December 20, 2012 5:17 pm

Konk Pack, Café Oto, London

This gig from the trio of free improvisers ebbed and flowed between roaring climaxes and patches of uneasy calm

Konk Pack are a rip-roaring trio of free improvisers whose in-the-moment collisions deliver the thrust of electronics with the confidence of a long-term relationship – they played their first gig in 1997 and have been touring ever since. The electronica is more gadgets and buttons than laptop and mouse, and its industrial soundscapes have a surprisingly warm-hearted core. A seated Tim Hodgkinson conjures dissonance from a wired-up lap steel guitar and Thomas Lehn dispatches fusillades of beeps from analogue synth – he’s a physical player who rolls and sways with the mood. And for contrast and balance, Roger Turner plays drums with a strong, though somewhat fractured, sense of time.

The methods and pulse are those of free jazz, but here the ebb-and-flow dynamics are magnified to extremes. Both through-improvised sets had quiet beginnings, roaring climaxes and a pin-drop finish. And both garnished instrumental orthodoxy with scrapes, scratches and clatters. Turner used four-stick technique to produce a scampering rattle and bowed a chunk of metal for a finger-scraping screech. Hodgkinson assaulted his lap steel guitar with bottleneck, violin bow and plastic comb – the sounds were raw, harsh and percussive, often tweaked or distorted into an amplified howl.

The first set opened with a synthesised drone and the ponderous throb of a church organ pedal. There were fragments of drums and the sporadic click of a heftily plucked lap steel guitar. Tension grew, with short press rolls and mighty thumps, lightning-fast scampers and pings bouncing across the stage against a howl of white noise and thrashing drums.

There were intense duets with third party support, high-point extremes, when all spoke as one, and times when each musician seemed out on a limb. And for every furore there was a patch of uneasy calm. The range was extraordinary and, over two sets, their internal coherence, though abstract, effervesced with intelligence.

The first set ended with a cymbal hissing gradually into silence; the earthier second set faded with a spacious, barely perceptible pulse. It gained accompaniment from a clink of bottles from the bar at the back. “I think they’re moving the bar,” quipped Turner. “Move it over here,” suggested Hodgkinson. And that was that.


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