Thursday, 29 August 2013

Glass Shelves and Floor - Cafo Oto Project Space, Dalston - 23rd Aug

Cafe Oto's sandbagged Project Space hosted this premiere of Alex Ward's 'Glass Shelves and Floor', performed by his newly formed quintet featuring Olie Brice (dbl bass), Tom Jackson (clarinet and bass clarinet), Hannah Marshall (cello), Rachel Musson (tenor sax); Ward conducted and played clarinet.  The piece aimed to combine notated and semi-notated direction with passages of freely improvised material.  It was entirely successful; the passages of improv seamlessly flowing from and contrasting with the complexity of the composed sections.

The music was full of reflection, stillness and subtle activity; it required patient, close listening, and rewarded engagement with a wide variety of sound.  At times the whole ensemble were joined in a clotted mass, generating pointed percussive dots, Ward and Jackson winding wisps of soft tones around scraping strings and Musson's sharp blurts.  Each player took a solo, Marshall's in particular worthy of mention: she bowed a captivating shrill chatter from her cello before sweeping up the neck to play an intricate tangle of notes.  The improv sections of the performance were very effective; in one, Ward conducted Bryce and Musson in a section of sudden stops and dense scrabbling detail.  The non-composed periods allowed for moments of surprise and chance amid the more rigid notated passages. 

'Glass Shelves and Floor' displays yet another side to Ward's already prodigiously varied and excellent output; it's 45 minutes disappeared rapidly, such was my immersion in it; the end arriving with a relatively fiery crescendo.  The brilliant group convened to perform this material played with a mixture of raw expression and spiralling complexity.

Cafe Oto Programme

Sunday, 25 August 2013

We Can Elude Control - Bold Tendencies, Peckham Car Park - 16th August

'We Can Elude Control' is an annual event curated by Paul Purgas that focuses on electronic music and sonic art, this year centered around improvised analogue performances.

First on the bill was Sybella Perry and Iain Woods, a human/machine mesh of Woods' vocals and generated tones from Perry.  Various registers were wrapped around one another, the vocals wide open-mouthed drones giving the proceedings a liturgical feel, like the a tech-cult ceremony.  The audience joining two priests in an electro-baptism.  An intriguing performance, Perry and Woods utilised the venue's natural resonance well, achieving an effective synthesis of concrete, vocal chords, and manipulated electronic tones.

Peter Manerfelt's gave a less polite show.  The sound fired from his EMD Synthi synthesizer resembling a giant revving engine, full of rubberised quaking.  He employed chest-rattling sub-bass in a thumping assault.  Eyeball quivering decibel levels dimmed the lights with every bass hit.  An acid-soaked mid-range planed off curls of brain matter.  An awesome display of cell-quaking zen noise communion.

Anna Zaradny occupied no less fierce territory, a sub-sonic buzzsaw beneath knife sharp upper-register screams, joined by periodic sustained air-raid sirens.  This was Futurist noise, shorn of all club signifiers, unconstrained by any grid or pulse.  Disparate scatterings of glassy sound-shards and low wobbling debris were gradually subsumed in a beautiful drone sculpture, towering and awesome.

John Wall and Lee Gamble unleashed wobbling ghost harmonics run through a harsh noise grinder.  Heads reverberated with industrial piston hiss and sudden obliquely angled feedback shards.  The end of their set saw them attack with brutal death-drums.

The final act of the evening was Miles Whittaker and his booming techno death-rave.  His set was a drilling head-nodding gravity well; a spine of pulsing bass provided a life-line through a wilderness of drone and acid wobble, a dystopic club banger.  This was industro rave of hammering intensity, the creeping dread of his duo work in Demdike Stare abandoned for pure adrenal rush, evoking a dust-choked club, cobwebs billowing around the dancefloor in place of dry ice and lasers.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

London Contemporary Music Festival, Weekend 2 - Bold Tendencies, Peckham Car Park, London, 2nd - 4th August

Steve Noble + Anthony Pateras
 The second weekend of the London Contemporary Music Festival 2013 kicked off with 'New Complexity and Noise', an event exhibiting two strains of avant-garde music practice that emerged in the 1970s, a move towards "the outer limits of density and possibility" contrasted with free-improvisation's move into spontaneous action.  The complexity part of the evening encompassed the furious proliferation of Michael Finnissy, an avalanche of bass notes rumbling like thunder, interrupted by sudden gusts of silence; the violent parps, spluttered outbursts, and contorted bass twists of Aaron Cassidy; a trombone piece by this composer taking in delicate muted whistles and almost feedback-like tones.  A highlight was the second Finnissy piece which was almost gothic in its buttressed grandiosity; each flurry of piano notes only serving to further knot and tangle the music in an ever-plunging elaboration.  Mark Knoop at the piano was a captivating presence, a storm of rapid movement and intensity.  This, for me, was an introduction to some very unfamiliar music; it was effective in making me want to seek out more.

