Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The tortured soul of the apathetic reviewer

My first post for a couple of days, been busy elsewhere, initially shifting the mother of all hangovers Monday morning, and then driving off to visit my grandmother in her new nursing home (not a nice experience) and stopping off to take in Stonehenge enroute (a great experience). Unfortunately I didn't think to take my camera this time, but I'll definitely remember it next time I go. The stones set against the red sky of the evening was an incredible sight.

The other thing that has kept me from posting is that I've been writing a few reviews to appear at ParisTransatlantic in a few days. Its something of an experiment for me to write a number of formal reviews together at one time, preferring usually to either pitch in with the occasional piece when something inspires me enough to do so, or just keep things informal either here or in music forums where perhaps perfect grammar and restricted wordcounts aren't an issue.
There is a sense of real achievement for me to write four or five reviews of worth (in my opinion anyway!) in a short period of time, so I am glad I've been doing this, but at the same time, its been tough going. Why tough? Well I'm probably just lazy but also to write properly about something I need to know the music very well, and I listened to each album at least five or six times before setting pen to paper (or fingers to Apple Wireless Keyboard however literal you want to be..)
Undertaking this extended listening, and then findiing the words I want to express my thoughts with is tough for little old me, and what I have found is that by the time I've finished writing I just don't want to hear that piece of music again for a long time! The unfortunate Phono_Phono trio disc on Absinth (that I really like and reviewed very favourably) was filed away fast after I finished with it last night, unlikely to see the light of day again for many months. This is why I don't often review that much, listening to music is meant to be enjoyable!

Yeah I know plenty of people write ten, twenty reviews a week for a living, but as my drunken thoughts suggest in my last post I don't think I could ever do that. For now though, whilst I have some time on my hands I'll keep going and see what happens.

For thse that haven't looked in a while, a couple of new reviews have appeared up at the TAOMUD. blog recently, nicely written and probably of interest to readers here.


A brief note here to say I've been listening a lot today to the new Eliane Radigue reissue on the Lovely Music label called Jetsun Mila. This was recorded in 1986 and as I was only 15 then and as its only ever (I think) had a vinyl release I've never heard this particular work before and as usual for Radigue of that period it is absolutely enchantingly gorgeously beautiful. (me? hyperbolic? never:)
The thing that grabs me reading the liner notes though is that Radigue recorded the piece digitally, way back in '86. Well my knowledge of these things is not the greatest, but digital recording of this kind of music that long ago? I imagine at the time she must have been breaking new ground somehow, but maybe I am wrong. Anyway I'm sure I'll write more on it soon but for now as the moon lights my keyboard through the window and the strong coffee by my side smells fantastic the Radigue is providing the perfect soundtrack as it drifts out of the speakers very quietly behind me.
I'm just an old softy really...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

10 Things I realised this last week...

1. I rather like Béla Tarr's films.
2. I don't like sake, (at least not the cheap sake Julie and I picked up in the week)
3. I couldn't ever write CD reviews to deadlines for a living.
4. You just can't grill asparagus (Correction at Robert's request: Asparagus refuses to let ME grill it :)
5. This blog (scarily) gets over 250 hits a week.
6. I have no idea why.
7.Some people just aren't worth arguing with.
8. I could spend the rest of my life listening to classical music and still only ever scratch the surface.
9. Hedgehogs make quite extraordinary noises if you kick them by mistake in the dark, (sorry Mr Hedgehog...)
10. It can rain as much as it likes, country walks with hugs every half a mile are still great :)

Sorry, normal service resumed next post.

A few of my favourite strings

Down the years Mark Wastell, proprietor of the world's greatest record shop Sound323 has made a lot of CD recommendations to me. I go to bed with the words "Oh that one is essential, trust me" (You'll have to imagine your own Essex boy accent :) haunting my sleep, but if I am honest he very rarely gets it wrong, having learnt my taste down the years almost better than I have. Last year he pointed me towrds A catalogue of sounds the Jakob Ullmann disc on Editions RZ, a release by a composer I had never heard of when I made the purchase but one that turned out to be amongst my very favourites of 2006.

