Live at Vortex, London | 16th September 2011

Live at The Vortex #10

Review in The Liminal:

But if the first two acts were uneven, and the third rock solid, the evening’s piece de resistance, Philip Jeck, was simply on another planet, to use an exhausted cliche (might not be the only one – Jeck’s music has the ability to make me lose my linguistic dexterity somewhat). In comparison to the videos, darting around and occasional posturing of the preceding trio, the Liverpool-based artist’s performance was understated, as he remained seated throughout in front of his mixing console, effects pedals and pair of battered-looking turntables. Eyes half-closed, seemingly lost in his music from the off, Jeck projected an aura of calmness and contemplation that had the audience, certainly me, rapt.

Comparisons to current The Wire cover star Christian Marclay are misleading but inevitable, given their common use of weathered vinyl to create avant-garde compositions, but for my money (and having seen both live), there is something so much more seductive and powerful about the Briton’s compositions, which is saying something. As the LPs wobbled and span on themselves, Jeck delicately twisted knobs and pressed buttons in front of him, creating an almost solid cloud of sound that poured into the room, filling every space around me, and inside me, unfathomable crackles, wooshes, haunting half-melodies and troubled drones engulfing me with every twist of his wrists or toggle of the stylus. This was sound not so much being played as sculpted, Jeck’s thoughtful manipulations smoothing out rough edges or creating unexpected jagged ones with an intuition worthy of Michelangelo faced with a slab of marble. Hyperbole? Maybe, but it’s hard not to when hearing and seeing Philip Jeck live.

Above all, where Philip Jeck elevates himself above the night’s other performers, and indeed over a great many modern British and international improvisers, is the unfettered emotion he brings to what could, in other hands, be overly cerebral, even cold, music. Part of this is surely down to the records he chooses, but more than that it’s Jeck’s apparently innate sense of flow, as he slowly builds up layers of sound, before dissipating them into waves of new, quieter ones, and so on.

As Jeck’s immaculate sounds rolled out of the speakers and over my senses, I found myself detaching my eyes from the stage to stare out of the window at the rapidly emptying square outside The Vortex. Something in the way the quiet, lamp-lit space glowed in the night, surrounded by darkened buildings and silent vehicles, seemed to reflect the stark, crepuscular music being sculpted in front of me: something melancholic, lonely and beautiful. When I later found myself wandering those streets, with the echoes of crumbling vinyl and quiet distortion still drifting through my head, I felt a strange sort of inchoate peace. Philip Jeck’s music will do that to you. It makes it hard to describe properly in words, which I guess should be your cue to track down his records or go to his next gig. Lucky you.