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Trance in Our Pants

Hototogisu, True Vine, Nov. 8

By Jess Harvell | Posted 11/16/2005

Fittingly, it was a night of duos at the True Vine (co-owned by occasional City Paper contributor Ian Nagoski), since it’s hard to imagine an eight-man improvisation collective squeezing into the store’s tiny second room. (The resulting noise would be impressive, though.) The two dozen or so people in the store talked, smoked cigarettes, and—good business sense, this—browsed records between sets.

The first duo of Nagoski and Kate Porter faced each other, Porter with cello, Nagoski with head bowed and hands on knees. Over a low, prerecorded drone piped in through the store’s sound system, Porter bowed long phrases or short, ugly streaks, like her instrument was strung with rusty metal. Nagoski moaned long and low, descending into growls, chokes, or sobs. The result was queerly compelling, a mix of La Monte Young’s Black Album and the frozen howls of black metal.

The second duo of Andy Hayleck and Bonnie Jones sat at a small table—he in suit, she in some sort of stole—like an estranged married couple, saying everything they need to without saying anything at all. Their laptop and analog improvisations sounded like masses of cicadas or power-line hum, distant traffic rumble or spiking noise in the middle of the night. Digital distortion lacks the pleasing warmth of analog, which was all too apparent when, at one point, the computer called up a noise like someone rubbing the world’s biggest balloon. The audience liked it enough for a mini-encore, another pleasantly harsh bit of digital field recording.

The Hototogisu duo has its roots in other bands with a history of scouring brains like SOS pads—Sunroof! and Skullflower for Matthew Bower, Double Leopards for Marcia Bassett, all of which conjure black holes from volume, noise, and cracked electronics. Fittingly, Hototogisu is dense and loud, but it wasn’t necessarily unpleasant. Indeed, with Bower and Basset shrouded in incense and robes, squatting over their machines as if in prayer, it was nearly trance inducing.

Hototogisu’s granular, enveloping drone absorbed all sound in the room. Once your eyes adjusted (standing directly under the only light in the room didn’t help), you noticed the pair were brandishing microphones as they tweaked their equipment. Their cries were sucked into their amps like pebbles into a pond, spat out as part of the sound mass. You could hear sonic phantoms of everything from Middle Eastern muezzins to Asian reed instruments in the mix.

Unfortunately, jostling for view and standing killed any possible hypnosis; maybe sitting on the floor lotus-style would have been better. One fan, who apparently traveled all the way from Philly, rocking back and forth on his heels with eyes closed, was down with the vibe, though.

Luckily, Hototogisu’s unbilled third member—a lithe young man with closely cropped hair wearing what looked to be a khaki skirt—was its visual focal point. He twisted, turned, bowed, bent, pulled taffy faces, and slammed into the wall, mostly in “living statue” slow motion. At one point it looked as if his arms were going to dislocate completely and flop around like fish. The performance had a whiff of absurdity to it, but you also couldn’t look away. And just think, if you had your eyes closed in zoned-out rapture, you would have missed it.

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