The first time I encountered Adam de la Cour’s music it smacked me about the face. It was Mark Knoop playing Beat Me, a tsunami of William Burroughs cut ups and Percy Grainger distortions for piano and sampled alarm at a Libra Duo concert at the Warehouse. I remember it being a bit like the beginning of English Country-Tunes, but even more so. Looking back over my review from then, I noted that “I don’t think the final effect, which was effective as far as it went, quite justified all [the conceptual] baggage.”
Neverthless, something about the piece has stuck with me, if only the residual heat of that initial slap. I think it was something to do with how exactly to parse the immense stream of notes: were there so many because the piece had so many specific things to say; or was it all an elaborate deflectionary tactic, the sheer density intended to turn our attention somewhere else?
Who knows. Who cares? But I was reminded of this thoroughly disorienting experience the other night when I heard another piece of de la Cour’s, this time for piano trio, as part of the 840 new music series put on by Alex Nikiporenko and Nicholas Peters. Again, the torrents of notes, the conflicting polyphonic lines, the apparently irrational distortions of register, rhythm and direction. Yet this time everything was cut up even more severely. The piece was 15 Small Anatomical Stumps, badly bleeding chunks sliced from maybe five different de la Cour pieces and arranged in sequence, separated by long pauses. The material may have been similar to Beat Me, but the effect was hugely different. The first six gradually reduced in length, from 20 seconds to little more than a single blurt. After that the lengths stopped being predictable. By about the 10th stump the piece seemed about done, and ready to finish, but you knew there was more to come: was there another shape, like that made from the first six lumps, to unfold? What seemed at first like a gag went on too long for that; then went on too long again and started to become funny once more. Oddly unsettling: the music was both predictable and completely unpredictable; like Beat Me, was it what it seemed, or was it something else entirely?
The closest comparison I can come up with is Spahlinger’s 128 erfüllte augenblicke, but only in terms of form. Really it’s nothing like that at all. I’m not sure I have heard anything else quite like it actually; if I have I can’t put my finger on it.