Monday, December 31, 2007

Favourite Live Sets 2007

I posted this list elsewhere recently, my favourite live sets of 2007. I was lucky / determined enough to see over 80 sets of live music this year, and here are the best of them. Obviously I'm relying mainly on memory here and of course you can't compare two shows several months apart, but I've ranked them vaguely by the impression they have left on me now at the end of the year.

1. John Tilbury playing Morton Feldman's For Bunita Marcus, Dublin, March.
2. Keith Rowe, Toshimaru Nakamura duo, Parthenay, July.
3. Angharad Davies solo. Parthenay, July
4. Lucio Capece, Julia Eckhardt, Christian Kesten, Radu Malfatti, Toshimaru Nakamura, Taku Sugimoto septet, Brussels, May
5. Irvine Arditti playing Luigi Nono's La Lontananza.., London, October
6. Keith Rowe solo, Aberdeen, June
7. MIMEO, Huddersfield, November
8. Arditti Quartet playing Luigi Nono's Fragmente-Stille, London, October.
9. Andrea Neumann, John Tilbury duo, Dublin March
10. SLW (Rhodri Davies, Burkhard Beins, Lucio capece, Toshimaru Nakamura) Parthenay, July.
11. The Sealed Knot, Dublin, February.
12. Maurizio Pollini playing Luigi Nono's ...sofferte onde serene, London, October
13. Will Guthrie solo. Nottingham, February
14. Angharad Davies, David Lacey, Lee Patterson, Paul Vogel quartet. Dublin, July.
15. John Wall solo. Bristol, December.
16. Cranc, Parthenay, July.
17. Joe Colley, Eric le Casa duo. Dublin, March.
18. Angharad Davies, Michael Duch, Julia Eckhardt trio playing Taku Sugimoto's 29th November. London, November
19. Northern Sinfonia playing Radu Malfatti's Gateshead 21, Gateshead, May.
20. Angharad Davies, Tisha Mukarji, Andrea Nemann, Gateshead, May

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Favourite Albums of 2007

So its that time of the year again... Every year I ask myself if I should be doing this or not, but what the hell its just a bit of fun, and if you can't have fun this time of year when can you? Like last year this list does not include any Cathnor releases. Despite only putting out two discs this year I am very proud of both of them, and if someone else had released them they would both have made the top five. MIMEO's sight may even have been pushing The Room for the top slot as I really think its that special, but fortunately that isn't a choice I have to worry about. The list also does not include any re-releases, so as to truly reflect the music that was made in 2007. I'll probably do some kind of list of older music that has affected me this year soon, there's quite a bit of it! Anyway, here you are, my top twenty after considerable consideration. Feel free to argue!

1. Keith Rowe - The Room

Yeah the predictable choice, but really this wouldn't be here if it wasn't so damned good. The Room manages to pull together so many of the loose ends that have inhabited Keith's music over the past decade or so. It includes big references to each of his solo albums, Cardew's Treatise, Rothko, AMM, the list is endless. Its also an incredibly powerful, passionate piece of music that bristles with anger and frustration. There are patches of sheer beauty, others that confront you with their awkwardness, moments of complete surprise and that ending, with the last few moments recorded outside, an all together calmer state of mind putting the album to rest?

Yes I consider Keith a friend, yes I'm probably too close to his music to be completely objective (this is why I haven't written anything about this album all year) but I can only be honest, and when compiling a list of the albums that affected me the most this year The Room has to be number one. Buy it if you haven't already. Erstwhile

2. Taku Unami - Malignitat

Perhaps a slightly controversial second place, but when I listed all the CDs I'd played this year and ranked them by how often I'd played them, and how much impact they had had on me Malignitat couldn't be ignored. I wrote about this album here so I won't go into more detail, but I will say that right now Unami strikes me as one of the most interesting (if not always consistent) musicians working today. Hibari

3. Sachiko M - Salon de Sachiko

A late arrival, so a CD that hasn't had the time to affect me that some of the others here have, but has made an immediate impact. I have long admired Sachiko's music, but when considering her solo music I wasn't alone in wondering where on earth she could go after the finite minimalism of Bar de Sachiko. Salon takes a sidestep from the sinewaves yet retains the austere intensity of her previous work, small twittering sounds, scratches and bleeps spaced apart, seemingly without any kind of progression through the album, making careful listening an arduous, yet ultimately rewarding experience. Close focus allows you into the acute soundworld Sachiko is investigating, almost foraging into it as if seeking something hidden amongst the musical undergrowth. Given the right time and attention (sorry Mattin!) Salon is an engaging, captivating album.Ftarri

