CD re-review: Lars Petter Hagen: Orchestral Music

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Lars Petter Hagen: Orchestral Music | Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Rolf Gupta. Gjermund Larsen, Hardanger fiddle | Aurora

I reviewed this disc not that long ago for Nutida Musik, but I feel like it deserves a second pass here. Mostly that is because of its first piece, Norwegian Archives, which I’ve listened to several times now since submitting my review and which, although I don’t think I scored it badly, I certainly hadn’t fully worked out at the time.

As well as a composer Lars Petter Hagen is also a festival director (of Ultima, and others before that), and therefore a prominent and influential voice in contemporary Norwegian music. Much of his recent music is concerned with memory, nostalgia, and the troubling nature of cultural nationalism. Several pieces on this disc make allusions to Grieg in particular, but there are also less concrete elements like airy harmonies that live towards the top end of the harmonic spectrum, and allusions to nature and rural innocence. All three come together in the quintessentially Norwegian sound of the Hardanger fiddle, a folk instrument with sympathetic resonating strings, for which Hagen’s To Zeitblom is a concerto.

All of this comes out of the sounds of Norwegian Archives; icy chords, ringing harmonics, calm waters. But they are nudged out of shape by buzzing, tinnitus-like irritations, echoes and reverberations, and sliding glissandi. These are almost the physiology of recollection made sound. The notes generally come only one at a time. The continuity, the narrative, on which ideology feeds, is completely broken. Hagen uses the tactic to some extent on all the pieces on this recording – The Artist’s Despair Before the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins, Tveitt-Fragments, Funeral March Over Edvard Grieg, To Zeitblom – but it appears to the greatest extent in this piece. Any story-making must take place internally, in the critical intellect of the listener. Neither is the orchestra used as a machine for creating continuity, but instead is a repository for timbres, wispy allusions. Its forces are hardly employed en masse, and even then only for a second or so at a time. For the rest, we get a sort of desiccated Mahler of duets and chamber groupings, fleeting and remote.

I’m not saying it isn’t a problematic piece; Hagen’s music has been the site of a certain amount of controversy in Norway. But that’s the nature of nostalgia and nostalgia critique: it can be hard to tell the two apart, particularly within music, in which the same object can stand in equally for both. But I have grown increasingly to admire it – admittedly as an outsider to Norwegian music – and I have a lot of time for the narrow path Hagen is trying to tread.

CD review: Christopher Redgate: New Music for a New Oboe, Volume 1 (Métier)

British oboist Christopher Redgate has had a busy release schedule of late. I recently received another new release, Electrifying Oboe (Métier), which I hope to write about soon. This isn’t far behind last year’s New Music for a New Oboe (volume 1), also on Métier, and for which I offer a belated review here.

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Redgate is one of the great instrumental innovators of our day – on any instrument – and both recordings may be seen as part of a lifelong project to develop the oboe’s repertory and capabilities that has previously been traced on recordings like Oboe+ and Greatest Hits of All Time.

The oboe is a peculiarly inflexible instrument, compared to the flute or clarinet, for example, and it is no surprise that over the years Redgate has run into any number of limitations, including with range, multiphonics, microtones, glissandi and various timbral effects. In response to these problems – both already extant in the repertory, and anticipated in the future – between 2009 and 2012 Redgate partnered with Howarth’s of London (the Steinway & Sons of oboes) to design an oboe for the 21st century. The new instrument, the Howarth-Redgate oboe, tackles many of these issues and opens new doors for exploration in the future – the number of multiphonics available, for example, is reported to have increased four-fold.

In some ways Edwin Roxburgh is an ideal introduction to Redgate’s series of commissions for the new instrument. An oboist himself, as well as a composer and conductor, he knows the instrument better than most. Redgate has already recorded a CD of Roxburgh’s oboe music, and there is clearly a strong rapport between the two. Roxburgh’s four-part suite, The Well-Tempered Oboe was written to exploit the new high register and multiphonics of the Howarth-Redgate oboe; the latter are heard to best effect in the slow third movement, ‘Chromatic Fantasia’.