Mark Knoop
 The improvisation and noise part of the evening found my ears in more familiar but no less fascinating territory.  Steve Noble and Anthony Pateras whipped up virulent electronic froth, Noble provided a machine-gun counterpoint, strafing the sound-field with rapid clattering, using small bowls, cymbals, bowed drones, and metallic screams.  It closely meshed with Panteras' synth in a wild dance.  Noble took a solo turn with a clash of cymbals and violent rings echoing off the walls; industrial screams soaking the bare concrete.  Noble is a master of controlled frenzy and constrained chaos.  A Pateras' solo was centred around blurts of pixelated bass blast, like hundreds of tubas blowing in unison; the passing trains, for once, barely intruding on the sound at all.

Russell Haswell

Russell Haswell closed 'New Complexity and Noise' with a set that seemed to be mimic earlier ones and compress their sound into spraying molten audio-shards.  I thought I could detect piano chords and Noble's drums beneath the harsh maelstrom; although, this may have just been an aural hallucination caused by Haswell's pulsing, jagged noise wall.  He occasionally leaned towards something more dancefloor friendly before another deluge of fractured analogue slurry erupted from the speakers.  An impressive, atavistic set, full of texture; it never became merely an exercise in extremity, but extreme it was; a deafening, assaulting, nulling war on ears and minds.  Bold Tendencies was buried in the sound of roaring circuits and raging magma filled wires.  A white-noise expressway to yr skull; a destructive and blissfully transcending ascension.

'Music for Loudspeakers' followed the next day, with a short programme based around pieces exploring the possibilities of loudspeakers as a noise making instrument.  'Secure' created by Ambrose Seddon was an electronic piece, scattered around multiple speakers, making the venue a hissing concrete womb; a comforting cocoon of static, drone, running water, and wind-tunnel blare.  The other piece for numerous speakers by Aisha Orazbayeva consisted of recordings of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony fractured like a smashed mirror; each piece pristine, but a jumbled cacophanous whole that changed with the listener's movement.  A symphonic babble, emphasis shifting as the sound-space is explored.

Pendulum Music

One of the joys of this festival has been its completely open (all events were free), varied and unpretentious approach to New Music programming.  This was never more evident than in the performance of Steve Reich's 'Pendulum Music'; some may have criticised its divergence from austere minimalism but there is only a small imaginative leap from the original score's "pulling it back like a swing" to "pulling back a swing": thus the curators had rigged a series of wooden perches for audience members to swing on, microphones attached to the seats, making short screams or whispers as they passed over the speakers laid on the floor.  It was fun and playful, and well within the artist's intension, enhanced by a sense of participation.  Performed earlier, Alvin Lucier's 'Standing in a Room' was, perhaps, a less successful rendering, rather than a gradual blurring of the recorded voice, Lucy Railton's "I am standing in a car park..." was instead fed back in to the venue in a series of discrete manipulated samples, the recording included a screaming train appropriately, given its persistent intrusion throughout the festival.  It was nonetheless a beautiful whooshing drone, the voice smeared beyond comprehensibility.

Trombones in Spaces

Missing Saturday night's 'Parmegiani, SND, Raime', I returned on Sunday for 'Coming Together', a series of works from an assortment of artists, capped by the Rzewski masterpiece.  Beginning with 'Trombones in Spaces' by Alex De Little which  explored the Doppler effects of moving trombone players around an open space, brass pulses like Reichian sirens washed out by a breeze.  Michael Haleta's '4points, 40 paths' was a shambling zombie orchestra, a room full of people manipulating various objects: combs, pots, clothes pegs, tape measures, poles, while moving around a space marked with coloured dots.  A plethora of sound was conjured from a jumble of detritus, like a Merz chamber group, the players moving to some obscure pattern.  'Glitch' was a contribution from Vitaliji Glovackyte for double bass and tape deck; roaring tape-head fuzz and arco-spark bow scrapes were constructed from a brilliant human/machine interface, the bass fully utilised as a sound-source: taps, rubbed squeaks, furious squalls; the tape-deck intruding with off-kilter interventions.  A voice performance from Vocal Constructivists was a humming buzzing profusion, occasionally like a Schwitters sound poem: playful and humorous, the piece included sandwich eating, weird hand gestures, and massed panting babble.  A found-sound piece from Andrew Hill, 'Abstracted Journeys' included animal chatter, industrial clank, rainfall, steam, birds, chains, and harsh slams; a fascinating collage, brief but full of depth.  'Prayer' by Daniel Harle a composition for violin and electronics saw the soloist's music looped and phased by software, creating a shifting sound-shadow, an impressionistic blurring; recordings of radio chatter and sirens crept in lend a ghostly air to the work, the city bleeding into the music as this festival has; Harle's playing full of beautiful sweeping sadness and flickering echoes.

