[201602] Old Tech New Decks

[201602] Old Tech New Decks

Vanessa Nimmo & Matt Rankin @ Hains & Co – Upstairs

6:30pm, Fri 12 Feb 2016

I can’t remember what attracted me to Old Tech New Decks, though I seem to recall it being driven by a desire to create a flow to the evening that avoided the mega-venues as much as possible. And as I arrived at Hains & Co, I discover one of my regular event-buddies sitting outside; we have a quick catch-up, then wander upstairs, grabbing some nice central bar-stools at the rear of the room.

The performance space was cramped with a series of stations, but there were precious few traditional sources of sound to be found: an old turntable was visible, but apart from that the stations seemed littered with old TVs and typewriters. Vanessa Nimmo sits at one typewriter and starts typing: a camera attached to the typewriter roller follows her fluently tapped introduction, which also served as a charming and amusing title card for the performance. It soon becomes obvious that her typing has an intentional rhythm: Matt Rankin sits at another typewriter and starts filling in the spaces with his own typing, and soon a complex tune forms.

The pair of performers occasionally shift between their performance stations, using the “instruments” at each to create an odd bed of sound; there’s beeps and bloops from a sound pad, old records crackling away, baby-boomer telephones ringing, and old ads are sourced from a laptop and mixed in. And these explorations are really quite lovely: these (somewhat) found instruments create a soundscape which is right up my alley. But then comes the middle third of their performance: a fifteen minute block where the audience is asked to play old 8- and 16-bit video games (spread over four screens) to provide sonic source material for some live looping. This brought the performance to a screeching halt: whilst it’s a neat idea, the selection of games felt odd (familiar titles – other than a requisite, but lesser known, Mario title – may have elicited better audience engagement) and sonically weak, and the fifteen minutes allocated really dragged. In fact, the group of people sitting in front of us – who had obviously decided to attend on the back of some early positive press – seemed almost disgusted by the looped cacophony; one pulled out their phone in the middle of the performance to apologetically pass the review around.

But that was just one third of the performance; the other two-thirds were great little soundscapes, produced by the ever-charming Nimmo (and markedly less-charming Rankin). There’s an element of retro nostalgia in the presented audio, too, and a bit of a retro games session after every show… it just felt a little stop-start-ish with that well-intentioned, but over-long, audience interaction segment.

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