Concert Reviews

Sunday 22nd November

November 23, 2009

ute kanngiesser paul abbottI’m not feeling so great tonight, really weary after a busy twenty-four hours. Last night I went into London to catch a concert that saw me have to take seven different trains in one night due to assorted tube line closures. More on that concert in a minute, but then last night I managed all of three hours sleep before getting up before the crack of dawn to drive my parents to work in deepest Surrey, hang around most of the day trying to find something to do in a seriously tedious town as it continually hammered down with rain, only to drive the hundred or so miles back in the rain fighting heavy winds early this evening. So tonight when I should have been listening to music I fell asleep. However I still have my thoughts on last night’s concert to write up, so here we go.

OK, so if you look at the bill of the Interlace gig I attended last night the cynics amongst you will probably already guess that I thought much of the music was really very good indeed. I can’t lie to you though, I enjoyed the music a lot, though two of the sets were really memorable. The good but not unforgettable set came first, a trio of piano, violin and electronics featutring Philip Somervell,  Jennifer Allum and Daichi Yoshikawa respectively, three more youthful members of Eddie Prevost’s workshops. Of these three I was only previously familiar with Yoshikawa’s music, having seen him play a good few times now. His approach to his instrumentation, as with all of these musicians changes each time I see him however, and this time his small table was doninated by a huge angle poise lamp from which assorted contact mics on cables hung down, some above an upturned speaker, and so interacting with feedback every so often. As well as producing raw sounds from his mixer, and directly changing the sound by manipulating the cone of the speaker Yoshikawa rocked the lamp back and forth so that the assorted mics swung across the speaker like a pendulum, creating rhythmic pulses of shrieking sound.  His input to this actually quite quiet and  intimate set though was refined and delicate, despite the raw, abrasive quality of his sounds. The other two musicians were equally thoughtful in their playing, Somervell’s inside piano generally quite minimal, little attacks of chiming reosnance and extended sections of beautifully controlled droenes as he pulled threaded twine of some kind between the piano’s strings. Allum sat centre stage, violin perched between her knees for much of the set,  her purely acoustic approach all about scurrying around the instruments with little scratchy sounds and earthy tones. Although it is hard to describe this set as anything more than a good sturdy half hour of improvised music the collaborative work between the three musicians was engaging, and the end result very pleasing indeed. Perhaps as I had not long walked in from the rain and was still finding my concert ears (don’t ask) I didn’t take as much from this set as the two performances that followed it, bu tthen the next two sets were actually extremely good indeed.

Next up was the piano+, cello, electronics trio of Sebastian Lexer, Ute Kanngiesser and Paul Abbott, a second set of piano/strings/electronics, as was the theme of the evening. I must admit that I was hoping for great things from this trio, as on paper it already struck me as a wonderful combination of sounds, styles and electric / acoustic balance. The set really was great, I don’t know what else to say. Kanngiesser sat between the two, both positionally as she took the midpoint on the stage, but also musically, as her beautiful, light, expressive playing flowed throughout the piece, dropping away into silence from time to time, switching from bowed flurries to sparsely spread out plucked notes at the right moments. Although it could have seemed like she was just playing alone and letting the other two duel it out over the top she actually picked the perfect sound for just about every moment in the music, playing with and through the overall improvisation rather than dictating pace or dynamic by herself. Sebastian Lexer played as he does, mixing the three elements of the trio AMM together into one sound, his piano sometimes appearing as a big buzzing box of electronics, elsewhere as ringing, chiming percussion and on occasion just as a piano, and at the moments when a processed sound might hum or crackle away suddenly only for a forlorn set of piano chords to trickle out underneath I was almost vocal in admiration. Often I thought of Tudor’s electronic treatments of the piano, other times Tilbury is unavoidably present in the music. I don’t think there can be better praise. Abbott was his usual edgy self, letting a blast of electronics out in one seemingly random place, the most delicate of metallic scrapes somewhere else and massive explosions of clattering cymbals and speaker feedback elsewhere. His playing has become steadily more visceral, unpredictable and thoroughly alive each time I see him play. Combined, the trio were just wonderful. There was grace, fragility, anger, aching sadness and sheer rupturing power all shown in this one forty minute collaboration. Thoroughly moving stuff.

Because I had to be up early today, and because I really felt that the middle performance couldn’t be matched I did consider making a move for the station before the final set of the evening began, but this thought did not last long. The last piano/strings/electronics trio was made up of visiting French pianist Marjolaine Charbin, bassist Guillaume Viltard and the electronics of Grundik Kasyansky, and althogh really very different again, it was another supremely moving and darkly humorous performance. Just recently Grundik Kasyansky seems to have turned into a magician. I say this because he sits behind a blank, grey box of tricks, occasionally throws his arms about in the air, and somehow, without seeming to do anything (and I’ve been watching carefully!) odd disembodied little second long grabs of pre-recorded material somehow jump out from the otherwise abstract electronic music. He also dresses in a top hat and a cloak.

One of the above statements isn’t true, but one thing Kasyansky does for certain is use a small clip -on microphone (I described it incorrectly as a spanner last time, I’m probably wrong here as well) as his main focus, dramatically rubbing it around the floor at one point, using it inside the end of Charbin’s piano at another. Even just waving it violently in the air seemed to create light crackles, and all of this resulted in a set of sounds used sparingly enough, and at just the right moments to bring bright colour to the music. then there are the little bursts of sound that come out of nowhere and seem completely unrelated. There are specks of classical music, some kind of odd singing in a foreign tongue, a passing car etc etc. These always appear at a low volume and literally for a fleeting moment, buried in the otherwise fluid exchanges of the music. When the first few appear you wonder if what you heard was something else, such is their nature, close enough to perhaps be mistaken, but oddly out of place enough to stand out.

Viltard played less than he did when I saw him perform with 9! on Tuesday, and his lighter, more spacious touch, much of it without a bow worked well when combined with the bold strokes of Charbin’s purely acoustic piano, a mixture of inside techniques and straight-up, sat-down playing. On occasions the two French nationals tipped things into jazzier areas, never quite falling into free jazz structures, but hinting at it, though never for long enough that Kasyansky’s interventions wouldn’t pull things right back. The trio played with suddenly contrasting dynamics, as had the group before them but not the same extremes, and instead sounded the most cohesive and musically assured group of the night, working as a unit to create shapes in the music that kept things bouncing about, but also ensured a strong sense of structure. The wild card moments from Kasyansky, whether they be sudden assaults on the stage floor with the clip/spanner mic or the rabbit from the hat additions of the prepared sounds were regularly humorous as well, not laugh your head off funny, but smile across face cheek. Too often the value of humour in improvised music is overlooked or underestimated. It worked really well on this occasion.

These last two performances really hit the spot for me. the opening set of the evening was good, but was quickly placed in the shadow of the two inspired performances that followed. I had such a great time with this music. It was a real shame however to only see maybe thirty people in the hall. That may be fifteen more than would have attended something like this a few years back but still its disappointing, given the quality of what was on offer. Sure it was very cold and  wet, the tubes were half closed and Goldsmith’s isn’t exactly the easiest place to get to, but I personally would have caught twice as many trains and got twice as wet again to have made sure I heard this evening of music.  there is a further Interlace gig planned on Monday 7th December. Work might mean I cannot make that one, make sure you don’t miss out though.

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