Concert Reviews

Sunday 27th February

February 27, 2011

shoreditch septetSo a few thoughts on last night’s improv concert in Shoreditch before heading back into London today to attend Dom Lash’s leaving do. The concert was held in St leonard’s Church in a busy part of Shoreditch, the same site that I saw the dame septet as performed last night play on Hallowe’en night last year. On that occasion, as I wrote here, the group played some really nice music, but were partly overshadowed by events outside of the room, a strange disconnected saxophone wandering in from a party in the adjoining room, various other celebratory sounds, and the screaming and shouting of Central London on such a night. Last night however, none of that was present, and while the external intrusions had added much to think about, it was great last night to really hear the group develop the music they had performed into a really lovely performance.

Before the septet, we heard a solo performance from Hervé Perez, a Sheffield based field recordings/laptop musician who presented a piece sculpted from field recordings of water, crowd scenes etc, merged and layered live alongside some synthesised computer sounds created in the moment. Now, these ingredients, as I have written elsewhere lately often leave me a bit cold, simply because they seem to appear all of the time with little originality to be found these days. In many ways Perez’ performance was far from original. The way he merged soft ambient synths and crackling rustles amongst the slowly emerging and disappearing field recordings followed the textbook on how to do this kind of thing perfectly. I really enjoyed sitting and listening last night though, so something worked in this music for me that is hard to explain.

Perez’s water sounds were somehow different, more uneven, incredibly well recorded and highly evocative of a small amount of water pouring into a dank, resonant space rather than the usual gurgling rush of water heard when a hydrophone is dropped into a running stream. As I discussed briefly with Perez later, the sounds reminded me a little of that strange running water sound that echoes around an empty men’s public toilet that you try and get out of as fast as you can. This was completely my own projection onto the sounds (though I can assure you I don’t spend a lot of time hanging around public toilets!) but as Perez and I agreed, this kind of music begins to work when it paints images in your head, even if (as was the case here) they are completely inaccurate images of what we are hearing. If the music can project something to an individual that clicks with their personal experience then it may well hot home much easier. The playback was very impressive as well, so we had beautifully recorded sounds picked out nicely via a decent P.A, then played into the fantastically resonant space of a seventeenth century church. A nice little sound experience anyway.

There then followed the evening’s main event, the sextet made up of the Swiss Diatribes duo, (D’incise on small objects and laptop and Cyril Bondi’s percussion) Hannah Marshall, (cello) Dominic Lash, (double bass) Phil Durrant, (software synths) and Patrick Farmer (acoustic turntable and a box). Please excuse the photo above cutting off Durrant, far left, whose presence last night was far from something to be missed. The sextet began a little tentatively, blending mostly textural, quiet sounds together in a very pleasing, but maybe a little predictable manner. It didn’t take long though for the group to really tune into each other and begin to make music that felt thoroughly organic, responding to itself, growing and shifting in unison. The textural element remained throughout, but the music developed into something incredibly detailed that moved slowly and yet shifted and altered as one, with each musician listening carefully and responding acutely to what the others were doing.

So there were noisier, edgier broken up parts, little excursions into itchy, scratchy faster moving interplay and some really fantastic moments when the group seemed to change gears as one. On a couple of occasions there were sudden shifts from linear, layered sounds into small percussive parts, with the entire group suddenly trading tiny plucks and chimes or squelches of digital abstraction out of nowhere. The understanding between the group, who all looked very confident and assured despite this being only the second time many of the sextet had played together was impressive, an unusual thing to see in such larger ensembles. All played well, D’incise produced a remarkable array of mostly acoustic sounds seemingly out of nowhere, but Durrant really stood out to me as hitting top form. One moment maybe two thirds into the set when he was suddenly left alone with a deep grainy line of churning static was magical, turning the heads of his fellow musicians and reminding me of just how much he brings to a performance like this, even when his contributions are often immersed in the mix. This moment made me think of spices added to a well made meal, always there, always adding something vital, and occasionally standing out and colouring proceedings at just the right moment.

The Swiss duo travelled over just for this concert and to take part in Dom’s bash tonight, and so it was depressing to see the audience numbers stay in single figures last night. I suspect some more could be done on the marketing front, but still I have no idea where the London audience was last night. If you chose not to attend, well fair enough, but you missed a really nice performance that gave us forty minutes or so of beautiful, detailed, creative improvisation. Sadly geography will probably mean this group don’t get together that often now, if they ever do so again, and this is a shame as the close connections I heard in last night’s music would probably translate well to a CD release. A very pleasing evening anyway, the first of what I hope to be a few over the next few days.

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