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.