The 20th century was full of piano hacks, from Cage to Lockwood, but Horatio Radulescu’s “sound icons” have seduced me since I first read about them years ago.Before anything else I was grabbed by the idea. Basically, a sound icon is a grand piano turned on its sides, stripped of its mechanics, retuned and played like a giant resonant harp. I imagine them acting as a gateway between the indulgences and excesses that grow out of spectralism (I mean, they’re often played using gold coins as plectrums… ) and the sort of post-everything deconstruction of the piano that begins with Cage’s screws between the strings and ends somewhere like Ross Bolleter’s ruined instruments on the sheep stations of Western Australia. The sound is pretty much as you’d imagine, a distillation of the idea of “sound plasma” that lay at the heart of Radulescu’s musical thought.
You see why I might be into this stuff. Anyway, next month sees a rare opportunity to experience some sound icons live as Filthy Lucre present the first all-live UK performance of Radulescu’s Intimate Rituals for two violas and sound icons (no recordings). First up is a concert/gig/club night at Shapes in Hackney on 2nd October, which begins with Grisey’s Partiels, then moves through the Radulescu, and arrangements of Animal Collective, Björk, Bat for Lashes, Four Tet and others, before ending in the early hours with DJ sets by My Panda Shall Fly and James Massiah. Full details here.
But that’s not all. After that, the sound icons, constructed by artist Peter Shenai, are moving to Somerset House from 2–15 November as part of the Made In Somerset House programme. There will be opportunities to have a go on them yourself during the day, as well as composition workshops, a historical presentation by Julian Anderson and Erik Tanguy on the
7th 8th, and a closing concert on the 15th. More details will be announced here. Event tickets are £8/12, but during the day it’s free to see (and, I think, play around with) the icons themselves.
Here’s a nice interview between Radulescu and the late Bob Gilmore. That site also includes a substantial programme note on Intimate Rituals itself, also by Bob.