Konk Pack: Impressive, but the Hills Are Not Alive with These Sounds of Music

Bonnie Wright’s ambitious Fresh Sound series makes the audience reconsider their ideas about what music is—or is not. Saturday’s visiting trio, Konk Pack, filled the large room at Bread and Salt in Barrio Logan with clouds of electronically generated sound, ebbing and flowing with the grandeur and drama of a symphonic poem. But anyone listening for tunes, thematic development, or harmonic progression was clearly expecting something outside the vernacular of this group’s music.

Konk Pack: Thomas Lehn, Roger Turner & Tim Hodgskinson [photo courtesy of Fresh Sound]

Konk Pack is a unique trio: percussionist Roger Turner works with a drum set and a small array of hand percussion instruments, while Thomas Lehn twists dials on an analogue synthesizer, and Tim Hodgkinson employs a wide array of implements to coax sounds from a steel guitar placed on a table in the center of the group. Once they started, they played continuously–without scores or even much eye contact among them–for about and hour and then stopped. They appear to perform in a mode of well-practiced improvisation, inasmuch as they have been playing together since 1997, when they formed Konk Pack at a festival in Budapest.

Layers of contrasting sounds—including static, crackles and explosive pops—waxed and waned, interrupted occasionally by flashes of color and even discernable pitches. Continuity came from Turner’s steady foundation of percussive taps and crashes.

Without detracting from the invention of these three musicians, the retro ambience of Konk proved unavoidable. True heirs of Edgar Varèse and his approach to music as organized sound (his 1920s symphonic poem “Amériques” brazenly included sirens in the percussion section), I heard their acoustic performance as a salute to Karlheinz Stockhausen’s groundbreaking electronic music LP from 1956 “Gesang de Jünglinge.” A musical colleague seated next to me at the concert suggested a direct link to Morton Subotnik’s popular LP from a decade later “Silver Apples of the Moon.”

Of course, sound collages that once could only be produced by sound laboratories with their massive early computers and sound generators can now be made by digital machines that can be toted into a hall in the backpack of a single skateboarder. Perhaps the accessibility of Konk Pack’s music-making will foster its popularity and reception.

This concert was presented by Fresh Sound on Saturday, September 15, 2018, at Bread and Salt, 1955 Julian Ave., San Diego. The next Fresh Sound concert will present the Ches Smith Trio in the same venue on October 6, 2018.

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