4. Lucio Capece, Toshimaru Nakamura - iJ

Since the release of between I've sensed that Toshi Nakamura's duo recordings have been judged (perhaps subconsciously) by many with his duo with Keith Rowe used as some kind of benchmark. This seems a little unfair to me. Toshi's work with Rowe is something special, perhaps unsurpassed in this area of music, but his duo work with other musicians each have their own qualities and concerns quite different again. Lucio Capece has been one musician to really impress me this year. His sensitivity as a collaborative musician really shines through on iJ, particularly at the start of the first track, as the duo allow their understated sounds to brew and simmer before they are allowed to bubble over. Nakamura's ability to control the wild unpredictability of feedback is probably better displayed on this disc than any before as well. Overall this is just a great CD that captures a musical conversation between two great players. I can't wait to someday hear the fruits of their recent trio work with Rowe. Formed

5. Klaus Lang - einfalt.stille

I wrote about this release here, so again little more to say. This CD is quite different from those listed above, choosing to project calm rather than tension onto the listener. I just find Lang's work immensely, stunningly gorgeous, and sometimes thats more than enough to win me over. Definitely the most beautiful music released this year, Robert Zank's support of Lang through his Editions RZ label is further testament to the man's exceptional taste.

6. Axel Dorner, Toshimaru Nakamura - Vorhernach

Another duo from Toshi Nakamura, this time with trumpeter Axel Dorner on the Ftarri label, wrapped up in a typically nice sleeve. Vorhernach is a million miles from iJ though. Again, my thoughts on it are here. Vorhernach seems to me to be more about the collision of two great musicians' contributions rather than the close interplay of iJ. Whilst iJ sucks the listener in, Vorhernach is a tough nut to crack, but its well worth the effort persevering. Ftarri

7. Radu Malfatti - Rain speak soft tree listens

One of the twelve CDR releases put out by Mr Malfatti during 2007. This is easily my favourite, and also somewhat ironically the most unusual of them all. A quiet, contemplative piece for string quartet, piano and massed whispered voices, I first heard Rain speak... played on the Wandelweiser radio stream and was immediately intrigued. The composition sets the slowly spoken words of a Robert Lax poem to a background of overlapping folds of dry strings, single piano notes and long silences, creating a room-filling atmosphere of eerie warmth.  B-boim

8. Klaus Lang - Missa beati paperes spiritu

More from Lang, this time his virtually ignored mass on the Col Legno label. Lang reclaims the beauty of the mass form from religion, keeping the structure of the form intact, adding modern instrumentation and slowing things down to create a richly beautiful piece of music. As with einfalt.stille, this release merits its place purely as a stunningly gorgeous thing to behold. Designed to relax the listener rather than challenge them, Lang's music succeeds in an area where most other music fails. I wrote about this one in this post.

9. Angharad Davies, Tisha Mukarji - endspace.

Another late arrival, released only in early December, but one I had been waiting for. Violinist Davies has probably been the most consistently interesting improvisor in the UK for over a year now, but has been underrepresented on disc. This album, with another remarkably talented and under-recorded young improviser Mukarji (acoustic inside piano) goes some way to fill that gap. Precise, simple chamberlike structures, all very fragile in their construction. Restrained and made up of only the essential elements, but never really disappearing into silence. This probably hasn't been heard by too many people yet, that really should change soon. Another Timbre

10. Eric Carlsson, David Lacey, Martin Kuchen, Paul Vogel - Chipshop Music

Unsettling, muscular music from Ireland's two finest musicians in collaboration with Swedes Carlsson and Kuchen. This CD formed the soundtrack for my drive to work every day for several weeks. Engaging, demanding music with a real spark of vitality and joy at its heart. Self released by Lacey and Vogel on Homefront recordings. No website yet, drop me an email and I can put you in touch to buy a copy.