Coming Together

The climax of the afternoon was absolutely stunning; a propulsive and gripping reading of Frederic Rzewski's 'Coming Together'.  The performance was imbued with a furious but subtle anger.  A soft rippling surface masked raging undercurrents: rolling keyboard riffs, sharp stabs of violin, strident bursts of oboe and french horn, the rapid tinkling of vibraphone, and the repetitive vocals added up to a stunning and powerful performance.  Stirring and beautiful: the bass timbres, sparkling vibraphone, and forcefully enunciated vocals, engrossed the audience.  This was one of the very best live performances I've witnessed and would gladly have submitted to another hour of it.  'Attica' by contrast was a sad lament in place of the former's raging protest.  This amazing group realised an incredible piece of music in a wonderful setting, causing an almost epiphanic moment for this stunned writer.  The gathered musicians were a magical ensemble playing with passion and enormous ability.  A heart-swelling triumph.

Jane Chapman

The final session of the festival was 'Keyboard Breakdown', a tour of harpsichord and piano music, from French Baroque to American Minimalism and beyond.  Jane Chapman seated at the harpsichord tore through the repertoire, playing beautifully, the material diverse and broad, the 18th century music clashing engagingly with the avant-garde activity of Paul Whitty.  She closed with Gyorgi Ligeti's rapidly mutating 'Continuum'.

Persian Surgery Dervishes

A performance of Terry Riley's 'Persian Surgery Dervishes' sucked the audience into a pulsing repetitive vortex of hypnotic drone, a psychedelic blur of tumbling notes and humming pipe-like tones, under shimmering harmonics.  It built to a euphoric plateaux.

Mark Knoop

Closing the festival was Mark Knoop's full-spectrum piano tour.  Beginning with Frank Liszt's 'Unstern!' and terminating with Philip Corner's performance piece 'Piano Activities', the set took in Schoenberg, Mozart, Xenakis, La Monte Young, and Morton Feldman.  Knoop played masterfully, passionately when required, but with lightness and delicacy at other moments.  The sequence was a continuous and gripping procession of music, each piece complementing and contrasting effectively with the next.  As the final note of Schoenberg's 'Drei Klavierstucke' rang out, Knoop began to hammer the piano lid back into the body of the instrument.  Joined by other performers, he, and they, demolished the piano using chains, hammers, and their own hands.  Keys were smashed; strings plucked and rubbed; the whole body of the instrument singing in a violent symphony.  The performance was at once disturbing, the destruction lit by only a single hanging bulb, and exhilarating, the thrill of witnessing something so creatively destructive; 'Piano Activities' was the perfect way to close the LCMF, a performance of real power, the audience shocked out of apathy, a palpable tension in the room.

Piano Activities
This inaugural London Contemporary Music Festival was a great success and a considerable achievement.  The policy of free ticketing ensured a broad and curious audience, the venue was innovative, the programme fascinating, and the performances memorable.  I look forward to the 2014 edition with great excitement.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

London Contemporary Music Festival 2013, Weekend #1 - Bold Tendencies, Peckham Car Park, London, 27th - 29th July

Unfortunately missing the 'To a New Definition of Opera' and 'Lachenmann/Morricone' nights, the London Contemporary Music Festival began for me with the Saturday night premiere of Glenn Branca's 'Twisting in Space'.  The performance felt close and tense with curtains of rain enclosing the sides of the building.  The crashing thunder and dramatic weather outside was easily dragged in by Glenn Branca and his guitar ensemble.  Creating a broiling froth of discordant clangs from massed guitars, the venue was filled with a rumbling, thrashing noise, structured with numbing repetition.  Violent and eventful, the music was packed with screaming peaks and savage caustic troughs, the rhythm section building Godspeed-like tension ramps for the guitar wall to launch off.  At one point, the lights were blown, plunging the group into darkness.  Branca later complained and shouted about technical difficulties before storming off.  His outburst was a satisfying crescendo to the evening in itself.  An awesome introduction to what would prove to be an amazing festival

