Monday, December 01, 2014

partial withdrawal from facebook

I'm always wary of speaking too soon, but there's a chance I may start posting here more frequently. In recent years my energies got a little diverted by both fighting depression, and using Facebook as a combined notepad/diary/forum for staying in touch with friends. However, that's started to change.

The reason for this isn’t that I have a great moral objection to Facebook, or even that I find it much of a time-sink – recently I’ve only been checking when there’s some notification. The reason for reducing my time on Facebook is that it has come to feel detrimental to my mental health.

There are a few aspects to this, some of which may seem a little vague. The immediate issues that made me consider it were: an anxiety around simply looking at the site, as well as actual interactions there; a growing sense of social isolation particularly while using Facebook; and an increasing irritation with the way some friends sometimes post there.

I’ll break each of those down a little more. First, that anxiety was reminiscent of two experiences in particular. It reminded me of how I felt when I was bullied at school between the ages of 9 and 16, and it reminds me of the chill I felt in China when it became obvious that my internet usage was being policed. I should emphasise, however, that these prior experiences are extreme examples, and I have never felt as insecure, or at as much risk of actual harm while using Facebook as in either situation. I’ll explain the parallels shortly.

Second, my growing sense of social isolation. This is more subtle and may be as much about my perception and state of mind as about any external actions. Primarily, in tandem with what happened in the real world during my 18 months or so of depression and anxiety from mid-2012 to late 2013, I’ve seen the number of interactions with friends decline. There has also been a less tangible sense of exclusion: from conversations and events especially. I won’t go any further into this here.

Thirdly, my irritation at the way some friends sometimes post is the most concrete issue. It was also a significant factor in beginning to withdraw from Facebook, a process which has been imminent for a couple of years even before things came to a head recently. Again this is something I will examine in more detail later.

But I’ll return first to the parallels of being bullied in school, and that sense of being policed online while in China. The most identifiable manifestation of this has been self-censorship. This also ties into my irritation at some postings, so I’ll revisit it with a slightly different emphasis when I come to look at that. But in all cases it’s been insidious and unwelcome. My self-censorship on Facebook has mostly taken the form of not commenting on posts, even where I have a keen interest, if what I have to say can be construed as critical. It is this that I’ll expand on when I tackle the way some friends sometimes post.

My self-censorship at school was substantially more damaging, and largely consisted of near-total withdrawal, never venturing an opinion, and on a handful of occasions I’m ashamed of, participating in verbally bullying others as a way of deflecting attention from me. It also meant not admitting I had a problem, except for two or three instances when I tried to directly address teachers through creative written projects, only to be ignored.

In China my self-censorship was more easily overcome since I was only there for a limited time. What precipitated it was that I made a post critical of the Chinese government, and within 10 minutes a whole swathe of sites were unavailable, any mention of me or my blogs vanished from search results, and I was unable to open emails. I was eventually able to get round this using a VPN. Clearly this blocking was due to unmanned processes, and not by an actual person reading my blog.

For a short while I found I was self-censoring. Not so much out of fear for myself in this case, but because I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. One of the things that persuaded me to stop self-censoring was a growing awareness that everyone used VPNs, and was quite open about it.

Now I come to that irritation at how some friends sometimes post. Please note this is not about you. I am not discussing any particular instances. Rather, I’m making an aggregate of several instances across a few years involving a number of different people. I also incorporate observations derived from similar problems encountered on various forums. Furthermore I’m not saying anyone is to blame, miscommunications happen, we’re all human. I think there are also peculiarities about Facebook and the internet that encourage these miscommunications.

By far the most common reason for not responding in writing to posts on Facebook is the certain knowledge from experience that critical comments are almost invariably read as an attack on the original poster and their worldview, rather than an attempt to engage in conversation or debate. This is not exclusive to Facebook by any means. I see it on forums, on newspaper and YouTube comment threads, and elsewhere online.

But to return specifically to my experience of deciding not to respond on Facebook: often this is because posts that I want to respond to are problematically phrased, or because I know how the author will react, and in both cases there is no way to raise even a mild objection to a specific point without being cast as an enemy, an oppressor, close-minded or similar. I’ve let a lot of frankly idiotic, inane, offensive, and plain wrong statements pass for this reason.

And I’m not talking here about constantly niggling away at someone about trivial matters. I mean very occasional attempts to discuss either substantial issues, or relatively minor quibbles nonetheless still too large to ignore where otherwise I’d be in complete agreement with someone.

I mentioned peculiarities about Facebook (and the internet more widely) that encourage miscommunication. For me this appears to come from the fact that Facebook for example is neither wholly a public space nor wholly a private space. Hence people use it both for broadcasting activities, interests, aspects of their personality and self-image, and more, and as a supplement to emails, texts and other personal social contacts.

Most of the time when I use Facebook, I have in mind exactly that combination of public and personal motives. The problems come when, for instance, someone makes a critique of something I’ve said in a way they see as purely personal. Perhaps by way of opening a debate. As an example, say I post a link to an article about why those pedalling unproven cancer treatments for profit are rightly outlawed. This is largely intended as a broadcast. A friend then comments with a personal anecdote, and questions why I’m denying ‘ancient wisdom’.

Normally in this situation I would try to explain my position, and politely challenge what they’ve said. But for this example I read their post as being an attempt to hijack my message, and respond angrily. I post a condescending reply that also accuses them of being no better than a murderer. This is a disproportionate (if understandable) response, and more in keeping with a heated public debate than a private discussion. I’ve also, crucially, treated my friend more like a random stranger than someone I know.

Although I hate lists of ‘how to do something right’, and I realise that my suggestions are provisional and not the last word on this, I’ve tried to come up with some simple guidelines to try and avoid petty flame wars with friends.