11. Mark Wastell - Come Crimson Rays

The third and final in Wastell's series of solo tam-tam releases, and easily the best of the bunch. This time a degree of silence finds its way between the swathes of agitated metal, breaking up the rolling washes of sound, leading to a solemn, haunting piece of almost ritualistic music. Late night music. Kning Disk

12. Bhob Rainey, RLW - I don't think I can see you tonight

The end result of months of swapping reworked, edited and added-to soundfiles, this album slipped out right at the start of 2007. A finely sculpted concrete collage of bits of improvisations, field recordings and other odds and ends, I don't think... manages to retain a vibrancy and originality despite its elongated method of creation. Sedimental

13. Ryu Hankil, Jin Sangtae, Taku Unami, Mattin – 5 Modules III

There seemed to be a never ending stream of releases in 2007 from just a handful of musicians in South Korea. Most were worth hearing, but this one stood out from the rest as something different, slightly unsettling and somewhat confusing. Its far from coincidence that the names Unami and Mattin are involved. I wrote about this release here back in September and to be honest I'm still not even sure that I like the CD, but its certainly one I've played over and over in an attempt to fathom it all out. Manual

14. The Sealed Knot - Live at the Red Hedgehog 29th October 2006.

One of my favourite groups in full flow, here in quite raucous, energetic mood. Its rare that a CD release of a concert I attended comes out sounding as good as I remember it being, but this is one such case. Ironically I saw the group play again a few months later in Ireland and they sounded very different, quieter, more sparse and perhaps even more to my liking, but that show didn't get recorded. Such is life. Top quality acoustic improvisation. The Confront website is temporarily down.

15. Annette Krebs, Robin Hayward - sgraffito

Chosen particularly for the great opening track on the album, sgraffito is a self released CDR of duets from two of Berlin's most established improvisers really coaxing the best from each other. Not your everyday call-and-response improv, with Krebs in particular playing in a fractured, erratic manner, bursts of radio and samples fly in and out of the music as commonly as the scrapes and fizzes from her guitar, all wrapped around Hayward's equally unpredictable tuba playing. There might eventually be a website for Annette's releases here, but drop her an email to purchase this release.

16. Radu Malfatti, Jurg Frey, Michael Pisaro – Three Backgrounds

Another from the glut of releases from Radu Malfatti's B-boim label. I wrote up all twelve discs here. This was an easy second choice from Malfatti, perhaps again as it sounds quite different from the other releases he put out. The room noise definitely becomes the foreground to the three backgrounds performed by the musicians on this one. A great release that I hear new things in every time I play it.

17. Taku Sugimoto, Mitsuhiro Yoshimura - Not BGM and so on

Yoshimura's appearance with his strong debut release And so on on his own (h)earrings label early in the year set people talking in hip circles. His duo with Taku Sugimoto released later in 2007 essentially captures the same kind of performance from Yoshimura, but this time with added curious interventions from Sugimoto to give the music an additional dimension. Yoshimura has certainly been one of the finds of 2007 with more promised for the coming year, and I could have chosen either of his releases as they show his music in equal light, but the duo disc gets the nod. My review is here

18. Takefumi Naoshima, Hirozumi Takeda, Utah Kawasaki, Toshihro Koike, Takehiro Kawauchi, Yasuo Totsuka - Septet

Writing these brief descriptions here I've actually surprised myself at how much I actually managed to write this year about the music I really enjoyed. A write-up of this disc is here. What happens when music is played so quietly that you can't tell the accidental shuffling of the musicians trying to remain still from the music itself? You discover a strange, alien soundworld for one, but how much was intentional and how much pure chance? Only you, the listener can decide...! Meena

19. Axel Dorner, Lucio Capece – s/t

Two of Toshimaru Nakamura's collaborators on disc this year together in a duo. Acoustic bass clarinet and trumpet duets full of writhing, bright interplay between two fine improvisers. These two also released a trio disc with the addition of Robin Hayward that could easily have made this list on another day, but tonight in a head to head battle this duo release won through. Rarely a year passes without at least one great release from the l'innomable label. This year was no exception.

20. Tomas Korber, Katsura Yamauchi, Christian Weber – Signal to Noise Vol.2

Swiss improv received an awful lot of (in my opinion largely unjustified) bad press in 2007, and this situation wasn't helped by the other two no-so-great releases in the Signal to Noise series on the For 4 Ears label. This release however, the second in that series blows the others away with its understated on/off structure of short blasts, tones and bass throbs. Guitar and electronics, (Korber) trumpet, (Yamauchi) and double bass (Weber) combine in an unusual and very satisfying manner. Tomas Korber's second best release of the year! ;)

So there you go. Sorry to anyone I've forgotten. I don't doubt that there will be numerous releases I will suddenly think of now that I've published this that I should have included, but hey ho, such is life. Writing this, a couple of interesting things occurred to me. Firstly the top three in the list are all solos. this is something that I hadn't noticed until now, and I don't know what that signifies (if anything) but its interesting to note. Also, six of the twenty are CDR releases, really highlighting to me that its the music that really matters, irrelevant on how much it cost to release the CD...

