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Photos taken 8 October 2010

On a whim, and because I was intrigued by the description in the Berkeley Art Museum events program, I went to check out NYMPH on Friday night:

Japan’s Edo Period had a strict law on the books: be nice to dogs and other animals, or else! Brooklyn-based psychedelic-shred/avant-garde ensemble NYMPH bares its teeth for an evening of new music with a decidedly tribal feel. Artist and intergalactic traveler Daniel Jay projects visuals celebrating our four-legged friends, and L.A.-based artist Sara Magenheimer contributes the second of four video loops created for this L@TE series. Dog Night with NYMPH is programmed in conjunction with the exhibition Flowers of the Four Seasons.

With nary an introduction, the four-piece took the stage and flooded the gallery with copious washes of sound. The blurb above is pretty apt; comparisons to other Japanese bands such as OOIOO, the Boredoms, Boris, and Acid Mothers Temple might also be appropriate, though I sense that the band is deliberately trying to avoid such obvious links. NYMPH’s sound reaches its expressive peaks between guitarist Matty McDermott’s hypnotic, heavily processed riffs, and singer-shaman Eri Shoji’s primal shrieks.

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The set consisted of long, tranced out pieces culled from the group’s debut full-length, out now on CD at The Social Registry. A limited pressing double-disc vinyl set from their personal label the Dog of Juniper is also available directly from the band via their Myspace page. You can also sample their music at either of these linked sites.

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It’s certainly not the most “accessible” music, but that’s exactly why I appreciated their set. Just as our experiences with our canine counterparts aren’t always easy and gentle (especially not with Shiba inu!), neither was this sonic tribute to the Inu in us.

However, I wished for a little more from the visual counterpart to the night’s performance; unfortunately, the images were rather static and synthetic, and thus a poor complement to the audio. Frankly, the projections fell far short of capturing the full range of either NYMPH’s sound or the essence of dogs. There was very little to tie this all together with either the program description or the Japanese art collection currently on display (which is fantastic, by the way, despite the lack of canine representation, though it includes some bold paintings and large, multi-panel screens that are rarely presented in such a cohesive collection outside of Japan).

Ultimately, that’s one of the difficulties of working with abstractions. Yet, abstraction is sometimes powerful in the way it exposes the limitations of its medium. At best, I find that abstract art is less about content or coherent themes, but how a work inspires its audience to imagine completely different perceptual planes altogether.

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