Read and comprehend what they wrote. Then if you’re annoyed, read it again, more carefully. You may still be annoyed, in which case I’d advise against responding immediately. But, if you do write a response, read it before you send, and consider:

1. Does it actually relate to what you’re responding to, or are you dragging in other matters that may not be relevant?

2. What is your tone like? If you’re being condescending or dismissive or aggressive perhaps it might be wise to think again.

3. What is the forum, and who are you writing to? A public message on Facebook can be read by other people who have nothing to do with the argument. If they agree with you, is there a chance they might pile-in and make the thread devolve into bullying of the person you’re arguing with? I’ve seen it happen too often, it adds nothing to the debate, makes everyone angry, and reinforces an echo-chamber mentality where dissent is disallowed, and only ‘right thinking’ is permitted.

Either ignoring the person or politely challenging them in the first instance (if they’re a stranger), or taking it to private messages might be better (if it’s someone you know). Although, if you think a private message might be construed as bullying (carrying on aggression out of sight) then a polite challenge to someone you know might be more appropriate.

4. What are you trying to achieve? If you’re trying to ‘win’ the argument, make your opponent feel bad, shut them up or exclude their point of view, or just let off steam in their general direction, then you should probably close down your computer and walk away from it for a while.

5. Is there a possibility you might be wrong, or misreading a nuance? Why not politely check before lashing out?

6. Are you addressing the substance of their argument or attacking the person? If you’re doing the latter, delete the message and start over. If you still can’t cool down enough to engage with the issues rather than getting personal, leave it alone.

To bring this back to the beginning, I’ve found Facebook in particular has in recent years and months been having a detrimental effect on my mental health. It has increased my sense of social isolation and anxiety; what used to be an enjoyable and safe space now feels like being back at school, with the attendant cliques, exclusion and bullying; it’s caused me to self-censor, and then get angry with both myself and the friends with whom I’d like to discuss issues substantively, but who only seem interested in easy affirmation. Being only a year removed from my most recent depressive episode I don’t need that kind of stress and nonsense, hence my partial withdrawal.

tl:dr Fuck you all.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

live yesterday: tear fet in manchester

Last year when Edward Snowden's revelations around NSA and GCHQ began to emerge, Manchester poet Steven Waling started a series of Facebook updates that all opened, 'Hello GCHQ'. Each short poem featured the words 'terrorist', 'bomb' and 'revolution'. Now those statuses have become the book Hello GCHQ from Department Press.

Hence the reason a group of us gathered at the Town Hall Tavern yesterday afternoon (Saturday 8 November 2014). It was the official launch of the book, though thanks to the brave new world of privatised  postal services, the book itself is absent. Unless (for the absurdly conspiracy-minded among you) you think it might have been impounded along with copies of The Anarchist's Cookbook.

No matter. I'm here for two reasons. First, I always intended to support the launch, and listen to the talented line-up of Rachel Sills, Tom Jenks, Tim Allen, and of course Steven Waling. Secondly, with Tom Jenks unable to make it, I'm a last-minute substitute. I'm billed as Matt Dalby, but really, as a sound performance, this is Tear Fet.

In fact, in a small room with no PA, this is Tear Fet unplugged.

Before proceedings get underway in earnest, Tim Allen and Richard Barrett read a short set of selections from a project called Prophecies, which translates Nostradamus as he always should have been translated. Seriously, he gets a translating he'll never forget. Funny, contemporary, and relaxed. Whenever this ends up finished, and wherever it gets published, you should keep an eye out for this one.

Rachel Sills reads her often humorous, often personal, often conceptual or otherwise constrained poetry. When I say constrained I mean in the conceptual or Oulipan sense. It's a confident if understated performance. Like the rest of the afternoon's performances, and unusually for me, I'm able to concentrate all the way through, and follow the poems.

Then it's me, there'll be more on this in a bit. I don't know what it was like, but assuming they're talking about the performance, on my recording someone can be heard immediately after saying, 'That was weird'. I don't know what that means - for me weird means light-entertainment Friday/weekend prime-time tv - and that's not what I do.

There's a brief break, then Tim Allen - my favourite performer among those reading (all of whom I've seen more than once) - reads a selection of his frequently funny, always interesting work. With Tom Jenks, Leanne Bridgewater and a few others whose names I can't remember at present, he's someone I'd point new performers towards as an example of one way to do it right. His poems are deceptively simple and possess a great sense of how language actually sounds.

Finally Steven Waling reads from Hello GCHQ and some other poems. Like Rachel, he's a more unassuming presence than either Tim or myself. But that shouldn't blind you to the quality of what he does. You don't have to be brash and in-your-face to be good or effective. His poems are, on the whole, the most obviously socially engaged, though with a light touch. They also reflect the contemporary world, contemporary language, and contemporary poetic practices. He holds our attention for the full 20 minutes, not always easy after around an hour of prior supporting performances.

I expect you'll soon be able to hear more of all these performances, since I made audio recordings of the lot, which I've forwarded to the organisers. For the time-being though, here's my full performance. I'm very happy with it. I feel like it briefly loses focus a couple of times, but I'm happy with my voice and my performance. In particular a couple of extended moments where I consciously make three different vocal sounds simultaneously.

What did people make of it? Well apart from (possibly) being weird, I was told it reminded those watching of Antonin Artaud/Theatre of Cruelty, and (in my physical contortions) of 1970s live art, and the paintings of Francis Bacon - I think especially his 'screaming pope' paintings.

What was actually on my mind was Dylan Nyoukis, THF Drenching and Greta Buitkute, Bruce Lacey, Crank Sturgeon, and Charlemagne Palestine. So I guess not so wildly different after all.

