Cabeza de Topo 7 - 28Feb15Café 4’33” is, by its own description, “A cultural project. A cafe. A polyvalent and nonconformist space. A place for spreading new and creative music made here and there.” Add to that the fact that it’s based in a part of town about 20 minutes’ walk from my front door and it’s no wonder I get all excited. Although 4’33” has yet to get its own venue sorted (and I know they’re frustrated by the hold up!) that doesn’t stop them putting on a series of gigs under the “Cabeza de Topo” banner (roughly translated: the mole’s head) in collaboration with other venues for the time being. This was the seventh such and like previous events, combined imported and local talent.

Planeta Salvatge
Irma Marco (laptop)
Josué Coloma (guitar)

The instrumentation merely indicates what Marco and Coloma sat in front of or had strapped around them; what they were doing with those object is another matter…

The screen is lit up with a sequence of footage largely from Japan, I think in the 1970s/80s. Either way, it’s grainy and appears pleasingly dated. Marco is monitoring/manipulating the images and accompanying sampled sounds (which range from mildly industrial scrapings to voices and conversations), while Coloma wields a beautiful Gretsch-like guitar connected to a fancy-looking pedal board of effects. As we’re regaled with scenes of a shrine full of lucky maneki-neko cats, single notes are run through the sampler and delay on the pedal board. It’s a strange combination of creepy, alien and charming.

PS2As the guitar begins to put out delayed and echo-ey arpeggios, the visuals shift elsewhere. Africa maybe? The Caribbean? Wherever, the people are mainly black but the scenes are of a carnival in which most are wearing ‘whiteface’, either plastic masks or white pancake makeup – it’s a strangely disturbing reversal of the 19th and 20th century minstrel shows and given the previous images of Japan, there’s a sideways connection here to classic kabuki costumes (though I don’t pretend to have worked it all out!) Through it all, Coloma’s guitar soothes our ears as our minds boggle.

For the rest of the performance, the Marco’s video takes us back to Japan: a street parade set against what sounds like a Scottish radio play, city scenes and traffic, a short order chef at the hotplate. Through it all, Coloma evokes a variety of treated textures: loose hypnotic riffs, busy note clusters, EBow tones, percussive pickup tapping, even a tasteful solo. The final series of images seem to be from sex museum and mainly show enormous carved phalli in demure settings – a good place to finish.

Hugs Bison
Shaun Blezard (laptop, various electronic gubbins)
Phil Powell (laptop, more electronic gubbins)

Hugs Bison are “electronic improvisers”, a “technology driven duo”, and are “a technologist with a passion for music” plus “a musician with a passion for technology” (well, when their own words put it so well…) The HB modus operandi for this residency (they played the previous night, too) was to spend a couple of days wandering the city, recording sounds and images which they then edit, program, upload, and so on… Let’s face it, I have no idea what they do with the material but for the performance, it’s all at their fingertips. Ready to be triggered, treated, warped, twisted, stretched, and placed alongside sampled & synthesised electronic sounds – all as part of a real-time audio-visual improvisation that gives us Barcelona filtered through the peculiar and particular perspectives of two creative types from Cumbria in NW England.Hugs Bison at Cafe 4 33

Glockenspiel-like tones from Powell’s touchpad rub up against the recorded rumbles, buzzes and whirrs of the Catalan capital as oscillating whines and sine waves create a simultaneously retro-futuristic electronica vibe. Which is a fancy way of trying say it sounded very new and fresh while retaining a sort of old-school science fiction vibe (a couple of the more dystopian points did remind me a tiny bit of the Vangelis soundtrack to Blade Runner).

Recurring images included palm trees, the Barceloneta beach, the Sagrada Familia (fuzzed, coloured and turned on its side like a bad 70s acid trip), a concrete flyover, the MACBA interior and various locations in the Metro. Droning is juxtaposed with the sound of voices (forwards and backwards) and public transport. Meanwhile the previously glock-ish tonality of the synth twists into something like a cross between bagpipes and a violin. It’s all, quite frankly, mesmerising. And maybe that’s the point? It did feel like a pleasantly deranged hypnotic induction, and I know I lost track of time completely. Who knows what awful post-hypnotic suggestions and false memories these Hugs Bison fellows may have implanted in us all (if I do anything strange in the next few days, you know who to blame).

A fully improvised, (gift of) sound and vision which paid playful and spellbinding homage to the host city – no wonder the applause was rapturous.