Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Love, painting, a boat, muppets and air conditioning...

As I alluded to in my last brief post its been heavy going around here lately, mainly because of my dayjob, the stressful workload causing me to neglect the blog for too long, and also a few other things in my life at the same time.

To try and make up for any neglect I may have shown my long suffering yet unswervingly supportive girlfriend Julie, we took off last Saturday for a day in London together, leaving the stress of work to fend for itself and with only the task of having a good day together to worry about.

Julie's taste in music and other arts is shall we say, slightly different to mine. Whilst we have many things in common, our musical and artistic interests differ a great deal, although she goes out of her way to try and understand what her slightly deranged boyfriend finds to enjoy in this odd noise etc.. as much as she can. In truth though, whilst I may be playing a Radu Malfatti CD, she is just as likely to be playing a Rick Astley album, so trying to find a cultural way of spending a day out together could seem a tough thing to do, but we managed it Saturday. Sort of...

We started the day at the Tate Modern, something we have done together before, but not since they rehung the main collection, pulling some good stuff out of storage. Our wander around was highly enjoyable as ever, the new Minimalism room with Carl Andre's Equivalent VII (the infamous pile of bricks) attracting a lot of attention, and nice to see some Agnes Martin up close, but as ever we came to a rest in the Rothko room and those eight paintings that suck you in and envelope you from all sides. I sat there for half an hour or so, whilst Julie sat with me and listened to me waffling on rubbish about the art that she has heard from me far too many times.

A while later, after lunch overlooking the Thames in a French café we wandered very slowly north and across the heart of town to go and watch a west end performance of Avenue Q, a musical, and perhaps not my first choice of places to spend the afternoon, but overall it was fun and had me laughing. The sight of watching a bunch of Muppet-type puppets onstage swearing their heads off in a Sesame Street parody was enough to keep my mind off of work, and a good time was had. We then went on to a cosy little Italian restaurant just around the corner which served the best starter course of garlic mushrooms on toast I’ve ever had (and trust me I’ve had that a good few times!)

So why mention all of this? Well during the walk from the Tate to the musical an odd but lovely little moment happened. As we walked along the Victoria embankment we passed by a building that had an external air conditioning unit that was humming away gently in a pleasing manner. As we passed, a ferry boat making its way up the Thames crossed past in the opposite direction, its engines emitting a soft purr that combined at that moment with the air conditioner to create a nice collage of sounds that caused me to stop dead in my tracks and take in the moment.

I do these things all the time when something grabs my aural attention, but what made my day is that Julie had stopped still at precisely the same moment, and when I turned to look at her she was smiling at me, knowing fully well what had caught my attention, just as it had grabbed her too. We carried on walking without mentioning this again, but if I ever needed a sign that we are meant to be together that was it…

OK, enough of the slush… this weekend I’m off to Dublin to catch a concert of The Sealed Knot and say hi to some good friends, so Alastair will be on his own presenting audition whilst I will for the first time get to listen live from afar. That should be an odd experience, but at least its one way of increasing our listener figures…

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Silence

Its all gone quiet.... Just a short apology for not posting much here the last week or two, been busy elsewhere with work and other stuff. Over the last fourteen days I've worked about 120 hours, written a far too long review of the LMC Festival that is being hacked to pieces by Dan "Overworked and deserves better from his writers" Warburton as I type, driven about a thousand miles, argued with printers over CD sleeve artwork, spent a pretty undesirable afternoon in the company of the leader of the Conservative Party of Great Britain, caught another concert (Traw with Rhodri Davies, very good) acquired about ten CDs, presented two radio programmes, eaten twenty pieces of toast and marmite and drunk about fifty cups of tea.

More thriling posts very soon.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

And so we start again.

Yep, with 2007 less than a week young I caught my first live show this afternoon, the first mini concert to be put on in the Sound323 basement for over a year, and possibly the last as Mr Wastell has new plans for that space.
So, encouraged by personal invites and free alcohol, around 30 people squeezed into the tiny basement space to catch two sets involving members of the Swedish group The Skull Defekts.

First up was a thirteen minute solo from Henrik Rylander, who worked with an electronics set up hooked up to a tiny set of speakers. The tiny performance space and the OffSite-like proximity of neighbours make anything bigger impossible.
The Skull Defekts have been known to work in a variety of musical areas (Their web page describes their work as Avant and Hypnotic rock/noise) but you sensed that Rylander was more used to a bigger PA and far higher volume. The rythymic, pulsing drums and white noise piece he produced sounded watered down at low volume and really did very little for me. I may be wrong about Rylander usually working with louder music, but the additional velocity of a raised volume would probably be the only thing that could happen to this set to make it more interesting.

The following set though, involving fellow Defekt Joachim Nordwall alongside 323's own Mark Wastell proved much more rewarding. Nordwall, who runs the Gothenburg based iDEAL label used the same eqipment as Rylander, yet produced something very different alongside Wastell's tam tam and Indian harmonium. The first few minutes of the set consisted of no more than a very low volume bass hum pitched so low that the walls of the performance space vibrated. This single quivering note stayed only marginally above the audible, rising in volume very slightly only when Wastell began to add gentle smears of his trademark tam tam drone.
These days Wastell can coax the most incredible sounds from a big disc of metal with seemingly the tiniest of efforts. The rolling sheets of sound that he allowed to rise and fall in the early parts of the set sounded eerily electronic as they blended into Nordwall's humming tones. The Swede introduced a gentle static hiss into play as Wastell picked out single strikes of the tam tam and for a while the music settled into a relaxed wash of sound until during an interlude in Wastell's playing Nordwall twisted a dial and brought the low hum up in pitch. Wastell's response was immediate, the wooden handle of his beater deftly scraped suddenly around the rim of the tam tam followed instantly by a perfectly pitched drone from the harmonium on the floor beside him. The combination of Nordwall's single tone and the bellows driven undulations of the harmonium made for a pleasing final few moments of the set before things came to an end with the low bass hum that had begun proceedings returning only to die away into a charged silence.

All in all, including a badly needed if pretty awful cup of tea with Alastair in the café next door this was a very nice way to spend an otherwise grey and rainy Saturday afternoon.

I picked up a few CDs once I managed to fight my way through the crowds to the counter:

Tomas Korber / Bernd Schurer - 250904 (Balloon and Needle)
Max Neuhaus - Fontana Mix - Feed, Six Realisations of John Cage (Alga Marghen)
David Tudor / Gordon Mumma - s/t (New World Records) Looking forward to this following Robert's exceptional review over at Bagatellen.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Dancing about architecture

One of several new years resolutions that I make every year is to promise myself that I'll write more reviews of CDs in the hope of a) getting better at it with practice, and b) getting sent a regular supply of free CDs to write about.
Well neither of these unlikely outcomes has a chance to come true because last year as ever I didn't keep to my resolution.
So have I made the promise to myself again this year? Why yes of course, and at least this year I have started well with a short review of Sabine Erclertz's Steinschlag on l'innomable up at ParisTransatlantic Hopefully I can write three or four reviews of that length for PTA every month for a while now, though this of course depends on Dan Warburton not getting sick of having to edit my writing into something legible every time I send him something. Otherwise I'll post things here.

Right, so now you can all start sending me free CDs right? ...Right?