BLOG POST #1: On The Beat - With Alessandro Fongaro - #1

BLOG: North Sea Round Town door Richard Foster #1 – ENGLISH

BLOG POST #1: On The Beat – With Alessandro Fongaro

Picture this: a sunny June evening lights an old farm surrounded by fields, midway between Rotterdam and Delft. Set back in true Dutch fashion, the buildings face an adjacent road, separating them from the river Schie. There’s one bus service in, one out.

Walk down the farm track to a mildly bucolic scene with a marked twenty first-century accent. No true beauty without decay… The buildings the subject of tasteful renovation. Signifiers are everywhere. There’s a vintage Peugeot parked up behind the pop up bar in a barn. In the farmhouse proper chandeliers hang in the rafters. Nearby, notices tell us to go easy on water use. Gentle reminders of a working past, urbane dreams and a sustainable future. Outside, milling around the awning of the temporary stage, we spy an audience bedecked in linens, scarves and expensive sportswear. The songs of chiffchaffs, wrens and chaffinches explode intermittently from the trees, unnoticed. Tasteful snacks are on offer and friendly dogs nose around the various groups. City folk in the country.

Standing next to me and clasping his beer bottle by the neck, Alessandro Fongaro shifts from foot to foot. He wants to get on with it. Three days of work, here, in the Boerderij Driebergen with his co-creatives Carmen van Mulier and Jelle Roozenburg. The sound is ready to grow legs and get out there, but there’s the opening speeches to negotiate and the sound levels to check. Alessandro tells me it’s been a full three days, a three-headed negotiation around “how a process can become a performance.” An eclectic time, too; noises and conversations were recorded and texts tried out and chosen. Dostoyevsky, Plath, Pavesse. Anything to hand, in fact. Carmen wanders around, nodding to people, getting herself in the moment, maybe finding the correct psychic channel to express the memory of all that work into forty minutes. Jelle jokes wryly about why cables can suddenly stop working on his analogue synth. An old tale, told to banish bad luck. I’ve heard it before.

Finally, they take up positions behind a long table under the awning: from left to right, an analogue synth and mixer sprouting cables, a tape recorder, a Korg, and other electronic bricolage. Bass and leccy guitar lean on cases. Suddenly there’s sound, noise. We hear a recorded conversation, relating memory to action, decision, it repeats. A memory of uncertainty: “how are we going to end this?”

We start to wade out into the music. The sounds, a deep rich mix of electronic particles, coalesce just out of our sensory barrier. Trying to place it all is akin to looking at huge plantations of seaweed under the ocean’s surface. Best just accept it and do what Joan Didion once wrote, trust the tide. Jelle plays a lick or two on his guitar which reminds this old soul of Vini Reilly now and again. Perhaps it’s the way his hand slides down the fretboard. Alessandro’s playing electric bass this evening. At times his eyes close, as if he’s feeling through three days of memories, the only guide the four strings and the bass’s neck. Carmen declaims texts and sings a melody line or two, clearly, but quietly at first, dropping in content where needed.

Action: Carmen trots off to behind the stage and reappears, her black outfit swapped for a grey suit and hat and a shaking gait: choleric in character, a sinister take on Chaplin’s clowning. She faces the audience and spits out words of a text to us, backed by a sound that slips through memory holes, bringing back snippets of the Cosmic Jokers, or the briefest whiff of the stews cooked on Pangea or Agharta. It’s a lot to take in. Carmen breaks the spell by pressing play on an old tape player. Off the three walk, stage left. Was that it? We’re not sure. There have been too many surprises to negotiate this evening.

After the gig we lounge around, the balmy evening rays not able to dispel the chill coming off the Schie. What did we see? Can you remember what you didn’t experience?


Journalist Richard Foster writes a blog for selected performances at North Sea Round Town 2024. Richard writes regularly for The Quietus and Louder than War and has written for Vice (Noisey) and The Wire among others. 

Photography: Eric van Nieuwland