By the way, there's no church organ in my recording - it's all my live, unamplified voice. I don't know if there are any photos of the performance floating around, but I'd like to see them if there are.

Edit: somehow forgot that also on my mind - very definitely - were Valeska Gert and Yoko Ono.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

how to get your paws on tear fet's underpath

I've been inundated with queries* as to how you can buy Underpath from Tear Fet (my sounds project).

Well, choc.296 is available for £5 from the ever excellent Chocolate Monk label out of Brighton via Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance (who also run Colour Out of Space festival, which you really should visit), or I have a limited number of copies.

Just drop me a line, or stop me if you see me around, and I'll fix you up if I still have copies left. Incidentally, I know I already posted the cover art, but I thought I'd give you a taster of the back cover, insert, and CDr itself while I was about it.

If that tracklisting in the photo's too tricky to read, here it is in full:
Tear Fet - Underpath

1 Vlare 1:53
2 Like a sunburnt cock 2:00
3 Growth 1:17
4 Chlup 1:46
5 Lost on the way 1:20
6 Gong 1:57
7 Ingredients 0:40
8 Enjoy yr tablet on the move 2:01
9 Have you had a chance yet 1:57
10 Mantra 1:57**
11 Suntrap 2:02
12 Cold Hands 1:13

*No-one has asked.
**You can hear this at the Chocolate Monk page, or at SoundCloud and YouTube (and below).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

tear fet, underpath

So I have a new record out under the Tear Fet name I'm now using for sound projects.

Underpath is out through Chocolate Monk (choc.296) as a limited CDr release for only £5. Check the link up there to buy, or hear sample track Mantra (warning: swears).

But don't trust me that it's worth buying, here's me, with some words about it:

The result of a day trip to Bury with the dual intention of recording some short improvisations and getting lost. Both accomplished. The sounds tried to reference both Brötzmann/Bennink's Schwarzwaldfahrt, and images of The Zone in Tarkovsky's Stalker - though without the manliness and musical ability of the former, or the intellectual and structural rigour of the latter. What comes out is a kind of personal ritual, with an obsession about water. Which given that my sleeve art aimed for Herne the Hunter and Baba Yaga filtered through David Hoyle's Uncle David and missed by a long way has to count as a partial triumph in some quarters.

Another one next year. But enough about that, Underpath consists of 12 brief improvs mostly under 2 minutes (there's one of 2 minutes, one of 2:01, and one under a minute). The idea was to get away from the easy cycle of improvs around the 10-30 minute mark. It struck me that longer pieces are easier to give the illusion of structure to, whereas you have nowhere to hide if you keep it brief.

Go on, get someone you love a Christmas present from the freakside.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

current artist cv

Just a brief one - I'm hoping normal service will resume shortly. But for now, a long avoided update of my artist cv, which I'll also post on my website and over at LinkedIn. There are two versions here, one with links, and one without. At some point I may manage to pull together a sensible online portfolio. Don't hold your breath.

Matt Dalby Artist CV Oct 2014 Links by MattDalby

Matt Dalby Artist CV Oct 2014 No Links by MattDalby

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

bury international summer school 2014

20 Aug 14 Edit: updated with sketches made during the summer school, at the end of the post.

I may write about this in a little more detail later, but for now this post is mainly to link to the photos, videos, [sketches], and audio field recordings I made last week at Bury International Summer School.

The summer school ran from 11-18 August at Bury Art Gallery, and was led by Marianne Eigenheer, with Laura Köönikkä, Matt Moser-Clark and Natalia Fedorova.

As part of the week, an international biennial was discovered in the streets of Bury. More details can be found at Bury First International Biennial.

I was one of several people to participate in @theinfiniteidea's twitter project #Intimacy Project I: Artist Self Portraits in 12 Words. The tweets can be found here.

Almost all the material I recorded which follows is unmediated, so there will be roughness and mess. But if you're familiar with my aesthetic that won't be a surprise to you.

The audio I recorded is in two parts, a playlist and a single track, since the single track was too long to be posted on Audioboo.

The audio is all field recordings, mainly recorded in Bury.

Several of the interiors are in the Art Gallery, except for the Archive from the same building, the Bathroom recording from Bury Bus Station, Bury Mill Gate and Shop (which are what you'd expect, the shop being Wilkinsons), and the recording from Rogue Studios in Manchester.

The majority of exteriors are on the streets of Bury, except (I think) Wind, which was outside Rogue Studios.

The Tram sounds were recorded somewhere between Manchester and Bury.

The videos likewise are primarily from Bury, though this time I've put the location in the title of most of them.

Cornerhouse obviously means Cornerhouse Manchester. The other named videos: Barrels, Bins, Plastic blowing and Railings are all from Bury.

And finally a  A selection of photos I took through the week:

Finally, the sketches I made through the week, which I forgot to post originally.

The majority were me returning to old ideas growing out of my earliest visual poems, that I'm now thinking of scaling-up, and perhaps also attempting as sculptural objects.

Some of the sketches for sculptural ideas came out of a presentation about his work from MattMoser-Clark (link waay up there in what's now the third paragraph).

Most of them, though, came from Marianne Eigenheer's presentation, and discussion of her drawings. See Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop for more, and particularly this pdf.

I thought about writing a little to accompany each, but it's not necessary, except that I'll separate out this sound drawing, sketched in response to sounds in the Art Gallery. I had to scan it in two sections and Frankenstein them together, so it looks a bit rougher than I'd like.

And the rest of them:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

mattreviews artists series - derek jarman

When I started mattreviews podcasts I had an unfocussed notion that I would like to examine the life and work of artists who are significant to me, whether personally, creatively or both.

