Its grim oop North (but the music’s great) No.2December 6, 2007
Insert: Standard blog post introduction about how I’ve been too tired/busy/lazy to post for over a month
Yeah its been a hectic few weeks, blah blah…
I have managed to make it out to quite a few concerts in the last few weeks though, and I’m going to try and catch up on them all in brief here over the next few days. A review of the LMC Festival is also nearly complete (its painful this isn’t it?) and should see the light of day very soon.
A couple of weeks back now I also wandered up the M1 to again experience the delights of the Yorkshire town of Huddersfield, home of the often good Contemporary Music Festival and… well not much else really.
My primary reason for making the long trip oop North though was to catch the rare event on the Friday evening of all eleven members of MIMEO playing together in one place, something they haven’t managed to do for quite a while. The group performed a ninety minute long live version of sight, their 2007 release on my Cathnor label, so witnessing this concert kind of closed a circle for me personally. As sight the CD project strove to reproduce the intimacy of a live performance between musicians completely separated in time and space, the live performance ironically attempted the reverse, bringing the dislocated intuition of the CD project to a concert hall situation (or a cotton dye blending shed situation in this case.)
sight the CD project explored the relationship between eleven musicians that had played together as a unit (albeit sporadically) for ten years. For anyone unaware (shame on you!) the CD was compiled (literally) by superimposing eleven sixty minute recordings made independently by the musicians to create one piece. The only rule being that each musician could only place approximately five minutes of sound onto their individual recordings. For the live recording the musicians were all tasked to find their own way of arriving as close as possible to the situation they were in for the creation of the CD, but to then bring the music alive in front of an audience.
The musicians used a variety of methods to recreate the physical disconnection. Some (mainly the laptoppers, but I believe also Keith Rowe) had pre-prepared soundfiles sat on their machines. These were then either partially manipulated live or in the case of Fennesz and maybe others, merely set running for the duration of the performance. Others played in a more traditional manner, either using a rigid score for their contributions or trusting themselves to play without regard for the other sounds around them. As Cor Fuhler played the inside of a piano, and Thomas Lehn and some of the other electronic musicians did not have the ability to instantly play back a soundfile we had an interesting mix of methods used. The musicians also all dressed in black and performed in an unlit room, reflecting the black-on-black minimalism of the CD sleeve.
The musicians also set themselves the one restraint of playing for roughly only five minutes each across the hour and a half. This five minutes could be broken into small sections and spread across the time, as with the CD. Listening in the room to the live result it was quite clear that some of the musicians chose to play quite a bit more than this however. The overall result was rather special. Although there was more music per square inch here than on the CD release there were still plenty of long, charged silences. It was incredible to hear MIMEO play this quietly, this restrained, something they have never achieved before. The half broken uncertainty of the CD was very much present. In some places sounds from different musicians came together beautifully to form lovely little vignettes, whilst elsewhere the random nature of the performance was all too clear.
I’m probably far too close the the sight project to write objectively on the performance, so I will leave it there I think. One last observation that amused me a little… as Fennesz (and I think also Marcus Schmickler though I am not definite) sat in front of me just listening to the performance unfold as they let a single soundfile run, it occurred to me that they had become as much a part of the audience as the rest of us, their input to the concert already decided and allowed to unfold on a machine. As we (the audience) sat on our uncomfortable chairs trying to remain quiet so did they, for a while breaking down the normal relationship between musician and listener. At one point Kaffe Matthews could be heard to cough during a silence and (I might be wrong here, it was dark!) Cor Fuhler seemed to wander to the bar at one point, returning with a drink. This blurring of the roles reminded me of how I felt when I first heard the sight CD, part label owner responsible for the release of the work, but also part listener hearing a new release for the first time, all a bit strange all round.
The following night I returned to the same venue, which incidentally is a fully operational part of the Bates’ Mill cotton manafacturing factory, with the floorspace of the large room cleared for the weekend’s events. Resting machines and pipes could be heard ticking to a slow halt on the first evening as MIMEO played, and on the second as it poured with rain outside (no surprise there) the guttering of the building could be heard straining against the force of the water high in the roof.