Yet despite having admired Redgate’s last Roxburgh recording, I confess I’ve not been blown away by The Well-Tempered Oboe. Nothing wrong with the playing: Redgate’s multiphonics in the fourth movement are sensational, for example. The music is just a little too polite for my tastes; for all that the composer had an exciting new instrument to play with, his pieces didn’t find a particularly new kind of music for it.

Michael Finnissy’s Âwâz-e Niyâz is something else altogether. For a start, it introduces the sound of the lupophon, a type of bass oboe whose range begins at the F at the bottom of the bass clef and extends some indeterminate distance (and in Redgate’s hands, who can really say …) above the treble clef. Quite an instrument. Its timbre is very oboe-like (quite different from a bassoon, eg), so in the couple of octaves where the two instruments’ ranges overlap it’s not always easy to be sure which one is playing.

Christopher Redgate and lupophon

The second striking thing about Finnissy’s piece is its length: an unbroken 55 minutes, a quite epic scale for a duo for oboe and piano. This is not a trivial observation. Finnissy is no stranger to constructing immense formal structures, even for solo instruments – see only his cycles for piano, for example – but unlike, say, Folklore or The History of Photography in Sound, Âwâz-e Niyâz is not as indebted to such a complex an intermeshing of stylistic and genre types. Or at least not as far as I am aware; I may be wrong. Âwâz-e Niyâz is rather a gigantic melodic unspooling.

The vast expansion beyond the norm is made possible first by the lupophone itself, whose weight and depth of sound extend, from the first bars, a giant bed for the music, extending its horizons far beyond the usual and expected. It is as though the music were stood on its end, its duration a function of its tessitura and vice versa. Range is not the only dimension that has been expanded, however – the new sounds, microtones and multiphonics at Finnissy’s disposal represent a similar increase in material whose exploration adds further possibilities for extension.

In his sleevenote, Finnissy explains that the music is inspired by traditional Persian music, particularly the Iranian vocal improvisations collected by Mohammad Taghi Massoudieh. It is therefore shaped by the long melodic arcs of improvised song, of ornaments upon ornaments, of recurring fragments and whispy filigree. There is a dream-like quality to much of it; sometimes the texture thins to only the faintest hint of something (an extraordinary passage of hushed mutliphonic trills about half an hour, for example), sometimes (although less frequently) the tendrils thicken into great tangled knots. It is a peculiar, surprising one-off that perhaps only Finnissy could have made.

in vain, and the discourse of 21st-century music

What to make of what Sir Simon Rattle, in an unfailingly reprinted introduction to Georg Friedrich Haas’s in vain, calls the ‘first masterpiece of the 21st century’?

I’m not sure. It certainly is a ‘masterpiece’, if we want to continue using that word. That fact is gilt-embossed on every polished note. It’s certainly one of the first of the century, being composed in 2000.

But it’s certainly not flawless beyond criticism.

The hype that now surrounds every performance of in vain, aided by Alex Ross’s endorsement in the final pages of The Rest Is Noise, stoked by Rattle, and slurped up like water to a thirsty man by arts organisations like the Southbank, doesn’t do the work any favours. One of the hopes of our post-(post-)modern culture should be that we can move beyond this sort of language. Not only for elaborate French-philosophical reasons, but also because it kind of spoils things for audiences.

It was hard on Friday evening to listen to the London Sinfonietta’s performance of in vain on neutral terms. One expected at the end of its 70 minutes to be inducted into a cult, and that is a recipe for disappointment. It is immensely seductive, and its technical polish of a very high level. (The Sinfonietta’s performance was equally polished and unflagging throughout.) But at the same time, there is no grit, nothing truly inexplicable, challenging or ill-fitting. In all these respects it’s rather like the Shard, or a Disney film, or an iPhone. Flawless but hollow.

