Review: Secluded Bronte live at Dartington’s Space studios

Anticipation built as the trio – Richard Thomas, Jonathan Bohman, Adam Bohman – sat talking each other through the programme on the steps outside the Space studios at Dartington. ‘Just remind me of the sound world of that one,’ said Richard, as if trying to recall the aroma and taste of a fine, rare wine. A little later, one of the brothers grabbed two small rocks from beneath a nearby bush, banged them against each other to try them for sound, looked approvingly at his bandmates, and took them in with him to the studio.


When we were eventually allowed in for the start of the performance the first thing I noticed was the way the tables were laden with a menagerie of inanimate objects, oddly shaped wine glasses, metal wires, plastic tubes and an assortment of other items from household, workplace and nature. It didn’t seem possible that all of these could be used in the usual time frame one would expect of a gig set and despite the curiosity which this sight lent me, I did begin to wonder how we were ever going to get through this – audience and performers alike.


But we did. And it became clear that we would as soon as Secluded Bronte took to the stage with their distinct blend of bizarre assurance and eclecticism. After a short opening salvo of what could only be described as sounds of the hunt (hounds barking and horns) they settled into the performance. We were thrown into a kind of sitcom routine but in a made up language. They went on for some time then suddenly switched to English, talking about how they had got down to Dartington from London, adapting radically different personas, one had come by train, one had walked, the other complained about his chauffeur. It was funny and their excellent comic timing would set the tone. They were fearless, willing to push the limit what was acceptable under the banner of ‘performance’ further than anyone I’ve seen, and in doing so creating a live space that was intensely funny but also had a raw power and energy.


I couldn’t help imagining it was like we were in Cabaret Voltaire, and that the mad, ad hoc, unpredictable Dadaist spirit had been translated and updated for a new century. A highlight was cyclops at end of ‘Side 1’ which had a quite distinct musical and dramatic energy, in which a strange spluttering backing track of half music, half noise was improvised over by the trio with a raft of unique noises. Visually too this composition was striking; the two widemen could be seen standing, wrestling balloons into black plastic tubes and manipulating their microphones, while the other sat between them, beavering away with a magpie-like quest for new and intriguing sound after new and intriguing sound – not necessarily pleasant, but executed with panache and commitment on his little stringed instrument, which took a battering from the numerous objects he threw at it.


On side 2 after a short break, the three men seemed to move up a notch, gelling together even more than before. All was carried off in their deadpan style, – ‘What?’ ‘Yes’ – in such a way that you couldn’t tell exactly what was a joke and what was serious, whether there were mistakes or pretend mistakes. Were they conning us? Did they feel sorry for us in the audience? Were they moving off into the blue beyond of sound production? At the same time they exuded such a strange, otherworldly confidence, and were so certain of themselves, unafraid to ‘start again, start again’ to get the greatest impact out of the hilarious uroboros song, that it was impossible to doubt them. Was it an accident? Did they know exactly what they were doing? In the end I realised that these questions didn’t matter. Whether or not they meant it, they were creating one of the most unusual and original soundscapes I’d heard for a long time, and a certain wildness, emerged from out of the confusion of sound objects, juxtaposed words, and electronic sampling, which made me sit up, feel fear, excitement, exhilaration and even a childlike joy.

This event was organised by Soundart Radio and took place in Studio 3 of Space, Dartington, on the evening of Friday, 13th July 2018.


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