Glenn Branca's Guitar Ensemble

Programmed for the Sunday was a full afternoon and evening entitled Drone Day; split into two sessions and a number of pieces relating to the "possibilities of static resonance".  Jem Finer began the day with 'Slowplayer', a lengthy set that saw a number of records played at 3rpm or slower, radically altering their sound; a fascinating exhibition of time-suspending drone-hypnosis.  Ornette Coleman's 'Tomorrow is the Question' excavated buried detail: bass roars, carnivorous growls, sharp magnified vinyl crackle, deep aquatic grumble; the music flattened into a crackling, rubble-strewn, undulating moan, like lowing whale-song.  A record of bird song was transformed into alien hoots and mysterious grunts.  Kraftwerk's 'Trans-Europe Express' was squashed into repetitive explosions and gusts of low hum.  Melt Banana's 'Cactuses Come in Flocks', a clanging nightmare of foghorn and rusty gongs, throbbing obscenely.  The subtle intricacies of Steve Reich's 'Music for 18 Musicians' smeared into a slumberous calm in place of its usual prancing energy.  Eric Dolphy's 'Out to Lunch' sounded like the final creaking moments of a sinking ship, its hull compressing, settling on the floor of an oceanic trench.  'Slowplayer' was an enthralling bathysphere dive into deep and murky sonic waters, full of crushing pressure and strange fish.  It resembled a longer form version of Lee Gamble's 'Deviation' album, in which Jungle tracks are shorn of beats and bass lines, leaving everything a haunted ambient ruin.

Jem Finer

Elaine Radigue's early electronic work 'Chry-ptus' was a rapid strobing flicker of clicks buried in a bass morass of fluctuating drone.  Several minutes in a slow cropped beep was introduced, like an ineffectual siren, lost among the rumble.  The piece evolved over time, individual beats and sounds melted into a single whistling tone, bouncing around the walls, filling the space with white aural light.

Steve Mackay performing Elaine Radigue's 'Cry-ptus'

The subtle segue from 'Chry-ptus' to James Tenney's 'Postal Piece No 10: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion' was undermined a little by applause and the chatter of an audience unaware something had begun elsewhere.  A lone percussionist seated at a gong charted a swelling bubble of metallic sound, gradually increasing in volume and harshness.  This was an ultra-austere tour of extended gong manipulation, the performer cresting slow waves of drones, before reaching a screaming, deafening peak; the venue vibrating with harsh frequencies and walls of feedback.  The piece showed the drone at its most savage; a bright, bursting scream, fading into nothing.

Daniel Bradley performing James Tenney's 'Having Never Written a Note for Percussion'
The following piece could not have offered more of a contrast, Brian Eno's sublime 'Music for Airports'.  Its delicacy and beauty was a soothing skull-bandage after the previous trepanning; the four sections were performed with a delicacy and subtlety that was utterly beguiling.  The beautiful ebbs and flows; the celestial angelic sighs and washes of bass; individual clusters of notes anchored within bowed cello and bass; the cooling electronics: the afternoon was stilled and calmed.

Music for Airports

The evening portion of Drone Day kicked off with 'Ma la Pert' and a duo of Tony Conrad and Jennifer Walshe.  This inspired pairing welded the sparks of Conrad's electric viola scraping with Walshe's incredible vocals and measured cello playing.  Walshe started with long elongated "ooo"s, splitting later into babble, interspersed with upper register howls and low bass growls; the bowed noise of cello and viola operating in perfect concert.  At one point, her voice developed a flickering tape-loop effect, a flutter of vowel sounds and rapid trills contrasting with Conrad's sustained rasping buzz.  This was a challenging and confrontational piece, the sound relationship between the performers not at first totally apparent but becoming increasingly clear as they progressed; their music weaved and tangled, knotted and clogged.  The two were hypnotic in unison; a lifting, mind-opening performance.

Tony Conrad and Jennifer Walshe

The day climaxed with Charlemagne Palestine and a cornucopia of stuffed animals.  Performing 'In the Strumming Style' he smeared bass and clusters of high notes together, the extreme rippling repetition running individual chords into a contiguous mass.  Its ever-rolling nature was enrapturing, almost pulse slowing; it filtered out the world.  At the end, Palestine paused, in silence, hands hovering over the keys.  The sound of the venue, and Peckham outside, filled the vacuum; an appropriate end to Drone Day: the background hum of the city, an ever present drone, never ending, ringing down the centuries; incorporated as an ambient crescendo.

