Riot Ensemble: Celia’s Toyshop at Brixton East 1871

37123-9977866-page8_jpgStill looking for something to do tomorrow evening? You could do much worse than get down to the funky Brixton East 1871 to see the Riot Ensemble’s first concert of 2017. The programme features an array of UK and world premieres by some outstanding young compositional talent:

Utku AsurogluHayirli Olsun (UK premiere)
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Shades of Silence (UK premiere)

Kerry Andrew: Hammock
Michael Cryne: Celia’s Toyshop  (world premiere)
Evan Johnson: Wolke über Bäumen  (UK premiere)

Jack Sheen: Television Continuity Poses

Tickets, just £10 (£5 for students), are available online. I’m told this one is selling well, so you may not want to rely on the door.

Last night: Julius Eastman at LCMF

Off to Holland Park for the first night of LCMF’s four-day Julius Eastman retrospective. There’s a biting cold in the air tonight, and the top deck of the bus is all steamed up. My chest is tight.

I’m nervously excited about this gig. I’ve admired Eastman’s work from afar, but this will be my first real engagement with it. And it has such a formidable reputation – anything might happen. Femenine’s 70+ minutes are underpinned by a non-stop pulse of mechanised sleigh bells. What will the 40th, 50th, 70th minutes be like? Will I get it? What if I don’t? There’s a real aura of FOMO around Eastman’s music, performances of it are so rare, his reputation so esteemed.

No such fears with Coming Together, one of my all-time favourite pieces. If I ever become a boxer (could happen!) this will be my walk-out music. This I am really looking forward to.

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Warehouse. Ex-industrial space. Featured in Antonioni’s Blow-up. The usual LCMF benches. (Do they own these now, or just hire them every time?) The streets around contain picturesque mews, architect-designed houses, the Turkmen embassy. Inside is peeling brickwork and an array of industrial heaters to make things habitable. Of two types, they fill the space with a bloody orange glow and a roar like small jet engines. The crowd is mostly but not exclusively young, male, hip. ‘I didn’t expect so many whiteys’, I overhear one lady in the interval.

(I was never hip, and I may no longer qualify as young. White and male, though, in I guess what must be a banner year for my kind.)

Fuck. Coming Together was absolutely electric. Elaine Mitchener gives it everything, yet still has enough for a sublime (and unadvertised) performance of Attica to follow. [UpdateI’ve since been told that although it’s common now to hear Coming Together on its own, the two pieces were originally composed as two parts of a whole.] It’s a classic pairing, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful here, but actually I’d have liked a couple of minutes to get my breath back after CT. Something about those words sends shivers down my spine: ‘I can act with clarity and meaning’. I listened with heart bursting, eyes moist, hands clenched into tight fists. Rzewski is here; I hope he enjoyed it just as much.

And so to Femenine. On the wall at the back of the stage is something that looks like a mechanised sleigh-bell contraption. But the interval bell itself is a taped loop instead.

In fact that’s the bells for the piece too. Apparently the mechanised system worked well but was too noisy to be practical, so a 13-bar loop of chinking bells was used instead (two sets, it sounded like, phasing back and forth against each other).

The bells are a curious component. At first they sound like an In C-ish pulse marker. Except that their sound is much fizzier than Riley’s chiming keyboard. It’s as much tinnitus hum as it is pulse.

And then there’s the fact that they’re deliberately running at a slightly faster tempo to the players themselves. So if they are a pulse, they’re locked to a completely different grid. This is very disconcerting to listen to and must a huge challenge to play against. In the end, the bells become a kind of noise backdrop, related to the rest of the music by association more than syntax. I found myself tuning in and out, going for minutes at a stretch without hearing them.

And the rest? Honestly, it didn’t grip me as tightly as some of my first encounters with other so-called minimalist so-called masterpieces. Compared to Rzewski’s precision rage it felt unfocussed – half-finished, even, although this was probably a consequence of the score’s incomplete existence. But it itched and troubled in very good ways more than anything I’ve ever heard by the supposed masters of this game. Its looseness produced some of its best moments, when Eastman and the players injected elements of jazz and blues that lie outside the familiar minimalist gamut but are in fact embedded deep within its DNA. It had a forthrightness and honesty in that way – and offered a profound challenge too, which the following day I am still working my way through. In some ways, Femenine is exactly what you would expect, in its steady accumulation of added-note tonal harmonies and motifs, sweet and beguiling. In other, more lasting ways, however, it is strange and slippery, and calls you urgently back for more.