The good bits were very good. The two fades into darkness work especially well. The first is a great coup de théâtre, the second an even more impressive moment of drama. Here’s where I really felt Haas’s concept of an unwanted reprise succeeded. The lighting is not a gimmick, and it contributes something concrete and musical that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. But it is not exactly Haas’s invention (as Liam Cagney observed a few days ago, Grisey was doing this sort of thing in the 70s).

The piece has its longeurs, particularly in the central section, and there are too many moments that, lighting aside, sound like first draft Grisey. Rattle claims in his note that there is very little music like this around but really, there is some. This post-Ligeti, post-spectral filigree is more lingua franca than exception, even if it’s not always done as nicely as this. And although I love Haas’s harmonic aesthetic of perpetual destabilisation/resolution I much prefer it done with more assertive lines and less ornament, as in Blumenstück or the orchestral natures mortes, both much stranger works. (But I accept that’s a personal taste thing.)

If it sounds like I’m griping, I am. If it sounds like I’m deliberately swimming against the tide of critical opinion then I guess I’m doing that too. (Although interestingly I didn’t talk to anyone over the weekend who wasn’t at least slightly underwhelmed.) However, the sometimes off-the-peg discourse around a piece like this, and what that says about our desire for 21st-century masterpieces, and what we think they should sound like, deserves closer examination.

(NB: For those wanting to read more, Jeffrey Means has posted an interesting write-up of the work’s challenges from a conductor’s perspective.)

Reviews resurrected: György and Márta Kurtág and Hiromi Kikuchi, Wigmore Hall, 2006

Resurrected because this concert is essentially being reprised on 1 December as part of the Southbank Centre’s TRIN-fest. Here’s what I wrote back in 2006 when the Kurtág piano duo and violinist Hiromi Kikuchi came to the Wigmore Hall.

Originally published in New Notes, the now-defunct magazine of the now-defunct SPNM.

One behind-the-scenes tidbit: I’d spent the few days before this concert in New York, and had stepped off a red-eye flight back only that morning. So the whole performance was experienced through the haze of jet-lag and a lot of caffeine.

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Kurtág 80th Birthday Celebration
Wigmore Hall, 9th November 2006

György Kurtág (pianino), Márta Kurtág (pianino), Hiromi Kikuchi (violin)

György Kurtág: Hipartita, Játékok

The György and Márta Kurtág piano duet is one of the great shows in contemporary music and, as expected, attracted a capacity audience to the Wigmore Hall. Their chosen programme – selected from the composer’s 8-volume Játékok series for piano and Transcriptions from Machaut to J.S. Bach – has remained relatively consistent for more than 20 years. However, tonight we were treated to a different cross section of works from the set. Several favourites – ‘Knots’, ‘Study to “Hölderlin”’, Dirge – remained, but there were also surprises. Unusually there were none of the ‘Flower’ pieces that form a backbone to the series, and there was the inclusion of one non-Kurtág work, Bartók’s ‘Canon at the lower fifth’ from Mikrokosmos volume 1.

As a duet the couple are unique performers. Kurtág’s music of delicate gestures seems perfectly matched to husband and wife, full as it is with private jokes, recollections and shared experience, a near dance of crossing limbs and touching hands. At one point in the choreographed performance the composer stands like a stern instructor behind his wife’s shoulder as she performs the sole Játék dedicated to her; this is a quintessential Kurtág moment, taut, tender, and not a little oppressive. A parallel might be made with Milan Kundera, whose erotic, intimate writing is as dark as it is light. Yet for all the theatre Kurtág’s genius is to make it all about the music and nothing more.

The first piece on the programme, Hipartita for violin solo, given a stunning UK première by its dedicatee Hiromi Kikuchi, revealed a different side of Kurtág’s art. Unmistakable in its foreign-familiar harmonic and melodic language it hinted at a new-found easiness of style. Completed in 2004, Hipartita is one of the composer’s most unified pieces, maintaining a notable consistency of character in contrast to his earlier multi-partite works; this is not to say that his expressive range is diminished, however. Several of the nine movements were distinguished by well-balanced, long-breathed phrases suggesting that Kurtág is, in his later years, fully embracing the lyricism that he previously allowed to dwell only at the edges of his music.

