Somnambule - Writing About Music

Victor Gama with Max Eastley

ICA, 6th December 2003

Victor Gama is an Angolan-born instrument maker and composer who has just had a cd released on Rephlex Records in the UK. Gama was joined throughout the evening by Max Eastley who played an instrument suspiciously like a ski whose tip had been sawn off. Down its length a single string stretched which Eastley assiduously played with all the skill and subtlety of an academically trained violinist on a Stradivarius. Around him three beautiful instruments sat patiently in the theatrical halflight. Gama’s most recent release, Pangeios Instrumentos, depicted on its cover the instrument which received the most attention from its maker: something like a large earthenware bowl on a three legged metal stand sealed by a lid of perspex upon which sat three small towers of metal discs. Out of this instrument, played using thumbs and fingers, arose ziggurat rhythms which were at once ancient and urgent.

The pair played continuously for approximately 70 minutes acting as spirit guides along ancient routes. Like a spectral bride, the ‘sky-ski’ (my own name for Eastley’s instrument) beckoned to Gama’s cyclical time. Throughout, the air was alive with upper-register twitters and booming sonorities. Gama appeared to lead, playing compositions which his musical partner reacted to and shadowed.

They were accompanied by a visual artist whose projections though more subtle than most, still managed to intrude upon contemplation of the music for which the audience had ventured into the night for. It’s difficult not to resist feeling resentment at being presented with somebody else’s interpretation of sound which one would rather undertake oneself. Is this increasing trend of visual intrusion some kind of heading off of feared boredom on the part of musicians? Please hear my plea: music should be the material for one’s own dreams, not somebody else’s. Recently when assaulted with video projections (Courtney Pine, Denys Baptiste, David Sylvian) it has mostly been acceptable to close one’s eyes, but in this concert the custom instruments were beautiful to behold and fascinating to watch being played. Yet behind the players a large screen told the audience what somebody else thought was going on.

After 30 minutes or so Victor Gama rose to his feet and walked over to a cora-like stringed instrument which he plucked at with fingertips. Again there were new sounds, new resonances underscored by ancient vibrations. Later Gama stood at his final, pyramid-shaped instrument bowing intently at three long strings and tapping at the clay sounding-bowl at its centre. Then he beckoned to four members of the audience to join him. After a few minutes he departed from the stage leaving them to pitter patter onwards in a rather unorganised way. The inclusive gesture was generous although the quality of music experienced a distinct downturn. Gama didn’t return to take a bow until the impromptu group had run out of steam.

Afterwards in a continuation of the democratic impulse it was possible to walk onto the stage and try out the instruments. The harshness of the metal discs of Gama’s primary instrument underlined how important the close mic’ing was to the subtleties of the music.

It was up to each listener to decide whether the music’s simplicity lacked sufficient complexity in its prosecution or was worthy of merit for that very reason. For this listener, Victor Gama and Max Eastley’s music created its own spaces with a directness which allowed the audience to reflect upon and engage with a music at once non-western, ancient and yet newborn.
Colin Buttimer
Published by Milkfactory