Last night I finally made a start on that. I knew that I would start with Derek Jarman, and I knew that the examination would be considerably longer than the reviews I had done so far. What I did not know was how I would structure the essay. 

To resolve that question I decided to watch one of Jarman's films, take notes, and at the end try to order the information in a way that made sense. I chose War Requiem for three reasons: it was immediately to hand; it was topical, since it draws from Wilfred Owen's First World War poetry, and we are in the centenary year of the beginning of that conflict; and like a number of Jarman's films it feels simultaneously anomalous in his filmography, and representative.

Having watched War Requiem again, and the DVD extras around the making of the film, and having made extensive notes I was still faced with the task of ordering the material. So I opted for my usual naive approach of asking a series of very simple questions, and then building my response around those.

Here the questions were: What is it? How is it structured? What do I like about it? Anything I dislike? Echoes of other films; Make a case for it as [a] favourite.

I took an A1 board, and in landscape format divided it into three columns:

The central column was headed 'War Requiem', and beneath that the six questions, each with room for notes underneath. The central column of naive questions was further expanded by a single A4 sheet headed 'Facts', with three subheadings of 'Jarman', 'War Requiem film', and 'War Requiem music', under which key contextual information was noted.

The left column was headed 'Jarman - creatively + personally', and was used to expand on points spun out from the central column.

Finally the right hand column was headed 'My response to both Jarman + War Requiem'.  At the top of this column I wrote brief contextual notes relating to my love of Jarman and his films: 'First direct encounter thru Blue // War Requiem last feature film of his I saw. // A favourite - along with Blue, Angelic Conversation, The Last of England + The Garden'. Below that I sketched notes relating to my response to Jarman, his films, and to some of his other work. This was additionally expanded by my three pages of notes. As I filled out the board with my sketchy notes I ticked off each point that was addressed. At the end I circled any points not yet tackled, which tended to be more expansive reflections, the majority of which seemed to fit best with the third column. This column is used to begin and to end the review.

With the structuring notes completed I sat down to record my essay, extemporised from those notes. That was achieved in a single take of close to 90 minutes. Around the same length as the film. There is a little roughness in the recording, but not so much as to render it unlistenable.

I uploaded the review to my computer, did some very simple editing (essentially cutting off the sounds of the recorder being switched on and off at the beginning and end of the recording, and setting the level of volume), exported that to iTunes, and from there to SoundCloud.

Normally mattreviews is hosted at Audioboo, but I already knew before I started that my artists series' essays are likely to be over an hour. Since I cannot currently afford a premium Audioboo membership my podcasts are limited to ten minutes. I felt that it was impractical to divide the essays into what would have been in this case nine sections. For that reason I took the decision to post the entire essay to my SoundCloud profile with a link to the mattreviews podcast. For Audioboo I created a file featuring a specially recorded introduction and conclusion, between which the first six and a half minutes of the review were placed. That was posted with a link referring back to full essay at SoundCloud.

By then it was half past three in the morning, and time for bed. The entire process took six and a half hours.

Having listened back once to the whole piece I am content that I have done a reasonable job. I have embedded the full essay below, but you can also go directly to the ten minute opening at Audioboo, or to the complete essay at SoundCloud.

There will be some more reviews before the next entry in the 'artists series', which at present I intend to be The Fall/Mark E Smith. I have no plans for when that will be.

Thanks for your time, and I will leave with mattreviews podcast: artist series - Derek Jarman:

Thursday, August 07, 2014

mattreviews podcast + liverpool biennial

In my last post I mentioned my new reviews podcast, and featured my review of part wild horses mane on both sides' performance conduit of the bottomless submundane. This time I want to look at the podcast itself.

First, the podcast. Embedded below, or to be found here.

As I mentioned last time, the podcasts are an effective way of giving a quick response to events, as they're less time-consuming than written reviews to create. For one I don't have to write them out in full, I simply sketch out a structure and some points I want to explore, then basically improvise.

The downside of that is that speaking for even 20+ minutes conveys less information that a moderately lengthy blogpost. So it's likely that where I want to explore something more deeply I will do so in writing at a later stage.

All of which assumes that I'll be able to keep this up. We'll see.

Because the embedded playlist will update, and so these reviews will drop further down, below are the four parts of my review of Liverpool Biennial, the first review in this new series.

conduit of the bottomless submundane review

Not a written review this time, but part of a series of podcasts I'm trying out.

So far I've reviewed bits of Liverpool Biennial, and here I look at part wild horses mane on both sides' installation-performance piece currently touring, conduit of the bottomless submundane.

I don't think these podcasts will wholly replace my written reviews, for one it's hard to fit as much information in. But they take less time to create. So I think they will tend to be my first word on things that interest me, and if I feel I have more to say, and have the time, then written reviews will follow.

But on with the review. Incidentally, do also take a look at the other stuff over on my Audioboo channel.

Monday, July 07, 2014

recent vocal improvs free online

I've just done a quick round-up this year's (really this summer's) vocal improvisations that I've posted online so far.

All these are freely available. There will be further sounds you can buy in the not-too-distant future, but more news on that when I have it.

All the playlists are under the name Tear Fet, my new name for solo sound work. They do not include the sounds released through Bandcamp (and earlier this year, which you should totally download.

So, starting with the shortest, here are a bunch of 6-second or less vocal improvs from Vine. Since I haven't looked to see if there's a way of creating playlists from Vines, this one is just a raw list of links:

Tear Fet: vocal improvs 2014 (13 of 'em)

Next, a playlist of boos from Audioboo. These are all 2 minutes long, except the one that's 3 minutes long.