Ore, A, @HCMFUK

Of the early concerts of this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Cecilie Ore’s ‘shadow opera’ A stood out as one of the most intriguing. A hour-long electroacoustic/video work, to be shown late at night in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park: what’s not to like?

I knew the music a little already from the Aurora recording (featured on Radio Rambler earlier this year), but before yesterday I didn’t know much else about what it was about (Paal-Helge Haugen’s libretto is mostly in Norwegian), or even quite how it would be staged. I liked the sound of it though, its relentlessly doomy gongs, so was looking forward to this.

One practical thing first: the decision to stage it in the sculpture park was baffling. In fact, it was staged within an identikit white box – the park’s Longside Gallery – that could have been anywhere, and surely didn’t necessitate the 30-minute coach journey there and back. Since it was long past sundown (the concert began at 10.30pm), the only part of the surroundings that was visible in any case was the car park. The school trip atmosphere was quite fun, but that was about it.

On the work itself, I was really split. Really. This was, I gather, a new video realisation (by Torbjørn Lunggren), so I’m still unsure as to what earlier productions have looked like. (You try googling “A”.) Some bits I liked; others not so much. Text, textiness, texuality: it’s all key to the work’s aesthetic. The ‘story’ is basically that of Agamemnon’s siege against Troy, told through his own interior monologue. Aware of the horrors he has perpetrated he defaults to linguistic constructions for his justification: ‘It was order. It was the world. It was revenge. It had to happen. It was an order.’ Words, and especially their formality, are the source of this power (note the pun on ‘order’).

At the same time, words are suspect, and subordinate to action. The libretto’s key couplet occurs near the middle of the piece: ‘Revenge is order. Forgiveness is chaos.’ The action of Grecian order versus the words of Christian chaos.

This is powerful stuff (drawing heavily, I think, on the original Greek), and it moved me. Ore’s stripped down soundtrack – behind the spoken voices inside Agamemnon’s consciousness there is little more than roiling gong sounds and whisps of sibiliance – achieved a powerful rituality, if at the expense of variation or nuance. But then Troy was never the place for subtlety. Most impressive was its dramatic pacing: somehow it ended exactly where one felt it should, although there were few clues in music or visuals that the end was coming up.

On the negative side of the ledger, however, one has to mention the video. This was closely modelled on Ore’s music, in that it, too, made use of a minimal number of motifs and materials. In this case, a Matrix-like datastream of phrases for each chorus section, interspersed with fixed texts that were either projected as flat and static, or whose letters fell down the screen, as 3D blocks, like collapsing buildings. The ideas were nice enough, but some of the graphics felt like they had been rushed to completion. There was the same issue of repetitiveness as in the music, but again this sort of worked within the ascetic context of the drama. What bothered me most was that – inevitably, I guess, when you’re pushing bits of Helvetica around a screen – it all looked a bit, well, Powerpointy.

As I say though, I came out of it all genuinely in two minds. Emotionally, it really connected; intellectually, I’m not so sure. Aaaaargh.

P.S. 5against4 made it to the Ore premiere – Come to the Edge – on Saturday.

Cassandra Miller’s new piece for EXAUDI

A good time was had last night at EXAUDI’s concert at the Only Connect theatre. I’m writing now because I particularly enjoyed Cassandra Miller‘s new one, Guide, for eight voices.

Guide is based on a 1968 recording by the American folk singer Maria Muldaur of the well-known hymn ‘Guide me, O thou great Jehovah’. In advance of receiving the score, the players were asked to familiarise themselves with the recording, and in particular with Muldaur’s distinctive vocal style. The piece itself then ran through (?apparently) a sort of quasi-canonic process that meant each singer working through the hymn’s first verse – in awareness of how Muldaur sang it – with various repetitions and other procedural things along the way. The way it was built out of layers and loops meant that something of the music’s origins, in a recorded artefact, was carried through into the form of the piece; this was an echo of a recording given the post-production treatment.

