Concert Review: K.K. Null (The Loft, Albany, New York, June 6, 1999)

“Bestial cries are heard: neighing horses, the squeal of a brass pig, crying jackasses, amorous quacks of a monstrous toad. This excruciating medley of brutal sounds is subordinated to a barely perceptible rhythm. Listening to this screaming music for a minute or two, one conjures up an orchestra of madmen, sexual maniacs, led by a man-stallion beating time with an enormous phallus.”

No, that’s not what happened Sunday night at the Loft — that’s what Russian writer Maxim Gorky wrote after his first encounter with an American jazz ensemble. Gorky’s quote, however, does serve to remind us all that one man’s music is another man’s noise and (more importantly) one man’s noise is another man’s music and (most importantly) just ’cause you ain’t heard it before, don’t mean it’s bad. It just means you’re probably gonna have to work a little harder to get it.

Or to produce it — since no one was working harder Sunday night than Kazuyuki Kishino Null. Alone on stage before his self-created “nullsonic” unit (basically a set of guitar pedals, minus the guitar), Null moved hands, feet and body like an artisan, like a chef, like a masseuse, every nudge necessary, every tweak timely, every gesture genuine. It would have been stimulating to watch even in a silent room.

But, of course, the room wasn’t silent. Far from it, in fact, as Null’s performance featured some truly tooth-loosening moments as the experimental music titan explored the creation, identification, stimulation, torture, annihilation, reinvention, rediscovery and reconciliation of a challenging series of electronic and organic signals, creating a single, cathartic, symphonic work in the process.

For Sunday night’s show, Null used a Vocoder tube and a contact microphone to generate his source signals, deftly using both devices as sound-shaping tools (think theremin), carving tones from space and feedback with a wave of an arm, twitch of a wrist, flick of a tongue. The resultant music forces listeners to lose themselves in his sonic wash, latching onto momentary fragments of logic, melody and structure, just as those fragments disappear back into the maelstrom that spawned them. It’s the ultimate celebration of the transient — and it’s truly exhilarating if you’re willing to approach it with more of an open mind than Maxim Gorky could muster.

One-time homeboy Damien Catera (of solo and ConDemek acclaim) opened the evening with a similarly-themed instrumental performance — only with a guitar and an ice-pick as his signal generating tools. For the evening’s middle set, Catera and his devices were joined by poet G.E. Schwartz for an exceptionally successful collaboration, demonstrating just how well experimental language and music can work together.

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