Thursday, February 08, 2007

LMC Festival reviewed and replayed

So my far-too-long review of the LMC festival appeared at ParisTransatlantic on the first of the month and I forgot to mention it here. Since then, Ben Drew has put up good quality mp3s of many the sets st the LMC site as well. The Mp3s are here: , and the review can be read here

Whilst I'm tying up loose ends, a list of just some of the CD acquisitions to arrive at Pinnell Towers over recent weeks:

Various - Improvised music from Japan Berlin Edition 2CD (IMJ)
André Moller - blue/dense (Wandelweiser)
Luigi Nono - the complete works for solo tape 2CD (Stradivarius)
Toshiya Tsunoda - Extract from a field recording archive No.2 (Hapna)
Perlonex w/ Keith Rowe, Charlemagne Palestine - Tensions (NexSound)
Christian Weber - Osaka Solo 3" (C)
Christian Weber - 3 Suits and a Violin (Hatology)
Morton Feldman - The Viola in my life (New Wordl)
Morton Feldman - Routine investigations (Ensemble Reserche) (Montaigne)
Cor Fuhler - Stengam (Potlatch)
Varios - Music Overheard 2CD (ICA Boston)
Bhob Rainey, Ralf Wehowsky - I don't think I can see you tonight (Sedimental)
Jason Kahn, Tomas Korber, Christian Weber - Zürcher aufnahmen (Longbox)
Tomas Korber, Bernd Schurer - 250904 (Balloon and Needle)
The Sealed Knot - Live, Red Hedgehog London29th October 2006 (Confront Performance Series)
Jez Riley French - Field Recordings Vol.20 (Engraved Glass)
Jez Riley French, Lee Patterson - Seeds and bridges (self release)
Jez riley French - Church Flower Stand No.4 3"(Engraved Glass)
Matthieu Saladin - Intervales (l'innomable)

Plus ten CDs from Radu Malfatti's B-Boim label that I won't attempt to list here, and God knows how many more I've forgotten. Oh boy am I having fun catching up with some listening this week!

Where there's a Will...

So a week off from audtion meant that I could rest up on Sunday before heading into London for the first of two days consecutive concert-going taking in performances from Will Guthrie, the Australian (via France) percussion and electronicist, Cathnor recording artist and my nomination for one of this music’s all-round nice guy awards.

Unfortunately the first gig took place at the Red Rose in Finsbury Park, a venue I really hate for many reasons, the least of which being the area it is located in, Finsbury Park not being the nicest place to walk about alone at night.
However I got there safe and sound and met up with Will and we went for a quick Japanese meal before being joined by Alastair and then heading over to a worryingly empty venue for the show.

As the three sets of the evening progressed the audience grew in number, though Monday nights are never good nights for improv gigs in London. The night began with a solo set from Malaysian musician Goh Lee Kwang who played ‘prepared laptop’, an intriguing set-up whereby he mostly worked with motor fans, contact mikes and the like sat upon the keyboard of a laptop, working with the sounds of the objects themselves as well as I think the feedback generated from the miked up hard drive of the machine itself.
It didn’t appear that he was manipulating software a great deal, so possibly not at all, but the music generated was pretty good, a combination of Unami-esque rattles and clatter and rasping electronic drones, spaced apart nicely and allowed to breathe.
Hidden behind the open screen of the computer Goh Lee Kwang gave the impression of some mad professor at work, but the music he made was sufficiently interesting to make me look out for his name again.

Next up was the first solo Will Guthrie set I had ever witnessed. Guthrie’s table of detritus looks not unlike you would imagine a Keith Rowe car boot sale table might look like, but with a percussive slant. Springs, (including one giant vehicle suspension example) chopped up cymbals, assorted metal bowls with all kinds of stuff inside them, a radio, a dictaphone, endless contact mikes and a cheap throwaway camera (the flash messes with feedback signals) all played their part in making up the music.

Guthrie began playing whilst the audience were still settling, a metronomic tapping of metal on metal growing, met by a cloud of feedback and Guthrie’s repetitive striking of a deep cymbal to his side forming a basic structure that would reappear throughout the set. The collage of sounds was made up of a rich combination of metallic clatter and scraping, floods of static laced with the occasional hint of distant radio broadcasts and softer warm tones generated from a variety of places, including a series of tuning forks he struck on his knee before placing against a cymbal to create a brief rising swell of warm sound.

