If you’re up in the Boston area, you should check out this upcoming set of shows, lectures and workshops at Brandeis University, which will be the first US appearance of the Barcelona-based world/techno group Nettle. Billed as “a geography defying project founded by DJ /rupture, involving 4 musicians and a video artist”, Nettle’s lived shows incorporate North African folksong, classical Arabic composition, free improv, digital experimentation and urban beat production, joined up with a realtime video projection by New York visual artist Daniel Perlin.
Nettle originated in my fascination with the concept of an album heavily influenced by Middle Eastern ideas, but not necessarily at the audible level. I was unsatisfied with the narrative poles of electronic music – loop-based dance pieces or abstract/ambient pieces without storytelling force. A suite of rigorous modal improvisation in Arabic music called taqasims offered the solution: I knew and loved their internal play between free-flowing improv and strict technical guidelines. I spent a year or two translating these ideas into pieces for samplers and laptop. Two albums later I still wasn’t satisfied: one-way cultural flows aren’t good enough. I wanted community, two-way translations, the squeal of a feedback loop.
Earlier this year I was commissioned by a British arts council to transform Nettle into a proper live ensemble. Violin, oud, percussion, electronics, realtime sampling. I’d been involved in Barcelona’s Moroccan music community for a while, but the Nettle project has upped the intensity of collaboration. A few days ago, Nettle’s violin and oud player, Abdelaziz Hak, brought up taqasims to explain his response to a beat I’d prepared for him.
I broke into a silly grin.
This is working. We’re starting to get under each other’s skin.