Almagià, Ravenna  16th March 2012 – Transmissions V Festival

Mark Nelson and glowing Apple.

Of these two acts, Montreal’s Tim Hecker is the one I expected to like more.  I’m certainly more familiar with his recordings. But Hecker takes no consideration of the fact that he is working in front of a paying audience rather than in his own studio or bedroom. In the semi gloom with no visual backdrop, he’s just a man staring at his Macbook. Not only that but he looks like he’s rather be somewhere else. When setting up his equipment he is visibly, and justifiably, pissed off with the imbeciles who train the cameras on him without having the courtesy to turn off the flash.

When he begins a continuous 40 minute piece, it starts promisingly with digital bell-like effect but this morphs into anonymous and, for me, un-engaging sludge of beat-less computer generated sound waves. The subdued applause at the end indicated that I was not alone in being so underwhelmed. Hecker grabbed his backpack and exited stage front in the manner of John McEnroe after losing a match featuring several disputed line calls.

Robert Henke‘s interesting article – Live Performance in the Age of Super Computering contains a quote which is relevant in the light of Hecker’s ‘performance’ :  “What we see is that glowing apple in the darkness and a person doing something we cannot figure out even if we are very familiar with the available tools. This scenario is not only unsatisfying for the audience but also for the performing composer”. 

It is something of a relief to see real instruments alongside the laptop for the appearance of Pan•American. This is the solo project of Mark Nelson, guitarist with post-rock band Labradford from Richmond, Virginia . For this show he has a drummer to add some soft percussive support (the kind of understated drumming you could play at home without that wouldn’t disturb the neighbors).  Nelson alternates between computer and guitar and creates the kind of hazy ambience that is as different from the preceding act as a warm hug is from  a formal handshake. Enthusiastic applause follows.