Hive Collective present: Chris Watson & Matthew Herbert at The Bluecoat, Liverpool


Grab your bucket, spade and drum pads we’re off to Crosby Beach.

Hmm, tough one live electronica. With the advent of the likes of Warp, Mo Wax and most recently Kompact, record labels and their artists have embraced all forms of genre-straddling musics and taken live electronica on the road.
We’ve seen many a mixed result. The insane: Aphex Twin at ATP where boards and bodies bent to breaking point. The head-nodding indifference of Stars of the Lid where records were seemingly replicated to the point of pointlessness. And the complete duff: Four Tet twiddling laptop knobs and clicking mousebuttons while a bemused crowd stifled their yawns.
The Hive Collective‘s showcase, this their third of four features, brought BBC sound recording artist Chris Watson and electronic futurist Matthew Herbert to the glorious setting of the recently refurbished Bluecoat, as they collaborated on two pieces inspired by Antony Gormley‘s wonderful cast iron men statues on Crosby Beach as part of his Another Place creation.
First up was Watson. Addressing the soldout, small room like a stern schoolmaster, he takes to a lectern to tell us that all the sounds were taken from the beach and that soon the tide will approach are very feet, so be alert – especially those who aren’t strong swimmers.
His delivery is so icy, the joke is almost lost on the onlookers – and this preempts what is to follow. Like much electronic ‘music’, Watson’s reproduction of the beach and its sounds is so austere, so incredibly severe that any trip to the sands would seem more like punishment than fun.
That he turns and bollocks two poor souls who have the audacity to be talking too close to his soundsuite is indicative of how solemn, sedate and staid his piece is. But it’s not simply the seriousness which is a problem.
Watson recreation of the sounds and atmospherics of the beach is so true to its very being you wonder what’s the point. There seems little in terms of feeling or imagination, much more a triumph of ingenuity and science as the odd seagull squawks overhead and the tide gently laps, creeping up from corners. Add to this visuals from the beach on a giant screen at the far end of the room which are so dull – a rusty sign saying ‘carpark,’ is about as exciting as it got – summed up the general feeling of indifference.
It was a shame really, as the Hive Collective lot had obviously put in a fine effort with bonus points attributed for the sand-laden entrance into the sound gallery and complimentary ice-cream cones for that added beachy feel.
Matthew Herbert thankfully rescued us from sinking into the sands in a second half of inspired noise. Donning his raincoat and wellies he warmed the crowd with a detailed introduction about how he took Watson’s framework, then cut the sounds to miniscule clips and interwove these into loops and fragments which would be played as a backing piece to which his live electronics would layer and his accompanying guitarist – who added shades to his blue mack and fetching boots – would improvise.
Immediately the crowd looked more at ease. So rather than earlier, when most of the audience wandered around in a state of bemused blah, here they sat cross-legged next to Herbert’s raised mini-stage and entanglement of equipment, or in some cases lay down outstretched to soak up the engulfing sonics.
Mention should go to the sound crew and surround sound which was extraordinary. Rarely has a room projected such subtle, near-nothings so sharply.
Much like Sunn 0))) collaborator and sound innovator, Oren Ambarchi, Herbert’s power lay with building gliches into slabs of dense chaos. A minute sound of a truck reversing in the distance from the beach was looped and played off Floyd-like spiralling guitar.
It was everything Watson’s piece wasn’t: hypnotic, involving, innovative and most of all imaginative. A fitting exploration of sound which did indeed transport the listener to another place – surely what Gormley would have wanted.