Lets hope 2008 is just as strong a year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Catching Up

Well I had intended writing at length about all of the concerts I caught towards the end of this year, but time and creative and physical energies haven't allowed for that, so here's a very brief round-up to bring things up to date. A few days after returning from Huddersfield I attended the three night LMC Festival in London of which I still aim to get a "proper" review up at Bagatellen before too much longer, so I'll move on to the 11th December and a London show at the Red Rose Club promoted by the increasingly influential No-Signal people.

The admirable premise that seems to exist behind No-Signal's concerts is to blend different forms of music and their audiences together within one event. This show entitled STFU followed on from other concerts this year that have attracted fans of both noise music and improvised music to the same event. This has resulted in some impressively large audience turn-outs, although the noise contingent have tended to outnumber their improv companions about three to one at the shows I've attended. So this concert sold out in advance, something I can't imagine has happened to a Red Rose show for quite a few years.

The main reason for the high attendance numbers was probably the appearance of Stephen O'Malley, the front man of Sunn O)) (sorry if I spelt that incorrectly) in a duo with Oren Ambarchi that closed the show. These two have played together a good few times in the past and I have been able to listen to recordings they have released together, so I kind of knew what to expect. Loud, deep and very very slow guitar chords from O'Malley trudged out around Ambarchi's scribbling electronics and heavy tones. I don't dislike this music as such, but as it went on for quite some time with only gradual shifts in form and slowly increasing in volume it was just very very obvious and somewhat boring in its construction. I felt the need to reach out and hold down the fast forward button to see where the performance ended up, but in the end as my companions decided to leave before the conclusion of the set I followed them out, left somewhat unfulfilled by the evening in general, but by this last set in particular. Maybe it ended in spectacular fashion, but I somewhat doubt it.

Before the O'Malley / Ambarchi conclusion to the evening we had had to suffer (I'm sorry but I can't think of a more suitable choice of word) the combination of the Portugese duo Osso Exotico and the percussionist Z'Ev. I'd wandered to the back of the overcrowded room for this one, fearing high volumes, so I didn't see what instruments the Osso Exotico trio were playing, but they made a kind of lolloping, off-kilter drone that lost my interest after just a few minutes. Z'Ev's contribution seemed to be scraping metal sounds and almost ceremonial strikes of a gong in a semi-rhythmical manner underneath all of this, but the end result, played at high volume really sounded flat, lacking in any detail and generally just wholly uninteresting. Whilst not displaying any of the onstage aggression of much noise music the performance still seemed to me to be reliant on the force of the music's volume to motivate the audience, which is never a good sign to me.

Working backwards then, the second set of the evening had come from the duo of Mark Wastell on tam tam and Joachim Nordwall on laptop and electronics. I had seen this duo play at the first concert I attended in 2007 in the basement of Sound323. Here, with the added dimension of a big PA the duo were able to play much louder than in that earlier performance. Nordwall, who runs the iDEAL label in Sweden and is one of the group The Skull Defekts works mainly within a narrow range of grey textures and post-industrial rumbling, occasionally bringing the volume up to levels approaching what could be categorised as "noise" music. Into this somewhat bleak backdrop Wastell fed his now trademark washes of subtle tam tam, all soft roars devoid of attack, and carefully placed strikes with a variety of beaters. For anyone that has not witnessed Wastell perform with this instrument live the degree of dexterity with which he addresses the metal disc these days is quite remarkable. Sounds seem to slip in and out of range with only the barest of physical movement applied by the musician.

The patterns in the music created as the acoustic and electronic sounds collided were interesting, but somehow I didn't take much more from this performance. The basic structure seemed to be for Nordwall to create a backdrop and for Wastell to add (admittedly very beautiful) sound to it at carefully chosen points. There seemed to be little communication beyond this one way conversation, not unlike a two-man graffiti team, with one filling the void with big patches of colour, and the other drawing the outlines, giving the work form. The end result was not displeasing in any way, but was perhaps a little safe and predictable.

