Jo Quail’s arresting performance at Bristol’s Exchange

Deborah Finamore September 29, 2019 0
Jo Quail

The internationally acclaimed composer and cellist Jo Quail put on a mesmerizing show at the Exchange in Bristol supporting Emma Ruth Rundle on her UK Tour. But it was clear from the fans gathering beforehand that many were there for Quail. Armed only with her beautifully crafted electric cello, the crowd waiting silently, she begins to take us on her multifaceted journey.

Her well thought-out precision and fluidity enamours the audience throughout. With White Salt Stag she uses both her hands and bow for percussion, creating the underpinning beats and rhythm using a system of loops. It has a haunting and very slow building tempo; this extended tension painting an intensely dramatic cinematic picture. This track is referring to a ‘chase’ but it is slow and steady, with overlapping of loops dictating the harmonic structure. Her innovative use of a loop peddle and other effects is interesting, and it means that she is able to create a varied texture in her performance. 

Quail and her electric cello

Gold is similar in depth and drama, her ode to the earth, the thud of the cello’s heartbeat reverberating through every person present’s chest. The heavy use of overdrive pedal complemented by tremolos adding further layers and sharpening Qual’s characteristic building of tension. The strings continue to add to the tension as they climb higher and higher until there is a release of deeper but still just as jarring chords. It elicits a sense of foreboding, perhaps a sense of what is to come on our increasingly diminishing planet.

Mandrel Cantus is somehow even more unnerving – Quail’s use of effects and delay create a disjointed beat; the clanging is reminiscent of some kind of depiction of a post-apocalyptic work house. This, layered with the chilling use of strings, evokes an eerie sense of uncertainty. They act like horror-esque stingers sprawling over the beat and further heightening the tension.  Finally, there is some short-lived reprieve with the string picked melody, we have some melodic flow over the intensity, but the respite doesn’t last long. It is quite a jarring journey.

But there is some relief with Adder Stone, it has comparatively more of a comforting and jovial rhythm. Nevertheless, the droning and sprawling sounds begin again to phase in and out, then they become more and more sudden and random. Then the stinger is back, getting progressively higher and higher. It’s almost as though the music is toying with the listeners.

Her eyes are closed throughout the majority of her performance, and her stage presence is minimal. Her interaction with the audience is awkward but warm. Overall it is a very insular performance, we are just spectators observing her feel her way through her creations.

The listener could also close their eyes and imagine being anywhere. Her abstract music encourages a divergent perception, each person listening can see, hear and experience different things from her music.

Her talent is undeniable, proven by her ability to stand strong as a solo performer. It is clear that a lot of time and development has been put into her composition. Although it seems more of a film score than your usual Thursday night at the Exchange, it is also not your typical background music. Nor of course is it something to rock out to. It’s hard to know where to place it, but maybe that’s the point.

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