On Wednesday I stuck my head around the door of the shop briefly as I was in town, and whilst I was scouring shelves to find something of interest I was pointed to a disc by Mark that has again proved to be a great little find. Six Duos by Stefano Scodanibbio. Scodanibbio is a well respected contrabass player (contrabassist?) that worked with Luigi Nono a lot, with Nono thinking enough of him to dedicate a composition in his name.
On Six Duos Scodanibbio is the composer as well as playing on three of the tracks. The pieces are performed by Irvine Arditti (violin), Dov Scheindlin (Viola), and Rohan de Saram (Cello) in all six of the possible duo formations. Scodanibbio's composition on these pieces investigates extreme harmonics, testing the muscians and their instruments to the limit in search of finite sounds. The technical stuff is of little interest to me howver. as I like this disc simply because of the way it sounds, the sparklingly bright playing and the playful intertwining of the two instruments. The harmonic elements make for an intruiging listen however. Every so often sounds appear that don't resemble the instruments themselves, the second piece, Escondido for violin and cello in particular begins with a series of high pitched whistles and wails that twist around each other to produce further sounds again. The fifth, Jardins d'Hamilcar for volin and contrabass heaves from sullen bass dwindling into thrashy violin parts and back again with exuberant ease. The best description I can think of for Six Duos is exciting music as it is brim full of colour and energy. This is one CD I think I would struggle to put on and be miserable to, uplifting stuff, thanks Mark.

As my classical investigations continue, another purchase I made this week was a further disc by Dmitri Shostakovich, a split disc of his Sonata for Violin and Sonata for Viola, both rearranged in versions for soloist with string orchestra. I bough this disc because the violin sonata is performed by Gidon Kremer, a musician I have really enjoyed on the previous discs I have purchased of his playing. the Kremer recital is very nice, but I actually found myself taken more by the Viola Sonata, played by Yuri Bashmet, which is a deeply moving, mournful piece, the last movement of which seemed to turn the air cold here as it drifted to its beautiful conclusion... OK, so thats me being melodramatic on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but it sounded good anyway!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wear your art on your sleeve...

In the past I've gotten myself into trouble with a small portion of the online music communities when I've mentioned my love of CD packaging. Designing a nice sleeve and making a CD release into a desirable product is of course a terrible thing to do that places the label owner on a par with McDonalds, but to hell with it, I'll risk incurring the wrath of one or two people and share with you my love of Crouton Music's releases.

Crouton release music in all shapes and sizes, mostly CDs but also the occasional piece of vinyl. My favourite of their designs (and one of my favourite pieces of packaging of all time) encased Keith Berry's lovely album The Ear that was sold to a Fish and consisted of a small brown Kraft box, the lid adorned with a simple photo of a cup of tea, and the inside of the box filled with fantastically fragrant Indian Blue Smalley leaves. To this day one of the best looking, but by far the best smelling CDs I own.

I owe a big thank you to Jon Mueller, Mr Crouton himself for sending a couple of his recent releases today. One, the Alessandro Bosetti disc Her Name is wrapped up in a nice little cardboard sleeve adorned by one simple photo, very elegantly done, but the real gem is the packaging for Mueller's new duo release with Tim Caitlin called Plates and Wires.
I like Jon's music quite a lot, and invariably snap up his releases, his simple, focussed approach to percussion is very much to my taste, leaning more towards vibrating surfaces and elongated sounds rather than any more traditional style of playing. I have only played the disc with Caitlin (who is an Australian guitarist with a similar musical approach to Mueller) the once so far and enjoyed it a great deal, brooding, dark studies in vibrating strings and drums and the mysterious effect these sounds have on each other. More listening is required and will be undertaken with pleasure, but a real joy for me is the packaging the disc came in.