The opening act of the evening was the acoustic guitar duo of Tetuzi Akiyama and Hervé Boghossian.The pair sat opposite each other in the centre of the room and played a kind of duelling blues improvisation, not far in style from Akiyama's early acoustic style circa Relator and reminiscent of John Fahey duetting with Derek Bailey, only not quite at that level. I quite enjoyed this set, which wasn't what I had been expecting, given Boghossian's usual preference for coaxing drones from his instrument and Akiyama's occasional penchant for throbbing electric riffs. The interplay between the two was left very naked in the centre of the room with the large crowd gathered around and they handled things very well, building a finely assembled web of picked notes and scrapes, and the occasional grab of false-starting melody. Maybe nothing dramatically original took place here, but I found this intimate little performance engaging all the same.


The next day I drove over to Bristol to catch a small concert in the café space of the Spike Island Arts Centre housed in an old Brooke Bond tea factory on the banks of the River Avon. the gallery was closed for the evening when I arrived, which was a shame, and the café area was perhaps not the best of spaces to hold a concert, the long thin room reflecting the musicians sound back at them a little too easily, but having never attended a gig in Bristol before it was nice to venture out to somewhere new.

First on the two-performance bill was the trio of Ben Drew (laptop), Helena Gough (laptop) and Lee Patterson (all kinds of stuff!). In mid November I had barely heard of Helena Gough, but here less than a month later I was attending my third concert involving her. The first I wrote about a couple of posts back, a duo with Patterson in Huddersfield, the second had been a solo performance at the LMC Festival that I had also enjoyed. Here, Lee's input was considerably different to their previous show, as he utilised pre-recorded material more in combination with assorted guitar pick-ups and contact miked metal. It was very difficult to tell Gough's input apart from Ben Drew's as they played through a PA and the sound swirled around the small space, but generally speaking he seemed to provide cleaner, more linear sounds to her minutae field recordings.

Combined, the trio created a heaving mass of sound, shifting glimpses of detail, bits of field recordings strewn between bursts of colourful tones and Patterson's naturally occurring abstractions. The effect reminded me of looking through a kaleidoscope that is turning continually, the overall sensation one of beauty, yet made up of thousands of relentless individual events, none of which stay around long enough to study in detail.

The second half of the evening featured a rare solo performance by John Wall, who has recently taken to improvising live with a laptop, often in the company of Lee Gamble with whom he has struck up a seemingly fruitful partnership, but here he performed a short, sharp set alone. I should make it clear that John Wall's recorded work, meticulously constructed over many months on a computer has had a major impact on my life over the years. If I was to list my favourite albums of all time at least two, maybe three of his albums would make the top ten. John's improvised work is a very different beast however. On the surface it resembles many other Max/MSP styled laptop improvisations by other musicians. Many of the telltale characteristics of this kind of playing are there, the dramatic shifts of dynamic, the phased sounds, the familiar stretched qualities of music made with a soundcard pushed to its limits, but for me its impossible to forget that this is John Wall playing, and the bigger picture that that brings is considerably more interesting.

John has taken to improvisation almost out of desperation as his compositional work, always very slow to progress at the best of times has ground to a halt. In his own words he feels he had forced himself into a corner, and going out and experimenting with the wild freedom (by his standards) of live improvisation has given him a vehicle to break free from the cul-de-sac he felt he was trapped in. The music played at this concert was clearly the work of John Wall, the trademark sounds and intricate structures were still there, but here they were wrapped up in an almost violently intense shell, careering viciously at times, dropping into tension filled hollows at others.

Wall only played for about twenty minutes, maybe less, and spent the duration of the set stood up, rocking about around the computer, his face wrought with energy until the wrenching end of the performance when he stood up, shrugged to the small audience and went to sit down. Chatting with John after the show the creative energy flowing through him right now since this switch to improvisation was very evident, and whilst for all its power and tension this performance didn't come close to capturing the sheer magic of his composed work, John's hope is that this way of working will bring new energy and ideas to his more contemplative music. Personally speaking if anything helps this inspirational man continue to make the music I've come to admire so much then its got to be a good thing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Its grim oop North (but I wouldn't want it any other way)

Whilst oop in Huddersfield and with a few hours to kill on Saturday morning I made my way (in the relentlessly pouring rain) to the Huddersfield Art Gallery, housed in an old Georgian (I think) building that also contains the town's library. My main reason for attending the gallery (apart from the fact that there is absolutely nothing else to do of worth on a wet Saturday in Huddersfield!) was to catch the two installations linked to the Contemporary Music Festival shown there.

