Review: Lichens, Lorenzo Senni, Richard Sides at Café Oto

Lichens (Rob Lowe). Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved


Lichens, Lorenzo Senni, Richard Sides
(Café Oto, 16 October 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


Lichens is the solo venture since 2004 of Rob Lowe - Chicagoan, now based in New York. Lowe's brand of exploratory, trance-like improvisation with voice and a seemingly ancient analogue modular synth, all blinking lights and streams of spaghetti, defined the sound quality. Extending an eerie, lightly whistling drone background with intense, purposeful focus, indistinct combinations of looped and superimposed layers merged with an overwhelming, mesmeric presence. Deep, thudding bass patterns were dropped in at a measured pace, creaks and tensions escaped the flow and a feeling of closeness to the flight paths of distant prehistoric birds briefly pervaded the room. The abstract qualities of Lichens' unbroken drifting piece evoked the atmospherics of early Pink Floyd, in keeping with the retro 60s-style scientific and psychedelic projected visuals. Lowe's distinctive silhouetted shadow and concise, elegant hand gestures played their part in the visual texture.

Lowe has said that he is always aware of the audience during his performances, although he doesn't see them and as he kicked in with a faster beat, Lowe pushed himself into an intensely internalised, shamanistic zone, only the whites of his eyes visible, and the non-verbal vocalisations turned to wails. Captured in essence in about 40 minutes, Lichens offers more, as evidenced a while back with his impressive performance with White/Light at the same venue. It would be rewarding to see him take on a full 2-day residency and the challenges of more than one relatively brief set.

Whereas Lichens fully engaged the attention of an atypically diverse Cafe Oto audience, Lorenzo Senni's retro 90s explorations had created something of a club atmosphere which had many in the audience talking all the way through his ambient hard-wired electronics. Senni built up a pleasantly compelling backgrounding, working with a Roland synth with its analogue modelling sound source bridging the digital and analogue worlds. However, he seemed to play it safe sacrificing expressive capabilities in his homage to techno and trance, barely deviating from replication.

Richard Sides, opening the evening, is a recent sculpture graduate and has been concerned with aspects of performance in music venues. Kneeling at an Apple laptop he moved from a recording of his own prose read by an American, whose accent imposed a faux archive feel, to crystal clear digital polyrhythms and concentrated clashes of genre with a primarily upbeat feel, playing out his set in melancholic mood.

These three diverse electronics performances mapped out ground between analogue and digital technologies, inviting reflections on where originality resides. It was a good demonstration of quite how wide the range of possibilities is now, for practitioners who want to combine live and processed music.

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