This was intended to be a review of the entire extensive programme at the Hidden Door Art Festival this weekend in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, due to a comical projectile vomiting bug (it wasn’t comical at the time, but it was of the variety that is generally used to comical effect) I only made it down for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. However, I did still manage to catch one of the main reasons for my interest in the event, an Edinburgh debut from Erstlaub, who was showing a new live set.

Prior to Erstlaub it is also worth mentioning Alastair Cook‘s new Malin project; although I only caught the second half due to some last-minute programme changes. In that short space of time he managed to summon sufficient bass-y growl to send my girlfriend (who had endured the same vomiting affliction) into the bowel-comforting shelter of the poetry room. Malin matched his music to a variety of collected visual recordings, including the  familiar view along the East Coast Mainline, focus shifting between the dirty GNER windows and the passing landscape, with the occasional fleeting glimpses of the sea. This worked well with the music,  a gentle static patchwork interwoven with passing interludes of children speaking, guitar melodies, hushed vocals and heartier (gut-wrenching?) bass drones. The result was a beautiful scrapbook of field recordings and electronic manipulation.  A man of numerous talent, as well as commissioning and curating a number of artists for the event (including Erstlaub), Al has an exhibition of his photography of Sutherland and Caithness opening next week in Helmsdale.

After a wander around the rest of the artwork I returned to the basement for Erstlaub’s set. Dave Fyans, the artist/creator of Erstlaub, describes his music as ‘Scottish drone-based miserablism’ which is enough to pique my interest, a bit of dour ambiance is always lovely on a Sunday afternoon. However this description probably does something of a disservice to his music, which is much more emotionally complex.

He performed a new piece called ‘Sleepwalking Into The Underworld‘,  accompanied by a series of wintry images of forests and streams. The volume and depth of the noise he managed to create were difficult to associate with the laptop and array of electronic devices set out on the table before him. These were noises you would associate with much larger entities; the creaking of a forest at the beginning of a storm, wind ripping across a body of water, the hum of distant factories. It is all the more impressive that the sounds were entirely built from modular synthesis, without the help of samples or field recordings.

The set started with a low hum and a re-occurring whipping squall, soon followed by distant tribal drums emanating from deep within the monochrome forest. The drums reappeared later seemingly to mark shifts in the movement of noise as Fyans shepherded his sounds around the projected landscape. Frequencies continued to build and collide into great masses of physical noise; only towards the end of the set a confused and disoriented electronic gurgle appeared to remind you of the real source of the sound. His 40-minute set seemed to drift past very quickly indeed, leaving me to consider what actually constituted ‘natural’ sound.

Get more Erstlaub here, lots of treats to download including the excellent ‘In Darkened Corners‘ EP. If you enjoy that look out for his releases on the Highpoint Lowlife label, amongst others.

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