So, I am home this evening after three days of absorbing music. It salt, and I am very tired, and actually in quite a bit of pain as my back has flared up a little bit today as well, probably as a result of a lot of driving and sitting still listening, some of it on a cold concrete floor down in Brighton. Today I was in Oxford, sitting in on a rather good recording session, but Saturday and Sunday evenings I attended concerts involving Jason Kahn, who is touring here at present, and heard six sets of music that each had something good to offer. While I enjoyed some things more than others I enjoyed everything to some degree. I really don’t think it would be the correct thing for me to write a review of events, given my participation in the arrangement of them to some degree, but I will run through events from an entirely descriptive perspective, for the sake of those not there that might be interested.
In Brighton on Saturday, at the not entirely hospitable Grey Area gallery (Nice people running it I think, but tiny, cold and lacking in seating, lighting, toilets and heating) Paul Khmiasia Morgan put on one of his Aural Detritus events. If I sound a little dismissive of Paul’s work, I don’t mean to be- Brighton is an expensive town, and finding even close to decent venues without paying a fortune is completely impossible, so I am grateful that he does what he can where he can. Saturday was a challenge though, from a physical perspective. It wasn’t helped much by some of the other people in attendance either, who chose to laugh, chatter and smoke close to the rest of us right the way through all of the sets. This isn’t Paul’s fault either, but while the person stood just outside the building chatting to a friend loudly during Paul’s own opening solo set was actually quite welcome as it fitted in well with the mood of what was a rather nice performance, the idiotic racket that was made right through the duo of Phil Julian and Dan Jones just wound me up to the point I lost some concentration on the music.
Paul’s solo then was the best thing i had ever heard him do, a quiet mix of small live electronics- magnetic fields interrupting contact mics etc… with pre-recorded material, both field recordings of various types and a very nicely used recording of solo electric guitar, presumably played by Paul (he had a guitar laying beside him throughout the set, untouched, but perhaps a silent indicator that he had used it in the piece) and really rather beautiful in an early Sugimoto manner. It all blended together very well alongside the talking just outside the window. So then Phil and Dan played a mix of analogue synth, processed a little through MaxMSP (I think) and minimal electronics, feedback and miked ringing metal. The set was very rich in various overtones and sustained elements, glowing nicely with lots of deep colours and undercut with plenty of scratchy grit. There were mistakes, and bits that didn’t work as well as others, but these things should be expected from a first-time duo, and I enjoyed the performance a lot.
The evening finished with a solo from Jason Kahn that sat in an area that I am often really uncomfortable with- that noisily active, quite full on approach to analogue synth that is less about aesthetic beauty as much as visceral tension and energy. While I won’t pretend that I don’t enjoy Jason’s other approaches to music much more, watching him play, watching his hands flying around his synth flipping cables from one socket to another at a ridiculous rate was remarkable to watch and his sheer musicality and ability to feel his way through the music in such raw, cold conditions was incredible. I enjoy his sound cover the next cupel of days more but am very pleased I got to see Jason play in this way down in Brighton.
One snowy drive home later we got to hear Jason play again at the Art Jericho gallery in Oxford, where despite the weather we managed to get about twenty-five people through the door, which is quite an achievement in a city without much of a heritage for this kind of thing. The evening began with a solo set from Lawrence Dunn, a young local musician/composer who played a solo set of computer-bsed compositions, I think mostly just mixing different sections of a composition live in the room rather than improvising in the most commonly understood meaning of the term. I like this piece, which had a heavy, dark, almost sinister edge at times and drew grainy electronic scribbles over a thick bed of field recordings and other unidentifiable sounds. I would like to hear it again, played at home on my hi-fi, as I suspect the work is probably best heard, rather than in the gallery, but I did enjoy listening last night.
There followed a really nice solo from Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga for zither that saw her use eBows on the strings a lot, not only to create those warm extended tones, but also to create a system of vibrations to which she added various objects, some of them responding with incredibly varied and rich sounds of their own, others doing little and others just falling over. The chance element of Dimitra’s playing was great to watch. While she knew what sounds she was looking for, her method of working means (quite deliberately) that she doesn’t always find them, and sometimes nothing happens, or sometimes other sounds emerge that surprise everyone and send the music off somewhere else. It was fascinating to watch her play though, and the twenty five minutes or so that she performed for seemed to pass in no time at all.
The closing quartet consisted of Jason Kahn, again playing analogue synth, only much quieter, alongside The Albion Players, the dodgy named trio of Patrick Farmer (turntable, opened CD players, speaker cone, mixer, bits of a forest and who knows what else) Sarah Hughes (zither) and Stephen Cornford (tapes and electronics and who knows what). This set was a joy, both musically rich and varied and, as is often the case with a Farmer-related et these days, often thoroughly amusing. Jason’s control over his sounds was a wonder to watch and hear- whispery thin threads of sound at times, crunching interruptions at others. Sarah played as softly and delicately as ever, but also added some injections of melody into the equation a couple of times, usually offsetting Patrick’s rowdy noisiness brilliantly, so a tiny plucked melody would suddenly obliterate a clattering crash with its refinement in the face of chaotic abstraction. Farmer’s contributions are actually never chaotic and always controlled and thought through. One moment stood out a mile for me last night. After scrunching up a pile of dirt and twigs in his upturned speaker cone Patrick picked up the cone, and after a moment of clear contemplation did the inevitable, bringing most of its contents crashing down onto a nearby snare drum, the rest scattering onto the floor to join the shards of broken CD he had deposited earlier in the set. The look of satisfaction on his face was met by the looks of amused pleasure amongst the audience and the sighs of the concert organisers as they wondered if the gallery space had a broom anywhere. This set also lead me to realise something about Stephen Cornford’s music- it sounds like nobody else right now, as he produces sounds that stand out a mile as quite different and frankly indescribable. While never sounding out of place his squawks and squelches do not sound like what we expect to hear in this area of improvisation, and while he kept his contributions quite sparse last night, when they appeared they had a tendency to direct the music off somewhere new each time. This group worked really well for me, and Jason cemented his understanding of Patrick and Sarah’s music when he played with them today, with Dominic Lash replacing Stephen Cornford to record together in Oxford, to my ears very successfully, but if anything ever comes of the recordings remains very much to be seen.
So that’s been my last few days encapsulated in a few words. Its always great to spend time around talented and also extremely nice people, and this was certainly the case this weekend. Jason was a great pleasure to spend time with, as were all of the others as usual, alongside Kostis Kilymis, who did a great job organising the Oxford concert. Jason has a number of further dates remaining on his UK tour, catch him if you can.