FM3 = Levitation
Seeing what FM3 had developed for their first ever live performance in America (?) was pretty liberating. Perhaps the most hypnotic 45 minutes of my life (that’s with or without drugs, here stone sober). The occasion was also so left-field from the rest of SXSW that I had to give the duo their own post, the final post. Not sure if the Hideout on Congress was a normal venue for the experimentalists from China, it’s a coffee shop with a tiny, tiny, theater in the back. The kind of place that’s hard to leave once a show get’s started. I vividly remember Psych HS playing there last year and people filing out only minutes into it, the shabby retractable seats creaking then slamming, the abandonees forced to walk right in front of the band (and a sneering Matt Whitehurst) on their way out. For FM3 there were probably only 10 or so people to watch (a shame they didn’t get better press, they did come all the way from China?), problem being there was nothing to see (hence no pictures, the above picture is a performance from Sonar).
There was an end table lodged into the aisle between the seats and one microphone hovering above it. For a while nothing happened. Then Zhang Jian appeared with a bottle of rum, two glasses with ice, a bag containing seven multi-colored Buddha Boxes, and a game-board painted with Chinese characters. Christiaan Virant then came and sat down, poured both of them a drink asked for the house to cut the lights asking to get close “if you want to hear”. What proceeded was a slowly evolving game of Buddha Boxing (sonic Mahjongg?) between the two, as explained later -- each side chose a box, a setting, a volume level, and a placement on the board (keep in mind all of these variables have different results whilst enjoying your Buddha Box), then the opposing player can either remove that box, move it, change the loop, or the volume – the only catch is they have to add one box of their own. Occasionally a pen light would be shined on the board so they could get a grasp on where they were in the game, but it was the darkness, the magnification of silences and little ice cubes clinking in their glasses that enhanced the experience. These guys are masters of their machines, manipulating the sound just by laying a box on upside down or on top of another box. The sounds from some far off astral plane -- the long, high-pitched, tone that ends by winding into a flutter was the first choice, but took a while to register. As they layered tone upon tone, sometimes removing one, sometimes trying to loop them all in unison, the miasma increased. I found myself actually drifting in and out of consciousness, waking back up when the dark, ominous, loop gonged. When completely alert, I would hallucinate around the tiniest specks of light that entered the theater. When closing my eyes, I felt like a child who journeyed to space by pressing hard on the lids.
A lot of talk this week centered on the future of the music industry (which all agreed is in dire straits) and the ways in which we’ll consume it. FM3 have shown me what a little ingenuity can do. Sure it’s only a plastic box that plays nine loops, but their twist on form and function, how people can interact, explore, and actually create other entities with what the duo call their “album,” is somewhat revolutionary. And of course if you’ve been reading here, the week was constantly teetering on the precipice of revolution, or if not revolution, than the destruction of stale ideas. Once the kids start making their own Buddha Boxes, and giving the public art that is built on primitive simplicity, that can be shifted to be what you want without sacrificing the artists’ intent, then the future of music tends to look awfully bright, blinding even. Really, fuck an MP3, viva la FM3. Amen.