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.

tectonics glasgow opening night

Tectonics Glasgow opened on Friday (9 May 2014) with a brief discussion of the festival with selected participants.

It was perhaps a little less illuminating than the similar Beyond The Dark Would at the Text Festival the previous weekend, and had more focus on orchestral works than other aspects of the festival, though Richard Youngs was present, and Ilan Volkov mentioned Usurper and Muscles of Joy. It was also only half an hour, and not intended to be as broad a discussion.

The performances themselves acted as a combined concert in themselves and brief introduction to some artists who will appear later. Like all the evenings it was packed, with twelve pieces featured.

As much of the music was orchestral/composed rather than improvised or within the sound art/more conventional dance/pop/rock areas I'm most familiar with my lack of musical knowledge and vocabulary will be very evident. My aim in any case is to give my brief, subjective, and often naive reactions. Others I'm sure will provide more musically enlightening reactions. Thankfully a programme is available so I can tell you who was playing and what was played.

Some, more or all the performances will also go out on BBC Radio 3 at some stage so you can hear for yourself and make up your own mind.

The concert proper started around 7.30, with Bill Wells' Summer Dreams. This opened with Bill Wells on piano and Aby Vulliamy on viola (and voice), before later being joined by members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra [SSO from now on].

The music was gentle, with a hint of pop/folk traditions. Not just in Aby's voice which might fit on any number of records I have, but in some of the passages of music. Rather as if The Beatles' and others' experiments with contemporary composition and orchestral arrangements of the late 1960's - early 1970's, as well as their approach to song had been captured, refracted, broken, reassembled, and projected back. Though stripped of the sometimes over-dramatic, postwar, individual/self-focussed romanticism that's part of pop's dialectic.

It was enjoyable, and some passages would fit easily into the gentler, less frequently listened to corners of my record collection. But as you can guess a little more grit and dirt, a little more of the post-industrial world of ideological uncertainty and fragmentation we occupy would have made me happier.

Klaus Lang was next playing an extract from his Ugly House on harmonium. This was a quiet piece. The comparison I made in my notes is so inaccurate it's worth including for the lols: "First ref point was CC Hennix, but less droney + more active."

So like C Christer Hennix, but based more around melody (albeit leisurely) than drones. I was however so hung up on the idea of drones that I didn't really concentrate on what the piece was doing. It was enjoyable. I was less aware of it developing phrases than exploring textures and the sounds of the harmonium.

Apologies, not terribly informative.

Collective Endeavours' Fracking was closer to the kind of work I'm most familiar with. Incorporating dance and spoken elements it interested and irritated me by turns, sometimes simultaneously.

The text I thought was a little meh. More like a first draft, or a sketch of ideas for things to be avoided than a developed reflection or commentary. I'd have preferred either something more documentary or more oblique.

The music was a little rougher and more contemporary sounding, including percussive sounds (of dance? I couldn't see) from the balcony above. Even the spoken word, uninspiring as the text itself was, worked well.

Once the dancer moved downstairs, stopped her vocal contributions via megaphone, and started to dance the piece continued to hold my attention. For a little while at least. My attention was beginning to wander by the end, but since I needed the toilet fairly urgently that may have been my fault.

Þráinn Hjálmarsson's Persona followed. I went to the toilet immediately after Fracking so missed the beginning. This was very much a highlight for me, a quiet piece (performed by Kristin Þóra Haraldsdóttir on viola), though not shy or reticent.

It comprised a palette of squeaks, creaks, gestures, whispers and whistles drawn from the instrument, spaced among silences, and periodically coalescing into a moment of melody. These kind of strategies are familiar to me, and were well used here.

Though too much sound would have drowned it out, a little ambient background noise tended to fit into the piece nicely. Though I don't remember it during Persona, the quiet sound of (I'm guessing) the venue, St Andrew's', bells added to a couple of the works.

Next were two pieces by David Behrman, Pile Of Fourths and Pitchbends, performed simultaneously by Catherine Lamb on viola and members of the BBC SSO.

Not being familiar with either piece I don't know how they were arranged. A naive assumption would be that Caroline Lamb (in the centre of the space) played one piece and the BBC SSO (at one end of the space played the other. But perhaps someone who actually knows might tell us.

In fact as I hadn't read the programme carefully I hadn't realised there were two separate pieces being played together. My impression was that they were a series of tiny phrases that managed to both remain discrete and make up a consistent whole.

To be honest I wasn't that interested. It was well put together and seamless, but not exciting to me. As usual your mileage may vary - if it does feel free to tell me, and tell me why.

To end the first half Marcus Weiss on saxophone (in fact on three differently pitched saxophones) performed James Tenney's Saxony.

Drones and phrases, sometimes drifting sometimes more rapid, were played and layered. Each laid over the previous phrase. As I'm familiar with sampling, loop pedals, and similar strategies this was again something I recognised.

Saxony was another highlight. The layered saxophones sounding more like an organ or harmonium than what you'd commonly expect from a saxophone.

So to the interval.

