Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A well-placed trousercough in the void of silence

You know the score, busy, stressed, no time etc...

OK I need to do some catching up again. Since that post from the internet café in Dublin I've begun five different posts here, all of which were sat unfinished on the server until I deleted them all just a moment ago as none of them are really relevant any longer. I'll try and summarise them in this and subsequent posts over the next few days however.

The end of March saw me attend a nice gig at the Chisenhale Dance Space beside the canal in Bethnal Green. The concert was great, four solid sets, the first an acoustic solo trombone piece by Matthias Forge that took place right in front of me, causing me to close my eyes as the visual distractions made close listening strangely difficult. More on that subject in a future post. Forge was followed by the electroacoustic trio of Daniel Jones, Paul Morgan and David Papapostolou, who played a richly detailed but restrained set that affirmed my faith in these three rapidly emerging musicians.

After an interval came another solo set from the inimitable John Wall, which followed his recent pattern of impressing me twice as much as the last time I saw him, much more spacious and with some changes in pace this time rather than the hell for leather avalanches of the last few shows. Slowly, and very publicly John is finding out how to really work well with his music in a live setting, and that really pleases me. The final set, a debut duo from Mark Wastell and John Butcher was as confusing as it was rather good. What at first glance seemed to be a sax / amplified tam tam performance was thrown off at a right angle when Wastell introduced pre-recorded passages of what I can only describe as post-Mego laptoppery into the fray. This completely threw me. At first I genuinely thought that Wall's laptop, still plugged in at the back of the hall had started up again somehow, but when I finally closed my eyes and concentrated on listening rather than trying to solve mysteries it all worked very well together. I think.

The Chisenhale Dance Space is a large room that occupies the top floor of an otherwise derelict old brewery building. Its a place I really like, as from the outside, and on all other floors apart from the top it remains deserted and derelict, all broken windows and large rubble filled rooms. The above photo of the rear of the building comes from the website Derelict London that has also spawned a neat little book of photos of derelict sites in the capital. There's something very beautiful and equally very sad about this kind of building, but in the case of the Chisenhale its wonderful to see this charming old place being put to good use at the same time as retaining its individual decadent beauty.

A few days later as my previous post revealed I headed off to Ireland again for the 2008 i and e Festival in Dublin. Again, it feels like an eternity now since the trip, so I'll keep my comments brief, but once again I had a really great time. Musically three performances really stood out for me. The best of them all was the set by Chipshop Music, the quartet I seem to write about an awful lot here consisting of David Lacey and Paul Vogel from Dublin and Eric Carlsson and Martin Küchen from Sweden. The performance was quite different from the group's CDR on the Homefront label, Carlsson most notably switched from the electronics of that release to an acoustic percussion set-up that featured tuned wood and metal. He used these to pull out oddly irregular yet superbly timed rhythms that provided a strong structure to the performance. Overall what struck me most about the set was the sense of timing, which was absolutely spot on, with just enough music happening at any one time and each musician taking time out from the fray, only to return at precisely the right moment. I think this was only the third time the group had got together to play, following successful shows in Ireland and a brief tour of Spain in 2007. Certainly a group right in their prime.

The Swedes also formed two thirds of a trio that shone for me on the second night of the festival. Axel Dorner's trumpet provided the other 33% of a slow, contemplative performance that began again revolving around a rhythmic pulse picked out by Carlsson, with Küchen and Dorner's breathy lines slipping and sliding over the top. The rhythm broke away after a short while here, and as the performance continued the two wind instruments became more boisterous, so Carlsson brought a series of piercing shrieks from his bowed metal, interspersed with a strange rattling sound that I assume came from the percussion, but with my eyes closed at this point its hard to be sure. There was a slight sense of nervous uncertainty at the beginning of the set, I think this was the first time the three had played together as a trio. As the music progressed however things coalesced much easier into a more assured, if always slightly fragile performance of thoughtful acoustic improv.

Dorner had played the night before as part of the No Furniture trio with laptopper Boris Baltschun and the clarinet of Kai Fagaschinski. For that set Dorner had attached a strange oversized box of electronics to the side of his instrument, with cables leading away to a computer. It was really hard to tell what this limpet-like construction was doing to his sound, particularly as the trio played a set drenched with thick converging tones within which it was often hard to distinguish the three instruments apart. This was the first performance of the trio for nearly five years, with their only CD release dating back to 2003. For this concert their music was much fuller than it appeared back then, opening with a techo-esque throb from Baltschun that set the scene for the rest of the set, a dark and brooding affair quite different to what I had been expecting. From one perspective though, once it got going there was a certain predictability about the performance that was counterbalanced by the musicians undoubted skill in its execution. Although perhaps there was little original here the chance to hear these three musicians together in full flight was highly enjoyable.

