Speak Easy: The Loft Concert

By: Massimo Ricci

Touching Extremes


Online Article

“Cologne’s Loft has become a hunting reserve for Pavel Borodin’s shooting of improvising artists (pun intended). After last year’s excellent documentary on Elliott Sharp, The Velocity Of Hue (for which, reports the director, no willing label was found for distribution – a shame, given the quality of that particular work), we’re now able to watch a concert recorded March 14, 2008 by Speak Easy, the quartet of Ute Wassermann, Phil Minton, Thomas Lehn and Martin Blume.
The DVD comprises three episodes (the encore is available as bonus material), a no-frills multi-angle presentation which succeeds in portraying the essence of the performers, an infiltration of sorts in their physical effort, severe application and utter responsiveness. The setting is somehow reminiscent of a low-budget “off” theatre representation: purple background, wooden chairs, an impressive starkness. Minton and Wassermann are placed in front of the main camera, Lehn on the left, Blume on the right. Visually, a few contrasts are immediately noticeable, in the clothing (Minton, the lone non-German, wears a white shirt against the comrades’ general darkness) and in the type of gestural expressiveness. On one side there are the “scientists”, Lehn, perennially tight-lipped, manipulating the controls of his EMS Synthi with the same concentration of a neurosurgeon, Wassermann a cold-eyed emitter of implausible half-Tibetan-half-warbler vibrations with the only aid of a pair of bird calls. The opposite front sees Blume exploiting the percussive arsenal with controlled passion typically delivered with almost choreographic moves, plus the wild card Minton, whose facial contortion is a spectacle in itself (his close-ups are in fact a study in the rubbery characteristics of human expression, and one genuinely fears that the eyes will pop out of the skull at some point).
The four systematically demonstrate an inspiring consistency of reciprocal consideration, symbolized by a couple of instances in which Minton is captured opening a single eye amidst absolute absorption to check what the others are doing. The scarce recognisability of the sources in the pianissimo segments – the vocalists emitting imperceptible overtones, meshing with Lehn’s synthetic whispers and Blume’s barely audible cymbal scraping – is testament to the remarkable technical and creative homogeneity of these musicians, a seriousness ultimately immortalized. Thanks to this utopian filmmaker, the documentation won’t stop anytime soon (a “definitive” feature about the aforementioned Sharp and a Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier performance are in the can among other things). Meanwhile, visit this website if you want to get your hands on Borodin’s goodies. They deserve the utmost attention.”