And finally a playlist from YouTube. The 3 tracks at the time of writing are 3:51, 3:43 & 2:35 long.


And there you have it, a little under 25 minutes of sounds all gathered together in one convenient post. Hopefully there's something there for you to enjoy.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

tectonics glasgow day 3

The day started the moment you got through the door of the City Halls and Old Fruitmarket with Usurper at the top of the first set of stairs.

They started their performance with (comic) adjustments to their costumes before leading us into the Old Fruitmarket where four tables were set up, and guest performers Norman Shaw, Fiona Kennedy, Sacha Kabir and Luke Poot were waiting.

I've listed the guests in order of 'appearance', as Usurper, like two Mad Hatters acting waiter spent time at each table in turn.

The ostensible linking themes were diners at a restaurant, Usurper's desire for a drink, and the trick where a tablecloth is pulled from underneath glasses and crockery leaving them standing. The trick of course never worked. Well once, but only with heavy six-packs of cola on the table. Similarly the tables were covered in noise-making objects rather than set for a meal.

If I wanted to be wanky I could say they were set for an aural meal, but only a wanker would say something like that, so I won't.

Anyway, displacing the contents of the table caused the guest to spit out their drink and start their performance. The performances then were collaborations between the guests, who used their voices, and Usurper who used objects and (sometimes) voice.

Very broadly the 'theme' at the first table was a menu, at the second drinks, at the third Glasgow housing, and at the fourth the abstract concept of upset.

The performances were excellent, funny, held together very coherently, and came together to a satisfying conclusion. It was a highlight of the day, and of the weekend.

As always if Usurper perform near you, get there if you can.

S.L.Á.T.U.R came next. They are an Icelandic composers' collective, and performed works from some members who were present and some who hadn't made the journey.

Although I took partial notes of composers and works, the information was only up briefly. Consequently I'll publish this review as an overview without most of those details, and once I get a chance to clarify names etc I'll add those in.

The first work I can tell you was by Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir and was called Secrets and Confessions. This consisted of small, quiet sounds from around the space. So for instance just breath and sounds of valves being operated on a trumpet. It was highly effective, with the players mobile through the audience. Quite probably my favourite piece in this performance.

The second work was by Bergrún Snæbjornsdóttir. Called 2 Viti it was performed by two electric guitars and (I think) E-bows. It proceeded by way of short phrases with space between them. I liked that the staging and the music were consciously static in comparison to what you might normally expect from the instrument.

The third piece, Square Music, introduced a theme followed for the rest of the performance, of musicians following an animated visual score also projected behind them. In this case different coloured squares moving at different speeds around sections of a constantly shifting grid. Each musician followed a particular colour and played a note when their square hit a corner. The effect was sometimes like 8-bit music played on analogue acoustic instruments.

Fourth was Jesper Pederson's Bottleneck. Six performers each held two strings, each with a single empty plastic bottle tied to the end. They tapped the bottles on the ground as animated triangles spun. From time to time a performer's assigned triangle would leap out of place, requiring a larger movement of the string. The sound was curiously enjoyable and varied.

The fifth piece was called PF, and this time involved wind instruments, each played as the corresponding coloured block crossed a central line.

My notes are not very informative otherwise, and I can't remember clearly enough what this sounded like to offer a useful description. However, I know some members of S.L.Á.T.U.R have videos online, so if I find links to this (or any other) I'll post them.

I appear not to have a description of the sixth piece. I know it was by Guđmundur Steinn Gunnarsson, so when I'm back home I'll see if I can track down a title and performance for you.

Páll Ivan frá Eiđum wrote the seventh piece. The animation here featured a cartoon line drawing of a reindeer's head. Coloured dots were gathered between its horns, a little like a cross section of a ball-pool. Beneath the back of the head was a curve of coloured bars, above which swung a cock and balls.

Periodically the cock would shoot out a white line. Where that line struck a coloured block a note would be played. The notes here played (I think) on mobile phone. At intervals a revolving Y-shape in front of the horns would release some coloured dots. These rolled down the nose, back down the mouth and bounced off the coloured bars, where they were played.

Ingi Garđar Erlendsson's Steinn/Tennis was eighth. Here it was less obvious how the players read the score. Film of tennis, then badminton, then ping-pong alternated with film of standing stones which also opened the piece.

The stones at least clearly scored a blast of sound from all the instruments. I found the variation welcome, and this was a close second as highlight of the set.

Proceedings here were rounded out by Áki Ásgeirsson's 312º for ensemble and audience. Here coloured dots ran along bars to cross a line at the left. Each crossing was a musical event, and the frequency of the dots varied. At top and bottom a hand symbol and a foot symbol respectively also appeared, indicating that the two halves of the audience either clap or stamp as indicated.

The set as a whole was a second highlight for the day. I liked the animated graphic scores, which seemed easy and unambiguous to read. I also liked the use of found objects to generate sound.

Aside from being an enjoyable concert it offered an accessible introduction to simple concepts of notation, composition, and performance.

Sunday was the longer, and the busier day. As well as the several works in S.L.Á.T.U.R's set, Exaudi's concert (next), and the second orchestral concert of the weekend (later) featured a number of pieces. Hence this review's length. Add to that my travelling from Glasgow to Lancaster today and you have the delay in publishing this one.

And that's before you factor in a points failure as far as Carlisle necessitating delays and replacement bus services.

The next concert was Exaudi, directed by James Weeks, performing seven contemporary vocal works. As usual with the composed and orchestral works you'll have to remember this is filtered through my profound ignorance of the classical world. This includes, but is not limited to, basic musical vocabulary, current trends and practitioners, and any detailed grasp of the history. Consequently my reference points may be wildly misleading, and relate strictly to my own experience.

