Concert review: Brain Transplant / Xunholm / Panicsville 10/25/2017 Flood Plains Gallery St. Louis, Missouri

This was a power electronics show held at a small art space. It marked the first Missouri appearance of Jason Sublette (ex-Ga’an, ex-Isabelle, both heavy, cultish progressive bands from Chicago and various points in Missouri, respectively) as Xunholm, which is described by the artist as follows: “A strange musician is found dead inside of a hidden journal.”

Jason is also my lifelong friend and fellow bandmate (I was the drummer for Isabelle). So, it makes a good deal of sense that I would have accompanied him on this journey from his home to Flood Plains Gallery (formerly Fort Gondo). It had been at least five years since I was last on Cherokee for any reason, so it was nice to see the neighborhood again. I remember playing shows at Radio Cherokee. (RIP)

Jason Sublette

Our friend in Panicsville, an eclectic noise collective on Andy Ortmann’s long-established and respected Nihilist Records (founded in 1992 and home to releases by Missouri’s own Strangulated Beatoffs, Wolf Eyes, the live masochist Death Squad and Thurston Moore to name just a few) is Jeremiah Fisher, who’s been a permanent member since the early 2000s. They set up this St. Louis date to include Xunholm and local artist Brain Transplant, a veteran of the avant-garde scene in the midwest and a frequent collaborator with other noise artists.

I hadn’t seen Jeremiah since our days in bands together more than ten years ago, so it was definitely a happy reunion. It was great to catch his unique humor and tendency to sing out various non-sequiturs on occasion. (He slurred a happy ditty about Windows 95 when Panicsville was setting up inside before the show. “We’re a multimedia band.. We’re coming to your town, we got the projector, now, we’re a multimedia band.”)

Jeremiah Fisher (Panicsville) and Jason Sublette (Xunholm)

The show opener was Brain Transplant. His sound is darkly ambient and leaves everything up to the listener’s imagination. To me, it was reminiscent of hospital trips and mysterious dreams. There was a lot of dragging, scraping, the sound of apparitions phasing in and out of visibility. Everyone in attendance stood quietly for him as he let his laptop’s sound unfold through huge speakers in a dark room, with only the red light of an exit sign for atmospherics.

His set came to a head at about twenty minutes, culminating in a clamor of what sounded to be giant church bells. If you’re expecting an action-packed live performance from Brain Transplant, you may be left wanting but if you can stand tight and allow the bizarre frequencies and sonic scenery to permeate your mind for a while, then you’re absolutely on the right track. Let it do its own thing.

Nearly everyone filed outside after he’d finished, collecting on the sidewalk to smoke cigarettes and talk (as you do). It wasn’t very long until Jason Sublette made from outside with me (we were eating trail mix and going over old stories) to the floor of Flood Plains, to commence the Xunholm set. I’d been watching him practice it over a few weeks’ time, very constantly. He’s a meticulous worker. The minutest details must be correct and ordered, but the sound resultant of this work is astonishing.

Upon hearing his output, you could say artists like John Carpenter, Zombi or Fabio Frizzi influenced him, but you’d have a partially complete view of his aesthetic. It’s after years on his own of creating a personal musical style that’s measured parts obfuscation, unveiling and immersive in sonic texture that his sound has come to fruition. This night was one of the most awesome realizations of the Xunholm sound that I’ve encountered. The set was nearly perfect. I think the crowd was very pleasantly surprised, with most if not all of them having very little idea what to expect from him. It was difficult for me to not be moved by the music he made.

Last up was Panicsville. I heard the noise from outside again after break so I hurried in. I was just in time to catch Andy Ortmann handing out questionnaires to people as the sound and movie began.

A little something to get your brain in gear for the trip. It made me a little nervous. This is just the kind of thing performance art pieces are famous for, though, and so I answered mine along with everyone else, unsure of where, when and how this information would be used.

It wasn’t used in the show, so one can only guess what will become of that small, wooden box full of people’s ambitions, accomplishments and fears collected over the course of Panicsville’s two week long tour of the Midwest and East coast. Andy always keeps busy, though, so you know it’s only a matter of time before it turns up again as a facet of his artistic experience.

The sound of this set was sonic collage, a dense and ever-revealing work which toured the heights of psychic phenomena and inspired self-reflection. Samples of questions asked regarding mental health, security, comfort played beautifully with trance-causing electronic pulses.

The work wasn’t without humor, though. Occasionally, piercing the introspective tour,there would be blasts of old R&B samples or, exactly once, a mind flaying blast of extremely loud noise. That got my blood pumping and I was ready to headbang but, maybe to defy expectations of a noise music group, it was very short-lived. A pleasure to deny, if you will. Complete control.

Panicsville was joined by Nihilist collaborator Anthony Janas for this show. Jeremiah would sway, swinging arms as if to a beat only he could hear, literally breathing life into the synthesizer through a tube. Anthony would move back and forth, too, besides keeping extremely busy by helping supply the constantly metamorphic sound.

At the height of the set, another surprise: Andy and company put black, plastic bags over their heads, standing quietly as the last of the exercise trailed off into extreme quietude. For as loud and stimulating as the experience had been, the quiet, save for murmurs from the crowd and bubbling sounds from the synth rigs, was slightly unsettling.

Maybe the thing with the bags was a poke at performance art itself. Regardless, it still looked good and felt right. There were a lot of mixtures of the deeply serious and light-hearted throughout the sound and visuals from the projector, reflecting the artists’ mindsets extremely well.

It was a moving experience which had traces of social experimentation, but nothing upsetting or untoward. This was the result of artistic veterans putting their best mindframes forward and truly interacting with an audience with music and film.

Panicsville plays St. Louis every so often and, along with locals Brain Transplant and Xunholm, made a really memorable experience for everyone at Flood Plains. When Andy Ortmann returns to St. Louis, do yourself a huge favor and catch what he’s doing.

-Richard Jaspering, October 28, 2017

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