John Robert Ferguson


WPS @ Borealis 2009



Just returned from the The Borealis Festival for Contemporary Music in Bergen, where I presented a lecture at Landmark and played a Whistle Pig Saloon concert with Robert van Heumen at Logen Theatre. Many thanks to festival director Alwynne Pritchard for the invitation, it was a really great experience, and to Trond Lossius, director of The Bergen Center for Electronic Arts (BEK) who generously provided rehearsal space and recording equipment.

Apart from the gloriously light filled studio at BEK, which is on the ninth floor, right next to the water, with a balcony :o) …the two festival highlights for me were:

MEM1: who started very minimal, so incredibly slow and quietly creeping that I was initially underwhelmed. Quite suddenly though I felt paralysed and lost in their textures, the tension became incredible, I was standing throughout their set, increasingly (and painfully) aware of my body, its aching limbs and muscles. Various audience members were leaving their seats, but I couldn’t move to sit, they appeared to articulate the impossibility of silence, and in constantly toying with the ambient noise floor foregrounded ‘static’ in all senses of the word. When they eventually surged forward in volume and presence, the sense of relief and completed trajectory was sublime, they had departed, we (the audience) had merely detained them for a chat, they obliged us for a while, and then they were gone, it was time to sit.

Pascal Baltazar and Bjørnar Habbestad performed a series of solo works and duo improvisations using a high powered four channel system, very gestural and impressive with chaotic sources frequently fractured by causal intent. Bjørnar’s use of flute and electronics was very interconnected, really exposed his respiratory system, but with active footwork manipulating the electronics, his approach to ‘touch’ and ‘control’ seemed quite unique, drawing multiple layers of interactions from his body. Pascal’s table-top setup respond to gestural input and performer effort in an excitingly non-linier and unpredictable manner, very effective four-channel panning too.

WPS @ Logen Theater 27/03/2009


In preparing for this concert we discussed some strategies, based mainly around guitar patch/LiSa sample combinations, so for example my ‘ring modulation’ patch seemed to work well with Robert’s ‘wind sample’, this emerged as being the obvious starting point, my rough notes for the set:

Start (using above combinations)

Build in intensity to a point where John drops out, leaving ‘small little sounds’ (repetitive loops) from Robert.

John comes back in with granular patch ‘vertical guitar’ balancing etc (confuses the predefined ‘wiimote mappings’, building in intensity, then again dropping out, this time leaving Robert exposed with more repetitive loops going in and out of phase with each other….

John sits down (which affords a different approach, balancing objects on guitar strings etc) …quieter section leading to

‘build up’ with ebow.

Robert starts final piece forcefully and alone, leading to faster sampled sections, John finds a ‘way in’ and is treated to faster sampling.

Not sure to what extent we stuck to this, I discovered a couple of strategies during the gig: moving from a sitting to standing position with the ebow balanced on/and sliding along the neck of the guitar, and some high volume filtered feedback stuff. Maybe this distracted me from the planned structure. But we took some risks, engaged with the result and lost all sense of time, I think we can agree that the structure was a useful stimulus and loose enough to not threaten creative flow, even if there was some confusion (sorry Robert!). The second photo was taken (audibly) by Thor Brødreskift in the moment of near-silence where the ending announced itself, this seemed to come from nowhere (for me at least) but that was it. Done. No question that we could play any more, maybe Thor knew something we didnt…

See Robert’s comments re our performance strategy here. Maybe, ‘how best to integrate structured sections within an inherently improvised practice?’ is a question that I need to investigate?

I look forward to hearing the recordings. More photos here.