Which is one way of saying I had no real reference points for most of what I heard in this concert. But I have extensive notes and definite opinions.

Christopher Fox Preluding
This, as far as I could make out, was non-verbal. Sounds rather than words.

The voices intersected in interesting, almost chaotic-sounding ways. It was harder to pull apart the male voices from each other than the female. Points of attention formed and dispersed.

Despite all this I could find nothing to follow through and help make sense of the piece. I ended up not particularly enjoying it.

Christian Wolff Evening Shade
Evening Shade appeared to be a setting of a text, though not one that I recognise. It sounded to my ears, certainly early on, like a more conventional vocal setting than the previous piece. By which I mean it reminded me of some late 19th and early 20th century settings of texts.

Ultimately I found it overlong and soporific. As this occurred a few times across the weekend I'm putting it down to my general unfamiliarity with the musical vocabularies on display rather than any problems with the music.

James Saunders Assigned #3
This is also manifest in those works I liked, which tended to share common features with music and sound art I already knew and enjoyed. That was certainly true of this piece.

The sounds were simple and accessible, quiet and often inaudible. They felt close to the sorts of sounds I already listen to and make. Though of course my efforts are far less skilled or sophisticated.

Christian Wolff Madrigals
To me this sounded like characteristic phrases taken from madrigals and pieced together out of context. A sort of collaged meta-madrigal. I enjoyed it a lot.

Amber Priestley Floors are Flowers, take a few
To me this was reminiscent of Preluding and Assigned #3. There were gutteral sounds that were not always conventionally musical.

Christian Wolff Ashbery Madrigals
I take it the title relates to John Ashbery. The text appeared to consist of disconnected words and short phrases.

I was reminded of Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives. It may just be that I recently watched film of the piece and it was the closest reference point. Either way I enjoyed Perfect Lives, and I enjoyed Ashbery Madrigals.

Cassandra Miller Guide
One of the highlights of the concert was the final piece. This started like traditional devotional song or even gospel, then wandered off into something a lot more unusual.

This subversion of expectations was exuberantly enjoyable.

The concert as a whole was a little too formal and traditional for my taste, but there were some excellent moments nonetheless. It perhaps suffered in comparison being bookended by (for me) two highlights of the day, which were also more informally presented.

I've already discussed S.L.Á.T.U.R, one of those bookends. The other was James Weeks' Radical Road.

Small groups of between four and seven musicians (by my rough and possibly inaccurate count) performed in scattered locations: six groups on the first floor, one group on the first landing below, and four groups on the ground floor.

Texts were declaimed and sung, stones struck together, small pebbles poured from one saucepan to another. I thought, though could not be sure, that the groups may have been performing the same texts in different orders.

As a listener I found the best effect was, as advised, to walk around the spaces, periodically pausing, and hearing the music shift and change, sometimes repeat, around you.

I loved that the effect was genuinely three-dimensional. Not just around you, but above and below at times, depending where you were. I liked the sound of the piece, I enjoyed the bits of text that I heard, and I liked moving around the space.

There was a half hour's respite, during at least part of which you could visit or revisit Sarah Kenchington's installation Sounds from the Farmyard (described in the Day 2 review), before the next concert.

Orchestral Concert 2 was performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (SSO from hereon) and Exaudi conducted by Ilan Volkov.

The order of the pieces was varied from the programme.

Michael Finnissy Favourite Poets
This struck me as a complex piece, the orchestra and choir doing quite separate-seeming things. And within what each was doing, particularly with the orchestra, a variety of textures and competing sounds.

At the same time I was reminded of those vague fallbacks of mine, Romanticism and 20th century music. I wasn't especially enthusiastic about this piece.

It was apparently a world premiere of a revised version, as was the next.

James Clapperton Tomnaverie
To me Tomnaverie sounded a little old-fashioned. For one it seemed to have a 'narrative' structure in the way I've understood symphonies are traditionally expected to have.

There were dramatic passages that sounded very much like they could be dropped into Hitchcock or Kubrick movies.

Catherine Lamb portions transparent/opaque
I was much more impressed with Catherine Lamb's pieces.

portion one: Expand
Quiet lines drew out and renewed themselves. There were sounds like breaths or objects gently and slowly rubbing. There were dying lines.

The sounds and textures were familiar from other musical and sound contexts. Like a lot of the other low-key works across the weekend I loved it.

This first part was a European premiere.

portion two: Saturate
The sounds here were similar to the first part, but louder. Perhaps for this reason the sound felt more akin to jazz than to classical music, unlike the first part. Again, I enjoyed it.

This section was another world premiere for the festival.

Michael Finnissy Offshore
After an interval the concert resumed with another Michael Finnissy work.

I enjoyed this much more than the piece in the first half. At times I was reminded of Debussy, though as always my reference points may be misleading.

This piece had more attack to it than the earlier. There was also greater variety, from small and quiet moments to larger, louder passages.

Klaus Lang the thin tree
Finally, and the last of the works where I felt out of my depth, was another BBC commission and world premiere.

There were drifts of sound, almost more felt than heard, more textures and near-subliminal presences than outright melodies. At times I'm sure I heard overtones.

But for all that my description might suggest something immaterial the music at times throbbed, gaining a physicality that stopped it from disappearing in its weightlessness.

The reference points in my notes were Sunn 0))) and KTL, which seems to fit. I'd say the thin tree, along with Catherine Lamb's pieces, was a highlight of this concert.

Now the night, and the festival, started to wind down. From the final event in the Grand Hall we went downstairs to the Old Fruitmarket.

First Takehisa Kosugi, who had already played with Thurston Moore and participated in Wavetrain on the opening night and second day respectively, performed a solo set.