In a way. That description makes it sound sort of Reich-y, which it wasn’t at all. It was way less digital than that. And it was more than the aura of vinyl or tape, but of a tape that was loosely wound, or even unspooling. Hesitantly, I might even say it was organic.

But still with that sense of intermedia translation about it, the sense of something artificial, brought into a dialogue.

Like I say, a really, really good piece.

I also enjoyed catching up with Cassandra after the show, all of which preamble gives me an excuse to post this piece of hers for piano, played by Philip Thomas:

CD Review: Håkon Stene: Etude Begone Badum

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Håkon Stene: Etude Begone Badum | Hákon Stene, percussion | Ahornfelder AH25

I now own at least three recordings of Silver Street Car for the Orchestra, which is surely enough.

My latest copy of Alvin Lucier’s famous solo for triangle, on this fine recital disc by Håkon Stene, is the shortest of the three and, being recorded in a very resonant acoustic – the glorious Tomba Emmanuelle in Oslo – is very different from the other two. (The others are by Brian Johnson on the Ever Present disc, and Ross Parfitt, recorded at Tate Modern.) Do I like it? It’s certainly more immediately attractive than the other, drier, versions; there’s more to listen to, in a straightforward sense, as the overtones swing round the room’s 20-second reverberation. The sound blooms extravagantly (it roars). I wasn’t sure at first so had to ask – Stene assures me it is just him, the triangle and the room, although all four corners of the space were miked so as to make the most of the ambience. It must have been quite something to hear in person.

I’m in two minds about how faithful it is to what I take to be Lucier’s concept though – the minute, phasing variations you get from a typical performance of SSC are both blown up and swamped by the acoustic. The scale on which things take place is completely altered. That said, a lot of the original nuance doesn’t transmit well to recording anyway. At the very least Stene should be credited for experimenting with a solution, and the results are pretty stunning.

Stene also uses the Tomba Emmanuelle for his recording of Michael Pisaro’s ricefall (1). Even more than the Lucier, the acoustic distorts (saying that as neutrally as possible) one’s expectation of what a Michael Pisaro piece is going to sound like. Here there is a little more mediation involved. Each separate part of Pisaro’s score (which involves dropping rice onto different surfaces) was recorded separately, then played back in separate channels into the room. I think the tracks themselves were also recorded in the Tomba, so you have reverb on reverb. It gets a lot louder than any Pisaro piece I know, a consequence of the sheer volume of rice Stene appears to be using. Bits remind me of some of those early Xenakis tape pieces – Concret PH or Bohor come to mind.

I’m only recently getting acquainted with Marko Ciciliani‘s music and I’m still searching for a frame within which to get to grips with it. I’ll confess that Black Horizons has me baffled. It is written for two table-top guitars (Stene is supported here by Ciciliani himself), which rarely play settled pitches, almost always drifting queasily up or down after each attack. There’s a steady, pulsing strum throughout most of the piece, over which are laid sharper attacks, slowly drifting glissandi, and, going beyond the guitars themselves, short spoken word samples and other noise sources. There’s certainly something improvisatory – at least in feel – here, although I miss a sense of inter-performer focus. I guess it’s a little, well, rambling, and I haven’t yet made out a formal design, or a binding concept. Which isn’t to say there isn’t one or the other; just that it remains opaque to me.

But the key to this record are the Studies in Self-Imposed Tristesse by Lars Petter Hagen, three of which are distributed throughout the album. The ‘study’ of the title may refer to some sort of conceptual restriction, but these are also studies in a musical sense, in the varying qualities of attack and sustain of different sound sources, whether bells, sine tones, radio static, bowed vibes and so on. All of those are sounds that bring them into contact with the other three tracks on the disc. (Indeed it’s easy to miss the cuts between the Ciciliani piece and the studies before and after it.) The studies are based on preparatory fragments of a larger work for strings by the mid-century nationalist composer Geir Tveitt (1908–81), part of the small amount of work recovered from a house fire in 1970 that destroyed nearly all of his music. Know that about their history, and suddenly this album’s emotional and symbolic terrain draws together.

