Thursday 27th June, Rough Trade East : Live electronic duo d’Voxx perform at the vinyl release of their album Télégraphe.
I have had the immense privilege of knowing Messrs. Borg and Auricchio for a number of years, and have witnessed the development of their interest in New Modular. What the hell is New Modular, I hear you ask? Well, it’s the same as Old Modular, only newer. None the wiser? Ok, back in the ‘60s two American synth pioneers were operating on opposite coasts, Bob Moog on the east and Don Buchla on the west. They were independently developing synthesizers which were modular in design, affording a previously unheard of level of flexibility for the user who was presented with a range of ‘modules’ which could be connected to each other using patch cords – in a similar way a 1950s telephone operator would connect callers to recipients. But the technology was expensive, and the rigs were expansive. Taking a modular on the road was a roadie’s nightmare.
However, there has been something of a renaissance, and modular is again a very real thing. Myriad small companies and synth designers are creating any number of modules which can be bolted into a Eurorack PSU and connected together with control voltage patch chords. For less than the price of a standard Japanese megasynth, one can design a totally unique instrument, tailored exactly to one’s own taste and expression. There are the staples of old – oscillators, ADSR envelopes, LFOs, filters, etc, but these are now joined by some truly fascinating devices incorporating the very best of both analogue and digital domains. Yes, this is not a protest against digital per se, this is a punk-esque movement away from the corporate disco of supersaw presets and ready-made EDM into hands-on creativity, without a screen or a mouse in sight.
d’Voxx are proponents of this approach. Their album Télégraphe is currently on heavy rotation at my place and it is a beautiful, often breathtaking, journey of electronic music, complete with metro stations and urban ambience, sampled from their many visits to the continent where they perform at internationally renowned festivals and conferences. Paul and Nino’s respective musical heritages combine in what is a work of delight, facilitating a blissful escape into awe-inspiring land- and city-scapes replete with both gothic majesty and concrete brutalism.
The process of creating music in this fashion requires the artists to create ‘patches’. In a sense this is the equivalent to a rock band’s writing sessions. Ideas are connected together to form a coherent whole. This is then jammed and the outcome is recorded for consumption. However, in New Modular, and in particular with d’Voxx, the jam never ends. There is a ferrel nature to these instruments which is challenging to tame. This almost random animalistic characteristic requires a performance approach which is both proactive and reactive – very unlike playing a piano or a piccolo. These wiry, flashy, switchy, knobby beasts really can be rather wild and, as such, the performances are rarely identical!
Rough Trade East is a properly hip (not hipster) record shop, bar and venue in the old Truman Brewery off Brick Lane. I took our daughter, Sophie, on the bike and, even with crash helmets on, the aroma of Bangladeshi cuisine was mouthwatering. d’Voxx had just started their set and were busy snake-charming their portable modular instruments into life, and many of the motifs and textures from Télégraphe were in evidence, but these guys were not simply recreating the tracks on the album, they were jamming, riffing on those motifs, but generating new music all the time. Now, I know a bit about synthesis and so I was able to connect several of their performance gestures with the sounds I was hearing. Sophie’s reaction was very interesting, though. After a few minutes she said to me “Dad, they’re actually playing this live, aren’t they!” Yes, indeed they are. They are not spinning a record or knob-twiddling along to a backing track, this was genuine honest good ol’ live music. At one point, Nino was even soloing using a couple of patch chords – something I was later informed that he was doing for the first time! Live experimentation – we like that! It’s risky, brave, clever and cool! The beats transitioned from 4/4 to 6/8 and back again seamlessly, and the arpeggiations grooved with filters, resonance and delays, combining to form a proper piece of music with beats, harmony, melody and soul. This was one of those gigs where you felt like something new and exciting was happening – and, looking around at the crowd, it was clear the whole act had a wonderfully wide appeal.