Commenting on the recent Muse show, I said that I preferred seeing some cutting-edge indie band playing to the faithful few rather than arena rock played in a stadium. Last Saturday night, I got exactly what I preferred at Atlanta's minuscule Drunken Unicorn club.
Noveller is a one-woman band consisting of Sarah Lipstate on heavily treated guitar. Her basic approach is to create a loop based on a sample of her guitar, and then to play over that loop with long sustained notes, additional loops, and other effects. Occasionally, she bows the guitar strings like a violin, once even laying the guitar down on a barstool and bowing across the neck. The effect, as you can hear below, is a sort of meditative, ambient soundscape.
The immediate comparison, at least for me, was to Robert Fripp (King Crimson) during the Fripp-and-Eno era. I was lucky enough to see Fripp perform during this period at The Kitchen in New York City on February 5th, 1978. The date marked Fripp’s debut as a solo performer and the first public unveiling of Frippertronics, his approach to looped and sustained guitar playing similar to that now employed by Lipstate. At the time, lines spread around the block in freezing cold weather for Fripp's Kitchen performance, requiring an impromptu second performance to try and accommodate the number of fans. For me, it was one of those unforgettable performances, a chance to see an artist put aside his rock-star persona and just disappear into an virtual soundscape of his own device (although Fripp never really did fit the stereotype rock-star image anyway).
However, no lines spread around the Drunken Unicorn last Saturday night, and on her MySpace page, Lipstate identifies neither Fripp nor Eno among her influences, but instead lists No Wave noise bands like Nurse With Wound and Sonic Youth among her influences (along with several other bands I've never heard of). Which, of course, is fine, artist's prerogative, and both Nurse With Wound and Sonic Youth were themselves influenced by Brian Eno, if not by both Fripp and Eno.
Lipstate plays the pedals and electronic devices spread across the stage in front of her as much as she plays the guitar. She can usually select the effect she wants with her art-school boots and skinny jeans, although occasionally she is required to kneel down on the floor and manually manipulate her devices. If you allow that there's such a thing as a zen of music, it must surely sound something like this: creative and original, quiet yet forceful, both serene and agitated, and with absolutely no trace of ego. Her music is both exceptional and outstanding. There are far too few artists today striving for the plateaus she seems to so effortlessly achieve.
Lipstate is indeed a unique artist: on her personal website, in addition to her Noveller videos and blog, she hosts some of her experimental films as well as her photography. It's worth checking out, and here's a sample below in case you need any more motivation.