Once upon a time, the San Francisco performance space run by Naut Humon was essentially a trailer in the middle of a field, far from the city’s center. The mixing equipment at the Compound, as it was called, sat in the middle of the trailer on a handful of tables, its video screens were pulled taut until they resembled tortured ponchos, and the surround sound was accomplished by speakers that took up a substantial chunk of what floor space there was.
With his new space, Recombinant Media Labs, Humon has gone high-end: a south of Market Street address and a performance room that is structurally refined and whose technology is transparent, unless one reclines on the floor and looks up, in which case a small army of porcelain-white video projectors stands out against the black ceiling.
Entrance is gained to the room by ducking under a screen, which continues around the rectangular space, providing surround visuals to match the sound. Though the Labs and its associated label, Asphodel, suggest a fixation on music, those projectors are what distinguish Recombinant. It isn’t just a place to hear exemplary electronic music, though that it certainly is; it’s also one of the best places in the world to witness what electronic musicians are doing in the realm of audio-video.
Thomas Koner, who is known to minimal techno fans for his bracing work as half of Porter Ricks, performed three audio-visual pieces at Recombinant on Thursday, June 22, and Friday, June 23. I attended the Thursday set: three pieces that each paired droning, churning sound with visuals. The sounds were abstract: mechanized but hazy, abrasive but never necessitating earplugs, occasionally reaching a teeth-rattling thrum but more focused on the listener’s ears than chest.
The images, to the contrary, were almost entirely recognizable. The first piece came slowly into focus. A series of still images, seemingly appropriated from webcams (a supposition confirmed by some notes at Koner’s website, koner.de), showed wintry scenes that moved so slowly from one to the next that it was difficult to discern what details belonged to which image: the one fading out, or the one fading in. The second piece switched locales to the urban, with time-lapse images of a building complex shot throughout the day and night. The first piece focused attention on a single screen, but this second displayed the same sequence around the room. The third piece mixed up the screens: some showed motion, others stills, others images processed beyond recognition until they’d come to resemble the sound. The sequence of the images, much like the music itself, toyed with the place where stasis and motion can be mistaken for each other. More info at asphodel.com.