Tuesday 1st MarchMarch 1, 2011
Before I write any of my usual rubbish, some great news- Tim Parkinson has posted two more of his composer portraits, this time two short films each in two halves, the first focussing on Manfred Werder here and here, and the second on JÃ¼rg Frey, here and here. These films are wonderful little insights and a great joy to me. Don’t miss them.
Anyway, catching up a bit after a few hectic days concert-going, Sunday night I was back in London to attend at least some of Dominic Lash’s ‘leaving concert’ a gig put on with the dual aims of giving Dom a send-off before he heads to New York for about a year and raising money for Medical Aid for Palestinians. It succeeded in both of these aims with great success. Musically, it was, as you might expect if you know Dom’s music at all, extremely varied, and while I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to focus on the music and so therefore write about it, there was much to be admired about Sunday night that extends beyond the quality of the music.
I heard two and a half of the four performances. The evening opened with a quartet realisation of Antoine Beuger’s 1996 score touw (voor joop) a lovely piece for up to eight musicians. The score utilises eight sounds, chosen by the musicians that are then arranged in a grid like structure, so giving the music a loosely rhythmic form, albeit a very quiet, very slow one. The score consists of thirteen parts, any number of which can be played. For Sunday night’s set the quartet of Lash, (playing clarinet…. yes, I know….) Sarah Hughes, (autoharp) David Stent (guitar) and Patrick Farmer (acoustic turntable) played three of the parts while sat quietly and apparently studiously around a circular table set up in a corner of a very very busy CafÃ© Oto.
Now, the Beuger composition is a quiet work, and the quartet played it very quietly indeed, so that all of the sounds bordered on the inaudible, and one or two of them even slipped over that borderline. Dominic Lash is a very popular person, who has somehow managed to simultaneously developed his musicianship in several directions at once, and so a lot of people came out to see him off. There were maybe 150 people in CafÃ© Oto. I think I have only ever seen more squeezed in there at the Otomo Yoshihide shows from a year or two back. The mix of people was the most interesting element however. Whilst he has become one of the world’s most interesting performers of Wandelweiser-esque composed material Dom is probably best known in London as a free improv bassist with a lean towards the busier, jazzier end of things. So last night there was an awful lot of people there to hear this end of his work that found themselves sat quietly listening to the near silence of the Beuger work. The thing is, the response, while maybe not entirely rapturous, was very respectful, and I have to say that it while there was a certain degree of audience sound, (this was CafÃ© Oto filled to the brim after all, not the quietest venue even at the best of times) there was probably a lot less sound per person than at many of the other Wandelweiser performances I have attended over the past year or two.
Tthis very apparent collision between musical styles and their audiences did seem to create a real tension in the room, but not one that showed any malice or disgust. While the quartet sat and made the tiniest of sounds it felt odd but also incredibly heartening to look around and see the likes of John Russell, Phil Wachsmann, Dave Tucker et al sat listening intently, maybe or maybe not enjoying the work, who knows? but certainly paying it respect. Perhaps only Dom Lash could pull something like this off, which makes him something of a one-off. Is anyone else capable right now of playing this miniscule, virtually silent music at one end of a bill, and less than an hour later playing full-on electric free jazz at the other, and commanding the respect of the same audience throughout?
After the Beuger piece we heard an improvisation by an eleven piece group, six of which were actually the same members of the sextet I watched on Saturday night. The full group then were as follows; (takes deep breath) The Diatribes duo of D’Incise (Laptop and objects) and Cyril Bondi (percussion), Dominic Lash, (bass) Sarah Hughes, (autoharp) Hannah Marshall, (cello) Patrick farmer, (acoustic turntable) Benedict Drew, (electronics I think, couldn’t see him!) Eddie PrÃ©vost, (percussion) Jonathan McHugh, (analogue synth) Phil Durrant, (Software synths) and Matt Milton (violin). I suspect though, that I will use more words listing the group and their instrumentation than in describing the music. They played a richly textured, flowing electroacoustic improvisation that sounded much like a more filled out, denser version of saturday night’s performance, but perhaps without the same degree of intimacy and interplay between the group, probably as a result of the busier room and semi-claustrophic way the group were set up on stage.
I did really enjoy the music the group made, but the set felt a bit short and it was hard to concentrate as people were still moving around me as latecomers were constantly arriving. It didn’t help that I could see maybe two of the eleven musicians as I was pushed up behind one of CafÃ© Oto’s pillars with little hope of moving as well. There were some really nice parts in the music that I was able to shut my eyes and really enjoy however, in particular one moment when, after the music had coalesced into a multi-layered, semi-rhythmic swathe of tonal sounds, one musician, I suspect Matt Milton, who was playing his violin through the PA broke into the streams of sound with a steady burst of loud, staccato jabs of grainy sound that threw the group out of sync and sent the music off somewhere else. A nice set anyway, I’d have liked it to have been longer and to have had a little more comfort to hear it in, but this wasn’t the night for either of those things.
So I left halfway through the next set, which was a performance by Predicate, the electric jazz group of Lash, Alex Ward on guitar, Mark Sanders on drums and Tim Hill’s sax. Now it would be really hypocritical of me to remark on how the audience had been respectful of each other’s interests and then mention that I left the minute something not to my personal taste began, but I genuinely had to get home. Being a Sunday the last trains out of London are much earlier than on other nights, and I was exhausted enough without having to spend the night on Paddington station. I caught a few minutes of Predicate though, and while I can’t say I enjoyed the bulk of the music that much, which was very fast and loud jazzy semi-improv with a great deal of technical expertise on display, the set had its moments. After the first piece ended (burnt itself out?!) there was a nice bass/drums duo for a few minutes that I enjoyed much more, perhaps because it was so much easier to pick up on the direct interplay between Lash and Sanders, and the space in the music framed the individual sounds so much better than the wall of noise that the quartet almost verged upon elsewhere. So, not my thing, but the way Oto erupted into whoops and cheers after each number clearly showed I was in the minority.
The evening had ended with a very large group of twenty or thirty musicians apparently playing in a vaguely improv-orchestra style complete with a conductor, performing a score written by Lash. I’m sure this would have been great fun, a great spectacle and a worthy send off for an extremely popular young man and excellent musician of many colours. Watch out New York.