Published Oct 23, 2011Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and experimental visual artist Leah Singer presented a multimedia improvisation as part of the X Avant music fest, a celebration of experimental sound. Since the early '90s, Renaldo and his Canadian wife Singer have been marrying video art with high-decibel guitar shrieks that are extreme even for SY fans.
The Toronto show marked the North American premiere of Contre Jour. It was a 60-minute performance featuring split-screen video images of city streets and countrysides shown on a rear-projected screen while Ranaldo swung his guitar from a noose dangling from the ceiling. He often beat the strings with a drumstick to unleash squeals of feedback; other times, he swung his instrument in mid-air like a parent hurling his child on a swing. A mesmerized audience sat cross-legged on the floor like grade sixers at a demented school assembly. Many wore earplugs that were offered at the door as soundwaves bounced off the walls of this hall celebrating Polish soldiers. A nice surreal touch.
Contre Jour is an homage to avant garde artist Brion Gysin, who created the Dream Machine, a revolving coloured strobe light. For a few minutes, lights flickered in the Polish Combatants Hall. However, the evening's highlight was the eruption of drums exactly halfway through the show. Audience members beat drums, bongos, spoons against metal plates and just two sticks together, anything to create a rhythm, which turned the passive audience into true collaborators.
Only once did Sonic Youth appear in the video projection, jamming on a distant stage in some concert hall. Of course, everyone in the audience recognized the quartet, and the recent breakup of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon was on a few lips, but everyone knew what to expect from Contre Jour. No, this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the audience that gathered was a dedicated tribe celebrating dissonance and sonic feedback.