The disc can be found hidden behind a piece of card mounted to the back of a large ten inch square piece of board, and on the front, a large print of the image shown above, a painting by the Milwaukee artist Thomas Kovachich. The press release reads as follows: " Kovacich's practice of dragging paint with devices over large planks of disused furniture creates a visual cohesion with the layers of milky and gritty sounds heard within the recording."

The image does indeed work very nicely with the music, really pulling together the whole package as a quite beautiful object that I feel no shame in pronouncing my admiration for. Apparently the first 25 copies purchased from Crouton also include an additional Kovacich print. No idea if any of these are left but I imagine they are worth snapping up.
Aside from the sheer beauty of the object itself, the sheer level of care and attention that has gone into handmaking these releases just underlines the love for the music and the wish to present it as nicely as possible...
Great work.... buy it here!.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Early summer fireworks and the art of bat detecting.

Last night I shot into London to drop a CD off at The Wire offices, but also to catch an intriguing little concert by Lee Patterson and Ron Mullender as part of the badly named but quite interesting Soundwaves exhibition running at the Kinetica Gallery, a space I was previously unaware of. There were a lot of shows happening in London last night, five I think all told with a lot of crossover between audiences, but I think I might have picked the best one to attend.
I arrived an hour or so early just to figure out where the gallery was before going to find some dinner, and was pleased to discover Lee and Rob setting up outside the gallery, which is situated in the middle of Spitalfields Market, an old, but still fully functional busy market in a now trendy part of London. The market itself is basically a very large metal and glass shed with open sides, so allowing sounds in from outside, but amplifying them around the vast space that is full of metal scaffold and at that time of the evening empty market tables, with workers sweeping and cleaning up at the end of the day.

As the market is close to the city's thriving financial district half of the market area is now made up of trendy restaurants and bars, and right into the evening the area was buzzing with massed conversation, laughter and the crash and bang of working kitchens. Lee and Rob set up their tables in a corner of the market away from the hustle and bustle, but close enough for the sounds to provide a backdrop to the music and for passers by to wander through proceedings.

One pretty bad chicken pizza later I returned for the concert, which had attracted a small but under the circumstances impressive audience that was boosted every so often by intrigued people in suits making their way home from the office, along with the market cleaners who seemed to be as bemused at the goings on as they were annoyed that the throng of people were in the way of their evening's work, and anyoone else using the market place as a short cut to the next nearest bar.

Lee and Rob both work with naturally occurring phenomena to produce sounds that they then amplify and blend together to make music. I was unfamilar with Mullender's work before last night, and I am still not sure if he has any music released on CD, but he was the perfect accompaniment for Patterson, bringing a more acute, direct set of sounds to Lee's generally quiet, gradually developing soundworld. Mullender worked with assorted objects that created all kinds of invisible soundfileds and radio signals that I won't claim to understand. A bat detector was amongst the table of odds and ends, a curious device used either to track down flying rodents, or to amplify everyday ultrasonic sounds so they became audible to the human ear as part of an improvised msuic performance...

Knowing Lee Patterson's music quite well now, many of the methods he uses to create his infinitely detailed sounds are familar to me, but it was nice to hear them in this setting, with the rhythmic brushing of the cleaners sweeping the market and the loud interventions of several paasing emergency vehicles blending into proceedings. Lee began the set with the miked up wine glasses filled with hissing and fizzing Liver Salts that have become something of a totem for his performances, before moving through fireworks, cooling glass bottles placed on a contact miked metal sheet, a series of small flames affecting light sensitive sensors, and probably dozens more tiny events taking place around his table.

The best moment of the concert though happened when one of the market cleaners walked into the centre of the audience and shouted loud at the musicians "When does it go off?" At this point in time Lee had just lit a number of small flames on his table, so I'm not sure if the cleaner was referring to some kind of imagined explosion, or if he just wanted the concert out of his way. Either way he got no response from anyone and so wandered off again. As the music progressed, people walked past, often busy in conversation, heels clattering over the concrete floor. Cars passed, airplanes went over and the sounds of a busy market coming to a halt remained.

