Destroy Vancouver has a rich history of providing the titular city with a vast array of talent, pulling from the far corners of the avant-garde community. The event is curated by local sound artist John Brennan, who — even if his only presence was a video message lamenting his absence at the beginning of the show — managed to assemble another spectacular lineup of noise and drones at the VIVO Media Arts Centre.
The trio of Clément | Olsen | Ruhlmann was an apt choice to start the evening. Three generations of artists, each with a chaotic mess of toys, electronica, and wires surrounding them, created a metered and deeply textural audio experience.
Exploring the limits of patience and minimalism in music, their composition was more akin to a failed field recording than a musical set. Unique clicks, pops, and (in one memorable instance) a bowed cymbal, were brought into the mix and faded out with such careful ebb, it was hard to tell where the performance ended and where the natural ambient noise of the room began.
Peggy Lee’s unsettling improvisations with a cello cannot be recommended easily: her music is neither calming or lush, and it is not for the faint of heart. Still, her set at VIVO was awe-inspiring and almost completely overwhelming.
Almost more of a performance art piece than a work of tangible sound, Lee’s music was a harsh deconstruction of classical instrumentation, a wild cacophony of plucked strings, wrenched bow sweeps, and unceremoniously discordant melodies. That something so ugly could be so beautiful was a testament to Lee’s talents.
Although not out of place on a bill surrounded by other experimental artists, J.P. Doucet and Colin Jones’ Hierarchies was certainly a change in pacing for the evening. As maestros over an orchestra of synthesizers, the duo carefully unraveled a sweeping thread of undulating keyboard drones and subtle drum-machine beats. Laced with a cosmic quality absent from the rest of the evening, Hierarchies stood out for their carefully prepared and ever-changing synthetic jam.
Bonnie Jones and Andrea Neumann seemed to be the most engaging of the performers at VIVO, even if they spoke just as little to the crowd as their contemporaries. Their communication with the audience happened through their instruments — an array of gear including a pedal-steel and radio receivers — and the way they very physically interacted with their equipment.
Noise was coaxed out of their lab station by way of AM static, fan blades over pedal-steel strings, and the hum of quarter-inch cable held against the natural electricity of the human body. Their combined music carried a personality with it that seemed at odds with the pair’s focus on their equipment.
Jesse & Josh Zubot picked up where Peggy Lee’s duo left off — with two classical musicians challenging the way we look at classical instruments. Paired with violins, the two played music that had less a relationship with constructed noise and more with the dynamics of mad scientists ranting at each other.
For each note strung by one, the other’s reaction was the focus of interest during their performance. As one Zubot would suddenly slow for breath, so too did the other, alternatively taking cues and giving them in a crazy exchange of energy that was fascinating to observe. The violin is not usually considered a physically abusive instrument to play, but by the end of the improv performance I could feel the manic exhaustion playing at the ends of each player’s bows.
Olympia’s Kevin Doria needs no introduction for those in the drone community — as founding member of Kranky alums Growing and collaborator with David Bryant (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), Jonathan Parant (Fly Pan Am), and filmmaker Karl Lemieux, Doria’s solo project Total Life is one with a certain amount of reputation behind it.
Similar in spirit to Hierarchies’ performance, Total Life’s heavy and unforgiving drones enveloped and then destroyed the audience’s collective consciousness. Concentration and all real thought processes were lost in a sea of punishing synth and modulated effects, all created from behind the privacy of a flight case.
Whatever knobs were being twiddled with, Doria’s point was plain: the experience, and not the creation, was the point of Total Life’s immured music. His powerful set was cut short as a key piece of equipment malfunctioned, but even as a performance ending on an apology, it was a dynamo experience.