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.


Anonymous said…
Great reviews - agree with Wavetrain being the highlight of the night (although I really liked Muscles of Joy & Cindytalk).

The Oswald work took elements from (according to his opening talk) The Beatles, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I think the third element was a famous composer from around the same time of whose identity I wasn't 100% sure.

The electronic piece was actually also by Oswald, apparently it was something pre-recorded that he had brought along - although he was standing at the mixing desk throughout it.
Matt Dalby said…
Thanks for that, glad someone was paying attention. I'll update the text in a bit, with credit given.

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