Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (voice, electronics, synthesizers)
Ariel Kalma (saxophone, flutes, electronics, synthesizers)ISSUE Project Room
August 8, 2015
On a quiet Saturday evening at the beginning of August, deep in the cellar performance room of the ISSUE Project Room's Chinatown Artists' Space location, Ariel Kalma and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe meet to perform material from their recent collaboration, We Know Each Other Somehow, which they recorded in rural Australia at intervals over the past two-and-a-half years, and which was released this April on the stalwartly experimental electronica label RVNG Intl. as part of their "FRKWYS" series (the eminently intriguing aim of which, the label puts it, is to "pair contemporary artists with their influential predecessors").
Together the two explore and update some of the major musical developments from the last four decades or so—from drone and ambient music, so-called "world" music, and aspects of free jazz and New Age to intercultural, improvised minimalism and ideas taken from musique concrète and acousmatic production. But equally meaningfully, in the face of this bewildering melange of currents and styles, they also shine a light on the immediacy of the creative process, illumining the systems working through us as a group, connecting us, binding us, generating something out of us. Chaining us together through overlapping rings of experience, partnership could be seen as a systemic spiritual unfurling. In the realm of musical collaboration, it could yield interesting results. "Multiversal" musician and sonic thinker Ariel Kalma shares a space and an experience with Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, otherwise known as Lichens. Together and in the live setting, their music becomes something more akin to biomass. Every note, every sound, every idea starts with a well-defined gesture, distinct to both of the performers; eventually well-formed soundscapes bubble to the surface and spill over.
Born in France but extremely well-traveled, Ariel Kalma has dabbled in everything over the course of his lengthy, productive career from spoken word poetry to coaxing sounds from what he proudly dubs "primitive delay units." Later he developed a taste for overlaying looped saxophone melodies atop each other, and even worked at the famed Groupe de Recherches Musicales at the Institut National Audiovisuel (INA GRM) in Paris, founded by Pierre Schaeffer and counting among its members (at one time or another) such luminaries as Luc Ferrari, François-Bernard Mâche, and Iannis Xenakis. Kalma, in short, came to think of music as being bound to an essential, basic structure, a tethering of form and function that was the direct result of the people who came together to create and experience it.
To match, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe is an artist who explores the voice and all its potential uses with a die-casting methodology, typically setting its utterances amongst beds of modular synth work. The result is a cerebral music in the best sense of the word—sounds that move both body and mind. Perhaps as a result, the performance was intimate and organic. Kalma and Lowe work very differently, operating with different rhythms, but each brought an equal amount to the table, and to further the idea that this performance was a sort of private dialogue between like minds, they didn’t seem to be playing for the audience. The pieces added up to something of a seance. The idea of “collapsed time” was particularly salient, as there were moments where the pieces felt incredibly short, despite being—in clock time terms—quite extended, generally upwards of ten minutes. Lowe and Kalma's separate philosophies of pattern and movement entangled, sparking new combinations of “cold,” calculating computer work and “warm,” biologic tones.
That is to say, the roughly ninety minute-long set played like a conversation. A representative sampling: Kalma unfurls a genial tonic of synth pads, Lowe responds with a spectrum of bloop-bleeps, Kalma forcefully swipes his hand across his keyboard, Lowe lets out a low yodel. Lowe’s computer compositions were founded upon natural, organic sounds—like miniature ecosystems custom-purposed for Kalma’s bleeding, blending horn sounds. It's a formula both pleasant and cordial, and in the hands of anyone else, it would be offensively inoffensive. But in the realm of ecological exploration they opened up, they were studying (for) themselves; they were not here, necessarily, to test each other, to push for anything, or to prove anything.
In the span of time they were given, the Lowe-Kalma duo covered a wide expanse of musical ground, before giving way to a cozy embrace at show's end. The title We Know Each Other Somehow was everywhere apparent in the performance, the theme of "new old friends" constantly weaving in and out of the texture of the show, as the two men poked and prodded each other, as if trying to remember where it all begun. Improvisation-as-memory, through the use of technology both archaic and newfangled: Kalma’s whole career suggests a sort of yearning for a knowledge of the capabilities of the self. His extensive traveling and multiversal bent lent itself well to Lowe and his imaginings, oscillatory and usually writhing in a single space. Their friendship-collaboration speaks to an immersion in the exchange of ideas and techniques to discover and better the self—even, perhaps, a musical "care of the self."
DeForrest Brown Jr. is a New York-based essayist and critic. His work has appeared in The Quietus, Rhizome, and AVANT, among others, and he is a regular contributor to Tiny Mix Tapes.
Banner image credit: Bradley Buehring