Charlemagne Palestine and friends

Monday, 5 August 2013

Live - Horse Improv - Mon 29th July, The Horse, Lambeth, London

Horse Improv is held above a Lambeth pub, the room in a state of what can best be described "faded glamour": grimy mirrors, tattered chairs, flickering lights, a slightly haunted atmosphere; a wonderful setting for an evening of fascinating music.  Zodiac symbols grace the ceiling under the rim of the coloured glass skylight, adding an arcane mood to the proceedings, as if we were at an occult gathering, which in some ways we were; the artists summoning a range of sound-spirits from the aether.

(L-R) Sharon Gal, Hutch Demouilpied, Sue Lynch, Jennifer Allum
 The first group were a quartet of Sharon Gal (voice), Jennifer Allum (violin), Hutch Demouilpied (trumpet/flute), and Sue Lynch (tenor sax/flute).  They conjured a flowing evocation of wind; a summoning of breath, like a long drawn-out exhalation.  The sound was full of fluttering, scraping, and thin wheezing; intricately and closely interlinked, playing as one multi-limbed organism; tense and still, like the edge of a storm.  A ghostly, hypnotising, intriguing performance; it ended far too soon.

Clive Bell (shakuhachi), John Jairo Garcia Rueda (tiple), and Gabriella Swallow (cello) were next on stage.  Their set was full of space and considered silence; a rattling shaky construction that often threatened to dematerialise altogether.  Rueda's tiple and Bell's shakahuchi provided a jagged, fractured bed for Swallow's more strident, interventionist playing; some of her rhythmic work was brave in this setting, like trying to marshal the mist; a futile but necessary shepherd, her cello playing often pinning the others in place with long drones and soft beneath-the-bridge whistles.

Adam Bohman, Daniel Thompson

The third act of the evening was a pairing of Adam Bohman (amplified objects) and Daniel Thompson (guitar).  This group was an interesting pairing of controlled chaos from Bohman and weaving bracketing lines from Thompson.  The guitarist was a spidery presence, dropping a sound-web over Bohman's grinding morass of rubbery industrial racket; flicking delicate glassy notes into a churning cement mixer.  Thompson employed an almost anti-shred technique, completely without excess, holding back and acting as a contrast to Bohman's rumbling abandon.  The duo were the living embodiment of the neighbour in Tom Waits' 'What's He Building?'

Dave Tucker, Phil Marks, Adrian Northover

The night's final group was an ensemble of Dave Tucker (synth), Phil Marks (drums), and Adrian Northover (saxes).  They instantly created a great dynamic; Tucker and Marks conjuring a caustic sound-froth beneath Northover's sharp sax flurries.  Marks' sticks often flailed the air, creating inaudible beats around the actual ones.  Tucker's contribution was a liquid amorphous gloop, flowing around the others like noise grouting.  Northover's playing incorporated sustained tones, long looping runs, and breathe-stretching quacking tongue flutters.  Tucker at one point named the band 'Wet Nightmare'; a more apt moniker would be impossible to think of.

As a new initiate, I urge you to visit future Horse Improv nights.  In places like this and Boat-Ting, you can really experience surprising, exploratory music; witnessing performers exchanging ideas and radical sound gestures in a good-humoured environment of curiosity and openness.
Horse Improv returns in the Autumn.  Listings here.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Live - Lume: Overground Collective + On the Roof - Thurs 25th July, 100 Crows Rising, Islington, London

Lume is a new fixture on the London jazz and improvised music calendar, taking place weekly above 100 Crows Rising in Islington.

The first group on tonight was On The Roof, a trio of Lizy Exell (drums), Louis Thomas (bass), William Scott (woodwind), and Matt Gordon, seated in the audience, provided a composition.  The trio performed a mix of material extremely well; Mingus tunes, complex original compositions, and involving improvisations.  One of their original pieces was particularly enjoyable, a collection of disparate stylings enlivened by a clicking motorik coda.  The individual playing was captivating; Excell's drumming at one point conjuring drones from licked fingers, Scott's sax was full of soul and complex flurries, Thomas' bass weaved the ensemble through knotty passages with ease; a group, playful, experimental, and varied in output.

The next act was Overground Collective, who fielded a small army of musicians using an arsenal of electronics, sax, drums, bass, guitar, trumpet, and more.  They ran through a composition based on the deadly sins, which took in raging string bending fury, gusts of noise, tight driving rhythms, contemplative improvisation, wild abandon, and ordered procession.  It was a performance that grabbed attention throughout its seven movements; the band in complete control of its material but knowing when best to cut themselves loose.  Overground Collective were riotously fun, their music full of invention and twisting reallignments.

Based on tonight's show, Lume looks set to be an essential feature on London's jazz scene.

More Lume information and listings here.