It was another physical performance. Some sound sources apparently activated by light, by contact, by motion. Kosugi moved from side to side of the table, from front to back, constantly adjusting the sound. And the performance was frequently playful.

Electronics swarmed, crackled, roared and wailed around the space in stereo. But silence was also utilised. There were voice-like sounds, industrial and natural sounds, and purely electronic sounds. Even for someone who sometimes finds tabletop electronics a little samey this was compelling.

Or as the guy somewhere behind me said, "Fuck yeah!"

Last of all, the world premiere of Richard Youngs' first orchestral piece, Past Fragments Of Distant Confrontation.

Truthfully I think I'll need to listen again to this. Much of the performance was spent trying to figure out how to listen to the work. I wasn't sure whether to approach it as 'rock' music with an orchestra, orchestral music with rock instruments and techniques, or some hybrid.

Certainly I should have ignored categories and just let the music guide my reaction. Blame a long day, a long weekend, and the demands of keeping notes, as well as perhaps the shifting between very different modes of music.

Which is not to say I didn't like this, just that I could have enjoyed it more.

Again the full potential of the space was used. Most of the members of the SSO who were performing were around the space at ground level with the audience. The brass players were on the balcony on three sides, and Richard Youngs (with tabletop, possibly prepared, electric guitar), a drummer, and one other musician were onstage. Ilan Volkov in the centre, with a mobile and unpredictable audience between him and the musicians was tasked with conducting the piece, which can't have been easy.

The various parts of the ensemble, the SSO and the more conventionally rock/pop grouping onstage, fitted well together. The only aspect I was unsure of was the drums. I was undecided whether I felt they added anything, or quite sat happily with the other elements. Unfortunately that uncertainty became an issue that got in the way of my letting the music lead me.

I also found I was worrying unduly about what Youngs might have intended to convey, what the work was about, and whether there had been a particular approach to the problems of writing for both rock instrumentation and orchestra.

Like I said, I enjoyed the work, but I'd really like to hear it again.

And then it was over. Three days of a marvellous unreal dream. Three days of enjoyable, challenging, varied music. Three days of musics, and music listening contexts, familiar and unfamiliar. Three days of thinking about sound, trying different ways of listening, and then blogging the result. Three days holiday from the real world.

I'm full of ideas. I'm even more aware of my limitations as performer, listener and critic, but crucially inspired to keep learning and keep creating.

I'll be back next year. My only uncertainty is whether I'll be in Glasgow or Reykjavík. You should come too.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

tectonics glasgow day 2

Hopefully my notes are little better today.

The evening started with an orchestral concert, including three BBC commissions/world premieres. It's exceptionally rare that I ever enter a concert hall. The pieces were performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO from hereon) conducted by Ilan Volkov, with the exception of Christian Wolff's Ordinary Matter in a version for two rather than three orchestras, where James Weeks was alongside him as second conductor.

Wolff's Ordinary Matter was the first piece. It established a field of sound, mainly strings, from which other sounds emerged. Those other sounds included creaks, note clusters and snatches of melody.

Overall I found it a little gentle for my taste, even when conventionally 'unmusical' sounds flurried out. It had a 20th century feel to it, a collaged, urban work that gave a sense of turning a radio dial in the days before DAB rather than the endless YouTube/Spotify shuffle of the present day.

Eventually there was a little more bite to proceedings, and I enjoyed it overall.

But not as much as John Oswald's I'd love to turn, the first of the three BBC commissions/world premieres (the other two followed). I've marked this as a highlight, and then written very little.

[As an aside, my notes from the night are much more complete and informative than for the opening, so this review is largely a case of typing. Albeit with my thumbs. On my phone.]

This piece explicitly 'sampled' (in a composed, orchestral sense) The Beatles, and I think at least one or two other sources that seemed familiar but I didn't recognise. If only i'd taken note of Oswald's cryptic description during the panel discussion on the opening.

The composition wasn't just rooted in, or observing history from a distance. It also made use of non-musical sounds, pop vocabulary, some nice sonic effects, and performance/expectation. Definitely one I'd recommend you listen out for.

The second BBC commission/world premiere was David Behrman's How We Got Here. To me this seemed to 'sample' 20th century composition, though not in the same plunderphonics vein as Oswald.

Here were short phrases that sounded like extracts from longer works or parts of soundtracks. Nor did the work feel as obviously collaged as those preceding. There were some very nice sonic moments, and sections that sounded to my amateur ear explicitly romantic, and others modernist.

So to the final BBC commission/world premiere, Concerto Grosso No.2 for ensemble and orchestra by Georg Friedrich Haas, who I'll confess is a new name to me. This was my second highlight of the night, and were it not for a later piece would have been the overall standout.

At the beginning, and again towards the end, this was underpinned by great resonant sounds from double bass*, of a type I'd expect to hear more from improvisors, noise/drone artists, and laptoppers/tabletop electronics. In fact Haas' works, and later pieces from Wolff and Behrman showed distinct affinity with these sorts of practices.

At times I was reminded - albeit vaguely and more figuratively than literally in terms of actual sounds - of some Sunn 0))) collaborations, and some Skullflower records. As regards the latter, the sounds were very different, but I had the same sense of laminated sound, layers of sound shifting and sliding against each other.

Contemporary film music, especially of the more abstract and gestural kind, and electronic music were also reference points that occurred to me. It's a piece I definitely want to hear again.

My understanding is that the concerts (and interviews with composers) will be broadcast in coming weeks on Radio 3's Hear & Now and Late Junction. So keep an ear out.

[*It's already evident I'm not a musician and know nothing about orchestral music, so if I've got the instrument wrong do let me know.]