I didn't expect to see much else of interest in the gallery's everyday collection, but then I had forgotten that I was in Lowry country here, and I was really pleased to see a couple of his paintings hanging around the corner from an awful display of Contemproray Pakistani art. The above painting is called Huddersfield and was painted in 1965.

I'm not sure what it is I enjoy about Lowry's work. He doesn't tick any of the usual boxes that trigger my interest in a painting. There is however some kind of homely, warm feeling about his work that I enjoy a lot. This painting reminds me a lot of the St Ives school of painters that I have closely studied from time to time, the childlike friendliness of the painting reminding me of Alfred Wallis, the dodgy perspective of Ben Nicholson. Above all there is a resounding Englishness about his work that probably doesn't translate so well abroad. (I don't know, Brian?) This painting perfectly captures the charm of a Northern English industrial town, and whilst I might make jokes here about the grim, murky qualities of Huddersfield it certainly oozes its own deep-seated character that I find impossible to not be charmed by. The Lowry above somehow portrays this perfectly. Although forty years old the town is still there in the painting, the colours, the activity, the people. Finding this little gem put a smile on my face for the rest of the weekend.

The two installations linked to the music festival shown in the gallery were created (separately) by Michael Prime and Janek Schaefer. I have seen Michael Prime's work Ha! Where have all your mushrooms gone? before, though I struggle to remember exactly where. (Maybe the Sonic Boom show at the Hayward Gallery a while back?) It consists of three tanks containing live mushrooms growing, each with biosensors attached. When you walk near to a tank a further sensor detects your presence and begins to translate the natural biorhythms given off by the fungi into electronic sound, buzzes and gentle drilling noises. As more than one person wander around the installation the sounds come and go in quite interesting patterns, but I have to say that after the initial novelty of hearing mushrooms make music had passed there wasn't much of lingering interest for me here.

On CD Janek Schaefer has generally speaking managed to underwhelm me on almost every occasion I've heard his work. Its not bad in any way, just not that interesting either. I didn't get my hopes up too high then for his installation piece entitled Extended Play: Tryptich for the Child Survivors of War and Conflict. However I quite enjoyed this installation. Schaefer set up nine old gramophone players in the space, arranged into three groups of three. He then wrote and had performed a piece of music for piano, violin and cello and pressed each of the parts onto separate vinyl discs so that each of the three groups of players had one machine playing each of the instrument parts. The players were each modified so as to play continually, returning the cartridge to the start of the record each time it ended, but a hidden sensor in each machine detected the presence of someone stood close to it and stopped the player until the person moved away.

The music itself was a mournful, somewhat minimal piece of music, reminiscent of Feldman's later works, though not so remarkable in itself. The interesting part of the installation however came as the individual players stopped and started at random intervals as people came close, causing the different instruments to shift in and out of phase with each other, creating more of a mass of sympathetic sounds rather than one structured composition. I must also admit I had great fun alone in the gallery that rainy Saturday morning hopping from machine to machine trying to impact the overall sound as much as possible, or at least I did until the somewhat surly looking security guard came along and looked at me as if I was a lunatic....

I hope that Schaefer resists the temptation to ever release a recording of the Extended Play material, as separated from the installation it wouldmake for a pretty uninteresting listen, but here I quite enjoyed its impact. One thing, the installation was designed according to Schaefer to be "a contemplative, emotional, optimistic & uplifting experience of continuously unfurling sound ... a bitter sweet tribute to the child survivors of conflict and war." I would agree that it achieved some of these aims, but I certainly didn't find it particularly uplifting. Reading the associated notes in the gallery certainly caused me to reflect on the carnage caused by war, but I have to say it left me feeling somewhat depressed and pessimistic about the state of the world today.

