REVIEW: Tania Chen and Thurston Moore Duo at Cafe Oto

Tania Chen (left) and Thurston Moore (right), power improvisers at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Tania Chen and Thurston Moore Duo
(Cafe Oto, 15 June 2016, day 3 of Ecstatic Peace Library - Conference #1; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Ecstatic Peace Library is the umbrella imprint, curated by publisher, Eva Prinz, and musician Thurston Moore, to give voice to the unconventional in the written, printed and musical genres. As the last event of the inaugural Ecstatic Peace Library Conference, held at Cafe Oto, hosting three days of musical adventure, with a smattering of literary discussion, Tania Chen and Thurston Moore celebrated a richly-hued path of poetic invention in an improvised duo full of surprise and invention.

Chen, erstwhile student of avante-garde proselytising pianist and improviser, John Tilbury, and Moore, erstwhile prime mover and guitarist with Sonic Youth, connect across many facets of the left-field musical spectrum. Chen has been an integral part of the group which Stewart Lee has brought together to champion John Cage's Indeterminacy, while Moore has been one of the most committed exponents of collaborative improvisation with other leading musicians and poets, oft witnessed in this particular corner of Dalston.

Positioned at either side of the stage, their complementary body language echoed their musical contributions. Chen, seated conventionally at the keyboard to pick out lightly ethereal phrases, later stood to reach in to the piano's innards with a delicate touch, while keeping one hand loosely active on the keys. Moore, studiously crouched over his guitar lying flat on his lap, picked on the strings to summon haunting, wirey chimes.

In marked contrast, reverb and distortion followed with hints of Hendrix's star-spangled anguish. Chen, leaning over the keys, used soft-headed mallets and flattened the piano sound to glockenspiel blockiness before repeatedly crashing the hinged fallboard and stamping resoundingly on the floor. The sonic assaults receded instantaneously for both to resume crafted, shimmering meanderings as though nothing had happened to disturb the calm.

Chen introduced pulsed and textured electronics, combining bursts of animated activations and keyboard clusters with Moore's crunching spasms of electric shock, scumbled collaging and a metallic plucked sound which could have passed for a kalimba (finger piano).

Chen, maybe indirectly acknowledging Gustav Metzger's Destruction In Art Symposium of 1966, crumpled a paper bag up at the mic then proceeded to dismember it with fittingly performative gestures.

Wrapping up with echoes of a post-nuclear fallout the duo ensured that there were never to be dull moments as they coaxed out their constantly engaging, intuitive dialogue.

To follow, the trio, Trash Kit, somewhat in the mould of punk heroines, The Slits, belted out short, sharp songs with a well-oiled bass and drums backbone.

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