Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nathan Hubbard: Auditory Acid

On October 11 of this year, I was able to attend and view an amazing performance at the Kava Gallery in San Diego. The show was arranged by the Trummerflora Collective and it was part of their “Other Ideas” series. I came to listen to the seismic skronk music of Nathan Hubbard, an avant-garde musician who has been an active member of the Trummerflora Collective since 2000. On this particular night, he played a set that consisted of two percussive pieces that were both about 20 minutes long. Hubbard’s instrumental rig comprised a drum-set with a few toms, a bass drum, and snare drum. It also had some cymbals that were cut down for alternate timbres. There was also a homemade percussion instrument; made entirely of metal, it was standing on its own, with springs, and small metal rods lined up by size. Attached to the instrument was a contact microphone, which connected through a mixer and effect pedals to an amplifier.

The first piece, roughly 25 minutes long, was straight percussion. Hubbard began with slow and spastic rolling on the toms, while quickly interchanging bells, and small cymbals that he would then rest on them. He continued to gradually speed up and escalate his percussive clamor with bluster, which soon became a cacophony of snare pops, clanking metal, shaken bells and violent double-pedal pounding on the bass drum. The piece then went into a slow decrescendo that resulted in soft rim shots and bowing of the large stationary metal contraption, as if it were a broken, aluminum violin. It reverberated loudly in the large, hall-like room. After some off-time rhythmic beating on the snare, the first piece ended.

The second piece was much shorter than the first, ranging in at about 15 minutes. It began with Hubbard pulling out 3 battery-operated massagers that lit up and changed colors, and placed them on top of the floor tom. They made a continuous, subdued hum. He accompanied the soft drone by grinding rubber mallets on the snare drum, creating a sustained accent not unfamiliar to that of a bowed instrument. He began to quickly bring out an array of pieces that seemed unorthodox for music, most of them metal. It all slowed again, all was quiet except for the soft hum coming from the massagers vibrating on the floor tom. He turned, and then triggered a harmonized, reverberated sine wave from what could have been a sampler or an oscillator. The heavily abrasive piece had commenced ascension once Hubbard began employing the various ill-fitting items as percussion. The drone coming from the machine gradually grew more powerful and high-pitched, while he bowed cymbals. To indicate a demise of a sort, he presented what could have been a myriad of bells that were all attached by a thin chain. The morose and calm chiming could have manifested as grief or in this case, the end. One by one, the massagers on the floor tom were turned off, and the drone from the machine descended to being completely inaudible. The only sound was the unexpressed, yet menacing chiming of the bells. Soon, the bells died out, Nathan Hubbard gave a smile and a quick shrug of the shoulders to the audience. The set was finished.

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