Thursday 23rd JuneJune 24, 2011
Veeerrry late here tonight writing this after the evening flew by with Julie, but I promised to write about last night’s show somehow, so I will briefly try. Keith Rowe then played what is these days a rare concert in London, without support, just two twenty minute or so sets solo in the very wonderful London Review of Books shop. As I commented last night, watching Keith perform in front of a backdrop made up of possibly the best selection of philosophy, music and poetry books in the UK somehow elevated the atmosphere of the concert a few notches. It just felt like a great place to listen, to think. Rowe then played two sets, each of them a realisation of a graphic score, the first Cardew’s Treatise, (page 68) the second Wolff’s Edges. Before beginning, Rowe mentioned to the audience that as what would have been Cardew’s seventy-fifth birthday had passed recently the late composer was on his mind, and that he had been playing Treatise all year, page by page, something he does every so many years. The two sets then were performed with Cardew in mind, and )I suspect) with ideas of mortality and sheer anger flowing out of those considerations.
Both performances were incredibly intense. During each the volume often rose high enough to light the blue warning lights on the PA, and the sounds used were often jagged, cutting, quite nasty in their finish. This was no easy ride, it feels like every performance like this really matters to Rowe right now. The pained expression on his face, the urgent, almost desperate way his hand attacked the strings of his tiny guitar trainer of an instrument at times showed that every second was felt very deeply, every sound pulled up from memories, from emotions, from anger. The Treatise performance was a fragmented, brittle affair. The usual array of items attacked the strings, a couple of fans, an electric toothbrush, springs, knives etc… but where in the past the music has been more of a rounded, gradual affair, built on a base of drones and white noise, here the relationship between movement of Rowe’s hands and the shards of sudden sounds was far more pronounced- the connection between the musician, his emotions, state of mind and what we heard felt stronger, more purposeful, direct and driven, if that could at all be possible for such a musician. The radio remained, and it was used extensively, often channelled through one of three or four effects pedals, and we got a full run down of Andy Murray’s first round Wimbledon victory through the first set. Rowe obviously has a very long history with Treatise, and his approach to the score won’t have changed. Symbols on the page that have long triggered certain responses continue to do so, but perhaps right now as Rowe seems to be deep in a period of deep personal intensity these actions all have a deeper resonance, and his responses through the music feel like they resonate harder, nothing feels unimportant in the music, everything seems to really matter. The intensity of each sheer crashing sound or soft hiss that might rise from below it seems to shudder with that same passion that I hear when some violin bows caress certain strings in the great chamber works, the music last night was felt as much as it was played.
The increasingly direct and important influence that the great works of classical music’s history has on Rowe’s playing were very apparent int he performance of Edges. Three pieces of music were played at length by Keith as he played himself, broadcast from the digital memory on his loop station pedal, fed out via an earphone placed against a pick up. We heard a long portion of Schubert’s piano quintet a shorter snippet of an achingly beautiful early viol composition and a short burst of a further chamber work I couldn’t identify. These pieces were just played into the harsh broken up landscape of Rowe’s performance as a direct reference to the T.S Eliot comment that “to truly understand an artist in relation to the great, dead artists one must set them amongst the dead.” Rowe brought these elements into his performance for precisely this reason, so as to try and understand his music in reference to the great composers that increasingly inspire and move him. The powerful effect of these pieces drifting into the set, coupled with the violence and aggression that dripped out of the performance’s other sounds made for a really moving twenty minutes.
As you can probably tell I found the evening’s music profoundly moving, though actually quite a difficult and not entirely enjoyable experience. It actually brought me close to tears. I’ve known Keith a little for a while now, and have followed his music very closely indeed for some years, and it really feels, that at least in a solo setting, and at least in live situations, that it is rising to a crescendo somehow, that the intensity levels are hitting a peak that may or may not have been felt in this area of music before, but certainly I haven’t been able to witness it and follow it first hand.