Concert Reviews

Sunday 24th January

January 25, 2010

TilburyPianoThere are times when my involvement in online discussions about music really depresses and leads me to wonder why it is I continuously get involved, and more to the point why I run a site like this that opens me up to being involved in conversations I don’t really want to have a part in. Other parts of my life are meant to give me stress and worry, not the musical part. Still, the reason I do this is because I love music, I love the way it makes me feel and I love trying to share some of that enthusiasm with others. Today I felt pretty low as I headed into London again, but after spending time in some nice company and then with some great music then my spirits have lifted again. I will write about this evening’s concert tomorrow however as tonight I still have to write up Friday’s show. Oh its hard work having to listen to all this good music you know 😉

Friday then was the second night of the Another Timbre mini festival and featured two performances, each one once again launching a brand new or recent CD from the label. The first set came from the Loris trio of Sarah Hughes, Patrick Farmer and Daniel Jones who I saw not that long ago perform over in Bristol. Here though they were asked by Simon to play for forty minutes, something they had not done before and were unsure if they could successfully do. Their solution seemed to be to stretch everything out, slow things down even more than normal and allow the sounds to develop more gradually. This lead to things taking a little while to get going and begin to gel, but once they did the music this trio made was as full of captivating tension as ever. There seemed to be little change in instrumentation before they began, Farmer making a right mess all over an amplified bass drum with all kinds of mostly natural (and one thoroughly unnatural) objects, Hughes somehow conjuring lines of feedback tone from a miked up drinking glass upturned on a zither, and Jones with his turntable and assorted other objects, a large brass bowl the most notable on this occasion. It was Jones that threw the most surprises my way in this performances however, dropping many of his previous techniques and often working with sounds that I could not fathom out the origin of. Daniel is a musician I have liked the sound of since the first time I heard a demo from him a few years back but in recent months his playing has developed character and a confidence of its own that has really impressed.

This trio really works well together. Farmer and Hughes are partners away from the music, and their close co-ordination really shines through in their playing. Patrick always plays with great intensity and an excellent understanding of sound and how it can be pulled out of his bunches of twigs, pine cones and what looked like a pile of soil. Jones is very much at home with them both as well, and they have managed to develop a strong understanding in a relatively short period of time. The music they make is delicate, hushed, and slow, made up of thin layers of texture slipping past one another with occasional ruptures where a sudden shift or a drop into silence may lay. Their performance on friday was not without flaws. it took a while to come together and find its momentum, and the gradual slip into silence that made up the ending was probably a little too elongated, but when in full flow the set sounded organic, evolving gradually but with purpose. This young trio were shown great respect by an audience that to be fair had probably mostly come to hear John Tilbury play and it is a strong testament to the tension their music created that not a sound could be heard from the room bar the whirring of the slightly annoying new automatic jukebox Café Oto have installed on the far wall.

There then followed a performance by Tilbury alongside his one time pupil and now frequent collaborator Sebastian Lexer. I should mention first that their new CD Lost Daylight which places five short pieces by the little heard American minimalist composer Terry Jennings beside a monumental forty minute realisation of John Cage’s Electronic Music for Piano has been on constant play here over recent days. It is truly a fantastic piece of work that I am still, even now as I write trying to come to terms with. So in many ways this performance, which consisted of a playback of one of the Jennings pieces from the CD and then a live reworking of the Cage score might have come a little early for me. I think that maybe if I had a month or so to fully digest what exists on the CD first then I could have absorbed more of Friday’s perfomance, but even so it was still wonderful to take in, despite the technical issues that spoilt the start of the Jennings playback and then caused Lexer a degree of additional stress throughout the set.

