Nocturna Discordia #17 at Soda – 11th Mar ’15

Diego Caicedo (guitar)
Owen Kilfeather (guitar)
Ferran Fages (guitar)
Pablo Rega (guitar)
El Pricto (conducting)

The weekly Nocturna Discordia likes to mix it up. Different musicians, different instrumentation, different improvisatory aesthetics… Witness this week’s offering. Four electric guitars (complete with guitarists) playing four through-composed pieces – a degree of non-repetitive structure with plenty of opportunity for extemporisation; some of which was directed/driven/controlled by a fifth party, the conductor.

(The pre-gig vinyl this week at Soda was Sonny Rollins’ 1956 masterpiece, “Saxophone Colossus” – there’s nothing like playing the music of the gods before throwing your own offering onto the altar…)

So, given the volume and noise potential of four cranked axes, they ease the audience in gently. Caicedo begins with simple single-note lines, shortly joined by Kilfeather playing something similar yet combination is just slightly (to my ear, deliciously) dissonant. Fages and Rega leap in likewise and suddenly the feel is of four puzzle pieces being turned this way and that as a way to connect them is sought. The number of notes to the bar increases, things are getting busier, the ripples in the once-peaceful pool more numerous, the application of chorus and reverb fills the room and the puzzle picture is coming together.

It’s interesting (not to mention helpful!) that each player has chosen a very different tone: Caicedo, pure and bell-like; Kilfeather, wiry and trebly; Fages, natural almost acoustic; Rega, bass-heavy.

The first piece continues with a staccato, pointillistic interlude. There’s a sense of maelstrom out of which sonic fragments – a muted rubber band bass line, an overdriven blues phrase – briefly escape to impinge upon our awareness, before we shift into layered arpeggios and clusters of notes, delicately overlapping…
There’s a brief wait for the second piece as guitars are ‘prepared’, objects woven through strings, batter-operated gizmos are clutched at the ready… Fages starts us off with a series of groans and articulate rumbles produced by manipulating a metal bar across the strings. Kilfeather and Caicedo produce feedback and buzzes, while Rega fires off strange rattles, scratches and industrial scrapings. As Kilfeather furiously scrubs away to create a roaring cloud, Fages applies the EBow for maximum eeriness. Not to be outdone, Rega whips out a violin bow and hammers at the strings with it, while Caicedo rubs tiny music boxes above the pickups of his Ibañez. By the time Fages switches to what looks like an electric toothbrush and Kilfeather applies a simple triangle as a slide, we are deep into discordancy… and loving it (well, I am).

So far, so free. For piece number three, El Pricto steps up (actually, he kneels down) as conductor. Pre-gig, he’d said that having a conductor exercise some control was purely intended to drive up the level of chaos – now we see that philosophy in action… What we get is another change of pace. The strident strumming of a chord, picked up by each player in turn, creating a bludgeoning, relentless dervish of a collective riff – plain, direct, seemingly unstoppable. The first reaction is to wait for (wish for, even) complexity, it seems overly simplistic. But that is precisely its power. The constant repetition puts both performers and audience into an almost meditative, trance-like state and acquires a kind of restless grandeur that lifts the listener.

In the brief fourth piece, a descent into barely-coordinated madness. We’re off the deep end. Rega has a balloon pressed against the strings, amplifying rubbery finger-squeaks, Fages is briefly in death metal overdrive, Kilfeather attacks his instrument with a drumstick, and Caicedo is doing something mysteriously resonant.

For the final piece (conducted once more by El Pricto, who I think christened it, “The Idiot Bastard Drone”?) we return to the sparse ‘handful-of-notes’ style of the set’s beginning. One at a time, the players join in, deepening the sound picture, broadening the melody, harmonising but just ever so slightly ‘off’. A melange of shifting drones, a touch of Morocco maybe, a hint of India (do they have the raga in them, that’s the question) punctuated by a series of sharp, disjointed jabs before resolving into a delicate, quasi-random structure – a sense of wonder with a spoonful of violence.

As an added bonus, Antoni Robert Gadea (a respected regular at improvised music performances around town) captured an extract from the performance on video. Here, for your delectation…

(For more visuals, photos by Elena Márquez can be found here.)