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.

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