I really need to formulate my thoughts about the music of the CD and write about them first before going into much detail here about the live realisation, but I will skirt around the edges as I feel able. First of all the Jennings piece (I think it was Piano Piece 1958, the first track on the album but they are all quite similar in some ways, so its hard to be sure) sounded fantastic in the room, played relatively quietly and merging with the sounds of the Dalston outside. The track was played back rather than played live by Tilbury simply because the piano in Café Oto is just not up tot the task of portraying music quite so delicately beautiful. The pair then set about a forty minute version of Cage’s score. They worked with a careful prepared set of timed instructions they had created using Cage’s score, which requires the musicians to use star charts to select their actions. The music then is entirely random in its formation, though each element spread throughout the performance held incredible power, from the gentlest of electronic whirrs as Lexer would treat a sound made by Tilbury, through to the powerful crash caused by the pianist slamming the lid above the keys shut with great force.

The album version of the piece differs in that it is also treated to a further post-production random edit that cuts up the music in an unnatural and awkward sounding manner. While this was obviously not possible in a live situation there was still plenty of difficult moments in this performance. Tilbury would sit inactive for a long time, either leaving Lexer to pull out sounds alone or letting them both sit in silence. The performance avoids any slipping back towards aesthetic choices, and so each moment when we hear the immense skill in Tilbury’s playing come through it might be suddenly over-ridden by Lexer or just cut short into silence.

Listening to this music in this environment wasn’t easy. While Cage would have adored the external sounds creeping in (damned jukebox again) they made it hard to focus in quite the same manner I have managed while sat in relative peace at home. I’m not going to review the album here now, but this really is difficult music, refusing to allow the listener to relax in the normal manner, rejecting notions of masterful playing and undermining our natural perceptions of beauty at every possible moment. The music reminds me of David Tudor’s monumental 1967 rendition of Cage’s Variations II in many ways, the sense of magnitude is very similar. On the way into London on the train I had listened to Lost Daylight and then followed it immediately by the Tudor recording in preparation for the concert. When I told Tilbury this after his performance his face lit up as if I had flicked a crucial switch. So sitting and listening on Friday night was an incredible experience, one I suspect I will look back upon and review over time.

This was a wonderful night of music then, for which I have Simon Reynell to thank. I now look forward to the two concerts he has planned for February with much anticipation, but I doubt the bar could be raised all that much higher.

Comments (4)

  • simon reynell

    January 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

    thanks, Richard, for an excellent write-up.

    A couple of factual amendments, for what they’re worth: the Jennings piece played back at the start of John and Sebastian’s performance was ‘For Christine Jennings’.
    And I didn’t plan the February concerts with Toshi Nakamura and Havard Volden; they were coming anyway and just asked me to suggest other musicians to play with on their two nights at Cafe Oto.

    I’ve listened to the recordings from the Friday concert a few times over the past two days, and have enjoyed both. I really liked the Loris performance at the time. As you say, it had a slower, more relaxed, loris-like feel than the music on their Cat from Cat Hill cd, but if you accept its almost glacial pace for me it’s of similar quality. They are a fantastic trio.

    I found the Tilbury/Lexer performance impossible to judge at the time, mainly because I was on tenterhooks about the technical side of Sebastian’s set-up, knowing that he was living dangerously and worrying that the whole thing would collapse. So it was only when I played the recording back for the first time while driving home to Sheffield that I began to appreciate just how strong this ‘live’ version of the Cage piece was. As you suggest, it didn’t have that quality of rich-and-strange otherworldliness that the cd version is given by the further level of aleatoric editing that Sebastian subjected the original recording to. But listening back I found it truly compelling and it completely immersed me. Awesomely beautiful and original music, police sirens, jukebox, coughs, shuffles and all.

  • simon reynell

    January 25, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Self-correction: the Jennings piece at the start of the set was Winter Sun (it was going to be For Christine Jennings, but John changed it late on)

  • Massimo Magee

    January 25, 2010 at 10:38 am

    What a fascinating picture!

    Thanks for the write-up Richard, sounds like a very interesting evening!

  • michael pisaro

    January 25, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Richard, thanks very much for the report. I think I’d enjoy being around anytime Tilbury and Lexer take a crack at the Cage.

    Simon: I guess that’s a pretty big difference in Jennings pieces!

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