Michael Ormiston

with Ben Owen, Oldfield & Garfunkel, and The Unseemly Trio

The Sussex pub, London / 17 April 2003

This was the very first Klinker night I’ve been to. A bit crummy considering I recently lived for a year just down the road in Hackney from The Sussex, the wonderful fly-blown lung of a pub whose small function room serves as the venue for this regular feast of musical improvisation, poetry and the bizarre.

My main attraction was Michael Ormiston. I’ve long been interested in the complex of shamanism, legend, and wondrous vocalisation techniques to be found in central Asia, across the Altai Mountains, Tuva and Mongolia. So I was excited to see what this specialist in Mongolian Khöömii overtone singing would be doing at a small experimental night like the Klinker.

The other acts were—after a pint or two—entertaining enough. The Unseemly Trio played an incessant round of instruments and noise-emitting objects to create something that haphazardly swung from cacophony to charm. Ben Owen raised a smile with a bit of off-the-wall standup about post-war Baghdad, and some abstract looping sax mixed with effects-laden non-sequiturs. Oldfield & Garfunkel reminded me of some musically gifted friends of mine with impish, irreverent senses of humour. A couple of guitars, a piano, and a will to amuse and bemuse with deliberately off-key deliveries of love songs and skewed, self-effacing blasts of ego. It was the kind of act that is only truly funny to friends of the performers, and hence works best spontaneously, at home, late at night. The difference between these two and my friends is that they decide to get up on stage (well, on the floor, as far as the Klinker goes) and risk self-indulgence for the sake of… art? entertainment? a laugh? Not sure, but at the time I felt—after a pint or two—that they deserved some unreasonably rowdy applause.

Michael Ormiston performed a beautiful acoustic piece on his Morin Khuur, the Mongolian "Horse Head Fiddle", accompanied by his constantly fresh, vibrant overtone singing that speaks of winds dancing across mountain-girded steppes. His Amaan Khuur (Jew’s Harp) solo was no less stirring. Much more deeply engaging, though, was his extended effects-box piece, which found him looping his own Khöömii chants, building up layer upon layer of these already layered tones into an irresistibly entrancing vocal landscape. This gradually segued in a similar creation based on looped threads of Tibetan singing bowls. He focussed intently on moving the bowls around in the air before the microphone—a visual dance that only amplified the hypnotic quality of the soundscape.

The Klinker, then, entered my world as a great place when you’re feeling playfully punkish and open to inspiration by people whose nerve to perform in public—more importantly, to improvise in public, exposing their energies quite intimately for those open to them—is often as revelatory as their musical accomplishments. Michael Ormiston revealed new dimensions in trance-inducing sonics, and inspired me not just to check out his next performance, but to take my interest in seriously studying overtone singing myself up a good few notches.

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