gladly passing over their tickets in anticipation of a night of "classic" space music. The CD table got some heavy business even before the first note was played, with all copies of AirSculpture's Quark Soup vanishing in a flash.
Inside the sanctuary, the music didn't take long to settle down around the audience and signal the beginning of a long journey. The two halves of the show played like two epic pieces with distinctly different moods and long improvised frameworks. The first set introduced a sequence after its first few minutes, ambling along peacefully while a steady heartbeat-like drum kept the subwoofer moving. John, Peter and Adrian took to their equipment with movements that were both energetic and completely unrehearsed. More than once, two or more of their heads came together in whispered conversation. In place of words, small hand gestures between them seemed to say: bring this down, take that a little louder, go ahead, it's your move. As with Saul Stokes' performance, part of the pleasure came from watching the band's years of skill translated into spur-of-the-moment twists and turns. As the music neared the fifty-minute mark, the brakes were applied, and everything quickly faded out. Those who weren't revisiting the merch table hunkered down in their blankets and jackets and waited for the second half.
Where the first half of the show gently smoldered and swayed, the second half was a marathon of roiling chaos, with the main sequences blasting off in a much more somber key. The melodic vamps from the band members were fuller and more dramatic now, and things became even darker when John Christian brought in some pounding drum loops from his laptop. The whole time Jeff Towne made the lasers twirl manically overhead while people gawked and wobbled their heads. The piece's mood was further elaborated by endless tweaking of the sequences, which cut themselves in half and contorted into something completely different more than once. At times we were treated to a view of the backs of three heads as the whole band tweaked and slid and fiddled with the modular relentlessly. With a final fade-out of the thudding rhythm, and a last flourish on the keyboards from Adrian and Peter, the piece ended, bringing some members of the audience to their feet. The applause was so pleased that the band had to say some words of thanks and take the stage one more time for a brief encore.
The familiar next leg of the trip took everyone to the dim studios of WXPN, where the band topped their church performance with a brilliantly focused set in the 2 AM hour. In contrast to the alternating gentle and strong dichotomy of the church show, on Star's End they walked the middle of the road with skill. As opposed to the classic sound of the church show, my tired ears remember the radio performance as blending Berlin school dynamics with more modern touches of post-rave chill-out and ambient dub. With the pews of people gone, the communication between band members was closer and more intense, and I was amazed to think that such a moody and brilliantly-paced hour was being built right in front of me. I left the band at 3 AM, napping and munching on cold pizza, and got home just in time to catch the 4 AM performance on the bedside radio.
My experience with the band finished up Sunday evening, as the sun set on a tiny island in the middle of the Delaware River. "Bloody Brilliant," said Adrian, wandering around with camera in hand, watching the barges slide through the dusk. The denizens of this island, beer-drinking, football-watching river pirates, plied the guys with food and drink and got them talking about their time spent in the US with Chuck van Zyl as their host. With their words, the guys showed their kinship with the city of Philadelphia, Chuck, and the rest of the space music lovers there. A look at AirSculpture's newest album TranceAtlantic affirms this. The discs contain both the church show and the radio performances from their previous visit in April 2004. The cover shows the band striking a slightly touristy pose in front of Isaiah Zagar's "glass house" on South Street. Inside the liner notes, a cornucopia of photos from their visit, a scrapbook explosion. Sitting and flipping through it after the weekend, I reflected on the nature of the Gatherings, now coming into its fifteenth year. While each night of music at St. Mary's stands on its own, they also exist as just one part of a patchwork of journeys, meetings, and relationships that have made Philadelphia one of the hubs of the space music world.
Scott Kelly (DJ Kel) - December 4, 2006
Concert Photos by Jeff Towne
AirSculpture live at The Gatherings Concert Series on 18 November 2006 was funded in part by Synkronos Music. An independent record label based near Philadelphia, PA, Synkronos Music releases CDs of Space, Ambient and Electronic Music. Their latest is Contact Point by The Ministry of Inside Things.
For more about Synkronos Music, please access: http://www.synkronosmusic.com
For more about AirSculpture, please access the:
The Gatherings Concert Series is presented by the all-volunteer staff of The Corporation for Innovative Music and Arts of Pennsylvania