Concert Reviews

Sunday 8th February

February 8, 2009

So last night I attended the Compost and Height first birthday gig, my first concert since the crazy week in November when I went to something like ten in seven days, including two that lasted the entire day. It was nice to be back amongst good, creative people again as much as anything. Sadly the disgrace of a train company that I rely upon for travel to and from London have decided to remove the last train out of the capital in my direction on Saturday nights. Not any other night, just the one night of the week that most people want to use it. They’ve also decided to put the price up yet again by a further 15%, on top of a similar rise in August. Grrr

Anyway it was a great gig for a number of reasons. The live music aside I came home with a bag of CDs collected from various places. As I mentioned in last night’s tired entry I bought a few discs at the new home of Sound323 within Café Oto, was kindly given a few by musicians and also received three (Yes three!) free CDrs at the door from Sarah and Patrick. It seems they asked a number of musicians to donate a piece to give away free as a thank-you for those that have supported them, only to receive so many tracks that it took three discs to house them all. Incredibly Sarah Hughes sat and drew a line drawing onto the heavy cardstock sleeve of each one, by hand. The image top left here is not taken from the sleeves but is very similar. It comes instead from a nice drawing she and Patrick sent me along with the most recent set of C&H 3″ discs. A lovely thought from lovely people.

What’s more the list of musicians that have provided a track for the free discs is pretty incredible; Adam Sonderberg, David Lacey, Joel Stern, Patrick Farmer, Rob Curgenven, Ben Owen, Loren Chasse, Seymour Wright, Thomas Tilly/To, Jeph Jerman, Mark Wastell, Dom Lash, Ben Drew, Lawrence English, Sarah Hughes, Eric La Casa, Jon Mueller, Richard Kamerman, Neil Davidson, Jez riley French, Hong Chulki and Choi Joonyong, Eamon Sprod, Martin Küchen, Lee Patterson, Joseph Clayton Mills and Cedric Peyronnet. Wow… I’ve not listened at all yet but hats off again to Sarah and Patrick just for their efforts with these as much as anything else.

So I only caught three of the four sets and sadly had to leave just as Lee Patterson, Ben Drew and Matt Davis were sitting down to play. It was really hard to tear myself away from a set I was very likely to enjoy a great deal, but the alternative prospect of spending the night on a freezing London Paddington station was just enough to pull me away. Fortunately the three performances I did catch were all very good indeed. Café Oto was very busy and buzzing yet again (great to see) when Jez riley French quietly sat down behind a very minimal set up that seemed to consist of some kind of small playback device, a contact mic and not much else, though it was hard to see how accurate I am here from where I was sat. While the crowd continued to chat he began to play a softly rumbling field recording of some kind in the background, only very gradually raising the volume. Even though I’d been watching him carefully from the moment he sat down even I didn’t realise he had begun performing rather than just soundchecking his equipment. As the sound rose and it became obvious that the evening’s music had begun the majority of the room hushed, though a few idiots continued to chat amongst themselves.

After a while as the recording continued to play Jez began to do something with (I think) the contact mic that created a sparse, slow series of cracks and pops, which he brought up in the mix steadily. The sound was not entirely dissimilar to that made by Sachiko M on recent releases, though such a comparison is essentially useless and probably well wide of the mark. This remained the shape of the piece for its remaining duration, a very quiet, very intimate, and in such a busy, thriving room a very brave performance from Jez that worked beautifully. Apart from a couple of giggling idiots and the inevitable moron that doesn’t know how to turn his mobile phone off he kept the room held in suspenseful silence for fifteen minutes. Very nicely done.

