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  Review 21/Oct/03  
GTMBA - October 17, 2003


James Conner - Opening GTMBA
I went down to Philadelphia on Friday, October 17, to the Rotunda on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania for the latest Gate To Moon Base Alpha (GTMBA) concert. On the bill was a performance from The Great Quentini, oil projections and slides from artist David Gerbstadt, and music from Axheron and Artek. There were other artists as well, including James Conner. And of course there was free vegetarian food provided by the beloved Chef Jeff; it was delicious.

As usual GTMBA it was very enjoyable and totally confusing simultaneously. The GTMBA concerts are scheduled to start at 8:00 PM. We got there at 8:30; I'm used to consistent lateness at these events. At 9:00 they started setting up the chairs and the performances started at about 9:15. During this time there were various sound checks and equipment adjustments.

When the performances did start there was, as usual, no announcement, just somebody started talking into a mic with what sounded like a drum machine in the background. Most people assumed it was another sound check, and they continued their chatting while paying no attention. After a few minutes I deduced it was in fact the opening performance, a poet/musician by the name of James Conner; real name Colin O'Hara. How do I know his name? I went up and asked him after he got off the stage. He said these poems were part of a project he's doing with video that will be broadcasted on a public access cable channel in Philadelphia. I'm glad James Conner was given a chance to perform. I wish I could have understood more of the words; the drum music was too loud; drowning out the voice most of the time. When I could understand the words, there was intense emotion and strength of feeling. I look forward to hearing more in the future.

David Gerbstadt
During all of the performances there were projections by David Gerbstadt. David uses colorful oils and other solutions with glass and an overhead projector. These create images that hark back to the light shows from the 1960s. Just because these are old doesn't mean they don't work anymore. David's projections are quite artistic and they give the GTMBA performances a continuity that helps quite a bit. The Rotunda was decorated by many of David's large fun-loving paintings which I like very much. Also, there were occasional 16mm films, including scratch films and strange marked up educational films from the 1950s.

The Great Quentini gave two performances, both of which were entertaining and provocative. The Great One read two poems which had a deep spiritual message. They advocated not believing in certain popular deities that are espoused by contemporary religions, but in more dependable universal eternal phenomena, like gravity and evaporation. He also did a poem about how everyone has a special gift for the world; his being making interesting hats. And he was wearing interesting hats, with lights and strange and wonderful appendages.

The Great Quentini
Quentini's second set was pretty spectacular, even for him. He entered with a loud blast of noise made by motors he was wearing - part of his costume - and some amazing shoes made from what looked to be huge aluminum lighting reflectors. He stood about 9 feet (3 meters) tall and with each step there was a loud metallic thump sound - quite scarey actually. He was also sporting several red flood lights. The picture doesn't do him justice; unfortunately it was very dark. The final piece was a percussion work done on instruments of Quentini's own design. Here is a very short video, just to give you an idea: click here. He plays beautifully.

After Quentini's first set, there was ambient music coming from the house's PA system. People started milling around and talking, pretty much ignoring this. After a few minutes, I noticed a young man sitting on the edge of the stage focusing his attention on his laptop and working the mouse occasionally. Apparently this was another performer. He never announced his name, or what he was doing. Neither did the people who run GTMBA. So, I assume he wants to be anonymous. [Edtor's Note: on another topic Linda Leigh said this was possibly Jason Snell, aka Bombadier.]

Artek
Artek is a two person band from the Lehigh Valley, just north of Philadelphia. Unlike so many performers these days, these guys have a professional attitude; they boldly announced who they were and where they were from. This made my day. Artek plays live synthesizer music, some ambient and some more of what might be called space rock, or even Berlin School (Tangerine Dream) style. Much of there music is tonal (pitch based), and sometimes it is very rhythmic and repetitive. There were no computers to be seen, and no playback of prerecorded material. Artek's music is obviously well rehearsed, but improvised throughout, pretty much like jazz musicians approach music. There were several short pieces, about 5 to 7 minutes each, rather than long soundscapes. These guys exhibited a certain amount of refreshing showmanship, with dramatic gestures when they played. I don't know, but I bet they are x-rockers. They even acknowledged the audience's applause, which by the way was enthusiastic. I like them too, the more experimental stuff especially.

Axheron
Late in the evening, another duo started a set. I don't know who they were, perhaps Axheron. Of course, there was no announcement. They used Mac laptops and a few auxiliary devices including a very small synth with smaller than standard sized keys. Their music was ambient of a genre that is sometimes called micro sound. It looked to me like there was a lot of playback of prerecorded material. Their music was very laid back and relatively uneventful, but still quite interesting. I had to leave at midnight and unfortunately didn't get to find out who these guys were, or to tell them I liked their stuff. Maybe someone will post that information. [Editor's note, October 22, 2003: I received email; this was in fact Axheron.]

All in all, I enjoyed the evening. I've learned what to expect and what not to expect at these events. I think the people who put on these concerts do the artists and the audiences, especially newcomers, a disservice by not communicating. Still, I greatly enjoy hearing live electronic music. These concerts exude artistic expressiveness and creativity. This more than makes up for some roughness around the edges.

Next month, on November 21st, I'll be playing as a part of Xeroid Entity. I hope that if you are in the area you'll be able to come. If you do come, please come up and say hello. You'll be able to tell me from the others; we are going to identify ourselves. We're funny that way.
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