AMPLIFY 2013: rotationby Christopher Nelson
ISSUE PROJECT ROOM/TEMP | JANUARY 15, 2013
January 15 was the first night of AMPLIFY 2013: rotation, a two-night festival organized by ISSUE Project Room and Jon Abbey of Erstwhile Records. Before we get into the music, it’s important to recognize just why the organizers of the festival decided to set up shop in TriBeCa this year at the recently opened, cavernous art space appropriately known as TEMP. ISSUE Project Room is in a lot of trouble: even though there were always going to be major renovations needed at their opulent new outpost in Downtown Brooklyn, I.P.R. now faces unforeseen building maintenance issues that have left the venue homeless until 2015. Consequently, Ari Lipkis and Alex Ahn, co-founders of TEMP, were approached by Lawrence Kumpf, artistic director of I.P.R., to host AMPLIFY 2013 there. They graciously agreed to donate their space for the two nights, and fortunately for all parties the turnout was remarkable. Lipkis estimates that upwards of 170 people showed up for the first night. “We were overwhelmed by the turnout,” he later told me. Likewise, Jon Abbey, who has been organizing shows in New York for years, couldn’t remember ever having so many people at one of his events.
A lot of the fun in packing into TEMP on the first night was the aural uncertainty of what was about to unfold. The program promised two duos—both debuts, and both containing the talismanic guitar transmissions of Keith Rowe. Rowe, best known as a founding member of the legendary (and still extant) free-improv group AMM, has been recording music for almost five decades and, at age 72, still has a lot left in the tank. He was originally trained as a visual artist, so it is perhaps helpful to look at his I.P.R. performance the same way you would a work of abstract expressionism. Using his trademark tabletop guitar (accompanied by the myriad non-musical objects he uses to manipulate its sound), Rowe first paired up with Michael Pisaro. Pisaro, also a guitarist, is most closely identified with the Wandelweiser movement. The decision to pair him with Rowe was a curious one in that Pisaro tends to favor composition over the unwieldy improvisation that Rowe has built his career on. The duo’s quiet, subdued performance suffered from the mismatched styles of the two musicians, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the street noise outside at times overpowered the subtle tones of the set. Rowe was steady as ever with his playing, and Pisaro even ventured into some unusual sounds, including some lovely field recordings, but the set was mostly static; the feeling persisted that this was the kind of meandering performance that probably wouldn’t excite the unfamiliar-but-curious types in the crowd.
The same cannot be said for the following performance. In what would turn out to be one of the best sets in recent memory, Rowe linked up with Graham Lambkin, another hard-to-classify artist. Lambkin’s work with the excellent avant-minimalist group the Shadow Ring has begun to be overshadowed by his recent solo output and his well-chosen collaborations. He also runs the gloriously forward-thinking label Kye Records. The best descriptor I can think of to label Lambkin would be “sound artist,” a conveniently vague term that captures the broad scope of his ambitions. Lambkin’s perpetual undermining of established aesthetic is both admirable and daring, and was on prime display this evening. To great effect, a performance aspect—lacking in the first pairing—emerged in this set. Rowe’s playing was again inspired, and the interactions between the two performers bordered on telepathic. A parade of everyday items (pencils, packing tape, a ruler, paper) was used—with the help of very powerful microphones—to create a sonic conversation. Eventually the duo turned on the radio. A Latin music station filtered through the mix. Later, samples of a Bach cello suite and a Captain Beefheart song wafted in. Rowe continued to make sounds that seemed impossible to coax out of a guitar. It was all lovely stuff. Luckily, for those who weren’t able to make it to the I.P.R. show, Abbey hinted that Lambkin was headed to Rowe’s house the next morning for a few days of recording. My expectations are that those sessions will net a record that will set the bar high for album releases this year.
Jon Abbey has a lot on his plate right now, and we should all pay attention. In late February he will debut his new imprint ErstAEU, which will focus on lesser-known American artists. He also intends to pair up with I.P.R. again for another mini-festival with many of the artists on his new imprint. For now, though, Abbey is extremely satisfied with AMPLIFY 2013: “I couldn’t have been happier with how the two nights went: music, attendance, atmosphere, everything.”
Christopher Nelson lives and works in Brooklyn.