This performance felt more like an open air Cagean experiment than it did a concert of improvised music, but thats not a bad thing. Sitting quietly taking in everything happening around me was a lot of fun, and a very pleasing experience. About six hours later when Lee had finally managed to pack away his equipment we sunk away to the pub, where I discovered one of the audience members was Jonathon Coleclough, a musician whose music I have never really investigated enough, but as it turned out he lives not that far from me in Reading we shared a train journey home and had a very enjoyable conversation.

A great way to spend an early summers evening...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

That old question...

In the I Hate Music forum the other day, a listener that I respect the opionion of (and I believe reads this here blog) posted something that made me stop and think. Someone had solicited opinions on Vorhernach the recent album by Axel Dörner and Toshimaru Nakamura on the Ftarri label, to which he responded "I think it's good, but I don't like it. And don't know why."

Well this really got me thinking. how can you think something is good but not like it at the same time? On what criteria do we judge "good" if not the personal pleasure we get from it? I guess we could admire the technical ability of a piece of music, or applaud the dedication of a musician to a project, yet not like the end result, but does that make your response to the final release good? Is pure craftsmanship or even the polar opposite a strong enough criteria to make something "good" without actually liking it? Maybe.

I've heard similar comments made about the music of Derek Bailey in the past, something like "well clearly he's doing great things, but its its just not my cup of tea", maybe I've even said similar things about other people before myself, but is this possible? If you are being honest with yourself can you really say you think something is good but also admit to disliking it?

Just a question. I'm not sure of the answer. Now I have to go and write reviews before Dan Warburton has my guts for garters ;)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Music held up to the light

I've been thinking more about the notion of listening to music properly. By properly I don't mean separating myself off in some hermetically sealed chamber with an amazing hi-fi system, but actually giving the music my attention, allowing myself to try and be 'present' with the music, become involved with it in a more focussed manner. i'm not trying to advocate some Zen-like state of meditation, but just an attempt to really understand the music rather than just let it wash past me.

In the past I've just not done enough focussed listening. A friend who told me he had a "listening room" seemed over the top to me, turning music into some kind of torturous chore, but just recently I can see what there may be to gain from this. Its not that I have been paying lip service to the music, but I just haven't had the time or energy to devote to serious listening, spending the required time probably only when I intended to write something about the music in question. I can make all the excuses of working long hours as much as I like though, truth is I've been a bit of a lazy listener lately.

So I spent a little while today with a CDR of a concert recording that arrived in the post, and the experience served to underline my thoughts above even more. The recording was off the Angharad Davies / Tisha Mukarji / Andrea Neumann trio at the Music Lovers' Field Companion festival in Gateshead a few weeks back that I wrote about here. In my review I said nice things about the set, as I enjoyed it quite a bit, but on the day I had been helping David Reid record the festival, and if you've never had the pleasure of doing it, recording a festival with David can be a stressful experience! Just before the set began there was a massive panic when one of the recorders wasn't working and once resolved I collapsed into my seat with great relief to try and enjoy the music.

What I think then happened is that I struggled to involve myself with the music as much as perhaps I normally would. I say this because the CDR of the show that David sent me of the recording is really very nice indeed. Spending time with it listening to the interactions between the musicians and the spaces they create between sounds has been a very rewarding experience, and above all a very different experience. I wrote somewhere at this blog about how CD releases of concerts can sound very different to your memories of the shows themselves. Well perhaps this could be one reason why, more focus and attention paid at the right time will definitely reveal more...