When you've been brought down to earth by such a sombre experience walking out in the rainsoaked streets of Huddersfield town centre probably isn't the best medicine to give you that quick pick-me-up, but I found some solace in wandering around noting some of the more amusing shops in the town centre. Hidden amongst the many discount stores and cheap booze off licenses can be found Jack Fulton's World of Frozen Value (I'm not sure why that's funny but it is!) a shop called Fartown with a hand painted sign that really accentuates the Fart part of the name, and a hairdressers again with a handpainted sign, this time called Headquaters. Please note, it wasn't Headquarters as that essential letter R was missing, perhaps deliberately, but I quite like the idea that the sign was misspelt so they changed the name of the business.... Unfortunately my photos of these shops didn't come out as my camera battery died, but once I switched to my camera phone I did manage to take this last pic, possibly of the most oddly titled store of them all... poor Ivor, that's all I can say.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Its grim oop North (but the music's great) No.2

Insert: Standard blog post introduction about how I've been too tired/busy/lazy to post for over a month
Yeah its been a hectic few weeks, blah blah...
I have managed to make it out to quite a few concerts in the last few weeks though, and I'm going to try and catch up on them all in brief here over the next few days. A review of the LMC Festival is also nearly complete (its painful this isn't it?) and should see the light of day very soon.
A couple of weeks back now I also wandered up the M1 to again experience the delights of the Yorkshire town of Huddersfield, home of the often good Contemporary Music Festival and... well not much else really.

My primary reason for making the long trip oop North though was to catch the rare event on the Friday evening of all eleven members of MIMEO playing together in one place, something they haven't managed to do for quite a while. The group performed a ninety minute long live version of sight, their 2007 release on my Cathnor label, so witnessing this concert kind of closed a circle for me personally. As sight the CD project strove to reproduce the intimacy of a live performance between musicians completely separated in time and space, the live performance ironically attempted the reverse, bringing the dislocated intuition of the CD project to a concert hall situation (or a cotton dye blending shed situation in this case.)

sight the CD project explored the relationship between eleven musicians that had played together as a unit (albeit sporadically) for ten years. For anyone unaware (shame on you!) the CD was compiled (literally) by superimposing eleven sixty minute recordings made independently by the musicians to create one piece. The only rule being that each musician could only place approximately five minutes of sound onto their individual recordings. For the live recording the musicians were all tasked to find their own way of arriving as close as possible to the situation they were in for the creation of the CD, but to then bring the music alive in front of an audience.

The musicians used a variety of methods to recreate the physical disconnection. Some (mainly the laptoppers, but I believe also Keith Rowe) had pre-prepared soundfiles sat on their machines. These were then either partially manipulated live or in the case of Fennesz and maybe others, merely set running for the duration of the performance. Others played in a more traditional manner, either using a rigid score for their contributions or trusting themselves to play without regard for the other sounds around them. As Cor Fuhler played the inside of a piano, and Thomas Lehn and some of the other electronic musicians did not have the ability to instantly play back a soundfile we had an interesting mix of methods used. The musicians also all dressed in black and performed in an unlit room, reflecting the black-on-black minimalism of the CD sleeve.

The musicians also set themselves the one restraint of playing for roughly only five minutes each across the hour and a half. This five minutes could be broken into small sections and spread across the time, as with the CD. Listening in the room to the live result it was quite clear that some of the musicians chose to play quite a bit more than this however. The overall result was rather special. Although there was more music per square inch here than on the CD release there were still plenty of long, charged silences. It was incredible to hear MIMEO play this quietly, this restrained, something they have never achieved before. The half broken uncertainty of the CD was very much present. In some places sounds from different musicians came together beautifully to form lovely little vignettes, whilst elsewhere the random nature of the performance was all too clear.

I'm probably far too close the the sight project to write objectively on the performance, so I will leave it there I think. One last observation that amused me a little... as Fennesz (and I think also Marcus Schmickler though I am not definite) sat in front of me just listening to the performance unfold as they let a single soundfile run, it occurred to me that they had become as much a part of the audience as the rest of us, their input to the concert already decided and allowed to unfold on a machine. As we (the audience) sat on our uncomfortable chairs trying to remain quiet so did they, for a while breaking down the normal relationship between musician and listener. At one point Kaffe Matthews could be heard to cough during a silence and (I might be wrong here, it was dark!) Cor Fuhler seemed to wander to the bar at one point, returning with a drink. This blurring of the roles reminded me of how I felt when I first heard the sight CD, part label owner responsible for the release of the work, but also part listener hearing a new release for the first time, all a bit strange all round.

The following night I returned to the same venue, which incidentally is a fully operational part of the Bates' Mill cotton manafacturing factory, with the floorspace of the large room cleared for the weekend's events. Resting machines and pipes could be heard ticking to a slow halt on the first evening as MIMEO played, and on the second as it poured with rain outside (no surprise there) the guttering of the building could be heard straining against the force of the water high in the roof.

