Alessandro Cortini et al. a gutsy performance

All photos by Jon Vincent
All photos by Jon Vincent

Italian composer Alessandro Cortini headlined a visceral electronic experience at the Fox Cabaret Thursday night.

A thick fog diffused the club’s signature red light and shrouded an assortment of effects units tidily laid out across three tables and a chair – basically anywhere they fit.

Opening duo Sarah Davachi and Richard Smith began by initiating a single tone that they sustained at incredible volume throughout their entire set. The audience adjusted their earplugs. Those who were less prepared pinned their ears shut with their fingers. Some spectators stepped back from the stage or decided it was a good time to head to the bar. As the long, lone track took greater form, with only a few subtle shifts including barely discernible blips, a handful of people returned to their original posts. Davachi & Smith let their track trail off with gentle undulations, a receding tide fading against the shore. The restless audience applauded politely, and Davachi & Smith slowly struck their set.

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The lights went black, and the fog grew so thick, it vapourized the stage and furnishings that lined the venue. The recessed lighting fixture above the stage hung in the sky like the moon – a surreal mood, staring up in a field in the middle of the night. A mechanical hissing and the sound of a cymbal roll filled the dead air as a lethargic strobe emanated from the stage floor. Venerable Vancouver composer Phil Western presided over the sobering flashes. His clatter soon gave way to more soothing tones – perfect sonic accompaniment to stargazing.

Shortly thereafter, all sound, mellifluous and repellent alike, ceased with confusing abruptness. The audience stood dumbfounded in a coral glow as venue staff scrambled to fully restore power. Several minutes later, the show sputtered back to life with fhup-fhup-fhups like spinning helicopter blades. Western rebounded from the unwelcome interruption with a brooding track straight out of a dystopian chase scene, complete with pre-recorded screams and a pulsating rhythm that mimicked an escalating heartbeat. As he plucked his bass behind his musical command centre, the strobe light intensified and continued until the rapid flashing grew almost unbearable. Western ended this aggressive piece with an abrupt finish, on his own terms.

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The fog finally lifted for Alessandro Cortini – a parting of the skies. Despite his starker associations, mainly as a member of Nine Inch Nails and How To Destroy Angels, a beauty pervades his work: a glacial sublime that brings warm peace of mind. Cortini fitted his cool tectonic musical movements to large video projections behind him: slow pans of black and white natural landscapes. His compositions, clear and pleasant to the ears, provided perfect counterweights to Davachi’s, Smith’s, and Western’s physical endurance tests.

Alessandro Cortini, Phil Western, and Sarah Davachi – the seasoned and the new guards of experimental electronic music – combined to deliver a complementary performance that demonstrated two extremes of the same musical spectrum.

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Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu

Contributor