Incidentally in the new issue of The Wire that arrived here today Nick Cain wrote about the above set; "The trio of Andrea Neumann, Tisha Mukarji and Angharad Davies produced a sequence of inconsequential, unlinked passages" (Thats all he wrote, its a Wire review after all!)... Dear oh dear Nick...;)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Listening for England

The best thing about being free throughout the day is the opportunity to spend some quality time listening with care to music. The pile of stuff here that I've not played at all remains pretty high, and the list of CDs that I've given no more than a cursory spin twice as high again, so plenty of raw material to keep me going. I keep a written list of music that I really want to dig out of the shelves and play again too, a list I add to every so often when something jogs my memory of a great disc. My ambition by the end of next week is to be able to make a start on that list.
Over the last three days my poor CD deck has been red hot as I've revelled in the peace and quiet of an empty house. Being around during the day has meant I've been able to stretch the speakers more, as its hard for me to play music at high volume in the evenings here. I've found myself playing music in patterns. There has been four, maybe five CDs that I have played over and over, they just haven't gone back into their cases. I've tended to play these discs in alternation with new releases from the "Must listen to" pile. So a few really great pieces of music that have captivated me of late have been played a lot; Keith Rowe's The Room, The Shostakovich 14 and 15th quartet disc, The David Tudor compilation on Editions RZ (the second disc in particular) and a couple of Bach 2CD sets; The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo by Gidon Kremer and Six suites for solo cello played by Janos Starker, which is a wonderfully vibrant, alive piece of music sent to me by a man in the know.

In between these "bookend" recordings have been some good, and some not so good first listens. Of the music that has stood out the Korber/Weber/Yamauchi on For4ears, the Phono_Phono on Absinth, Nate Woolley's 3" The Boxer for solo trumpet and the very very wonderful new disc by Klaus Lang on Edition RZ can all be included. Right now the Korean trio of Ryu Hankil, Jin Sangtae and Choi Joonyong's release on The Manual Records is sounding pretty good too, rattling its way around the room.

The best thing about all of this is just the fact I have the time ot not only listen, but listen carfeully... and oh boy I'm enjoying it!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Variations on a theme

This fell through my letterbox this morning, a cut price 6CD set of Shostakovich's String Quartets performed by The Borodin Quartet. I know next to nothing about Shostakovich, and like most of my explorations into clasical music over the last year or so its a purchase that was guided by the opinion of someone I respect, on this occasion obviously Keith Rowe. So far I have only played the sixth and last disc in the set, containing Shostakovich's 14th and 15th Quartets, the last two he wrote.

Both are incredible, but the 15th and last is an incredibly passionate, powerful piece of music. At once clearly a mournful, emotionally charged composition (one of the six parts is titled Funeral March) it is also a wonderful study in colour, the contrast in light and shade and the immense beauty to be found in the use of a narrow pallette of tools. (the six parts of the quartet are all fixed in the same key, providing a sense of restrained simplicity to the music).

The musicians clearly make these recordings special however, imparting an energy and intense passion into the music that elevates it up into the room around you, weaving its way about your head in quite glorious manner. Having only listened so far to one sixth of this set I sense I may have already heard the best of it, but this one disc alone is worth the entry price alone (only £22 for a 6CD set, excellent value). I'm interested to hear if anyone else out there knows this music well and can give their thoughts, but for now thanks Keith.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lessons in listening

Possibly the most inspirational part of my trip to Aberdeen was the opportunity to sit in on a small workshop on improvisation that Keith Rowe gave for a small group of (mainly quite young) musicians. At the risk of paraphrasing his words, the main thrust of what Keith tried to get across to the group centred around his wish for them to achieve a focussed state of individual concentration, an understanding of the space they were sat in, the situation at hand.

Although somewhat abstract, I think I understood where Keith was coming from, although it is hard to put these thoughts into words. In the workshop Keith played the group a few pieces of music to try and illustrate what he meant. He played the wonderful 1967 recording of David Tudor performing Cage’s Variations II from the recent Editions RZ compilation of Tudor’s playing, and a Borodin Quartet rendition of Shostakovich’s 15th String Quartet as examples of musicians performing whilst in this frame of mind, totally involved in the music. Both of these examples sounded amazing broadcast into the room, powerful, passionate works.
He then also selected two different renditions of the same piece of Elizabethan choral music by different performers that I don’t remember the name of. One of the pieces was flat, dull, and completely lifeless when compared to the other version that seethed with energy and vitality, a far more consuming recording despite the same music being played.

