The stagnant, leaf filled water dimly reflects the fading light glancing off the back of the mountain. Under the unfinished swimming pool is a secret tunnel that ends in what was probably meant to be a room for some sort of electronic control devices, temperature, filtration, and the mechanism to open the doors to the underground rocket launch pad. The abandoned mansion has a whiff of ridiculously grand ideals just out of reach, it’s heart-breaking, and yet almost comically whimsical. It’s the perfect setting for Markus Wormstorm’s launch of his new album, Not I But A Friend.
The audience gathers on the concrete deck, grouped around the snacks or the bar. Few pockets wander out past the swimming pool, braving the ankle breaking overgrown lawn. For all of its glory, the location doesn’t lend itself to abandon, it’s as if we’re just biding time until the parents come home.
On the stage facing the house and it’s echo-ey balcony, are Brydon Bolton on cello, Inge Beckman on vocal gymnastics, Kyla Rose Smith (of Freshlyground) on violin and a guy on clarinet, arms leaking out his suit, a cartoon vampire that has the look of the recently pepper sprayed. The audience gathers and they begin. Within moments the wind has blown Smith’s pages off her music stand. Inge tosses worn phrases into the night and, against the dull background roar of the social crowd, the performance tentatively edges forward like some kind of wind-up music box, albeit one with excellent instrumentation.
Markus himself is set up to side, bobbing manically, it seems, to every note, looking every inch the manic sidekick to a Kusturica villain. Being a performance of a composed electronic score, the musicians work in sync, especially the bow swaying of the strings instruments, but remain isolated, almost like they contributing little solos, each in their every faster rotating turns.
This is not to say the music is fast; it’s draggy, minimal yet somehow lush. The crowd fill the gaps with chatter, it distracts, making the performance seem more anaemic than minimal. It simply doesn’t feel as layered, although this might have to do with the fact that only a few of the many instruments on the album are represented live. His rhythmic influences seem to come from the direction of 9 Lazy 9 or Funki Porcini, while the orchestral work is reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s early scores, if they were to be arranged by John Cage. There is also a similarity to Felix Laband (particularly Thin Shoes In June) in structure and build but whereas Laband ends up being both playful and dark, Wormstorm’s elements are haunting and driving, and less ambiguous. The difficult thing, of course, with ambient electronica is that it’s neither dance-music, nor sit-down-and-pay-attention music; it occupies that strange space that allows it to easily slip into the background. This is precisely why, for me, the album works and the live performance didn’t. As beautiful and poignant as they are, often parts of the songs exist only on the edge of consciousness, and this makes it incredibly difficult to hold attention in a social space. When I speak to him a few days later and raise this, Wormstorm says, “I said it was a social event. I wanted people to celebrate my album launch with me. I don’t care much for stiff upper lip attitudes.”
Sitting on the lawn, watching this performance of material that gathers its power from its distinct lack of intrusiveness and it’s very slight sense of drama; I start to fixate on the multi-plugs. There are so many multi-plugs, and I think about the supposed inorganic nature of composed music, its lack of room for spontaneity, and the warm rumble of the people behind me fades, and I see the moon, good god, the moon. It’s beautiful, the wisps of clouds progress across its surface scored perfectly by the ambient swaying, the keening strings, the distant strikes of something delicate and metallic. It’s then that I wish I was on something vaguely psychedelic, that I wish I were coming down off something, and for a moment the music allows me to pretend that I am.
Not I, But A Friend is available for free download here.
*Real world stockists are listed on Markus Workstorm’s FB page.