Watching Guthrie play adds a visual element to his music that builds on the slightly chaotic, yet beautifully controlled tension he works with, like a sculptor building something beautiful from scrap metal his work fits together perfectly yet retains dangerously sharp edges up close.
This was only the second live show Will had performed in quite a few months and at his own admission the music was rusty (no pun intended) around the edges in London, but with several more nights of a short tour to come it was a fine start to my ears.

The evening ended with a performance (performance being the operative word here) by Tim Goldie, a percussionist that goes by the name (for reasons I’ve never fully understood) of “” (sic) Goldie.
Set up on the stage whilst the other musicians had played to the side of the room, Goldie’s drunkit filled a large part of the raised platform, a full-on rock set-up with a table beside it with a single guitar amp on it and a snare drum.

Goldie is a frequent playing partner of Mattin, and when he strode up on stage dressed in combat trousers, a fedora hat and black CHiPS style sunglasses, casting a cape to one side as he went, his Mattin-like interest in Whitehouse became immediately apparent. I feared the worst as he sat behind the monolithic drumkit, but was then pleasantly surprised by his playing. He began by scraping a spinning cymbal against the head of a drum, increasing the pressure to change the pitch, and then moved into a well considered impressionistic set made up of similar methods, stroked drums and disjointed strikes, that was playing with no small amount of skill.

After fifteen minutes or so however, Goldie got up from behind the kit and switched on the amp, allowing it to omit a deep growling hum that vibrated the snare drum in front of it as it buzzed away. He then picked up the snare at intervals, and raising it to his mouth he screamed Mattin-like lines of incomprehension into the drum with no small amount of angst ridden drama sprinkled into proceedings.

He then pulled a second snare off of his kit and left the two drums in front of the amp which he turned up again to fill the room with an agitated roar. Goldie then climbed high onto a small ledge above his drum kit, striking a crucifix pose with a drumstick waggling in each hand before jumping down and reaching into a bag beside the stage taking big handfuls of drumsticks and hurling them at this set with a dramatic shout. He did this thee times, probably throwing around a hundred sticks in the end (God knows where he got so many from) before he strode across the room and straight out of the Fire Exit into the street to end the set.

In all this was highly amusing and when Goldie didn’t return I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be concerned for him as he left in shortsleeves and it was very cold outside. I’m really not sure how much of his set was meant to be funny, but after he stopped playing the drumkit and turned on the amateur dramatics I found it hard to take him seriously.

The following morning I set off in the car for Nottingham, a couple of hours drive to finally meet up with Will and a whole bunch of other people prior to the night’s show at the Rose of England pub in the City Centre. The concert was organised by the quite ridiculously young looking Patrick Farmer, who has managed to turn Nottingham into a great place to see music, having put on recent shows by Jason Lescalleet, Wastell/Beins and Le Quan Ninh to name just a few. A good forty or more people attended the show, with a very low average age across them, an inspiring turn out in these beleaguered times.

Will Guthrie opened the show tonight, sat at a table amongst the audience, and again he began playing without warning, the same metallic tapping sounds slowly quieting the crowd as they realised that things were underway. From there on the music took on quite a different feel to the night before however, with a more gentle, spacious feel to it, the details in the sound allowed to come to the surface better. In places the spaces in the music really opened up, allowing sounds to develop a little rather than becoming consumed in the deep collages of the night before. A faint recording of what sounded like an old jazz record seemed to appear at one point, and throughout the set there was a feeling of pre-recorded material drifting in and out, but the sounds remained so poorly defined it became hard to tell them apart from the acoustic sounds Guthrie worked with, or they may not have existed at all.

About two thirds through the set a swell of electronic noise was allowed to suddenly fill the room, sitting there for a few moments before subsiding into the rubble again, a moment that shattered the fragile structure of the music quite deliberately, causing the audience to readjust their ears before rebuilding the piece again.
Guthrie’s approach to music feels almost cubist to me. There is a sense of different parts of other music and eveyday life forced together alongside each other, holding together but with an internal tension. There is little layering in his music, with small events happening in succession creating a bustling sense of momentum rather than a drone carrying things along, much of the impact of the music coming from the juxtaposition of different sounds.
This second show was much nicer than the set the previous evening and was one of the best live sets I’ve seen in a quite a while.