In general all of the sets at this year's i and e Festival were of interest, even if not all my cup of tea. The Quiet Club, an electronics / live scraping and bowing duo made up of Cork's Danny McCarthy and Mick O'Shea created a nice, if not particularly quiet soundworld that held my interest throughout. Paul Vogel's duet with Roy Carroll saw his clarinet matched by laptop processed clarinet, and it provided a great centre-stage for the enigmatic excellence of his playing even if the collaboration itself didn't always work well. Kai Fagaschinski had earlier opened the festival with a short solo clarinet set that was very beautiful while it lasted, his original and highly skillful techniques were a joy to behold again, but thinking back now his performance left no lasting impression beyond this.

Fred Van Hove's hour long work out sat at the organ in the Peppercanister Church was a dramatic spectacle to close the festival, and it was well received but if I'm honest it left me completely cold. I actually struggled to stay awake during the performance, mainly because the long alcohol-fuelled walk around a rain-soaked Dublin with the two Swedish guys that had preceeded the show wasn't the best preparation for respectful listening. I've since been sent a DVD of the performance that I have yet to watch, so maybe that will change my opinion when I get around to it.

The two performances that disappointed me most were the solos from Boris Baltschun and Jason Lescalleet. Baltschun sat in the dark, his lowered face and a vase of daffodils placed on his table lit by the glow of his computer screen. At first he placed isolated bleeps and glitches into the echoing silence of the Unitarian Church, but after a short while the sounds multiplied and merged into a somewhat impenetrable series of cold electronic constructions that unfortunately I found neither conceptually interesting or emotionally engaging.

Lescalleet's solo was as much of a theatrical event as the last time I saw him perform, a couple of years back in New York.I've watched many musicians set up their tables of equipment in the past, but not normally after their performance had begun! Clearly the whole process of building the machine that makes his music is an important part of the whole live process for Lescalleet. He began with a 7" single (I think it was Indian Reservation by Paul Revere and The Raiders) playing alone on a small record deck. It was allowed to play undisturbed in full as Lescalleet captured parts of it on worn old tape loops he had set up between two small recorders on the floor. These decaying loops were then used as the basis of the noise piece that he then built up, bringing in soundfiles from a laptop as well as material captured from contact mikes placed around the stage. Whilst a refreshingly enjoyable visual spectacle (at one point Lescalleet even went to the back of the hall to fetch something he needed from his bag) I sadly found the actual music it all generated to be of little interest, sonically powerful but only in a somewhat predictable way.

Besides the music the 2008 i and e Festival was yet another opportunity to catch up with some good friends and spend yet more time in a city that increasingly feels like my future home. Despite now being in its fourth year the festival retains its intimate, welcoming feel with no barriers at all between the musicians and their audience. The organisers work consciously hard to keep it this way, very much to their credit. I thoroughly recommend that anyone interested attends next year.

A couple of Sundays back audition staged its second in-studio live performance, this time a showcase of the Mask Mirror project by Alessandro Bosetti. Most commonly known (by me at least) for his saxophone playing, Mask Mirror utilises spoken word elements, both live and as samples together with snippets of instrumental sound. Having not heard the material before I was slightly concerned at how it might all sound, as spoken word is not the first section I head for when entering a record shop... but I really enjoyed how it all worked. Bosetti plays with language and conversation in an improvised context. He uses randomly generated samples of his own voice to effectively hold conversations with himself in a manner that sounds cheesy on paper, but was in fact equally amusing and thought-provoking. The show in question can be heard here.

The day before, I saw Bosetti improvise with his Mask Mirror arrangements at a shop gig for Sound323. Anyone that knows the shop will be well aware that there isn't very much room on the shopfloor at the best of times, and in the summer Sound323 is simply the hottest shop on the planet as the south facing windows turn the place into one big greenhouse. Well that Sunday was the warmest that London has seen in many a month, and so the heat coupled with the small crowd of people squeezed into the tight space with a closed door made for a very uncomfortable experience. I barely remember Alessandro's music as for most of the set I was actually struggling to stay conscious and stood upright! I am really pleased that Mark Wastell is finding a way to continue to put on these little concerts however and long may they continue.

Photos here by the good and great Fergus Kelly

A dreadful meal on the South Bank of the Thames with David Reid later I headed to the Royal Festival Hall to witness the long awaited London Sinfonietta performance of Luigi Nono's final masterpiece Prometeo. More about this wonderful experience in a forthcoming post however.

So I think that catches up everything from a live music perspective. I've listened to no end of excellent CDs of late, perhaps a round-up of all of those is needed soon too. Tomorrow I will attend a performance of a film made by Luke Fowler and Lee Patterson, with Patterson performing a live soundtrack at the Tate Modern. The film is a response to a La Monte Young score (Draw a straight line and follow it...) and will be performed again on Bank Holiday Monday should anyone be interested.

No comments: