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It's to the advantage of artists and audiences alike that Decibel discourages flash photography and limits picture-taking to the first three songs of each set (there might be exceptions, but those were the basic rules laid out in the press logistics mailing). It's also why the photos below aren't all that great, but at least you get the gist of Brooklyn's Julianna Barwick and London's Maria Minerva, who both performed solo at the Triple Door as part of the Optical 2: Ascension showcase (I wasn't able to catch Lulacruza and Anenon, who rounded out the bill).
The two women provided a study in contrasts, since Barwick took a beat-free, heavenly-choir approach, reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins or Sigur Rós, while Minerva came on like a one-woman Dead Can Dance or New Age Steppers with deep, dubbed-out grooves and more energetic vocals. If Minerva were to end up on a bill with Neneh Cherry, it would make perfect sense—and I hope she does.
The fluidly-changing film clips that unfurled behind Barwick included grainy scenes from nature, like a fog-enshrouded forest and time-lapse flora photography, while Minerva opted for computer-generated imagery, like luminescent crystals and black-and-white geometric shapes. Belgian artist-musician Christina Vantzou, who'll be participating in Saturday's Optical 4: Discreet Tones and Sunday's Optical 5: Undercurrent showcases, provided Barwick's evocative visuals.
While I would describe Julianna's music as more ethereal than sexless, Maria roots hers in the body; it isn't soulful, in the conventional sense, but more rhythmic and earthy. I was feeling it. Barwick's set was lovely, but I found my mind wandering as there wasn't much variation from track to track. Granted, that may have been her very intention: to offer a soundtrack for inner contemplation—in which case it worked a treat. I was just hoping for something more immediately engaging.
In person, Minerva is taller than she appears in publicity photos and her rig was low, so she was bent over much of the time. My back hurt just to watch her ministrations, but she danced around, too, which might've helped (Barwick remained rooted to the same spot the entire time). She also triggered a greater variety of sounds—though I could never quite see what she was doing—making her look like a mad scientist as compared to the consistently cool, calm Barwick.
If Minerva's set was more to my personal taste, I'm glad that I made time for Barwick (not being familiar with her recorded work, I had originally planned on Maria alone). Before leaving the stage, Minerva mentioned that she was looking forward to catching Demdike Stare and Andy Stott at Melrose Market Studios. I would've been, too, if I wasn't so tired—they were scheduled to go on at 12am and 1am respectively—so I'm glad I caught Demdike's great re-score for La Vampire Nue on Wednesday instead. If you missed the film, it's out now on DVD, but that score really made the experience complete (I just wish the festival could've shown the original subtitled version, since the music sometimes drowned out the dubbed dialogue...not that dialogue was ever Jean Rollin's strong suit).
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