This watery intrusion was very much welcome for the first event of the Cut ‘n’ Splice evening that made up Saturday’s events, (well for me anyway, others with less taste went and watched a Fred Frith string quartet ;)) The four or five performances of the Cut ‘n’ Splice event were all loosely based around the theme of food, cooking it, eating it, and digesting it. The first set, by Helena Gough and Lee Patterson began with that sound of running water in the background, and ironically water sounds were later heard amongst the musician’s contributions as well.
Lee is a musician that you really need to catch live to fully appreciate. I have heard him utilise recordings of eggs frying in his perfomances before, but tonight he took things one step further, actually using a small electric hob to fry an egg on stage, the remarkably detailed and chaotic sounds captured by a contact mic and fed into the mix. That mix also included dissolving liver salts, Golden Syrup drizzled over a sheet of contact miked metal, burning pine nuts and no end of other paraphenalia. Helena Gough works with similar found sounds but keeps things far simpler by processing them on a laptop. Here she used a mixture of sounds, some provided in advance by Patterson that she sculpted around his mesh of interwoven detail to produce a very satisfying and somehow living and breathing soundworld.
I retired to the back of the shed when Sudden Infant performed (and that’s definitely the correct verb here) the next set. Sudden Infant turned out to be one man, dressed in black, the sleeves cut from his top revealing a mass of tattoos. Essentially he miked up his body and set about running and dancing on the spot, as well as creating deep (and rather disturbing) sounds in his throat. These sounds were fed through a rack of effects he operated via pedals at is feet (plenty of loops there) and then blasted out through the PA into the room. A white light projected Mr Infant’s silhouette up onto the wall at the back of the stage. On occasions some interesting things happened as different sounds crossed over each other, but in general I found this set musically tedious and if I’m honest somewhat amusing.
The last set of the evening that I saw was a performance by Tim Parkinson and James Saunders performing a series of kitchen related compositions. They began with the heavily Fluxus related John Cage piece 0’00, which was performed simultaneously with Kunsu Shim’s for you.
The Cage piece merely instructs the performer to go about any disciplined action but to do so “in a situation provided with maximum amplification.” Shim’s piece seems to merely require that the performer prepare and present a cup of tea to a third party.
So Saunders set about cutting up fruit and veg and dropping them into a blender, turning it on every so often to make a smoothie and closing the performance by drinking the end result. Throughout this the table he sat behind and items he used were miked up so as his every sound, ranging from the chopping sounds through to the squeak of his chair were amplified into the room. Whilst Saunders completed this Parkinson boiled a kettle, brewed a pot of tea and presented it to a member of the audience. All in all my response to this performance was not dissimilar to how I react to most Fluxus events I’ve witnessed, finding the whole thing amusing and great to watch, but musically pretty uninteresting.
Following this the duo performed Alvin Lucier’s Opera with objects, a piece requiring the musicians to rhythmically tap everyday objects to discover their individual resonances and, when coupled with other items being tapped their combined shifts in volume and timbre. That’s pretty much what they did as well, setting about the table of kitchenalia with small sticks with which they beat out a regular, fast percussive pattern. Although the results were amplified I struggled to really make out the subtle changes in the sounds as the duo moved from object to object and I think I would really have needed to have been sat very close to get the most from this performance, but again it was a thoroughly interesting experiment to watch.
Parkinson and Saunders were joined on stage by John Lely and Andrew Sparling for the final and by far the most successful of the four works they performed, Michael Maierhof’s Plastikquartett 2. The programme notes described the composition thus:
“The four players use a set of 6 different sized plastic cups fixed on a table which have quite clear pitches and 3 with more multiphonic qualities. The plastic cups are bowed. With different pressures, angles, velocities of the bow they produce a variety of sound qualities from highest pitches to multiphonic and rattle sounds. The piece is like a very cheap “string quartet” from the supermarket, a “string quartet” for “poor” people who can’t afford real string instruments, or just don’t like them.”
Whilst perhaps that description would suggest a performance of no less novelty value that the preceding three works, (and indeed the sight of Saunders directing the four musicians as they set about plastic cups with bows was a fun one) the music itself was also very nice here. After a while I almost forgot how the brittle scrapes and soft pitches were being made as they overlapped and entangled with each other to create a simple yet continually changing music from a small palette of sounds.
So the icing on the cake of an evening made up from assorted ingredients slowly brought to the boil, left to simmer before being served with a light garnish of absurdity. A hearty dish…