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.