This watery intrusion was very much welcome for the first event of the Cut 'n' Splice evening that made up Saturday's events, (well for me anyway, others with less taste went and watched a Fred Frith string quartet ;)) The four or five performances of the Cut 'n' Splice event were all loosely based around the theme of food, cooking it, eating it, and digesting it. The first set, by Helena Gough and Lee Patterson began with that sound of running water in the background, and ironically water sounds were later heard amongst the musician's contributions as well.

Lee is a musician that you really need to catch live to fully appreciate. I have heard him utilise recordings of eggs frying in his perfomances before, but tonight he took things one step further, actually using a small electric hob to fry an egg on stage, the remarkably detailed and chaotic sounds captured by a contact mic and fed into the mix. That mix also included dissolving liver salts, Golden Syrup drizzled over a sheet of contact miked metal, burning pine nuts and no end of other paraphenalia. Helena Gough works with similar found sounds but keeps things far simpler by processing them on a laptop. Here she used a mixture of sounds, some provided in advance by Patterson that she sculpted around his mesh of interwoven detail to produce a very satisfying and somehow living and breathing soundworld.

I retired to the back of the shed when Sudden Infant performed (and that's definitely the correct verb here) the next set. Sudden Infant turned out to be one man, dressed in black, the sleeves cut from his top revealing a mass of tattoos. Essentially he miked up his body and set about running and dancing on the spot, as well as creating deep (and rather disturbing) sounds in his throat. These sounds were fed through a rack of effects he operated via pedals at is feet (plenty of loops there) and then blasted out through the PA into the room. A white light projected Mr Infant's silhouette up onto the wall at the back of the stage. On occasions some interesting things happened as different sounds crossed over each other, but in general I found this set musically tedious and if I'm honest somewhat amusing.

The last set of the evening that I saw was a performance by Tim Parkinson and James Saunders performing a series of kitchen related compositions. They began with the heavily Fluxus related John Cage piece 0'00, which was performed simultaneously with Kunsu Shim's for you.
The Cage piece merely instructs the performer to go about any disciplined action but to do so "in a situation provided with maximum amplification." Shim's piece seems to merely require that the performer prepare and present a cup of tea to a third party.

So Saunders set about cutting up fruit and veg and dropping them into a blender, turning it on every so often to make a smoothie and closing the performance by drinking the end result. Throughout this the table he sat behind and items he used were miked up so as his every sound, ranging from the chopping sounds through to the squeak of his chair were amplified into the room. Whilst Saunders completed this Parkinson boiled a kettle, brewed a pot of tea and presented it to a member of the audience. All in all my response to this performance was not dissimilar to how I react to most Fluxus events I've witnessed, finding the whole thing amusing and great to watch, but musically pretty uninteresting.

Following this the duo performed Alvin Lucier's Opera with objects, a piece requiring the musicians to rhythmically tap everyday objects to discover their individual resonances and, when coupled with other items being tapped their combined shifts in volume and timbre. That's pretty much what they did as well, setting about the table of kitchenalia with small sticks with which they beat out a regular, fast percussive pattern. Although the results were amplified I struggled to really make out the subtle changes in the sounds as the duo moved from object to object and I think I would really have needed to have been sat very close to get the most from this performance, but again it was a thoroughly interesting experiment to watch.

Parkinson and Saunders were joined on stage by John Lely and Andrew Sparling for the final and by far the most successful of the four works they performed, Michael Maierhof's Plastikquartett 2. The programme notes described the composition thus:

"The four players use a set of 6 different sized plastic cups fixed on a table which have quite clear pitches and 3 with more multiphonic qualities. The plastic cups are bowed. With different pressures, angles, velocities of the bow they produce a variety of sound qualities from highest pitches to multiphonic and rattle sounds. The piece is like a very cheap "string quartet" from the supermarket, a "string quartet" for "poor" people who can't afford real string instruments, or just don't like them."

Whilst perhaps that description would suggest a performance of no less novelty value that the preceding three works, (and indeed the sight of Saunders directing the four musicians as they set about plastic cups with bows was a fun one) the music itself was also very nice here. After a while I almost forgot how the brittle scrapes and soft pitches were being made as they overlapped and entangled with each other to create a simple yet continually changing music from a small palette of sounds.

So the icing on the cake of an evening made up from assorted ingredients slowly brought to the boil, left to simmer before being served with a light garnish of absurdity. A hearty dish...