Concert Reviews

Sunday 29th November

November 29, 2009

Pisaro Joseph Clayton MillsSo I spent yesterday evening in Bristol, without an umbrella, which means I got extremely wet on more than one occasion. If they didn’t hide the concert venue in the most unfindable of places then I might not have spent the concert sat in an unpleasantly moist puddle, but hey ho, this is England.

A good night was had by all. On these occasions when I spent time with musicians before and after they perform I do question my own ability to be entirely objective about the music, but I will do my best and actually not write much beyond a basic overview of how the music made me feel. There were five musicians involved for the show, which was curated by Compost and Height and included the two proprietors of said label; Sarah Hughes and Patrick Farmer as part of the group, alongside Daniel Jones, David Thomas and Matt Davies (the Bristol based computer and electronics musician, not Matt Davis the trumpeter now living in Cornwall, that would be a silly mistake to make 😉 ) The musicians played three sets, the first and last were quintet realisations of scores, one by Manfred Werder and another by Michael Pisaro, with an improvisation sandwiched in between by the Loris trio of Hughes, Farmer and Jones, whose debut album has just been released on Another Timbre.

The opening et of the evening was a twenty minute long realisation of Werder’s score 2008′. The score consists of just two lines of text:

in the sounding environment a hardly distinguishable orchestra sound
(independent, peaceful, not unfolded by means of unfolding, without distinguishing idea, without multiplicity)

When a score contains so little, but yet so much in the way of instruction, a considerable amount of thought and consideration into how the music could develop is required, even if no direct discussion about precise sounds is necessary. The group had got together for most of the preceding day and well into the night working through their response to the piece, and the efforts they made resulted in a beautiful performance that was my favourite part of the evening. The music was probably more active than I have heard a Werder score played before, but also very quiet indeed, extremely quiet, to the degree that the rumbling of assorted audience member’s stomachs could be heard rumbling in unison with the musicians’ output. The audience were generally very respectful and the venue, squeaky uncomfortable seats aside, was not bad at all for this kind of thing. The room in which the music took place being sheltered enough in the centre of the building as to be protected from external sounds.

Hughes played a chorded zither, the strings vibrated by an eBow, but with a drinking glass involved in a manner I could not quite figure out. She worked mainly with very quiet, but deeply rich and low continuous tones that I could quite happily have listened to on their own for the rest of the evening. Farmer spent his time for this piece hunched over something on the floor, maybe pine cones, maybe not, contributing unamplified and very discrete sounds. Thomas played violin as quietly as a violin can be played, tiny breathless bowed sounds and little taps against the strings. Davies wove the quietest, often inaudible field recordings throughout, and Jones worked little pecks of abrasion and sine waves into the piece. A barely distinguishable orchestra sound indeed. In a space like this, just about intimate enough and still quiet enough, the music really came alive. Even though the room was well protected the sheer lack of volume meant that chair creaks, audience sniffs and distant rumbles took their place in the scheme of things. Werder’s score sets up an environment for sound to exist in, whether those sounds are introduced by the musicians or beyond, and it worked really well here. I totally relaxed throughout the twenty minutes and enjoyed the soft spread of sounds as they unfolded gradually and dissolved into nothing. Very nice indeed.

There followed the Loris trio, who made music that on another occasion I would have considered quiet, but here coming after the Werder work felt like a veritable tornado of sound. The group work in a nicely defined way, using medium length stretches of extended, textured sounds dotted with little bits of grit here and there, which slide in and out, often stopping quite abruptly. The trio work with negative space very well, building little layered stretches of sound only for one or more of the elements to cut out, and what is left below is often then very beautiful, previously buried in the layers, suddenly brought out from underneath, like the gaps behind the objects in a still life painting, here painted in muted shades of brown and grey. generally speaking, Hughes provided a semi-constant bed of honeyed tones for the other two to clamber over with grainy rustling (Farmer) and feedback tones and bleeps (Jones) The track ended in lovely fashion. Jones somehow picked up a strange repeating series of descending bleeps, not unlike the soundtrack to Pong played on an 80’s digital watch. This sound somehow came from the motor of an iPod that was being used for its electromagnetic possibilities rather than as an audio playback device. This sound rose out of the hiss and drone very nicely and brought the set to a close in an almost comical manner, with the musicians just about supressing laughter onstage. Although amusing this was a nice way to end the set, and a nice addition from Jones, who played this set with a maturing confidence that saw him push and pull at the others, with Farmer in particular meeting him headlong as Hughes’ contribution formed a frame around the others. Nice stuff. Loris’ debut album, complete with its wonderfully Farmeresque title The Cat from Cat Hill is ou tthis week on Another Timbre. review soon I imagine.

The full quintet then performed a piece written specifically for the occasion by the increasingly in-demand Michael Pisaro, a composer who along with Werder is linked to the Wandelweiser collective. The score, named Fields have ears (4) is a piece that uses a page of loose instructions about the nature of the sounds that should be used alongside a strict timing framework in which they should be played. So once decisions were made, sounds were chosen, the music formed a drifting series of mostly extended tones and textures that slid over each other quietly for twenty-seven minutes in typically fluid, gentle Pisaro style.

This last performance also had another element added, a film made specifically for the occasion, which was projected at a very large size onto the screen (the venue doubles as a cinema) between the musicians. The film, made by the American musician and member of Haptic Joseph Clayton Mills was made using the score as a guide. It featured what seemed to be archive images, some shot on old film, some static, that drifted in and out of focus from behind a blurry greeny-blue swathe of soft colour. The film was actually very nice indeed, the images seemed to relate to one family, with certain faces reappearing, but also featured shots of people interacting with the rural environment in some way, cultivating the land, petting wild animals etc..

My problem, as I have said many time sbefore here, is that I struggle to concentrate on visual and audio images at the same time. Particularly with this kind of music, which requires (for me at least) a restful state in which I can shut my eyes and let the music and surrounding sounds take over I found that focussing on two senses at the same time saw me either listen or watch well, but never at the same time. I opted in the end for closing my eyes, only to open them at regular intervals to see what was evolving on the screen. Although it was made as a direct accompaniment to this music I could probably find myself really enjoying the film without any soundtrack at all, or at least, not a deliberate one.

The Pisaro piece was very nice indeed, but the performance was not quite as subtly refined as the opening Werder realisation. As it relied more on the firm structure of the piece to decide where sounds were placed the group seemed to play a little more stiffly than they had in the opening piece, perhaps more concerned with precise stopwatch timings than the finer qualities of what was placed into the frames the score dictated. Still a very enjoyable experience anyway.

After the show a good time was had, somehow though barely a drop of alcohol consumed and much laughter still ensued as we went down to the riverfront to consume very nice falafel wraps and a consensus was reached by all that Kanye West is an untalented berk. It was really good to meet up with Simon Reynell again for the duration of the evening and pre-concert food, and nice to meet David Thomas for the first time, Matt Davies for the second time and Simon Whetham in person, whose music I have written about here on several occasions. Good times. Back at work tomorrow. Oh well.

Comment (1)

  • Daniel Jones

    November 30, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Hmm, as much as Kanye West may be a berk I would disagree with the ‘untalented’ tag. I’m pretty fond of quite a bit of his work and I assumed my dancing at the falafel stand confirmed as much (maybe I just looked like I was cold!).

    Anyway, it was a great weekend – thanks for the positive write up!

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