Live Report: MSHR & Max Eilbacher @ Hollow Earth Radio (11.27.2015)

Posted by on December 2, 2015


Last weekend, some three dozen diehard experimental noise fiends packed into Seattle’s Hollow Earth Radio to indulge in a post-Thanksgiving performance by Portland, OR multimedia duo MSHR and Baltimore-based musique concrète wunderkind Max Eilbacher. Despite there being no local bands on the bill, the tiny room was filled to capacity, impressive for a show booked on late notice over a holiday weekend.

Eilbacher, whose lauded Spectrum Spools LP Red Anxiety Tracers made Dwight’s year-end list back in 2013, opened the show with a captivating set of manipulated field recordings; his intimate found sounds made ominous and alien with discriminating use of MaxMSP. It was my introduction to Max’s work so I’ll definitely be checking out more.

Next up was MSHR. For the uninitiated, MSHR (pronounced “Mesher,” or just “M-S-H-R”) is the performance/sound art collaboration of Brenna Murphy and Birch Cooper. I’ve been fortunate enough to see these two perform several times over the past few years, and while certain elements tend to be constant — copious amounts of fog, lasers, mirrors, wildly idiosyncratic hand-built gear, sunglasses — I’m always amazed by their ability to simultaneously adapt to and completely transform the space they’re playing in.

As with all performances, video does not even begin to do MSHR justice, but I managed to capture about eight minutes of their set so here it is, with a caveat that this is one band that you absolutely must see live to truly appreciate.

At the heart of MSHR is an array of sculptural instruments designed and built by the artists. Light sensors inside 3D printed translucent cases control oscillators that in turn control the lights to create feedback, resulting in a synaesthetic experience that is kinetic and ritualistic in a way that contemporary noise artists seldom achieve. MSHR performances stimulate an audiovisual overload, using time, space, light, and bodies in motion as raw materials to occasion a very distinctive sort of transcendence.

Let’s be honest: years of music fandom have left me pretty jaded about live performances, even by my favorite bands, but I have yet to witness a sub par performance by MSHR. Their shows are as consistently impressive as they are idiosyncratic, and this one did not disappoint.

MSHR are on a West Coast tour with Max Eilbacher through December 7, full dates here.