Bloody cold here again today. Walking about in central Oxford at lunchtime I turned a corner and strolled into what can only be described as a blizzard, so much snow blown fast and hard by the wind that I had to take my glasses off as within seconds they were completely white. The snow stopped half an hour later though and only a thin layer is scattered about now, but boy it is cold, minus six if you believe the aging thermometer I have here.
Last night it wasn’t quite as cold, and I was in London for another concert in the Interlace series at Goldsmiths College. There was a much better audience last night than at recent events, which was pleasing. It was good to see so many chairs filled. Especially as Simon and I laid them out last night and Sebastian was worried what I might write here if all of our efforts were a waste of energy.
Anyway the music… The evening began with a trio involving Phil Durrant playing laptop, Aleks Kolkowski playing (deep breath) stroh violin, Edison phonograph, tannoy horn and musical saw and David Toop who played laptop, flute and electric guitar. This was a really mixed set for me. It kind of when through episodic stages where Kolkowski and Toop switched from one form of instrument to another, changing the sound and direction of the performance quite considerably each time, with only Durrant working within a similar area throughout the performance. So as is often the case with this kind of thing, I liked some parts much better than others. The set began with Durrant generating carefully chosen and well placed hums and fizzes from the software synthesisers he was running on his brand new laptop, and Toop began the performance with a series of glithcy crackles and pops , possibly originating from field recordings played on is own machine. Caught between the glow of the two Apple logos, Kolkowski played what I think was a wax cylinder recording he made of Toop playing guitar during the soundcheck. It didn’t resemble anything like a guitar, but it did sound very nice, a kind of ethereal buzzing whine somewhere between a fly caught in a jam jar and the sound of a distant lawn mower. At this point the set began very nicely, if a little tentatively, which given that this was the first meeting of the trio was to be expected. Kolkowski went on to switch to his stroh violin (basically a violin with a large horn attached to it, so amplifying the sound somewhat) and worked with more fluid, occasionally rhythmic patterns as Durrant began to build the density and force of his buzzes and whirring into a heavy wall of shifting sound. Toop at first warbled loose flute lines throughout the bed of sound provided by the other two. I have never been the biggest fan of Toop’s flute playing and here I thought it just about worked, but it seemed to sit a little away from the area of sound developed by Durrant and Kolkowski. A little later when Toop picked up his guitar and broke into an angular, almost jazzy burst of half-melodic playing it sounded even less in sync with the course of the performance to me, and Durrant actually seemed to completely stop playing at this time, as if unsure where to take the music next. All in all I think there were some nice sounds here, but they didn’t all work well together all of the time, with Toop seeming to be the one out on his own limb most often. Three strong musicians then that perhaps need a little time to develop as a trio and find what works well and what does not.
There followed the duo of Sebastian Lexer playing piano+ and Christoph Schiller, a Swiss improviser who began life as a pianist but has in recent years switched his attention to the spinet, a kind of half sized harpsichord, and something I have never seen played before, either as a straight instrument or in its slightly adapted and prepared status as Schiller played last night. Now I really am waiting impatiently for Sebastian Lexer to play a bad concert so I can write about it (and fear not I will when I witness it) but here again I was sat spellbound for the thirty or forty minutes these two worked together. This was no one-off meeting as the pair had played a few recent concerts together on the continent, and the experince the musicians had clearly gained from playing together before was obvious. Schiller’s sound, which is hard to describe but I guess is not unlike you might expect the inside of a bowed, struck and scraped small harpsichord might sound, all jangles, scrapes and occasional roughly formed chimes is a very good match for Lexer’s soundworld. Schiller played acoustically, but a mic placed over his instrument was fed into Lexer’s set-up and so the sound of the spinet went through the musical Kenwood Chef that is the piano+ framwework as well.
I was really taken by this performance. Regular readers will know how much the balance of acoustic and electronic sound produced by Lexer really clicks for me, and all of the usual lightness of touch, sensitivity and surprise was there last night, Here though, perhaps as the two instruments are distantly related, and perhaps because both were fed back through the digital processes they seemed perfectly intertwined, the ideal compliment for each other. The music they made was in equal parts soft and gentle, sudden and dramatic and delicately, beautifully fragile. Clearly I have said a lot of good things about Sebastian Lexer’s playing here of late, byt Christoph Schiller really impressed last night as well, his timing and choice of sounds to both compliment and offset Lexer’s were impeccable. Anyway I have no doubt that Mr Reynell will back me up on how wonderful this set was.
The evening closed with a curious performance from Eddie Prevost in stripped down percussion mode ( the tam tam, a couple of handheld cymbals and a snare drum, the latter of which he began by playing merely by stroking his fingertips across the skin) Ute Kanngiesser playing cello in as visibly emotional a manner as ever, and David O’Connor, a musician I had not seen play before but who clearly held a good degree of command over what was probably the biggest saxophone I’ve ever seen. Before they began I wondered a little about the balance of this group. With Prevost in quieter mode, and Kanngiesser never the loudest of musicians I did wonder if the sax might overpower the others a little. In fact O’Connor did a fine job of staying in the lower, breathier reaches of his instrument for much of the set, but still there were moments when the sheer depth of his sound seemed a little too much for the others. This was made all the more noticeable as Prevost and Kanngiesser both seemed to play more quietly and subtly than usual, and as risrespectful to O’Connor as this may be (and I apologise) at one point when the sax dropped out and left the others working together I could not help but think that a duo might have been a more intriguing and interesting proposal. However this was still a nice set. There was a real sense of calm, slow movement in this performance that reminded me for some reason of those dramatically sped up films of flowers gradually blooming, a slow but steady explosion of colour and grandeur exposed bit by bit with every detail evident. Coming after the Lexer/Schiller performance maybe it didn’t feel quite on the same level, and as I have said perhaps it might have worked better for me personally with an even more stripped down approach minus the saxophone, but still I enjoyed the set a lot, and would like to hear them play together as a group again.
Now it is 2AM, and as the new John Tilbury / Smith Quartet recording of Feldman’s For John Cage continues to play into its second hour I am going to bed to let it gradually rock me to sleep. More on that particular release soon. Sorry for the image above by the way. I only took one useful pic of any of the musicians last night and I used that for yesterday’s post. The good news is I am now eligible for a free upgrade to the next iPhone model so the quality of pictures here might get marginally better! The image above is cropped from the Interlace logo, simply because I couldn’t think of anything else to use…