Last Night: Way Rare Borbetomagus Performance Screened for the First Time

It was, at times, so unlistenable that it was listenable, so absurd that it made perfect sense.

Last night at Avant Garden, a handful of They, Who Sound attendees were hipped to a rare Borbetomagus film. The avant-garde band, formed in upstate New York in the late 1970s, is known for an uncompromising sound that can feel, to the uninitiated, like sonic rape.

In November 2009, Nameless Sound brought members of Borbetomagus to town, where they met Houston-based belly dancer Y.E. Torres (aka. ms. YET), who often performs during improvised music concerts. At one point, Borbetomagus talked about this one gig in 1986 where a belly dancer accompanied their set. They suspected that the experience had been documented on film.

Once back home in New York, one of the band members found a VHS recording of the gig in question. He then ripped it to a DVD and sent the disc to Houston, where the document fell into the grateful and lucky hands of Nameless Sound and They, Who Sound.

During the approximately 25-minute color film, screened for the first time in a public venue, the lowest of the lo-fi was showcased in what looks like a high school auditorium that had given a middle-finger salute to conscious acoustics. While the electric guitar and saxophones could be (kind of) distinguished, the trombone and the drummer's cymbals were washed away with the relentless blitzkrieg of sound, a square-peg-in-a-round-hole approach to music making that newer outfits like Sissy Spacek beautifully execute.

Nearly halfway into the set, a belly dancer entered, shedding some of her clothing that ended up draped over the lead vocalist's microphone. Feet away, the two horn players stood across from one another, lined their respective bells with the other and traded woodwind blows. It was beautifully ridiculous and ridiculously beautiful.

(A good example of what Borbetomagus does)

Before the screening, two first-time duos performed during the They, Who Sound's weekly Monday showcase.

The first set featured guitarist Ryan Edwards and vocalist/contact mic scraper Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud performing a set reminiscent of a pared-down version of Sonny and Linda Sharrock's interplay on Black Women and Monkey-Pockie-Boo.

David Dove and ms. YET followed, and the set featured the former creating on-the-spot trombone loop drones that, even though they brooded hard, left enough space for ms. YET to demonstrate why Borbetomagus thought highly enough of her art to bless Houston with their wonderful film.

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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen