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The Old Church, London, UK
Photo: Luxul by Matteo Favero

Dronica is a small-scale experimental music festival that produces around three editions annually. Now in its third year, the festival hosts workshops, installations and live performances in a modest Elizabethan church. Chosen for its intimate size and unique acoustics, Stoke Newington’s Old Church has served as Dronica’s home since the festival’s inception and the event series feels inextricably linked to this location. 

Architecture plays a vital role in any gig and many of the artists who performed over the course of this three-day event knew how to make the space work for them. Pascal Savy compared it to the art of boiling frogs. “You start with cold water,” he told me in the overgrown courtyard just prior to his set, “and slowly raise the temperature. This space is like a resonant box and I’m slowly filling it with water”. 

Partly inspired by rave music, Savy’s electroacoustic performance consisted of the French composer layering effects and “opening a bass filter for twenty minutes”. Coupled with the frog analogy, it made for vivid listening and even forced one of the PA speakers to disconnect itself. 

Other highlights included Gareth Davis’s ambient explorations on the bass clarinet, Luxul’s cathartic viola-induced harsh noise and experimental cellist Jasmine Pender aka Rotten Bliss. Pender began her performance by descending the wooden pulpit, singing a capella and unamplified, before taking hold of her electric cello and delivering a string of coarse and beautifully heavy songs. Processed through pedals, triggers and various Max patches, Pender’s tracks betrayed hallmarks of folk, metal and classical without subscribing to any particular tribe.

Charles Hayward’s thirty-minute snare solo was probably the best example of the space itself being played. Around five years ago, Hayward was approached by the Otolith Group who wished to film his drum rolls. The intention was to use the drumsticks both as source material and a surface onto which the footage could be projected. Hayward became interested in the endurance aspect of the drum roll, as well as the sonic possibilities that an extended piece could offer.

In the context of the church’s multifaceted walls and ceilings, Hayward took on the role of a water diviner, sourcing new sonic streams from the bricks, wood and limestone. The snare’s reflections bounced back in waves of varying intensity. New phantom sounds could be heard, such as bells and chanting. According to Hayward, “each room has its own beat, [but] you can’t play faster than the beat of the room”. Attempting to do so will result in confusion, syncopation and dissonance. 

Perhaps in anticipation of this argument, Disinformation’s ‘Ammonite’ video installation aimed to find harmony within visual noise. The silent film’s undulating white spiral echoed the trend of camp late ‘60s spy serials, such as the Avengers and the Prisoner, by recording visual feedback of a laser beam pointing at a television screen. The harmonious golden section created by this installation is not designed to brainwash paranoid spies, however. Instead, Disinformation says, the intention is to encourage “lifeforms [to] emerge out of chaos”.

In ‘Experimentations: John Cage in Music, Art, and Architecture’, the book’s author Branden Joseph suggests that music and composition have an intimate relationship with architecture. Cage, a fan of modernist architects like Mies van der Rohe, considered that glass buildings, which can both reflect their environment and disappear within it, were analogous to the transparent qualities of his music. If the building materials dictate the nature of the sounds, then, in contrast with Cage’s preferences, the music programmed by Dronica is as opaque and heavy as the limestone that supports the church walls, roof and steeple. 

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by Wire, July 2018

Rotten Bliss by Matteo Favero

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