The Canary #3: Ajilvsga, Barn Owl, and Language of Light
For me, a show is often a lot more than just the music itself. It begins with the anticipation and ends with the comedown. Usually that's only about 24 hours or so, but this time it lasted months (and I'm still not sure if it's over yet). I've long considered Barn Owl one of the best drone groups that I know of, so I couldn't wait to meet them and indeed, meeting them was a big part of the pleasure since they are some of the nicest, most chill people I've ever met.
After a great day of making music, hanging out, and some of the ever-necessary Mexican food, we headed to the Monolith. Unfortunately, the weather was taking it's first nasty turn of the year and a lot of the people we invited didn't come.
Ajilvsga decided to start the event, since Nathan Young was worried that the impending lightning might fry his equipment if they waited too long. The duo began with a low drone broken by slow, eerie shrieks. Eventually, an intermittent scratchy sound like someone trying to claw their way out of a coffin came in. But apparently, rather than coffins, they were leading us into the dank, close confines of Neolithic tombs during a ceremony to honor the ancestors while the low hum resonates between the stone walls. Harsher noises come in too, but perhaps it's just the hallucinations facilitated by the entrancing music and Nathan's subtle projection work. Perhaps it's merely the sound of your own blood running through your veins, amplified to remind you of your own mortality. From my position at the back of the room, I watched through the glass front door as lightning flashes sparked in the sky, a perfect visual accompaniment. Finally, a wavering theremin sound, much like an alarm, brought us all back to the present reality of sitting inside the darkened cinderblock walls of the venue with our attention focused on Nathan's projection of subtly shifting swirls of color.
Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti embarked from a softer place, strumming their guitars. At one part, the sound was so smooth and resonant, it actually began to be more akin to violins. And then one strong note came in, summoning the giants to rise from the deep. They breathed their foul breath in our faces and crammed their scaly bodies into the small room before deciding that hypnotism would be better. Shifting slowly to a mesmeric melodiousness, Barn Owl created the sonic equivalent of a snake eating its own tail. Jon began singing, low and droning, like temple chanting. Then the sound quieted to the point that I had to pull out my earplugs in order to feel like I was really able to hear it. The buzz of another band's snare drum, the clicks of a camera shutter, the sqeaks of Jon and Evan shifting slightly in their chairs, all became as much a part of the music as the intentional sounds that the two were creating. Eventually, an oscillating noise came in that reminded me of being in the desert with no water and the sun beating down. Sitting where I was, my view of Evan was blocked slightly by the venue's PA stack, so I was really surprised when I heard a synth beat come in. When I got up to see what he was doing, I saw that he was actually playing his guitar. For me, the reason Barn Owl works so wonderfully is that in spite of their droniness, they never fall into the shapeless hum that many other drone bands do, and they continue to alter the music in ways that are barely perceptible in the moment yet keep moving the song forward. They did not disappoint.
Next came the always excellent Language of Light. They played a variety of songs, the first being a melancholy spoken word bit accompanied by bowed and electric acoustic guitar. One song in particular made me think of unicorns bounding about in clouds, in a totally non-ironic way. Language of Light has a talent for making simple yet cinematic songs, a talent that was on full display that night. The continued buzz of the nearby snare drum added an interesting aspect to their airy, almost folky music. But the last song was my favorite, and could hardly be called "folky". It began with Rebecca Loftiss speaking, as the first one had, but Frank Suchomel applied his E-bow to his guitar. They played with the pedals at their feet a little more than they had in previous songs, evoking the sound of a windy hollow (or a sleepy one), only to burst into violent action that broke the beauty into dismembered noise.
The last band, which I only mention because their snare drum was an actor in this play, is not really worth discussing beyond that. They were invited by one of the people who runs the Monolith to play and their sound diverged drastically. It's really not cool that they were on the marquee but Language of Light wasn't.
Nevertheless, we all stood outside the door, chatting with each other. Tulsa may have a small scene but the benefit of such a small group is that we all know each other and are friends. The bad weather held off until we were safely back home and though we saw Jon and Evan off into more storms the next morning, they got through them safely and the whole event left a long trail of perfect joy.
-- Eden Hemming Rose (1 April, 2009)