[sic] Magazine

Instal 2009

Weird and wonderful, exciting and excruciating, Instal can be all of these things and more. It’s become Scotland’s premiere experimental music shindig since its inception in 2001. Each year, a bunch of musicians from various fields descend on the city to showcase their art. Nobody tries to pretend that it’s all going to be equally enjoyable. There is a Reithian spirit to the event – inform, educate and entertain – and sometimes it does feel that the third of those noble aims has been tacked on as an afterthought. The reason it’s always worth it is not just the considerable horizon-broadening that it offers, but also that there is inevitably something that absolutely takes your breath away. Last year’s three hour set by Japanese quartet Marginal Consort definitely fell into that category.

Sachiko M (left) and Otomo Yoshihide’s set was divided into three parts. Sachiko fiddled with some contact mics for a while, gleefully creating a series of snap, crackles and pops – like an amlified bowl of Rice Krispies. Otomo played a strange looking pair of pianos, somehow hooking them up to a guitar amp, causing oscillating feedback of various pitches. It was interesting, but I’d like to have heard it used in a more musical way. The pair then played their improv piece “Filament”, a duet for turntable with no records and sampler with no samples. It was a spacious piece, full of longeurs and near silence, punctuated by static crackle, feedback squeals, and the beautiful, rhythmic sound of needle on turntable.

I ventured in the small Studio Theatre on a couple of occasions on Sunday. Fraser Burnett, Jean-Philippe Gross and Grant Smith created an enjoyable and rhythmic scree of noise using a trio of mixers. Neil Davidson and Hannah Eliul on guitar and clarinet respectively created some delightful improvised music, let down only by vocalist Ben Knight who seemed to be convinced he was an extra on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Back to the main hall, and possibly the best two sets of the entire festival. Gross reappeared with Jérôme Noetinger , seated at opposite sides of a table situated in the middle of the arch. It was covered in all manner of electronic gizmos with cables and wires sprouting in all directions. They proceeded to create a maelstrom of electronic noise. Sometimes it was intense and dense as Merzbow , sometimes it used extremes of pitch like Pan Sonic , and sometimes it almost purred like a contented cat – albeit one with a very short temper. It was visceral and physical and rather wonderful.

The final set of Instal 09 brought back memories of Maryanne Amacher’s extraordinary 2006 performance, in which she produced frequencies of sound that seemed impossibly loud, and also seemed to emanate from inside your head, but yet allowed you to have normal volume conversations at the same time. This time Jean-Luc Guionnet and Taku Unami (pictured) somehow tuned in to the frequencies of the actual building. Using speakers set around the room, and the sort of sub bass frequencies that would have your average dubstepper gazing slackjawed in amazement, they produced a deep, rumbling barrage of noise. It wasn’t constant in pitch and tone, but oscillated, making the very fabric of the building seem to vibrate. At one point, my skeleton seemed to be jingling around in my body! The volume was high, but not excessively so – this wasn’t a performance that left your ears ringing afterwards. It was all done using frequencies of sound. Quite an experience.

It has to be said that the highlights this year weren’t plentiful. Sunday was the best day by far. There was too much stuff that seemed to lead up blind alleys, and not a great deal that felt inspiring. When the outer limits of what could be considered music are being explored, it’s always going to be hit and miss whether the results are enervating, excruciating or exciting. It’s the possibilities that keep me coming year after year. Even when the festival is below par, there is always something magical to take away from it.