Monday, August 27, 2007

Local delicacies

Well it was nice to get out in the sun yesterday afternoon and wander slowly over to Oxford for the gig I mentioned in my last post. It was so nice to just pop down the road for a concert. Its been years since I attended an Oxford show, a mixture of laziness and over-pickiness on my behalf has kept me away really. I keep promising myself I'll do this more often. I won't go into detail on all four of the sets. Suffice to say that a couple of them weren't really my cup of tea, Divine Coils are a local, very young duo I'd not come across before who showed promise, crouched on the floor with a mixture of electronics and acoustic instrumentation, metal prayer bowls, violin etc. The soundworld they worked in was nice, but their use of the sounds was youthfully naive, just far too much going on, and it sounded like most of it going on just for the sake of it. Give them a year or two however and they could be really worth listening to.
The headline act For Barry Ray weren't really my thing either. Thats not to say they didn't do what they do very well, John Chantler's use of sampling and looping the live performance was masterful, but the music drifted between an ambient, folky wash and droning loops, all quite tastefully done but really not that interesting. The best part of the set for me was Benjamin, a youngster in the audience (around 3 or 4 years old I'd say) that spent the set tumbling around the audience that were mostly sat on the floor, singing and dancing along to the music and not really caring whose lap he fell headfirst into, at one point picking up a spare (fortunately not plugged in) microphone to join in.

The first performance I enjoyed was a brief solo set that opened the evening by Beautiful Screaming Lady, the solo project of Traw's Simon Proffitt. I can happilly report that at no point did Simon scream anything, he isn't a lady and he most certainly isn't beautiful. ;) Simon used what I think was some kind of oscillator to push tones through an upturned speaker cone containing ping pong balls and other detritus to make a short, pleasant soundtrack to a hot summers afternoon that didn't overstay its welcome and tuned the ears for the afternoon's music. Using speaker cones in this manner is not unusual these days, and as Simon played it amused me to think that somewhere out there there's a graveyard of empty speaker cabinets, their insides mercillessly removed by determined experimental musicians ;)

The main reason i came to the gig was to see the Traw trio play in a quartet with Oxford double bassist Dom Lash. For those not aware Traw are laptop trio originating from Cardiff but now spread all over the place that still manage to play together a few times a year despite one of their number now living in Paris. Lash had never before played with Traw, and as the set began this was clear, as the first five minutes or so saw the musicians tentatively seek common ground. An opening made up of an almost featureless ambience from the laptoppers made it hard for Lash to find a way in, settling for textural scrapes over the electronic backdrop, but soon after things opened up nicely. One or more of the Traw players began to use samples of Lash's own playing taken from his myspace site, something he wasn't expecting but this pulled him into the performance, and the last twenty minutes or so was very nice indeed. Dom is a highly skilled improvisor, splitting his time between playing in more traditional improv settings and more recently in more "EAI" settings, bringing a sensitivity and responsive ear to the music. Here his touch was sublime, despite him being troubled by a painful back injury, blending a series of dry textures and softly bowed grainy notes into the swirling collage of sounds springing from the laptops, but also not afraid to add the odd jarring sound as counterpoint to the electronics. Highly enjoyable.

Dom Lash's forthcoming gigs list is impressively long, but one concert certainly catches my eye on November 15th in London, a "double concerto" performance with Mark Wastell (also on bass) and a laptop ensemble (hopefully) made up of Phil Durrant, Ben Drew, Matt Davis, Louisa Martin and David Toop, a reprise of a similar concert Wastell played with Rhodri Davies' acoustic harp and a similar laptop group a few years back. One not to be missed methinks.

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Arriving in Oxford early I spent a while getting annoyed at Oxford record shops, and then calmed myself down by buying a copy of Elizabeth Wilson's hefty bio of Shostakovich; A Life Remembered which I began reading last night having now finished T.J Clark's splendid The Sight of Death, a book I really enjoyed, and the impact of which will become clear over time.
I also came home with a CDR from Simon "Beautiful Screaming Lady" Proffitt which I couldn't resist as it came packaged in a large somewhat cumbersome (about six inches square, and an inch thick) bright red plastic box that apparently once housed DVD glass masters, but somehow resembles something created from Lego more than anything else. Not played it yet as the 'To Listen To' pile here has suddenly become quite tall again, but I'll get to it soon.

Off to London this afternoon I think to have a potter around the Tate Modern (just for a change). More Wandelweiser splutterings later this evening all being well.

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