The Davis house show scene is a bit of a mixed bag. Really, the only certainties are that PBR cans will be littered about and the location will be far from the center of town (and its many sound ordinances). In the past, I’ve been thrown into walls by eager moshers, nodded my head to smooth and sweet acoustic sets, and sat on the floor, eyes closed, absorbing transcendent tunes.
At The Morgue this past weekend, Instagon, Suzuki Junzo, Chopstick, and Mulva Myiasis with the Duchess and Friends treated listeners to an improvisational, experimental evening.
The audience stood and sat this time around. The tapestries, freaky art and fake spiders decorating the walls of the living room were illuminated by soft, warm lighting and the performers jammed on top of ornate rugs.
The show opened with Mulva Myiasis (Noa Ver, second-year transfer technocultural studies major) on her homemade synthesizers (the Duchess and Friends). The synthesizers themselves were beautiful, neatly packaged inside of decorated tins.
Homemade synthesizers represent a bit of a challenge to master, as amateur circuit hacking has the capability to produce crazy sounds that shouldn’t exist. Ver demonstrated that she and the Duchess were on good terms, however, and set the tone with her electronic intro.
Next to the the stage was Instagon #688, featuring Suzuki Junzo on guitar. The bassist, Lob, led each song through a mostly improvisational progression, employing a number of effect pedals spread before him in a fan. Their sound was fluid, varying from funky psychedelic beach punk to noise rock and back again.The drumming and bass were tight, and they played off each other to give a generous undercurrent for Junzo, who supplied an overlay of psychedelic noise guitar.
When Junzo fingerpicked or strummed specific chords, the guitar was a welcome addition. At others, he pressed a screwdriver to the strings or gave an intense, quick, loose strumming, which both produced a high-pitched, dissonant, noisy effect.
While Instagon is one of the more prominent local noise bands, the shrill dissonance by Junzo left me wanting for a larger focus on the bass and drums, which were absolutely stellar together. The improvisation did even out by the end of the set, with Instagon eliciting cheers from the audience with its closer.
Artists are more free to experiment and improvise when playing a venue the size of a living room and kitchen, and the artist/audience interaction is obviously more intimate.
Sometimes, this means more interaction than simply sitting at the artist’s feet.
As Chopstick took the stage with his theremin, he apologized to the living room, saying, “I drank the coffee in the fridge… so if that was yours, I’m sorry.”
He proceeded to play tunes he named Stolen Coffee and Stolen Coffee No. 2.
The theremin itself was a first for any house show I have attended. The spooky no-touch instrument creates a plane of sound waves between two antennas. Chopstick’s technique employed one hand manipulating the pitch in the air above the theremin, while the other adjusted knobs on an accessory that changed the volume. The set began on lower register oscillations that developed into pulsating, synth-like melodies and ghost-like wails.
The performance teetered between the trancey outer space sounds and a ’80s horror film soundtrack. At one point, the entire room was buzzing and pulsating with sound that was a dead ringer for a biplane propellor.
While nontraditional, the performance was technically very cool, and the instrument produced higher register caterwauling that I wasn’t sure existed before seeing the show. Plus, now I know exactly what it will sound like right before I’m abducted by aliens.
As the tour closer, Junzo took the stage again as a solo guitar act, this time using his pedals to loop and progress his sound. His Steinberger-style guitar was subjected to a violin’s bow, the flat side of a screwdriver and a small, cylindrical piece of metal in between traditional strumming and picking.
The manipulation of the strings by different objects produced an interesting, if not slightly painful effect. The screwdriver caused the guitar to find shrill and peculiar highs. During one moment of his progression, Junzo squealed the instrument into a segment of extremely high pitch, causing me to want for earplugs — but miraculously (and perhaps as a result of hearing loss and the auditory hallucinations that I assume follow), on the other end of shrieking melody came a remarkable chorus of what I swear sounded like human voices, which wouldn’t be possible with traditional playing techniques.
Witnessing experimentation and improvisation from some seriously talented performers in a very small space is what makes house shows so unique.
With the theremin, synthesizers and creative guitar manipulation, The Morgue’s latest show was certainly the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m glad for it.