Audiograft 2012 Day 1March 1, 2012
Today was very enjoyable. It was good to spend the day in fine company. I attended, and got in the way during the set-up of, a performance of John Cage’s Cartridge Music at Brookes University as part of the Audiograft Festival in Oxford. Now, I should really be repeating all the usual caveats I reel out here about being friends with the musicians, helping out a bit here and there, and so perhaps my objectivity about the performance could be in question etc… but somehow, given the nature of this piece of music, how it so firmly dictates much of what the musicians do, I actually don’t feel like all of this caveats are necessarily needed here. For those that don’t know the work, Cartridge Music requires the musicians to layer several acetate sheets of lines, shapes and clock faces over each other in an arbitrary manner, so creating formations of the various elements that should then be realised by “playing” various objects that are inserted into gramophone cartridges. While the choice of objects to insert and how to play them is down to the musician, when, for how long and how often they should be played is dictated by the way the score is realised.
The group of musicians performing the work tonight were a great collection of people who all normally improvise electroacoustically using assorted found objects and non-traditional instrumentation. Trying to list the objects they used to perform with would be somewhat ridiculous, but the group consisted of Stephen Cornford, Ferran Fages, Daniel Jones, Rob Curgenven, Lee Patterson, Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Patrick Farmer. They played for third-seven minutes to a full house of fifty or so mostly very quiet and attentive listeners. Cartridge Music has always been a difficult piece of music for me. I have heard a few versions of it down the years, and only really the Wandelweiser / Daswirdas Ensemble release worked well enough for me. The somewhat raw, dirty sound world that inserting things into phono cartridges produces is probably that little too harsh for my natural tastes, and while such sounds appear in a lot of music I really adore, hearing these sounds amplified, and not added to any other range of sounds could be what has turned me away from Cartridge Music in the past. It can be a pretty tough piece of music to listen to for a long time. One audience member tonight couldn’t take the persistent particular sound world and left the concert shaking his head vigorously. It isn’t for everyone.
I really enjoyed tonight’s concert though, and much more than when I saw the same group (minus Dan Jones) rehearse for the performance a few weeks back in Oxford. On that occasion the group played in a very small room, albeit a proper recording studio, and the sound felt claustrophobic, and contained. Tonight in the high-roofed space of the Brookes Drama Studio the musicians’ sound seemed more wide and varied, ranging right across the various spectrums, and as the musicians were lined up in a row, each with their own speaker behind them, there was a nice sense of each of them having their own separated voice, which of course combined as a whole, but it felt like seven separate realisations of the score meeting together, which of course is the case, but when musicians all go through a single PA the individual voices become completely lost.
For me this music is so very very different to improvisation. My reasons for saying this may be obvious, but so often it can be hard to tell the difference between improv and this kind of realisation. The sounds may be similar to those there musicians might make in an improv setting, but the angular disconnect running through the music gives the piece away as a time-dictated composition. I spoke to someone tonight about how listening to this performance reminded me of MIMEO’s sight album. With some vague connections in place, and musicians who have worked together quite often before taking part, there was a feeling of musicians playing together, and yet one step removed somehow. While the MIMEO group each recorded their parts for that album separated apart, the disconnect here is in the socrem and its random placement of the musicians’ sounds. So the different contributions might go together well, but they might not sound at the same time, or might cut dead just as they seem like they need to be continuing. Listening to Cartridge Music tonight through seasoned improv ears was interesting. The music didn’t do what I expected it to do, and that can’t be a bad thing.
A good first night of the festival then. A couple of other performances also took place tonight, which I enjoyed less, but I did also manage to spend a little time with Jason Kahn’s installation at Brookes, which consists of many (I think eighty?) tiny speakers suspended from the ceiling of the University building’s foyer, and also some time with Kostis Kilymis’ video work, which was a work that managed to realign me a little after an afternoon larking about with musicians, focussing me for a short while on static images shot from Kostis’ old home in Athens as a mix of field recordings and suspended tones filled the very small room the piece was shown in.
More at the festival tomorrow then. Tonight’s photo is a stitched together shot of the Cartridge Music group, but somehow the image cut Patrick Farmer off the far left of the ensemble. Ah well, that young man has appeared too often in these pages anyway. Click the image to see it bigger.