On December 7th, Jeff Carey’s “Zero Player Game” tour rolled through Saint Petersburg, FL. A few years back I had the opportunity to witness Jeff Carey perform on the main stage at the International Noise Conference in Miami. I wasn't really familiar with his work up until that point, but that live show left an indelible impression on me. It might be cliche to say, but his live shows aren't meant to be simply heard, they need to be experienced. His shows are a powerful display of cut-up, digital noise produced with a computer, keyboard, and joystick, accompanied by a dizzying light show. Seeing him that first time was one of the most disorienting and powerful live sets I think I've ever witnessed, and even some of my harsh head friends had to leave the room from the intensity. Ever since then I've acquired most of his recorded output and was able to see him again at Saint Petersburg Noise Fest (SPNF) 9 (I think...they all start to blur together). I don't nerd out too often to other artists in our craft, I kind of feel like experimental music is a level playing field, but I admit that I was thrilled to find out his tour was making a stop in my neck of the woods. When show organizer Todd Novosad asked if I'd be interested in playing it took me no time to respond with an emphatic “yes!!!!”.
Organized by Todd Novosad, the show took place at the Paper Crane, an excellent venue not far from downtown Saint Petersburg. Also on the bill for the evening was: Novasak, Whitey Alabastard, Vasectomy Party, Human Fluid Rot, Sloth and Jeff Carey's tour partner Tom Borax.
Before the show began, I noticed a familiar face. I ran into Mexican experimental artist Toño Rotuno. I saw him perform as La Función De Repulsa way back at SPNF 6, but didn't get the opportunity to talk to him back then. I learned that in addition to music Toño is also a filmmaker and was in town for a film festival. We chatted for a while and he bought a bunch of tapes and zines from me. What a small world we live in. The connectedness of the noise community never ceases to amaze me. It doesn't matter if I'm at a show in Austin, TX or Miami, FL I’m bound to run into someone I know.
Novasak, Todd Novosad's solo project, started things off with a set of precisely crafted drone. Using an old soundboard fed into itself as an instrument, Todd laid down a really dense wall of noise with an accompanying projector visually displaying the soundwaves he was producing. It was a mesmerizing set of lights and sound.
Up next was Whitey Alabastard. He brought the pain...literally. After some well played samples, Whitey laid down some high end feedback noise that was really ear-splitting and eye-wincing. My favorite moment of his set is when he took his contact mic'ed box, threw it out into the audience, and slowly dragged it back, picking up all the sounds of the metal/plastic box scraping along the concrete floor. I couldn't help but think of a little mouse chasing a piece of cheese. It's funny the associations my mind makes.
I performed next under my solo moniker Vasectomy Party. I love playing through Todd's PA system. It's loud as fuck, but also really clean so you hear every twist and nuance. Even better, you feel it as much as you can hear it. When I perform I typically care that I'm presenting something that's interesting to the audience. When I perform through Todd's PA I confess that it's a purely a self serving presentation. Since I play a lot of house shows it's rare that I have the opportunity to perform harsh noise at maximum volumes, so when I have the opportunity to play through Todd's PA I take full advantage. It was a fun set and I was fairly happy with the results.
Next up was Robbie Brantley's solo project, Human Fluid Rot. I know he was a little roadworn from driving four hours straight from Miami but, given the intensity of his set, you would have never known. Witnessing a HFR set is more akin to going to a hardcore show; as matter of fact, I don't think I've seen any other noise artist inspire more mosh pits than Robbie. The sparsely populated room didn't deter HFR from delivering a furious set of harsh noise with plenty of cut-up dynamics. In the zone, Robbie was flailing his arms, pacing back and forth, and hitting his pedal board to produce a panoply of crushing sounds. After his set I gripped his recently released split CD-R with Scathing, which I've had on constant rotation since.
The almighty Sloth were up next. This husband and wife duo adds a level of performance and theatrically, rarely seen in the purveyors of “stare into void” wall noise. The performance was cloaked in smoke, generated by a fog machine directed towards the audience. Soundwise, low end rumble and crumble blasted out of an Orange amp. Through the thick fog one hooded member brandished dual candy canes and a prop on their chest that resembled an electrical box with exposed live wires. The other member, stationed in a stairway, handed-off gift bags to the other who passed them out to everyone in the audience. The bags contained Sloth propaganda, candy and Christmas themed games. After about seven minutes, their set ended when they ran out of goodies to hand out. Despite being pulverized by static noise, Sloth kills you with kindness not violence. It should be noted that this was the second time I've seen Sloth set off a fire alarm. Those crazy kids and their fog machine.
above and below: Sloth
Next up was touring artist Tom Borax. I was unfamiliar with his work, but read several online comments by friends and acquaintances raving about his live shows. Dapperly dressed, sitting on a bar stool, Tom performed using a modular synth set up. While I expected a stoic performance of intense stares and knob twisting, those notions were quickly dashed in what was one of the most energetic performances I'd seen all year. Sonically, it was a patchwork of beats, glitch, pings, bleeps and bloops, at times sounding like a horde of robotic insects and other times like a fucked up, digital discoteque. It's like Tom was symbiotically connected to his rig, physically moving to every beat, bleep, and crackle. That manifested in fast, erratic bursts of energy. In a short video clip I posted on Instagram, a friend wondered if I had sped up the footage in any way, because Tom was moving at seemingly inhuman speeds, jittering and rocking in his seat to the pulses and crackles of his synth. When the stool could no longer contain him, Tom got up shaking and moving at an even more frenetic pace, with dance moves at times reminiscent of The Man from Another Place. Hands down one of the best performances I've seen all year.
Finally up was Jeff Carey and his set was every bit as punishing and disorienting as the last couple times I've seen him. It was truly an assault on the senses. I was transfixed by the constant barrage of flickering strobes colliding with Jeff’s digital noise attack. His set up was a table with a joystick to the right, a launchpad in the center, and keyboard to the left. He had enough control over his table to have it sway to and fro throughout the performance. Jeff's set had plenty of nuance from harsh noise squalls, echoing pulses, digital pitter patter, clicks, bleeps, and countless other sonic permutations, with plenty of cuts to silence and quiet parts to give the audience briefs moments of respite. I've been privy to several performances over the years that I've equated to religious experiences: Merzbow, The RITA, Pedestrian Deposit, Black Leather Jesus…add Jeff Carey to that list. I ended up picking up just about everything he had available including a few copies of the new “Zero Player Game” for distro and a flexi record released this year.
Great performances all around and over a week out I'm still thinking about this show. Thanks to Todd for bring the Zero Player Game to Saint Petersburg.
Hal Harmon is a sloth-like creature who lives a sloth-like existence.