For the second half of the evening Christian Wolff played a selection of his Works for Keyboard. Here notes and silences stepped carefully around each other, occasionally clustering into phrases or fragments of phrases.

The whole was allusive, suggestive, and seemed to purposely avoid being pinned down into too obvious or definitive a statement. I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed Richard Youngs, singing next unaccompanied, even more. The song itself wasn't especially interesting to me - a little folky, little singer-songwriter-ish - but the performance was strong.

It was another highlight, primarily for the performance and for keeping my interest.

A further highlight followed, Catherine Lamb on viola and Klaus Lang on harmonium performing a piece in which they explored drones.

The drones, often dense and dark, sometimes buzzing, and frequently sinister, gathered and circled. Then they would briefly clear and lighten before closing in again.

This may have been my favourite piece of the night, alongside Persona (described earlier) and the Thurston Moore/Takehisa Kosugi collaboration at the end (see later).

Mark Vernon and Barry Burns followed with Renditions of the Beat: A Resuscitation Recital. Using laptop and objects, with both recorded speech, and live reading (and following) of the instructions for use of a mannequin to learn resuscitation techniques on, the piece was witty and well structured, as well as sonically interesting.

Once more my attention was held right through. That this wasn't one of my highlights probably has to do with the fact that I found this second half of the evening much stronger all round. There was also a physicality to the piece that I enjoyed. This was characteristic of the rest of the second half as a whole - particularly Richard Youngs and the final two acts...

...The first of whom was ANAKANAK (Anneke Kampman), with additional visuals by Tom Varley. Using occasional beats, voice and electronics she sculpted her voice as both sound source, and voice as carrier of meaning.

By turns glitchy and fractured, reminiscent of other experimenters (I heard echoes of Laurie Anderson and others), and sometimes close to electronica or dance music the piece 'the as if body loop' kept my attention.

At times I would have liked more from the voice. The processing was interesting, but more extended vocal technique for it to be applied to would have lifted the piece for me. But I've spent the last few years concentrating on developing my voice, so unnecessarily finicky criticism is to be expected, and can be safely ignored.

Finally Thurston Moore on guitar and Takehisa Kosugi on electronics played a loud, physical, and enjoyable set. At least for me.

There were no huge surprises if you've seen many improvised gigs. The set started quietly, with spaces opened up in the sound, then gradually gathered volume and texture. At times it was hard to pick apart what sounds were being generated by whom. There were squalls, groans, shivers, roars, flares of feedback and more. And eventually the sounds ebbed, spaces appeared again, and after more flurries of dense noise, came to a halting end.

Both performers were very physical despite seated, and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. For me it ended the evening on a high note.

Day 1 alone then was worth attending. I'm glad I saw even the pieces I didn't much care for, and was introduced to music I hadn't previously heard. Particularly Christian Wolff and David Behrman, whose names I've frequently seen cited.

Two more nights to go, starting in just a couple of hours.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

new studio - more work on large piece

I've previously written about moving into the new studio,  starting work on a new large piece,  and a brief visit to do a little more work on the piece.

This time I'm looking at some further work to the large piece over the weekend. A number of new items were brought with the intention of filling in a few gaps, as well as paint to begin dripping over the piece.

The objects bought were a decorated pink gift bag, chenille twists, and coloured plastic 'flutes'.

Plus a few items were left over from my previous visits.

As the light mid-afternoon on Saturday was excellent I got a number of photos of the piece before starting work. I've done nothing to these shots, that's how my phone actually reproduced the colours - with a hyperreal, glowing vividness.

I strung more washing line between front and back of the piece, then hung various objects from it with ribbons. When that was done I dripped paint across those parts of the piece over the dustsheet.

This took around three hours, but felt a lot less. Irrespective of whether the object I'm making turns out to be any good or not, it's been very enjoyable to make.

It's also been fun taking the photos, especially when the light is good. With which, here are the pictures of how the piece looked shortly before I left the studio.

Yesterday (Tuesday 29 April) I bought a few more items, which I think will be the last required for this piece, from a supermarket as I headed in to work.

They included newspaper, paper, balloons and wallpaper paste to create some masks that will be added to the piece.

Gloves for use handling the wallpaper paste and paper; paper plates to cut up and create extrusions on the masks; and coloured plastic cutlery, both to add to the piece, and to provide something to mix the wallpaper paste with were also bought.

The other item purchased for use on the piece was a bag of toy soldiers which will be decapitated, dismembered, mutilated, melted, and painted. I expect all of this to take some time, and it is working on a much smaller scale than hitherto.

Finally, jumping back to Saturday, a couple of videos of the piece as it currently stands.

I'm not sure when my next posting will be - I won't have a lot of time to be in the studio over the next couple of weeks. The next Text Festival opens on Friday, with events on Saturday and Sunday (2-4 May 2014). From Sunday afternoon, just after the Text Festival event that day, Sounds From The Other City returns to Salford. Although I'm on leave from work for a fortnight there are some family issues that will take up a little time, and from 8-12 May I'll be in Glasgow for their stage of Ilan Volkov's Tectonics Festival.