The tone was changed quite dramatically with the following performance, a series of short solos by Korean born, New York based cellist Okkyung Lee, a musician that has played often with john Zorn and appears on a number of Tzadik releases. Lee’s playing came straight out of the downtown NY jazz scene to me, fraught, urgent attacks on the strings and some softer high pitched passages I rather enjoyed, but always playing the strings, working with the natural vocabulary of the cello rather than trying to go beyond.
She was then joined by Oxford based bassist Dom Lash for an energetic, nicely nuanced duo in two halves. Whilst Dom has recently worked with different approaches to improvised music, this set sat in an area I generally don’t listen to much these days, leaning as it did towards more traditional areas of free improv. On this occasion however, it was very nice to take in after what had come before it. Whilst the music trod old paths, the wonder of watching two musicians that haven’t played together before find a common language in front of an intimate audience remains as special as ever.

The night ended with a duo performance of Lee Patterson and Jez Riley French. Both musicians generally work with a mixture of field recordings and live manipulations of acoustic events. I have never seen Riley French play live before, but having had the opportunity of seeing Patterson several times recently I was looking forward to this set.
They played for just over half an hour, and in all honesty the first twenty minutes were really uncoordinated, with Patterson feeding two or three field recordings together, the sound of an egg frying at one point mixing with water sounds and other natural phenomena, but Riley French didn’t seem to be contributing much at all. A large upturned battered cymbal sat before him and he occasionally stroked it with a beater, but if anything emerged sonically from this exercise it was lost on me.

Riley French then dropped something heavy off the edge of the table with a thump, and this accident somehow seemed to provide the catalyst for the set to move away from merely a blend of Patterson’s field recordings. The final ten to fifteen minutes saw Riley French produce a deep rumbling sound from the cymbal, and some recordings he seemed to be playing resembled doors opening and closing, and these occasional inputs sat nicely with Patterson’s very quiet, unidentifiable sounds resembling electronic chatter .
This music slowly broke down towards a charged silence when small interventions from Riley French appeared every so often, and Patterson lit a flame beside a contact mic, with the faint crackle bursting forward very so often to provide the set with a very nice gradual ending to the piece as the duo slowly let their sounds die away and the cars passing by outside the city centre location took over from the music as the room sat in silence. A very nice ending to what started as an awkward performance.

So I spent the night in Nottingham, then went for a wander early next morning before meeting up with the musicians at a very nice little tea house that proved to be the saviour of an otherwise pretty awful city centre. Particularly impressive was the tea shop owner’s ability to keep a straight face when he brought me my plate of marmite on toast along with a great cup of Sencha…

So a good few days all round and some fine music. This weekend I get to take in even more if all goes to plan.

Irish Highs

So a few days off work and a good time had. I booked this week off of work months ago, and very good fortune meant that several gigs fell together at the same time.
At the weekend then, I flew over to Dublin on a cheap flight to catch a concert of The Sealed Knot at the Project Arts Space, but also to catch up with some good friends.
As my last post (genuinely sent via smartphone from the airport at 4AM in a tired, somewhat melancholic mood) suggested, the airport was very empty, which was also the case on my flight, on which there were bizarrely more stewards than passengers, as the latter numbered only four!

Sitting on a ‘plane under these circumstances made for an odd listening experience. Every sound the aircraft made seemed amplified further around the empty seats. I never successfully mange to listen to music on aeroplanes at the best of times, so I took the option of reading a book (Murukami’s Kafka on the shore at present) and just listening to the deafening roar around me until the air pressure changes stopped my ears from working anyway. The flight is only just over an hour, and we touched down in a misty Dublin at about 8AM. With only four people on the ‘plane, identifying your luggage on the conveyer belt in the arrivals lounge was the easiest I’ve ever known!

I love Dublin. I’ve only been there the once before, last year, but it already feels like a second home. This is partly down to the relaxed atmosphere of the place, but also partly down to the good friends I have there now. I stayed with Paul Vogel, laptopper, clarinettist, owner of as many CDs as me and one of the organisers of the Sealed Knot show as part of the i and e: organisation.
Before the show Paul played me some of the work in progress he and David Lacey are working on, and very excited I am about that too.

The gig in the evening was very nice. The support came from a young Irish pianist called Rob Casey who played a solo improvised set for half an hour or so that seemed to contain influences from just about every source imaginable, beginning with some very Tilbury-esque Feldmanisms with occasional inside piano scrapes. After about ten minutes there was a notable change in gear and a more aggressive urgent playing appeared, reminding me of Cecil Taylor, yet still falling back into little melodic patches every so often. As the set ended things seemed to have slipped all the way into more jazzy playing, with tiny fragments of tunes seeming to appear, though this could have been my imagination. Overall, Casey’s playing was assured and he looks like he has a lot of good music in him, but in this set I would have preferred a little more focus and structure rather than the mix and match of styles and pace that we heard.

