“Field Report”

In April I saw/heard/experienced the band Battles perform.  This is their first tour (the album will be released in June) since the sole vocalist member of their band opted to pursue a solo career.  Recently there has been debate as to whether the band can now thrive as a trio as opposed to a quartet. For me, this process experience of Battles moving into a new realm and my experience of their most recent performance embody the uniquely transformative nature of a creative process/ing.  The departure of a past band member has allowed these truly virtuosic performers to discover and articulate new forms and variations, to progress creatively on new planes and levels.  This trio is in the midst of a new and powerful creative becoming.

The recent debate by a number of fans and critics provokes questions I have about the hierarchical attention given to the voice and to the territorialization of an amplified voice in contemporary experimental or ATP or avant rock or (?) music especially when the vocals are primarily tonal and abstract; a simulation of language; a nouveau operatic.  These inquiries call into question the primacy given to the voice in all its utterances.  Essentially, when Battles was a quartet, how did it come to be that a contingent of the public at large identified the vocalist as the front man of these equally virtuosic instrumentalists and performers (voice as instrument/instrument as voice)?  To me, the band did not actualize this choice but rather it was the by-product of a pre-existing structure that either audience members or critical reviews identified, a default habit of emphasizing the vocalist as leader within an ensemble.  The voice— even in its most abstract— is a tonal language to contend with in any applicable musical dynamic precisely because of its role as a universal communicative device.  And then there is the impetus by some reviewers to identify a hierarchical leader, even now, within a uniquely progressive musical ensemble.  During their performance, voices did enter on a few tracks sung by guest vocalists (Gary Numan, Kazu Makino or Matias Aguayo) who appeared as projections in the show but the performance was mostly a smooth and striated instrumental layering by these three dynamic musicians.  Being present at this performance was so exciting because it was not only a unique experience of something completely unknown, but also a witnessing of a pivotal juncture-in-time of an evolving process between artists.  For their set, instead of playing from the past, they interpreted the new as an emergence in real-time.  This allowed for an unfolding landscape of fluctuations, instabilities, gaps and zones of indetermination within my experience, and I believe, within theirs.  In interviews, the band members are very open about the fact that they are involved in the process of learning to play this new album together.  And as an audience member, it was a unique experience to witness a juncture in their transformation, a moment in their ensembled individuation.

-C.K.

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