So, right, what is there to say about yesterday afternoon’s concert at the old Peek Freans biscuit factory in London beyond mere description of the event? Its difficult to know precisely. Some description is certainly needed to get a handle on what we were presented with. From the outset I felt a little uncomfortable about the layout of the event. The main V22 space, housed in one of the the massive halls of the old factory is perhaps eighty metres square, with ceilings maybe ten metres high. Its a monumental space with a natural resonance quite unlike any I have heard before, with sounds taking several seconds to decay after their initial attack. The chairs for the audience were placed in standard straight rows right in the middle of the room while the musicians wandered around the space outside them. Directions had been given that it was OK to come and go about the space, which I almost never do at this kind of thing, preferring to find one strong vantage point and then take in how things change around me, but even then if you sat in the seats provided you either paid little attention to what was going on or got a stiff neck pretty quickly.
Lee Patterson, Patrick Farmer and Stephen Cornford had been in residency in the space for three days before Sunday’s two and a half hour long event, and they were joined on the day by Dominic Lash. The concert (if that’s the right thing to call it) was roughly composed into various sections. Nothing was given away about what took place during the length of the performance, but I think Cage’s Four4 for a quartet of percussionists was used, perhaps to open the performance as the musicians spent the first half an hour or so throwing pebbles at walls and along the long expanses of floor, rolling metal canisters and glass bottles around and striking various metallic objects. Then we heard all kinds of other stuff. A lot of feedback tones were used, created from ‘dipping’ microphones into bottles of various sizes, and then there was a section in which an old degrading song was played, maybe something vaguely oriental, via tapes with some kind of drumskin interference. Heavy sheets of wood were dragged about madly, their scrape against the floor resonating wildly and a good time seemed to be had by all. Lash often stood aside and played his double bass into what was happening around him, and at one point left the hall into one of the adjacent, equally monolithic spaces, where he set about playing one of the Bach cello suites, exceptionally beautifully, the sound driving into the main space, amplified as it did so, an eerie, ghostly, and stunningly lovely interlude.
The last section of the event (I’v emitted out loads in between) saw Farmer play an upright piano in one far corner of the space- something slow and spacious, maybe improvised, maybe something like Satie, while Lash folded simple bowed melody into his playing. If this became almost too pretty at times so Cornford shattered the moment with sudden blasts of extremely loud, Tudoresque rasping electronics from the other side of the room. The concert ended when a tape of a similar piano performance by Farmer slowly rang out from a the top of a scaffold tower way back behind us, while Cornford, who had climbed up to set it running dropped empty pistachio shells from up high to the ground below and the others took to kicking pebbles back around the extremities of the space.
So no ordinary concert then. Its worth noting also that the four musicians also stepped some way out of their own personal comfort zones as well, with perhaps Lash, who was an added guest as the one possible exception, though his work with a large doughnut of metal, which he gleefully struck early on, its ringing tones lasting for a full fifteen seconds or so, revealed a percussionist side to him not heard before now. So Farmer played piano, and Patterson and Cornford, while touching on their favoured tapes and natural process sounds here and there were also put into positions in which they were forced to try something new. Watching Lee Patterson for forty minutes or so wandering about, and not behind a table was something of a revelation in itself. It would have been easy for the quartet to have set up a standard concert situation and to have used the massive natural resonances of the factory to amplify their sounds out to the audience, but they instead chose to really try and engage with the space. They used objects found around the factory, and worked with the natural angles in the hall to investigate the ways to explore the unique acoustics. This was a real attempt at something as specific to its site as could possibly be. So very few people came and listened. Just the same handful of faces I have seen at other concerts recently in London. Maybe its the Olympics factor, and the busy, revoltingly adorned transport systems of the capital making wandering out in the evening to an event like this an unattractive proposition. Perhaps it was the Sunday afternoon start time. Whatever the reasons, the turn-out was disappointing, as others have also been recently, but while one hopes this is just one of those blips and that audiences will pick up again in the Autumn, I for one am as determined to keep making the long trip over to London as often as I can.