As I sat listening to all of this Keith seemed to sum up for me what it is about music that I enjoy, that spark of life, the acute tension that can be felt in the room when the very best music is being played. At intervals throughout the workshop he got the group to try things for themselves, often asking them to think hard and only make one initial sound, perhaps one they had never made before to bring them alive in the room, and only to continue playing if that tension and focussed thought could be maintained.
Every time the group started quite well but somehow within a very short period of time fell into a generic uninteresting form of call and response improv lead by one or two of the dominant voices amongst them. Watching Keith’s face as the group played each time I found myself predicting the points at which he would grimace as the group fell onto these well trodden paths.

Keith’s talk was obviously geared entirely towards the musicians, yet when I lay in bed much later that evening the lessons still resonated with me, and I spent some time wondering how I could learn from this to listen better, to enjoy music more. Essentially, there is nothing I can do as a listener to make the music any better, to have it performed with a greater level of focus… but I can certainly ensure that I miss nothing by ensuring my attention is directed correctly, that I try and find the level of concentration I managed sat in the workshop on Monday. Tonight I played that Tudor disc twice and I’ve realised I had barely scratched the surface of it before.

Here’s to learning to listen…

Thistle be a good title for a post...

Well I had a great couple of days up in Scotland. I'm sure you don't need me to say how much I enjoyed Keith Rowe's solo set as that was always inevitable. He played for around forty minutes and produced a powerful brooding performance that he announced immediately afterwards to have been heavily informed by his visit to the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, where he had played a solo set just a week or so earlier.

My trip to Aberdeen began early evening Sunday, when as I said in a previous post I set out to make the long journey north by train. After a couple of hours travelling I ended up at Crewe station, home to most of the trainspotting community of the UK. I had two hours to kill here before I boarded the sleeper train up to Scotland. Much of these two hours were spent clutching a large cup of coffee in a gloomy waiting room as I worked my way through the ten hours worth of the BBC Radio 4 comedy quiz show I'm sorry, I haven't a clue that I had loaded onto my iPod in preparation for the journey, doing my best to not look like a member of the trainspotting fraternity.

The sleeper train was about how I expected. My 'room' was essentially a boiling hot cupboard with a bunk bed in it, and a sink hidden below a wooden panel that emitted a strange smell when uncovered, so I pretended I didn't know it was there... Sleeping itself was not an easy task. Once I'd turned the iPod off and tried to settle down I drifted off to sleep quite easily as the sounds of the train have never been a problem for me to get to drift off, I find them quite comforting, but staying asleep was a much harder task, as every time the train pulled into a station (and it seemed to stop at every station along the very long route to Scotland) it did so with a real jolt that virtually threw me out of bed and out into the coridoor.

The room was dark with the blinds pulled own so there was little to see on the journey up until I woke at 6AM and decided to forget trying to sleep any more and went for a walk along the carriage taking in the incredible views of a misty morning in the Scottish Highlands as I went. The train pulled into Aberdeen perfectly on time at 8.30AM, an hour after I had been served a cardboard box that apparently was meant to contain a continental style breakfast, but instead housed a piece of croissant flavoured rubber and an odd object that seemed to consist of cereal coated in congealing thick yoghurt. I gave eating a miss and instead made do with the tiny cup of coffee flavoured dishwater that came along with it.

