Tuesday 13 July 2010

Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, The Spaceheads

Carlton Club, Manchester, Monday 12 July 

The sound of Spaceheads occupies the margins between trance dance, free jazz and psychedelia. It comprises of Andy Diagram's blissed-out trumpet - electronically enhanced by loops, echoes, octave doubling and fractal patterning - and Dick Harrison's drums, locating rhythm and pulse with every crash and bang, and serving as the perfect launchpad for Diagram's kosmic klaxon. 

They've been away for too long, doing things that come to all of us in time - raising families, planting trees, reforming James etc. So there was a preponderance of old tunes in the set, and a welcome chance to revisit dislocated dancefloor faces like Trance Figure 8. 

Improvising comes as second nature to Spaceheads, and the search for fresh discoveries began in earnest when the duo were joined by Orchestre Marcel Duchamp's Vincent Berthelet on bass. Making fresh discoveries and striking vital grooves are not mutually exclusive activities for Spaceheads. It comes as a shock to realise that Diagram's tabletop of wires and wonder, so state-of-the-art twenty years ago, now seems actually primitive. Older spectators may feel nostalgic for a time when rave culture could embrace two men armed with technology, brio and imagination, intent on replicating the impact of Bitches Brew with just trumpet and drums. Their light show, meanwhile, was quaintly redolent of Pink Floyd at Middle Earth, circa 1967.

The sensibility of headliners Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp is post-punk, and the instrumentation is appropriately bizarre - trombone, marimba, fiddle, guitar, drums and double-bass. Their surreal affiliations are not only signposted by the name but by a resolute rejection of all musical and social convention. Singer and violinist Liz Moscarola is the model of charming, aggressive femininity, alternately little-girl-lost and barking. She proclaims emotional vulnerability in evocative yet oblique stanzas. I didn't understand a word ("the house is coming"?) yet was profoundly moved. The rhythm team of Anne Cardinaud and Wilf Plum generated a clattering yet well-calibrated groove. Big-toned trombonist Seth Bennett is one of the loudest brass men in the business: conversely, the light-toned guitarist Mael Saletes is one of the quietest grunge guitarists in the business.   

Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp are surreal in the true sense: more than art, it's a way of life; of living on the edge of your senses. The players perform with a conviction that, in other circumstances, would be dedicated to fringe religion. And their music defines the epithet so beloved of Patti Smith: 'beauty will be convulsive or not at all." Very romantic. Very subversive. Very Gallic.

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