Richard Pinhas doesn’t rock, but he rocks

Last Thursday, I saw Richard Pinhas at the Velvet Lounge here in DC, a tiny venue into which 40-50 people packed in to see this semi-legend of electronic music. This concert was promoted pretty well, and got coverage in a ton of places around here, from the weekly Washington City Paper to the daily metro paper Washington Post Express to the hipster DCist blog, and the turnout was pretty impressive.

DC’s Insect Factory opened — I saw them opening for Zs a few months back and wasn’t especially impressed, but I really enjoyed the very short set that they played this time around. This is an ambient project involving a guitarist and drummer, whose style is very soothing and mostly consonant. I’ve started coming around to really enjoying ambient music in a live setting (something I never really thought would happen, as when I listen to ambient music on record I almost always listen while doing something else), and Insect Factory was generally pushing the right buttons for me.

After a short break, Pinhas and his laptop sidekick, Jerome Schmidt, took the stage and wordlessly began their set. Their concert would consist of one very long (40+ minute) piece as a duo, and then a much shorter (less than 15 minutes, I’d imagine) piece with Scott Verrastro, the drummer from Insect Factory and the guy for whom we all had to thank for the show happening in the first place. I found this a fascinating show to watch: the nature of this sort of electronic music is it’s often very difficult to match sounds with the musicians’ actions, thanks to all kinds of looping, processing and delaying techniques, to say nothing of Schmidt’s laptop work (I never did figure out exactly what sounds he was contributing, except when there was something obvious like a programmed drum beat or a spoken word voiceover). Occasionally Pinhas would let loose with a blistering “solo,” but more often than not it would be buried intentionally in the mix, with his squalls of electric guitar work merely adding a certain edge to the louder, more amorphous wall of ambient electronic sound. This reminded me a lot of some of his solos on Fossil Culture, the collaboration with Peter Frohmader that, curiously, Pinhas doesn’t seem to think too much of these days (on the contrary, it’s one of my favorite pieces of his work).

The YouTube clip in the previous post is much more indicative of what this show sounded like than anything I could possibly write (especially since I think I lack the vocabulary to describe this sort of music adequately), but the layers and layers of seemingly formless sound, punctuated by the occasional burst of melody, were pretty enticing. I was sitting on the floor in front of the stage for the whole show, and I was surprised at how these two guys held my attention for 40 minutes straight during their first improv. I actually think I like the music in the YouTube clip better than what I saw in person, but it was fun to watch Schmidt and Pinhas interact — most of the time it actually seemed like Pinhas was taking his cues from Schmidt and not the other way around. I had a hard time telling how much of the show was improvised, but I’d guess a fair bit.

Another bonus of the show was that I picked up the 3CD Heldon live set recently put out by the Japanese label Captain Trip. This set consists of two concerts, one from 1975 and one from 1979; I have a bootleg of the 1979 show and it’s just blistering. Haven’t had too much of a chance to listen to this, but I couldn’t resist picking it up, as they were selling it for $30, far less than the $40-$70 (!) I’ve seen it going for online.

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