Ceremonial Laptop @ The Rose Hill

by Anton Pearson, Mar 12, 2018

Ceremonial Laptop offered an intriguing and eclectic line-up to enjoy at the Rose Hill Tavern on Thursday.

Space was tight on and off the stage but this created an atmosphere which felt like the perfect medium between a gig and a living room performance.

Alex Jacobs a.k.a. qgb started the performances with an entirely electronic set-up. Surrounded by friends, I found myself ignoring everyone to stare unblinkingly at the electronic world opening up in front of me (as well as the excellent projected visuals of wasps). Rhythms and drums were intense while harmony often developed slowly.

The set was incredibly well crafted and transitions were seamless, allowing Alex to deftly weald elements of techno and ambient music into a greater, more experimental whole. We were carefully guided between the disorientating and the familiar, the rhythm-less and the rhythmic.

The variety of electronic equipment which occupied the small stage for Alex Jacob’s set switched to an exciting array of acoustic instruments awaiting performance by the three multi-instrumentalists that made up The Diamond Family Archive.

With barely enough room to move their elbows, they began their set, continually swapping instruments throughout. After a purely electronic set from qgb, the Diamond Family Archive’s rural-feeling blend of Freak-Folk and vocal harmonies made for a stark contrast. Lawrence Collyer improvised in open tunings, at times channelling flavours of John Martyn, while always grounded by deep drones supplied by the keyboards.

There was an accessibility and innocence about the songs they sang but this was accompanied by much more experimental, bleaker tones and ideas which continually crept into the foreground. Imagine you’d locked First Aid Kit and The Tallest Man on Earth in a nuclear bunker for six years – it sounded a bit like that.

The band’s exhibition of traditional musical codes alongside a darkness, and a use of technology, from the modern age, reminded me of similar themes explored by Godspeed side project Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. Polish acts like Stara Rzeka and even Księżyc also sprang to mind.

Writing this article puts me in the strange situation of reviewing one of my bandmates and closest friends as next up on stage was part-time Squid keyboardist, part-time harpsichord tuner, part-time cellist and full-time angry chef, Arthur Leadbetter.

The showcasing of extreme contrasts by Ceremonial Laptop was shown again when the textural fullness of the Diamond Family Archive was followed by a single cello. However, with a facial expression of real intensity which normally, to me, says, “I can’t believe Ollie (our drummer) forgot the cymbal stands,” Arthur showed his instrument was more than up to the challenge of filling the textural void.

Showcasing the scope of his instrument, he beautifully moulded both extended and traditional performance techniques. He was both ferocious and sensitive with dynamics and harmony, often dropping the audience into that sweet middle-ground between what feels comfortable and what feels disorientating, echoing themes explored by QGB and The Diamond Family Archive.

Arthur gradually and sensibly introduced technology to his performance while maintaining an exceptionally high level of instrumental technique. This culminated with the introduction Laurie Nankivell on cornet for one piece, where the two performers created loops together, adding mysterious flavours of jazz to create an effect reminiscent of some of Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble’s work.

These were three excellent performances from three contrasting acts and real credit should go to Ceremonial Laptop for their curation. We need spaces and events like these, where audiences and performers can make their own links between performances. Where experimentalism is at the forefront of the concept behind an event, performers are afforded the freedom to try things out – an essential ingredient in the nurturing and development of emerging talent.


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