Haas also composed the final piece of the Orchestral Concert, Saxophone Concerto. This was appearing in a UK premiere with Marcus Weiss, who performed James Tenney's Saxony at the opening, on saxophone.

Though I haven't marked it as a highlight it came close. I found the effect was similar to the previous piece for me. I enjoyed the sense of tones being passed from the saxophone to the orchestra and back again. There were shimmering lines. Like the Concerto Grosso it felt more strikingly than the other orchestral works so far. Or at least closer to the musical worlds I'm familiar with.

And unfortunately that's all I wrote on that.

Before moving from the Grand Hall to the Old Fruitmarket we had around an hour to relax, get a drink, and explore Sarah Kenchington's installation Sounds from the Farmyard in the Recital Room.

This involves large mechanical, audience-operated, often collaboratively operated, instruments. They included a stringed instrument activated in some way by cycling, typewriter percussion, a device where bearings are rolled down a tube and drop over glasses, an organ which requires two bellows operators, and more.

It will be open again today, and it would be nice if it remained in situ for a little while to allow people to play with it after the festival's gone.

Muscles Of Joy in the Old Fruitmarket were not to my taste. Best investigate them yourself, I have nothing useful to say.

For my taste they were a bit Radio 4, they'd slot nicely into a morning discussion programme like Start The Week (if that's still a thing). There was something very middle-class and 'clever' about the music. More stupidity and mess to overcome the sense of a technical/intellectual exercise would have been welcome.

It's odd to have music with such an obviously relationship to rock that remains so sexless and clean. And to have a music that also seems to relate to 70's feminist and other improvising groups that remains so polite and seemingly unengaged.

Normally I'm happy to praise insincerity and ironic distance, but here... Actually, I don't know if that's the problem. Usually with insincerity, ironic distance, or artists who perhaps feel they're better than the genre they're operating in, what I respond to is perhaps a sense that despite that there is an urgency and involvement. Here I got nothing.

You may disagree. Check them for yourself.

Back in the Grand Hall S.L.Á.T.U.R opened affairs performing Christian Wolff's Metal & Breath. I enjoyed this, and found it was not far from sound art territories I (and friends) have explored in performance and recording.

The piece was built from the most rudimentary elements of sound-making: breath and the human voice, and objects being struck.

Shout-out also to the people over my left shoulder who annoyed a few of the people around me with their stifled laughter. The problem's one of the venue - in a more gig-oriented space, with greater informality and more movement, chat and laughter wouldn't bother the audience as much.

Also bear in mind much music, especially improvised and experimental musics, can be funny, childish, silly. Anyway, in a nice coincidence, after the laughing party cleared off their seats were temporarily taken by some of S.L.Á.T.U.R.

I feel like I should have enjoyed Christian Wolff's For One, Two or Three People more than I did. Wolff on piano, and David Behrman and Takehisa Kosugi with tabletop setups of small instruments and objects performed.

Silence was an active part of the piece as well as the sounds made. There were some very interesting moments.

Interesting also that I've seen this exact setup for improv events, where the kind of space and silence allowed for here is pretty much unheard of.

Overall I thought the piece wasn't especially coherent and went on too long.

Thankfully David Behrman's Wavetrain was next and was a highlight of the night. The highlight of the night and the festival so far for me.

As I understand it, from Christian Wolff's explanation, pickups are placed on the strings of a grand piano, which also feedback the sound to the strings somehow. If anyone has a clearer explanation let me know.

Anyway, Wolff and Behrman with Takehisa Kosugi and the hardworking Ilan Volkov operated the inside of the piano.

The effect was stunning. Consistently, sometimes slowly sometimes rapidly, shifting tones and feedback swelled out. By turns harmonic and noisy the piano effectively became a giant electric guitar. Making this piece I guess kin to Metal Machine Music.

After which it was back to the Old Fruitmarket for the remainder of the evening, and a couple of surprises not in the programme.

First of all Ilan Volkov and various musicians from across the weekend walking through the crowd in the space making vocal and instrumental drones and gradually gathering somewhere near the middle.

I saw him do a similar thing in November at Colour Out Of Space in a very similar space with Maya Duneitz (I hope I got the name right) partway through their set. It was an electric moment there, but here as we heard people before we saw them, and as there were so many more musicians involved, tye effect was so much the greater.

Another distinct highlight.

As too were Thurston Moore and Colour Out Of Space organiser Dylan Nyoukis. I wrote very little about this.

If you know the two artists' work there will have been few surprises, but they worked well together. For much of the set, as far as I could tell, Nyoukis' electronics made more of the noise than Moore's guitar. Though there was a nice passage of feedback.

The set was loud and fun, and it wasn't always possible to tell who was making what noise. In an ideal world I've have liked a little more voice and extended vocal technique, but that's nitpicking.

Between them and closers cindytalk there was an electronic piece. The creator was mentioned at the start of proceedings, but I didn't think to make a note of who they were.

It consisted of buzzing and howling, tones ebbing and flowing. Clashes, chimes and echoes. Noise, then spaces opening up. It was good enough, but nothing I feel the urge to listen to again.

Finally cindytalk were not my kind of thing. There were elements of industrial, of post rock, and especially of improvisation and contemporary experimental practices. All of which should have been fine, but it was a little too goth for me.

Again, go look them up for yourself to get a clearer sense of whether it's for you. I have no objective view. There were some nice moments, but overall they lacked variety of tone, texture, tempo and mood.

As for the evening as a whole it was the strongest night so far. Moore and Nyoukis, and especially Behrman's Wavetrain and Haas' Concerto Grosso were worth it alone. A tremendous accomplishment by Ilan Volkov.

So to the final night with expectation and a little sadness it'll all soon be over.