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Also out now is a CD single (Ahornfelder AH26) that pairs Stene’s thumping reading of Ferneyhough’s Bone Alphabet with a remix by Sir Duperman (Jørgen Træen). Opting not to force Ferneyhough’s rhythms into a beats-heavy IDM straitjacket, Træen goes for something more freeform, making the most of Ferneyhough’s rigidly stratified percussion timbres to squeeze his material into a mix of dubby squelches and pops-and-sine tone Stockhausen. By about midway, the source sounds have passed from recognition, returning only towards the end.

I reviewed Stene live, back in 2008, playing the Ferneyhough and Hagan pieces as one half of the asamisamasa duo. See bottom half of the page here.

James Weeks: TIDE (CD review)

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James Weeks: TIDE | Anton Lukoszevieze, Christopher Redgate, Andrew Sparling | Métier MSV 28532

There’s obviously something procedural going on in this music, probably more than two or three things at once, but I’m buggered if I can tell you what they are.

Although only 30 minutes long, TIDE is split over two discs. That’s because it sort of exists in two separate versions: one as a trio for oboe d’amore, clarinet and cello (TIDE proper); and secondly as three separate solos, Burnham Air for oboe d’amore, Tide for cello, and Sky for clarinet and electronics. Disc B contains the three solos, disc A the composite trio. The piece is composed as series of waves, of dynamic, of pitch, of rhythm, of tessitura, of density, and so on. There is a sense that loops are being used, but at a level of interlocking complexity that is hard to make out. Waves of one sort or another overlap, producing cascading effects of beating patterns and interferences. If that makes it sound like Lucier, it’s not really; for all its superficial simplicity this isn’t music that is easily summarised.

I’m a contrarian, so I listened to disc B first. Burnham Air has a Finnissy-like quality about it, the hard-edges of the English pastoral; Birtwistle even, buried. Some of that is the flinty sound of the oboe d’amore, but that’s not the only factor in play – Weeks’s sequences of trills, arpeggios and runs (versions of each other viewed through different telescopes), following each other in a manner that sounds both mechanical and organic, achieve a kind of permanent impermanence, like clouds or sea, central London architecture, or the industrial North.

(When I profiled James’s music on these pages a couple of years ago, I claimed that he had a particularly English voice, and I haven’t changed my mind on that.)

Many of the qualities of Burnham Air are carried over into the other two solo pieces. Sky overlays a slowly drifting clarinet line with six recordings of itself, until a single melody becomes a waft of sine-tone like sounds. Tide for solo cello mediates, as Evan Johnson’s typically elegant liner notes describe, ‘between the swelling placidity of Sky and the penetrating insistence of Burnham Air‘. That is, it has the slow motion, but adds the abrasive timbre of a curved bow playing across four strings simultaneously. There are dimensions and dimensions here: not only the frequency of the waves, the speed of their component particles, their amplitude and their resolution (from glissando to arpeggio), but also the overtone spectrum of each sound, bright and focused for the oboe d’amore, broad and multi-coloured for the cello. The more one listens, the more one is impressed at how much variety Weeks has built in to what began as such simple inspiration.

When I listened to all three together, the musical mechanics became both more delineated and more obscure. The sense of interlocking waves – accidental, since the three parts aren’t coordinated in performance – strengthens, but at the same time the mystery of what is actually going on just gets deeper. Something that should surely by now have become familiar is lit in entirely new ways.

TIDE was released in May, and my copy has been sat on my desk since then. I listened to it then, but it seemed entirely unsuited to what turned out to be a long, hot summer. Now, as we turn definitely to autumn, its tone and construction seem right for the changing of a season.

Ghikas and Walshe: Good Teeth (CD review)

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The first release on the Migro label sees composer-improvisers Panos Ghikas and Jennifer Walshe in typically genre-bending style. The catch on Good Teeth, an album of duo improvisations for vocals, trumpet, sampler, drums and viola is improvisations on the live instruments and voice are recorded, broken down in fragments, and reassigned to sampler. Those samples are then played through an e-drum kit (by Ghikas), while Walshe reacts and improvises in real time to the sampled and replayed material.

