First published in The Herald on 7 April, 2014
Next time you’re hammering nails into a piece of wood, think of the covert musicality: the rough rhythms, the pinging overtones. In a disused underground car park off Renfrew Street, a pair of veteran Japanese improvisers, Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda, unearthed the sounds of industrial hammering and clinking, of bottles dragged across the floor, cassette tapes chucked at the wall and speaker feedback bounced back against their own bodies. They moved with the deliberateness of dancers, by turns spontaneous, urgent and precise, and their chemistry was intriguing: Ondo played the volatile troublemaker while Suzuki patiently constructed a makeshift xylophone from a bucket-full of nails then proceeded to play it with spry virtuosity. It was captivating sound art, unfussy and expertly executed.
Suzuki and Ondo were the highlight of Counterflows’s opening night, clinching the festival’s remit of playful invention and broad horizons. Earlier the programme kicked off with eerie, pretty synth pop from The Space Lady, aka Susan Dietrich Schneider, who sings lo-fi Casio-backed covers of Born to be Wild and I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night decked out in a plastic Viking helmet and flashing lights. Apparently much of the packed audience at Garnethill Multicultural Centre had come to hear this American cult act; I couldn’t quite get the hype, though as symbolic take-off into remote musical orbits it worked neatly enough. More interesting was the beautifully crafted retro electronica of Glasgow’s Ela Orleans, matched to grainy, delicate film art by Maja Borg, and the brief late-night appearance at the CCA of the festival’s artist in residence Joe McPhee – a raw, visceral blast of saxophone hoots and unbridled vocal howls that duly silenced the (by this point very boozy) throng.