Remko Scha
The Machines
Nottingham Contemporary
FREE - Saturday 3rd June (Doors 7pm, Performance 7.30-9pm) - Register via here.
Performed by Samuel Vriezen

"One of the definitive modern NYC guitar works" (Byron Coley, The Wire 231).

Coinciding with his solo exhibition at Nottingham gallery TG, Remko Scha's The Machines will make their first UK performance since playing at the ICA in 1983. The Machines consist of mechanical devices that play suspended electric guitars via lengths of rope. A composer controls the intensity of the machines which in turn affects the sound & rhythm. Since Scha's death in 2015, The Machines are currently operated by Dutch composer and musician Samuel Vriezen.

More information about Remko Scha is available via the exhibition page here.

Performance foreword by Byron Coley:

            "In the spring of 1980 I was living in the offices of NY Rocker on Fifth Avenue near the Flatiron Building. On an average night I'd hit two or three clubs, usually ending up at TR3 down on White Street if they were open. During its brief life, TR3 was usually the most interesting place in town. Hilary Jaeger booked lots of late period No Wave stuff, along with jazz, punk and whatever else caught her fancy. Anyway, I headed down there one night in April to see Glenn Branca's new group, who had just released Lesson No. 1 as the first record on Ed Bahlman's 99 label. Branca headlined that night, and I'm sure it was fine and dandy, but I honestly can't remember a damn thing about his set. The reason for this was the opening act: Remko Scha.

            About this mysterious guy I knew nothing. But I supposed he was the skinny, bespectacled gentleman fiddling around with the electric guitars strapped to stools. There was also an electric fan with rubber or cloth straps attached to its blades, and perhaps something like a mounted electric drill with straps attached to its rotor. Looked pretty cool. I watched him for a while, and wandered over to talk to Simeon Gallu in the club's DJ booth. Then the clamor started.

            My initial thought was that I was hearing percussion. Stefan Weisser had been popping up all over town doing crazy found percussion sets as Z'EV, and I assumed he had hijacked another stage. As I went around the corner to look, however, I realized the music was far more propulsive than Z'EV, and recalled the dude with the guitars and machines.

            Mr. Scha's performance was almost more like an engineering demonstration than a concert. He would go around and change the way a guitar was canted, or deal with the fan vibrating out of the range of strings, but his approach was technical rather than theatric. And what I first perceived as cacophony began to show its subtleties as I concentrated on it. There was a non-controllable randomness to the way the machines interacted with the guitars. And the tones they emitted ranged from chiming to thudly. I was entranced.

            There were similarities to some of the stuff I'd heard from Rhys Chatham's post-Gynecologists unit, and also what I was anticipating to hear from Branca's new post-Static ensemble. But the machine angle was what really amazed me. Some of the No Wave bands, notably Teenage Jesus and Dark Day, had tried to remove emotional humanist elements from their music. And there were German groups, notably Kraftwerk, who had posited a whole Mensch-Machine concept as an inevitable cultural advance. Scha's work seemed to take these threads into account and present its own speculation on where things were headed. A future neither utopian or dystopian, but one in which man and machine continued to work in parallel, doing that which must to be done.

            Of course, at the time, I didn't bother thinking through all this. The sound of the show was mesmerizing. My subsequent description of it to friends didn't do it justice. As time went by, I began to wonder what I had actually witnessed. Nobody I knew seemed to have heard of this Scha guy, and I never saw anything written about him or possible upcoming shows or anything else. I started to figure the whole thing had been a one-off. A couple of years later, I was working at the Rhino Records store in Los Angeles. Opening a box of goodies someone had ordered from NMDS in New York, I saw an album called Machine Guitars. It was the first real evidence I had that the whole thing hadn't been a hallucination.

            As time went on, I would learn small bits of new information about Remko. And once the internet blossomed his biography became visible, and I discovered how celebrated he was. But I almost still prefer to think of him the way he first appeared to me -- as a kind of Futurist fever dream amidst the deserted expanse that was Lower Manhattan back in 1980."

TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines
TG Remko Scha The Machines

This performance forms part of Object Performance, a series of commissions presented by TG & Primary, combining residency and exhibition formats, alongside new performances. TG's contribution to this programme also includes performances by Jan Vorisek and Andrea Neumann & Anna Susanna Woof.

All photographs & video taken by Reece Straw, courtesy Remko Scha & TG, Nottingham.