OK, well its nearing midnight, and in about an hour I have to go and drive my parents to Gatwick Airport, so I have this small window to write about yesterday’s realisation of Patrick Farmer’s prose score This has already had a history (0) by Rhodri Davies and Tim Parkinson. The concert took place in Oxford as a presentation of Patrick’s MA work, and was held in a little church hidden away in the city centre, so hidden that, even though I have lived and worked around Oxford for forty years I didn’t know it was there. The real benefit of this place was that while easily accessible it was tucked away from the noise of the city on a Saturday night. Nice venue for music then, shame its a church…
Now I am going to try and avoid saying how much I enjoyed last night’s concert. Although Patrick Farmer didn’t actually perform last night, I am well aware that I have seen (and then written about) far too many of his concerts this year and my excitement about them must be getting very tedious by now. Instead a few words about the score itself, and how it was interpreted.
The score then is a prose work that is described by Patrick as something he does not want to lay claim over. While this can easily be interpreted as a typical sign of humility, as a huge amount of work has gone into the creation of this large, beautiful score, Patrick’s assertion evolves in part from the way the score was developed. The composition uses small sections, each just a few lines long, from Gertrude Stein’s book The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, and sets them against reinterpretations written by Farmer of Stein’s words as instructions for a musical performance. As an example, one section of the work reads as follows, Stein’s words in bold, Farmer’s in italics-
“Doctor Claribel Cone of Baltimore came majestically in and out. She loved to read Gertrude Stein’s work out aloud and did read it out extraordinarily well. She liked ease and graciousness and comfort”
circling Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â round a missing centre
absence of majesty
The score contains many sections like this. I’m not sure what preparation the musicians undertook together before their performance last night, though I suspect that they agreed on certain approaches, but when they played they each took the various sections and performed them separately and in a different order to each other. So what ensued was a work clearly divided up into sections, with the musicians moving from one area of sound making to another as they went through the score, but the two sets of sounds meeting in the room to form the full work. Although billed as a performance of harp and piano, a lot more happened besides. Parkinson in particular spent more time with small objects of one sort or another, little tape players he placed about the room, a cymbal, various stones, sticks, a cowbell etc… Davies played his electric tabletop harp, but added a similar array of items, and Tim also made use of the church organ to release a breathily quiet whisper of sound at one point. The realisation of the score fell somewhere between a modern, Wandelweiser-esque work and a Fluxus performance- with the end result including a degree of theatre and visual interest (and no small amount of humour, particularly as at points in the performance the musicians filled their pockets with items around their tables, forcing so much in it overflowed to the floor) When sounds were made they were quite often very beautiful, but frequently they were cut short when the music moved from one section to another, and often the juxtaposition of the two musicians’ contributions created collisions rather than harmony- a deliberate and inevitable outcome of the score- there was a firm importance placed on the adherence to the composer’s instructions and agreed interpretation but the musicians, ahead of any consciousness of the aesthetic qualities of the end result. The concert ended with Parkinson having closed the lid of his piano, tidied his objects and stood silently as Davies tapped a deep chiming single note slowly on his harp. As he gradually brought the volume down so the nearby Christchurch College chapel bells appeared, spookily in time with Rhodri’s harp sound, ringing out nine o’clock, the only real intrusion from outside, and immaculately timed.
This was a lovely concert then, a wonderfully thoughtful, beautiful to view score realised by two superb musicians who had clearly put a lot of thought and care into their performance of the work. The whole event was wonderful, a nice, acoustically pleasing venue, a decently sized, respectful audience (that also included Julie my girlfriend, which always increases the enjoyment for me), a charismatic, handsome compere for the evening and a lovely ambience to the whole event. A perfect night really. Now, I must try and grab half an hour of sleep…