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LCMF returns for more Eastman this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets here. If that’s not enough Eastman for you for one weekend, coincidentally and simultaneously, Mr Mineshaft, a play about Eastman’s life, is playing until Sunday evening at Theatre Utopia, Matthews Yard, Croydon. Tickets for that may be bought here.

Something experimental for the weekend

News of two tasty treats in London this weekend, organised by John Lely and featuring US West Coast composers Laura Steenberge and Michael Winter:

7.30pm Friday 7 October 2016 @ IKLECTIK
LAURA STEENBERGE – The Chant Etudes
MICHAEL WINTER – for Sol LeWitt
JOHN LELY – All About the Piano
MICHAEL WINTER – room and seams
TIM PARKINSON – No.3, No.4, No.5 (2016)
JÜRG FREY – Circular Music No. 6
Performed by Mira Benjamin, Angharad Davies, Anton Lukoszevieze, Tim Parkinson, Laura Steenberge, Michael Winter.
Tickets £7/£5
Old Paradise Yard
20 Carlisle Lane (Royal Street corner) next to Archbishop’s Park
London SE1 7LG
3.30pm Sunday 9 October 2016 @ Hundred Years Gallery
 
LAURA STEENBERGE – The Chant Etudes
MICHAEL WINTER – tergiversate
JOHN LELY – Second Symphony
MICHAEL WINTER – for Sol LeWitt
CHRISTIAN WOLFF – Another
MICHAEL WINTER – necklaces
Performed by Mira Benjamin, Angharad Davies, Dominic Lash, Anton Lukoszevieze, Tim Parkinson, Laura Steenberge, Michael Winter.
Tickets £5
13 Pearson Street
London E2 8JD

Kammer Klang 2016–17 season

lesuelyr

London’s leading season-long series for new and experimental music, Kammer Klang, has announced its programme for the coming year. Once again, it looks a doozy, with musicians from all over the new music map – from Tuvan throat singer Ayan-ool Sam to modern composition stalwarts Michael Cox and Enno Senft – spread across nine events between now and June.

Here’s a full list; for more details see the Kammer Klang website.

26th-30th September 2016
Miles Cooper Seaton + friends residency in the Oto Project Space
Open studio daily, with free evening events to be announced

4th October 2016
Miles Cooper Seaton + ensemble (UK premiere)
Distractfold performs Liza Lim, Mauricio Pauly (UK premiere), Sam Salem (UK premiere)
Fresh Klang Martyna Poznańska
DJs Monocreo

1st November 2016
Ayan-ool Sam
12 Ensemble performs Alex Hills (world premiere), Ruth Crawford Seeger

13th December 2016
Presented by Kammer Klang in association with London Sinfonietta
Evol performs Hanne Darboven
Enno Senft (London Sinfonietta) performs Hanne Darboven
Michael Cox (London Sinfonietta) performs Samantha Fernando, Brian Ferneyhough, Kaija Saariaho, Georg Philip Telemann

7th February 2017
Christine Sun Kim
Plus-Minus Ensemble performs Cassandra Miller (world premiere)
Juliet Fraser performs Cassandra Miller (world premiere)

7th March 2017
Klara Lewis
Phaedra Ensemble performs Leo Chadburn
Plus special guests to be announced

4th April 2017
We Spoke presents Living Instruments (UK premiere)
Explore Ensemble performs Gerard Grisey, Fausto Romitelli

2nd May 2017
Scenatet performs Matt Rogers & Sally O’Reilly (world premiere)
David Helbich

6th June 2017
Apartment House performs Henning Christiansen (UK premiere)
Plus special guests to be announced
 

Distractfold Ensemble in London, this Tuesday

Manchester’s Kranichsteiner Musikpreis-winning ensemble Distractfold will be in London this Tuesday, playing at Swedenborg Hall, 20 Bloomsbury Way, WC1A. The programme looks fantastic:

