REVIEW: Josh Sinton and Hprizm at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn

Josh Sinton
Publicity photo by Johannes Worsoe
Josh Sinton and Hprizm
(ISSUE Project Room, Boerum Place, Brooklyn, 15 March 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

The evening preview notes sounded more like an architectural exhibition than a musical showcase, all “non-linear forms”, “generative programming”, “dense environments” and “musique concrète”. But while in architecture this sort of language would signal the forefront of complex geometry and parametric fanciness, this edition of Syncretics Series is borne from the lower-tech worlds of magnetic tape and early age electric amplifiers.

Tonight was a double-header, contrasting the large projected audio-visual sampling/messing of Hprizm presenting PRESSURE WAVE with the solo live clarinet of Josh Sinton and his work, krasa. A single chair is set centre stage ready for Sinton, placed directly before a dominant floor-to-ceiling white partition truncating a cavernous Beaux-Arts entrance hall (the former lodge HQ of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks).

It is when Sinton takes the stage that one notices that his chair is facing backwards. But the static view of the back of his black shirt and fedora is the perfect neutral focus for the sounds he is here to produce. krasa is a tour de force exploration of the sounds of an instrument. But really, all the sounds of an instrument. Sinton himself has likened his method to an “audio microscope”, and the attention to detail is startling. In this closely miked-up scenario, a delicate breath is picked up and amplified, and the pre-emptive rumble of a note arriving is presented before the note itself. Over a half hour or so the soundscape is built from clicks and air through to a sort of rolling climactic layered buzz.

The choice of instrument as the contrabass clarinet – a more unusual member of the clarinet family here resembling a large silver flattened pretzel – is inspired in providing a very low, resonant base to build from, but still retaining treble register capabilities. With his fingers semi-permanently clamped in the lower end of the contrabass range, there are moments where it is goes through more of the growing throbbing phases of the didgeridoo than the reed instrument it is.

This constant feeding sound has much to do with the impressive circular breathing on display, the view from behind the performance showing only the heaving shoulders and the side of Sinton's neck regularly inflating, the amplified rhythm of this additive bellows forming its own percussive metronome to the music. From the audience's position it feels as if we're watching him constantly fuelling a pulsing clicking fire.

Extra texture is added by honks, screeches – punctuation to the developing background. The resulting feedback, in control but at times on the limits, has the sound desk attentive and twitching, not sure if to intervene would be a creative invasion (I think here it would) but conditioned with conventional music's production instincts.

Producer/MC Kyle Austin (a.k.a. High Priest, or Hprizm)
Publicity photo from 2016
Hprizm presents a different challenge. As a start, Kyle Austin has arranged his laptop so he faces the audience. Attention is directed not to him, but above him, to the murky sepia-toned moving images that he projects. Unlike krasa, PRESSURE WAVES is inspired by magnetic tapes and retro recording and looping capabilities, but prepared through new technology. The old images and sounds, both distorted through noise, are played from a neat laptop glowing with an apple logo and not from tape technologies, or even the bird's nest of cables of intermediate technology (like the Jeff Snyder electronic instrument tool set). The synergy between the obfuscated sounds, introduced public announcement samples and noisy historic images is effective; as the musical clarity and minimal dance vibe develops, the imagery changes to pulsing wavy surfaces and nets. Here it is the changing visuals – not a bellowing neck and cheeks – that sets the metronome.

This former Elks hall, the current ISSUE Project Room, has seen better days. But the semi-derelict non-futuristic and re-purposed old space helped set the low-tech tone – providing interesting acoustics in amongst an opulent marble floor and ionic column capitals surrounded by missing vault tiles, MDF patches and faded, peeled gold leaf. The space also proved unexpectedly versatile: the enormous Hitchcock silhouette of Sinton's behatted profile and the absurdist loops of the contrabass clarinet looming high above the arches of the arcade colonnades along the side; the triple height plaster partition the perfect projection screen for Hprizm's filtered imagery.

It is worth noting how varied these two performers can be. Austin's work is often found in art galleries, or on stage with superstars like Radiohead and Public Enemy, while last month Sinton was nerdily fussing about Phantasos, his passionate re-staging of the 90s alternative rock band Morphine in the back room at Barbès. Whatever they're up to, I think its worth a visit.

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