I Speak Machine:
Tara Busch (vocals,synthesizers)
Maf Lewis (visuals)
The Southbank Centre in London is a world-famous arts centre, situated on the South Bank of the Thames. It was built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, and thus draws on its heritage as a festival site, with art and activities inside and outside and offering a wide range of cultural events. The Southbank Centre occupies a 21-acre site and comprises the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room, the Hayward Gallery, and the Saison Poetry Library. Alongside these venues are numerous restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. The itinerary shows that the Southbank Centre contains a most varied of arts from classical, world music, rock, pop, jazz to dance, literature and the visual arts, and as such, attracts perhaps the most diverse audience of any UK venue.
Held in the Purcell Room, it was the perfect venue for this evening’s incredible performance of music and video from two respected and highly professional acts.
The support for the evening was by U.K. based audio/visual artist CUTS. According to his Facebook page, his influences are drawn from “abandoned spaces, white noise and sleep paralysis” and from what I saw of his performance on this night, I would agree completely – and in a very good way. Appearing on stage dressed very plainly and simply in jeans and t-shirt with a blank white face mask, CUTS provided the audience with what can only be described as a mesmerising and original set, superbly realised and expertly executed. I want to use words such as “haunting”, “edgy”, “sinister” and “intense” because they are the very words that stuck with me throughout the performance, so much so that momentarily I forgot to take photographs. CUTS, to me based upon my experience of his set, is about mystery, shadows, complex atmospheres and an altered perception of a given situation. The images displayed upon the video screen mentally pulled you backwards through some kind of psychological hedge, as your ears were treated to some quite innovative layered sequences, beats and atmospheres.
Images of stuttering electric elements and lightbulb filaments, distorted and kaleidoscopic visions of metal staircases and close-up pixelated television screens accompanied by a soundtrack of intense synthesizer pads and a persistent beat loop/live percussion track. Abandoned buildings, broken glass and an overdriven guitar drone. Dancers busting zombie-like moves and captured with jerky and distorted camera-work, create surreal and edgy shapes to an electronic pulsing sequence, driven by an almost tribal beat comforted by a crunchy and distorted audio backdrop. This to me is electronic music performance for a modern age and served as the perfect warm up for the headline act.
To quote a scene from one of the video montages, “I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful”. If you get a chance to catch CUTS in action, do it.
And so we come to the the evening’s raison d’être – I Speak Machine.
I Speak Machine are an audio/visual performance duo comprised of husband and wife team, film-maker Maf Lewis and composer/vocalist Tara Busch. They create and present their art by way of film and score using something they call Synchronika – essentially synchronised audio and visual composition, working from an original concept to create a synthesized piece of art. This evening’s performance was to feature the screening of science fiction film “The Silence” and horror shorts from “Gaggle Box” and “There’s Someone in the House Next Door” with Tara Busch performing a live electronic music score. What made this evening a little more special and ( particularly from Tara’s point of view) a little more dangerous was that she was to use some seriously vintage electronic music equipment, supplied to her by none other than Dave Spiers of the GForce software house (GForce have created some truly amazing software emulations of classic synthesizers and keyboards), including the legendary ARP Odyssey synthesizer, upgraded with LEDs in the sliders, a rare OSC OSCar synthesizer and the amazing ARP 2600 synthesizer.
The set started with an introduction by Maf Lewis where he talked about the concept of I Speak Machine and basically what we might expect, before introducing Tara Busch and the commencement of the performance.
At this point, I would like to throw in that I’ve seen Tara Busch perform live once before when she provided a brilliant support for electronica pioneer John Foxx and the Maths back in 2011. I’m also a follower of her work, owning as I do, the “Pilfershire Lane” album and the sublime “Rocket Wife E.P.”, the latter of which had its sales benefit the very worthwhile Bob Moog Foundation. My point is that I believed I knew what to expect from this seasoned and well-respected performer. No I didn’t.
The set opened with the horror short “Gagglebox”, about what one might describe as a very disturbed child – this was a horror short that was deliciously un-nerving and gloriously as disturbed as the child portrayed within. Tara appeared on stage, a diminutive red-head, dressed in a grey all-in-one boiler suit and took her position surrounded by the electronics and synthesizers. The ethereal, and at times, seriously creepy nature of the soundtrack, an intense combination of the vintage electronics and Tara’s rich and almost operatic vocals, made for a most incredible audio/visual experience. Such was the clever staging of the performance, you never felt compelled to look at either the film or Tara, it was like you looked at both simultaneously without that being a conscious act, something which prevailed throughout the evening – still getting my head around that one!!!
Next up was the second horror short, “There’s Someone in the House Next Door”. This short was filmed in an abandoned house next door to Tara’s parent’s house in North Carolina. The house was apparently abandoned several years ago and her parents looked after it from time to time, but still the house was rife with spider webs and dead flies. This of course made it the perfect, and most definitely, an instant film set for Maf and Tara because nothing needed adding or changing because the previous owners had pretty much vanished into thin air. Everything you see in the film is as it was, from a car in the garage, an old pool table, plenty of old family photos, a bizarre collection music boxes and odd little ornaments everywhere. The black and white imagery of Tara walking through the abandoned property and what happens thereafter is wonderfully realised, with the live soundtrack again providing the necessary tension and thrill a movie short of this nature requires.
Of course, all of this has been building up to the main film, “The Silence”. I have to say that what passed before was nothing in comparison to what we were about to see, visually and sonically. The mix of sci-fi horror visuals, vintage electronics and Tara’s chameleon vocals took the set to a new level. “The Silence” is basically about a scientist who is driven close to madness by the noise of everyday life, who just wants peace and quiet in his life (and I certainly a few others like that as well – I digress……) and uses his scientific genius to create a machine that induces silence. And so it goes from there as we join the scientist going into the depths of despair as he certainly should have been careful about what he wished for. The music goes from quiet, almost minimal to loud and soaring, wonderfully evoking memories of the gloriously over-the-top soundtracks from the B-movies of yesteryear – in my book, that’s a completely fantastic thing.
All too soon, “The Silence” was finished and it was very well received. But the show didn’t stop there.
As mentioned a couple of times earlier, Tara was using a collection of vintage synthesizers, one of which was a 40 year old ARP 2600, and so we were treated to a quirky, intriguing and completely beguiling cover of the Beatles’ classic song “Ticket To Ride”. An outstanding end to a complete and proper evening of fine electronic music and a real feast of original visuals.
It’s safe to say that the evening was a success and well supported by musicians and fans of the artists as well, in the audience were Ben “Benge” Edwards (with whom Tara has worked alongside John Foxx), U.K. electronic music artist Robin Rimbaud (Scanner and Githead), renowned blogger Rob Puricelli (FailedMuso blog) and Chris Macleod and Dave Spiers of GForce software (who lent Tara the five vintage synths). If you happen to be lucky enough to be anywhere near a venue that I Speak Machine put on one of their performances, don’t even think about it, just go. As I said earlier, I had seen Tara play live before, but tonight she excelled that performance with something that will stay with me forever. Positively spell-binding.
Vintage Synths Used:
ARP Odyssey MkIII