Hanna Hartman (SWE), Borderlines, for violin and 2 object operators
Christian Winthers Christensen (DK), Trio
Daniel Blinkhorn (AU), frostbYte – wildflower, for loudspeakers
Steven Takasugi (US), Letters From Prison, for loudspeakers
Mauricio PaulySky Destroys Dog, for electric guitar
Sam SalemNew Work, for 2 object operators, tape & video

If you can make it, I suggest you do. Tickets are £10 on the door or £7 advance booking and concessions.

Here’s a video of the group playing in Manchester earlier this year:

Michael Oesterle: all words

I loved Michael Oesterle’s all words when I first heard EXAUDI sing it last year, so I was delighted today to chance upon a recording from that concert on Soundcloud.

Here’s what I wrote in my Tempo review at the time (no. 272, pp. 72–4):

all words by the Canadian Michael Oesterle sets, in alphabetical sequence, all 1,015 three-letter words from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. On paper, unpromising material; in practice, anything but. The first brilliant thing Oesterle does is to draw out the inherent structural features of such a list. It will almost all (but, crucially, not entirely) consist of single-syllable words, which immediately carries a rhythmic implication. It’s also a lot of text, so the words will need to go by pretty fast. Furthermore, an alphabetical list of words contains its own internal rhythms and cycles: it will start with all the words beginning with ‘a’, then move to those beginning with ‘b’, and so on, creating 26 sections of different length, each with its own characteristic attack. Within each alphabetical section are up to 26 much shorter subsections – all the words beginning ‘ab’, ‘ac’, ‘ad’, and so on. Again, each of these has a particular sonic character. So the list is not an undifferentiated stream, but has a form and shape of its own. And then there are the words that leap out expeditiously for whatever reason: bum, CIA, emu. Finally, there are occasional moments where near-homonyms have the effect of almost pausing the flow altogether (cam, can; hem, hen; and … ant).

The music mirrors this mix of endless variety and predictable cycle with a tempo scheme that constantly fluctuates in great waves, as well as a pitch system that according to the composer is built upon triangular numbers, and that reminded me pleasantly of change-ringing. Oesterle is well-regarded in Canadian new music circles, and deserves to be here too.

840 series at St James, Islington

I was pleased to make it out last night for the first concert in 840’s 2015–16 series. Throughout this year and without much fanfare Alex Nikiporenko and Nicholas Peters have been building up this small series of small concerts of what I am tempted to call, in the least non-disparaging way possible, ‘small music’. Music by composers like Luiz Henrique Yudo or Laurence Crane. Music that doesn’t have any pretensions to be more than it is, that doesn’t seek to fill a space or a time outside of its own container, but that fills what it has just perfectly.

On this occasion all the music was for two or three cellos, played by Tre Voci, and every piece – except for Richard Glover’s Duo from 2012 – was newly written. Yudo, whose beautiful little sonic carvings are always a joy, was represented by CLARIFICATION, a polyphony of repeating pulses and sustained tones. Sergei Zagny brought another perfect miniature in his Studies on Rhythm BACH, written on the first five notes of the C minor scale. Timothy Cape’s NEED was a humorous look at the roles of advertising, self-promotion and anxiety in new music. Thematically it was the ‘biggest’ piece of the night, and in that respect slightly out of tune with its materials, but it raised and earned plenty of laughs. Eleanor Cully‘s tutto dietro il ponticello, as its title suggests, was played wholly behind the bridge of the three cellos, between it and the tailpiece – but if that suggested a Penderecki-esque noise-fest, what we got was a delicate study in bouncing bows and softly pinging pulses. Glover’s Duo is a quintessential study in ‘small music’, just a single perfect cadence zoomed in on and blown up with slow glissandi that drew out every tiny microtone or sonic ‘artefact’ that lurks beneath the most simple and foundational gesture in Western art music. Peters and Nikiporenko both wrote new pieces too, and I was especially taken by the latter, which seemed perfectly balanced in all directions.

This, by the way, is my new favourite programme note:

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