So I left the train feeling tired and hungry and wandered up onto the concourse to be met by Keith Rowe's smiling face, a greeting I wasn't expecting and raised my mood considerably. We then met up with Bill Thompson, a Texan musician that has lived in Aberdeen for a few years now and was responsible for bringing Keith over to play a show. Bill and I met last year at the Huddersfield festival and he's a great guy also making interesting music. One scrambled egg and salmon breakfast with decent coffee later we went and wandered around the Aberdeen Art Gallery, which is a curious mix of the old and new laid out in the most confusing manner possible, with an exhibition of Norwegian diving suits and snow rescue apparatus thrown in for good measure. A good time was had though, and after a couple of hours and a further coffee I set off to find my hotel, taking great care to ignore all directions given to me by Bill. Nice guy, appalling navigator...:)

A quick shower later I met up with the others at the venue for the concert to sit in on a workshop given by Keith, about which I have written a separate post, and then off to grab a quick bite to eat before the evening's events. The opening two sets of the evening were not really my cup of tea, firstly a solo musician whose name I forget that created drones with an electric guitar played in a Rowe-like manner by holding electric toothbrushes etc over the pick-up, but in a very simplistic manner that wore thin very quickly. Then came a quartet of improvisers from Newcastle that rejoiced in the collective name of Improvisers from Newcastle. Their set left me cold, a busy, energetic improvisation for electric bass, violin, and two clarinets that included two of the musicians from Keith's afternoon workshop that really seemed to have decided to ignore anything he had to say.
Keith's solo set rendered the rest of the evening irrelevant however.An incredible performance from a man in a very rich purple patch right now. If you get the chance of hearing him play any time soon I strongly recommend you grab the opportunity.

A late night dinner at a Turkish restaurant about a twenty mile walk from the venue (Bill was navigating...) brought the evening to a close. The next morning we made breakfast last about three hours before I headed back to the station to begin the long journey back home again, this time throughout the daytime. So a great couple of days as far as I'm concerned made special by the good company. Big thanks to Bill and Keith.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

New beginnings and fulfilled ambitions

Well the last week has been a big one for me in many ways. I finally handed in my notice at my overpowering, exhausting job in the week and was immediately placed on gardening leave until the middle of August. Gardening leave, for those unaware is when you are sent home to see out your notice away from work with pay, in my case as a thank you for the seventeen years of service I gave that company. So it feels a bit weird (a lot weird to be honest) but I suddenly have time on my hands and a big weight lifted from my shoulders. Whilst I obviously need to find another job, and I have interviews in the pipeline I'm not in a huge hurry and intend to make the most of this time off, something I haven't been able to experience for a long time.

Alongside all this I've been madly posting out copies of the new release on my Cathnor label, sight by MIMEO. I try to keep my writing here separate from my Cathnor activities, so I won't say any more, but this release has certainly kept me busy.

I also met up with my radio partner in crime Alastair to discuss the new series of audition our radio programme broadcast in London and on the internet by Resonance FM. We are hoping to be on air again in early July with lots of goodies in store for you...

So a busy week that didn't see much time for writing or listening, but obviously I hope that will change very soon. I plan to swamp the internet with my tedious drivel over the next few weeks, so beware!

Tomorrow I'm off on a little adventure too. It may not seem much, but I'm heading off to Aberdeen, Scotland to see a concert by Keith Rowe, whose new CD The Room just released on Erstwhile Records is an amazing piece of music, something I feel totally unqualified to write about, but have been moved by a great deal over the last few days. The adventure though, comes from my method of transport... determined to have a break I am leaving the car at home and am making my way up to the distant wastes of Scotland by train. The journey will take the best part of eleven hours and will involve travelling overnight in a "sleeper" train, something I have never done, and have always wanted to do since I was very small. I have many unfulfilled ambitions in life, but it seemed fitting to mark the start of a new less stressed period of my life by ticking that one off the list :)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Photo of the month No.3

"No table anymore"

Graffiti on a Newcastle wall. Slightly surreal. Would love to know the meaning behing this, but probably never will..

Saturday, June 02, 2007

..waiting for the gift of sound and vision

A short report on a concert that happened last Monday, a while ago now at the start of a hectic week that included a lot of bother from work as well as the adrenalin rush and necessary hard work that a new Cathnor Recordings release brings, but a big enough speactacle of a show that it really warrants mentioning.

