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Blazing Chips 

Wednesday, Apr 24 2002

A lotta folks gawk as three sets of people do things on computers, turntables and mixers; one of the performers, Mira Calix, daringly attempts her time onstage without the aid of video projections. DJ Calix is a former graphic artist at Warp Records in London who discovered that she could apply her visual conceptions to aural games. Her stuff really only throws in the funky rhythms as a token, and then they feel like a field of holes sucking the beats underground. Calix leaned on too-long patches of looped oblique fabric (possibly guitars) muffled/splayed to dreams-interrupted effect, and her evil side sent mammoth, woolly bass frequencies down the El Rey's walls, which made my heart hurt, literally. None of the above rudiments does Calix pull off in a stunning way, but about 45 percent of it made for effective fantasy-triggering fodder, and caused approximately 55 percent of the crowd to bob their heads or do bizarre dances.

Nobukazu Takemura segued into Calix's set on twin laptops linked with a video projector, which accompanied his entire performance loosely in time with his startling shreds of sounds. Takemura began his career as a hip-hop DJ in Kyoto, and his evolution into more formal sound-art realms has been fascinating to witness. With his Macs he contrived to turn audio into video, an old trick that usually produces mere multicolored abstractions, though Takemura has a nice line in crude claymation figures and li'l furry critters; far more interesting was when he allowed the video images to trigger the audio parameters, and the resulting connective tissue of voices/color/shape/fiber/rhythm and itchy blobs of mercury being poked through a sieve were then -- paradoxically? -- best savored by shutting one's eyes.

Headliners Plaid's laptops emitted the English duo's crystalline melodies and textured rhythms in time with projections favoring cityscapes, vintage cinematic "future-world" scenes, the burnished gold of forlorn carousels; musically, they too made only passing reference to rump-shaking and keeping it real. Plaid's sound is a novel but rarely earth-shattering fusion of the plaintive-dreamy with a foreign-intrigue ambiance somewhere along the Portishead/Goldfrapp continuum, and aided by these particular visual images had a pleasant cocooning effect. Nice colors, neat patterns: Plaid.

CODED SOURCE at the Smell, April 6 G.E. StinsonPhoto by Debra DiPaolo

Live abstract electronic improvisation interacting with live abstract computer-image manipulation -- the combination's a natural. Technology is making a lot of art easier, and Coded Source is grabbing the digital cow by the udder.

To the right of the dark stone shoebox that is downtown's the Smell, G.E. Stinson marshals his electric guitar, beat box and heap of effects devices to battle the norteño sounds bleeding in from the adjacent dance club. To the left, back toward us, artist Carole Kim wrangles her laptop to motivate her creations and project them against the rear wall. To the right of the screen and above Stinson's right shoulder, Kaoru acts as an intermediary, glancing at the images, singing non-lyrics, and warping her voice and Stinson's noise through a loop/echo machine.

Beautiful visuals: Penis-mushrooms wage war; paint-brush things press and spin on polished wood; aqua-radiations swell; organic shapes pass each other on perpendicular skew paths. The soundtrack takes a while to coalesce, as Stinson begins with standard horror-movie doom guitar, then locks in with watery sprung twangs and huge, harsh electro-percussive rhythms; Kaoru stocks the aural lake with recycled noise, cut-up vocal melodies and robot declarations. Though the optic impact and sonic wallop are often stronger separate than together -- hey, this stuff requires intense concentration by two parts of each participant's brain -- there are moments when something new and powerful is realized.

How would this trio come off magnified? Loudness and bigness might break down some barriers. Clearly it's already loud enough for bass-droneman Devin Sarno, who's in the audience wearing earplugs. (Sorry we missed his earlier duet with Stinson, though the subsequent eerie, sliding-sound turntable set by DJ Chowderhead was delicious.) Regardless, Coded Source emerges unbroken. (Greg Burk)

THE STEVEN McDONALD GROUP at Spaceland, April 13

Perhaps Steven McDonald is too modest. He humbly sees himself as playing Carl Wilson to his older brother Jeff's Brian ("Jeff's the genius," he says), and he generally deferred to Jeff when they collaborated in the manic, over-the-top glitter-pop-punk spectacle that was Redd Kross. Steven's hair-tossing artistry, psychedelic bass paddings and occasional lead-vocal turns in the Kross (and in fraternal side projects like the wacky Yoko/Beatles homage Tater Totz and the reductivist hardcore parody Anarchy 6) revealed that he had plenty of star power -- enough, in fact, to draw a capacity crowd for his long-awaited bandleader debut.

"I'm somewhere between Che Guevara and Belinda Carlisle as a front person," he said in a recent phone interview. "Not enough lead singers are go-go dancing now." Backed by a quartet of sympathetically powerful unknowns at Spaceland, McDonald was free to shake his booty and his tambourine, sometimes switching to bass or pecking a little at the keyboards. And the little girls (still) understand: A knot of not necessarily young women at the side of the stage squealed unselfconsciously throughout the set like Beatlemaniacs.

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