The Sealed Knot have been playing together for an awful long time, longer than musicians in this area of music usually play together, but the international nature of the group means that opportunities to play together are infrequent, and plenty of time to reflect on the direction of the music can be found between shows.
The last time I saw The Knot (as we cool people call them) was in London back in October when they played two sets at the Red Hedgehog. On that night the first sound that came from the group was Mark Wastell attacking the bass with a frantic thrashing bowing that took most of the room by surprise. Things settled down into a darker, more brooding style as the set went on, but the mood was set from the off. The second set saw a return to the clockwork-like, almost mechanical forms that the group have developed and made their own down the years, but taking this to new levels. I was sat with Alastair at that gig and he compared the music to The Necks, the cyclical nature of the music pointing that way.

So I was a little surprised when the music the trio made in Dublin showed a marked return to their reductionst past. Right from the start the group (Burkhard Beins, percussion, Rhodri Davies, harp and Mark Wastell, double bass) played very quietly, but also very slowly. They work with a grey, textural palette that is mostly noteless, but with a lot of overlap between the sounds made by each of the musicians.

A lot of silence was allowed into the set, which was a tense, austere affair all round. I was sat front row centre with my nose about two foot from Rhodri’s harp and even then at times I was struggling to hear the sounds they made, the movement of a bow or a brush across a string or a drum becoming almost silent gesture, particularly during a section near the end of the performance when it felt like time had stopped, with each of the trip bowing the frame of their instruments yet exerting as little pressure as possible.

It would be wrong to suggest that the music was of Sugimoto proportions however as there was also a lot to be heard amongst the hush. Beins made use of his now familiar automatic firelighters and Davies put an ebow to use in places, but in general the music was formed from the bowing and caressing of the acoustic instruments
The Sealed Knot have developed an incredible sense of timing over the years, and this grows stronger with every performance, an ability to produce the right sounds out of nowhere at just the right moment and then repeat them with precision to form the revolving, rhythmic patterns in their music that settle for just long enough before they are altered and sent off in a different direction.

The Dublin performance came straight after two festival concerts in Europe, and whilst fatigue had begun to take its toll on the musicians the benefit of having played together during the preceding days seemed to result in a closeness in the music that was even more profound than I had witnessed before.

The Red Hedgehog concert has just been released as part of the Performance Series of CDRs on Mark’s Confront label. Contact him at to get a copy. I thoroughly recommend that you do.

After the show much merriment was had in the bar of the Central Hotel, and after an aimless wander around the city at 2AM trying to find somewhere that would let us in proved fruitless the night was over. I flew home the following morning after spending a little time with my camera in the city. A few of the pics can be seen here:

Thanks to Paul, David, Dennis, Burkhard, Rhodri, Mark and Miso for a good time.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

4AM In an airport waiting lounge

The patron saint of restauranteurs is St Laurence of Rome.
Don't ask me why, but that's the kind of thing you learn at 4AM in an airport waiting lounge. That little gem of information came courtesy of a napkin that came free with my 'Great British Breakfast', which was a superb example of just why Britain isn't so great anymore, and eaten at an American restaurant chain staffed by half of Poland.

This time of the morning the place is dead. The vast plastic expanse of seating areas and closed retail opporunities rests at this time, with just a few lonely bodies making their way across the concourse, quiet voices echoing across the space coupled with the click of heels and the pulsing whirr of suitcases on wheels following faithfully behind.
Above my head an escalator gently whines as it turns over, carrying nobody nowhere at this time, but giving the hall a continual comforting backdrop of sound punctuated occasionally by the clatter of crockery from a far off restaurant and the occasional explosion of activity as a door flies open and an airplane staff team purposely heads off to wherever they are going.

Closing my eyes and listening here, the hall is full of life, yet somehow its all surpressed, as if the building is catching its breath before a new chaotic day begins. The unmistakeable smell of burnt toast drifts across the concourse as the tannoy kicks in with a blast of static and a call for somone called Simon to return to the security desk at check-in station 3.

I always enjoy this time. The first day of seven away from work and about to fly to Dublin to take in a great city for a couple of days along with some good music in good company.

Now I wonder who the patron saint of duty free perfume counter assistants is?