The concert featured three audio/visual performances, one each by Ryoichi Kurokawa, the AVVA duo of Toshimaru Nakamura and Billy Roisz and the duo of Sachiko M and Benedict Drew, working together for the first time. I should say upfornt that I often find this kind of multimedia concert hard to really enjoy, and this one was not really any different, although I made every effort to leave any prejudices I might have outside the enormous cavern-like room of the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in London where the show took place.

Irrelevant of the performances themselves, the sheer spectacle of this event was something very special. After some delay the show took place in front of what I estimate to have been between 1500 and 2000 people all sat on cushions in this main hall of the Tate Modern, the room that used to hold the main turbines years back before the building was converted from a power station into an art gallery. I think its safe to say that the likes of Toshi and Sachiko have never played to crowds of anything like that size before, the sheer number of people present testament to the pulling power of the Tate and the established artworld.

First up was Ryoichi Kurokawa, a name new to me but unfortunately not someone I'm going to be in a hurry to see again. Kurokawa's video work ranged from fluttering vector graphics that twisted and turned along with his laptop generated music through to lavish, polished computer graphics that reminded me of the work that accompanied Future Sound of London videos years back, full of spectacular processing power but very little interesting content. The music that accompanied the film inhabited an area somewhere between Mego Records style laptoppery and the more experimental yet still predictable end of techno, full of violent ruptures and the occasional hammering rhythm. The show went down very well with the audience, but left me as uninspired as any concert I've seen for a while.

Kurokawa was followed by AVVA, a duo I have always struggeld to connect with, despite the music side of the duo coming from Toshimaru Nakamura, one of my favourite musicians in a collaborative setting. The way that the sound created by Nakamura affects and distorts the colourful abstract geometry of Roisz's images is an interesting idea, allowing collaboration on several levels, but I cannot help but feel bored by the concept now after seeing the duo together four or five years ago and having spent some time with the AVVA DVD Gdansk Queen on the Erstwhile label. Toshi's music as a solo musician has never captivated me to anything like the same level as his fantastic work in collaborative settings, and effectively the audio element of AVVA is solo Toshi. Overall there is nothing to particularly dislike about AVVA, I just don't feel particularly moved by it either.

The great thing about the AVVA set though, and even more so the Sachiko M / Ben Drew performance that followed, was the sheer impact of the performance once the music was channelled through a huge PA into the massive shell of the hall and the visuals presented on a big flat screen towering above the audience. Sachiko effectively presented the already slightly bemused audience with what I think was just one sine tone, played very loud into the vast expanse. This sounds ricocheted off of the brick walls and flew about the space unpredictably, making the slightest move of your head change how the music sounds, creating artificial waves in the sound as your ears and brain struggle to process what it is presented with. Ben Drew's imagery was suitably restrained, a simple white on black image made up of intersecting lines not unlike a close up of a dew-covered early morning spider's web that gradually shifted in shape and tone as the performance went on.

This set was quite remarkable to experience if somewhat uninteresting musically. The audience response to this barrage of high pitched tone was to get up and leave, and the people moving about in front of you then caused further waves in the sound, leaving an almost nauseous feeling of imbalance that later saw me move to the back of the hall and eventually leave a few moments before the conclusion so as to beat the rush away from the building as I had a last train out of London to catch.

Overall the potential shown for events of this type to be held at the Tate Modern was very encouraging, and it was great to see musicians I like a great deal getting the opportunity to play to such a large audience, but I personally found it hard to connect to the performances themselves, perhaps even in part because of the lack of intimacy in the room.

One odd moment though, on leaving the Tate I walked along the South Bank of the Thames back to Waterloo tube station, camera still in hand after taking a few shots of the concert. I spotted some fairy lights hanging in the trees lining the walk back, and took a photo with a slow shutter speed as I walked along, no time to stop as I had a train to catch. Interestingly the photo came out not unlike an AVVA screenshot...