You can get an idea of how this works from this short video, recorded at Good Teeth’s launch party:

On the album’s first track ‘The Pig Sleep’ the natural energy of Walshe’s live vocals is balanced by the rough fluidity around the edges of her sound; the digitally-crisp rhythms of Ghikas’s sampler by their sonic trace as recorded, ‘dead’ matter. Dialogues of that type, around what is ‘live’ about a live sound, around different ways to energise a noise act, run through the album. The introduction of Ghikas’s violin on track 4, ‘Oh! naturel’ (those puns …) keeps it fresh. Most of the tracks are compact blasts, coming in at under 4 minutes each; endings seem to have caught everyone by surprise, yet still sound assured. Only on the final, seventh track, ‘Toy Adonis’, do Ghikas and Walshe set their sights on a more distant horizon 13 minutes away. The result feels strangely more ‘composed’, as though aware of a larger structural framework. Meticulous pacing substitutes for seat-of-the-pants euphoria.

Review: Noise and Complexity at LCMF

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And so to Peckham for the second weekend of the London Contemporary Music Festival. Because of holidays booked with the kids (middle-age problems) this was the only night I could really make. But the gods of calendars did well for me.

The night was billed as ‘New Complexity and Noise’, and the promo materials referred to ‘two radically different schools [that in the 1970s began to push contemporary music to the outer limits of density and possibility’. It’s a false dichotomy, of course, as shown in the forthcoming book Noise in and as Music from University of Huddersfield Press, co-edited, incidentally, by one of tonight’s composers. ‘Noise’ and ‘complexity’ are more like different paths from the same place.

And not always so different, as the concert itself made clear. Letting ‘these two worlds collide’ was the marketing hook, but the evening’s real success was to highlight similarities and connections. So Aaron Cassidy‘s ‘decoupled’ instrumental techniques matched Steve Noble‘s virtuoso snare-and-cymbals improvisation; Anthony Pateras‘s modular synth playing echoed the whirlwind note generation and fractured registers of Michael Finnissy’s English Country-Tunes.

A great piece of curating, in fact. Peckham car park is obviously a difficult space in which to put on music, with little seating, poor sightlines and abundant noise from the West Croydon line just outside. Everything has to be amplified to be heard. But it was interesting to note the relative robustness of the pieces to their surroundings. The Finnissy (played with characteristic verve by Mark Knoop) was especially able to cope with whatever sonic interruptions there were, even trains passing in its long, sparse passages. Cassandra’s Dream Song proved too fragile, however, although no fault of the flautist, Sara Minelli. (One wondered whether Unity Capsule, although far more demanding on the performer, would have worked better.)

Cassidy’s trumpet solo What renders these forces visible is a strange smile also coped well, and was given a refreshing performance by Peter Yarde Martin (see picture). Not as balls to the wall as Tristram Williams’ version, but it sounded to me like it was stretched over a wider dynamic and timbral palette, and to great effect. Unfortunately I was stood too far back to get much from Cassidy’s quietest piece, songs only as sad as their listener, played by trombonist David Roode. A rush of people for the upstairs bar arriving at the same time didn’t help, a rare organisational misstep.

Dropped between each composed piece were duo and solo improvisations by Noble (percussion) and Pateras (piano/prepared piano/modular synth). Both musicians were extraordinary – raw power channelled through seemingly limitless energy and invention – but the best of the five short sets were those with Pateras at the keyboard, in a percussion and prepared piano duo and an astonishing piano solo that exceeded the Finnissy for virtuosity and density of notes.

Russell Haswell’s noise set that closed the concert was an impressive onslaught, punctuated by booming snares and an eerily de-rhythmicised acid hi-hat, but in truth I’d had sufficient music for one night by then, so it felt more like a coda/curtain call than it probably deserved.

(Photo by Aaron Holloway-Nahum, used with permission. See his full set from this concert on Flickr.)