Next came Shale, the new group made up of four of the most promising younger improvisers in the UK right now. I say in the UK, but one of the quartet’s members, Helena Gough is now a resident of Berlin, which will make future work in this group difficult, a real shame as they were very good last night indeed. The remaining three members are Daniel Jones, (turntables) Matt Milton, (Violin) and Patrick Farmer. (assorted percussion) Before the set began the group struggled with faulty mixer leads and other technical headaches, and this, possibly combined with a degree of nerves probably lead to the set being so short at just sixteen minutes. (No I didn’t sit there with a stopwatch, I recorded the set to a little Edirol for reference purposes) Within this short space of time however the group rattled through a series of interlinked segments that ranged between microscopic clicks and pops to metronomic collaborative rhythms to a full-on sinewave drone from Jones that was suddenly and savagely truncated to reveal Milton’s delicate amplified violin scribbles beneath everything that ended the set.

(Please excuse the following slightly patronising comment guys, but I need to say this…) When I hear musicians from this generation playing as well as this, working in a very contemporary, partly electronic manner with great attention to the quality of sounds used and yet also following the line going back through the different stages of improvised music I feel very happy and filled with hope for the health of of the music in the future. Get these four musicians into a quiet room somewhere with some good recording gear, give them the time to stretch out and focus and they will make great music.

I’ve also just learnt that Helena Gough will also be playing a gig right under my nose in Oxford on Friday, which as luck would have it also happens to be my day off next week. She will join the double bass / cello duo of Dominic Lash and Bruno Guastalla to form a group called Teasel that I very much look forward to hearing.

The last performance I caught last night was a short piano recital by Tim Parkinson, who played three brief pieces, two by the Swiss Wandelweiser associated composer Jürg Frey that sandwiched a brand new composition by John Lely. I’m not sure of the titles of any of the three pieces (Tim if you read this could you let me know?). The Frey works were sparse, beautiful, and filled with silence, or in this case Café Oto room noise. Its debatable as to whether music of this kind either fails miserably in a crowded room like this or succeeds brilliantly, depending how you like your silence buttered. Personally I accepted the inevitable intrusions, closed my eyes and just enjoyed what I heard.

The John Lely piece could possibly have been described as a duet between composer and performer as alongside Parkinson’s live playing sat a secondary piano piece, played through a tiny, (and tinny) set of speakers secreted inside the Oto piano. The two pieces existed independently of each other, but then obviously combined into a stream of notes, some crystal clear, others sounding like they were played underwater. Parkinson’s ability to stay focussed on the score in front of him and play without being distracted by the notes coming from inside the piano was impressive. Overall the piece was like a dense patch of spiders webs, each strand delicate and beautiful but coming together to form an intricate construction. Good stuff.

I don’t doubt that Lee, Matt and Ben’s set was really good as well, rounding off a successful night put together by two of the most resourceful, energetic, and generous people working in this music anywhere in the world right now. As I type this I’ve spotted an announcement that Daniel Jones’ excellent solo set recorded in Hull in 2007 and only available as a very limited 3″ disc until now  has just been made available as a free download (amongst dozens more) at the Compost and Height website. Do these people never rest?

By the way as I spent the day today with Julie wandering around Oxford in the snow, eating a very nice meal at a Dim Sum place and buying essentials such as matching bath towels and a chopping board I’ve given myself a day off from the Wiring my ear to the ground set. Sorry GLK, normal service resumed tomorrow.

Comments (3)

  • Rod Jones

    February 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Helena Gough is an interesting composer. She studied with Jonty Harrison at Birmingham University and her work, at least her solo CD “with what remains” , which came out on the Entr’acte label a couple of years ago, is an intriguing hybrid of that academic electro-acoustic sound and whatever it is you call the music that you usually discuss here!

  • Matthew

    February 9, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Not to pre-empt Tim,
    but the Frey pieces were Wen 48 (I think) and Wer macht das stuck
    and the Lely piece was I believe called ‘Tim Parkinson’

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 10, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Thank you Matthew, that’s very helpful of you.

    Rod, yeah I’ve seen Helena perform a few times now, both solo and in collaborative settings, and I know With What Remains very well indeed, a great album.

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