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September 2019 – upcoming opera – Alex Mills’ ‘Dear Marie Stopes’ in London (21st September); Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ on film in Brighton (24th September)

14 Sep

Alex Mills‘s forty-five minute chamber opera ‘Dear Marie Stopes’, originally performed last year as part of the Wellcome Collection’s Tête à Tête opera festival, gets another pair of performances this month at Kings Place. The original performance team (singers Alexa Mason, Jess Dandy and Feargal Mostyn-Williams, cellist Lucy Railton, viola da gamba player Liam Byrne) reunite with director Nina Brazier for a special new staging to suit the new venue.
Alex Mills' 'Dear Marie Stopes', 21st September 2019

Performed by soprano, alto and countertenor in “a mixture of solemn plainchant-style singing and delicate melismatic lines above a soundworld of drones and shifting harmonies on strings and electronics”, the opera is epistolary, built up by from thousands of open and emotional contemporary letters written to Marie Stopes following the 1918 publication of her book ‘Married Love’. The latter was one of the modern world’s first frank sex manuals and the forerunner of much of today’s open sexual culture (as well as a cornerstone of first-wave feminism with its insistence on sexual equality, the appropriate use of contraception and the understanding of female desire), and its impact was both profound and global.

 
There’s a ‘Planet Hugill’ feature on the opera here, written by Alex himself, in which he explores the context and method of the work:

“Each letter is a vivid snapshot into sex lives a century ago, full of unfiltered, raw emotion and moving personal stories, many of which resonate powerfully with life and society today. I felt that an operatic context would provide the perfect platform to explore and unpack the inherent drama and high emotion in the letters, and bring their fascinating content to a wider audience. There is no conventional, linear narrative. Instead, the libretto, by Jennifer Thorp, pieces together vignettes and extracts to form a tight dramatic structure, held together by the central figure of Marie Stopes herself.

“The three singers have their work cut out for them – taking on multiple roles and characters, sometimes within the same section, to show the very wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes to sex and birth control in 1918. The intention was to draw out the emotional content of the letters while being sensitive to the original context in which they were written – very private missives in a time of need.”

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For those who missed seeing Keith Burstein’s opera ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ while it was being performed at last year’s Grimeborn, there’s an opportunity to catch it again. Admittedly this will be on film – one particular evening of the run was recorded by Jason Harris of Piñata Studios, the footage has now been edited and subtitled, and the results are premiering at Brighton’s Verdict Jazz Club later this month, preceded by a short introductory talk by Keith himself.

Here’s what I wrote about ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ when previewing it last summer:

Fulham Opera's 'The Prometheus Revolution' - 7th/8th/10th August 2018Fulham Opera are premiering ‘The Prometheus Revolution’, the first new opera by composer/librettist Keith Burstein since his anti-War On Terror work ‘Manifest Destiny’. The latter blew up a pile of controversy at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe with its suicide bomb-vest scenes, its agit-prop metaphysics and its pungent criticism of Western motives, and eventually led to a wrangle over free speech and alleged promotion of terrorism at the Royal Courts of Justice.

‘…Prometheus…’ looks set to extend at least some of the ideas behind ‘Manifest Destiny’. Like the earlier piece, it’s a politically-heated metaphysical examination of where we are as a society, and what we might do about it, It’s set in an alternative present which closely mirrors our own, with democracy decaying into corrupt war-mongering authoritarianism and economic meltdown, with a peace movement “standing between tyranny and chaos, (although) they too are cleft by internal struggles.” Inspired by the 2012 Occupy Movement’s “99% versus the 1%” ideology, it’s billed as a “dark parable” of “star-crossed lovers, rebellion and revolution against the backdrop of a corrupt political class… shot through with pathos and ironic humour.” As with ‘Manifest Destiny’, you can also expect more of the vigorously tonal Burstein approach to music and tunes, with a post-Britten-and-Berg score additionally laced with the sounds of vaudeville, Broadway musicals and pop ballads.”

Arranged for solo piano (played by Ben Woodward) and presented in a minimal-stage manner by director Sophie Gilpin in one of the Arcola Theatre’s stripped-brick-box performance rooms, ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ was sung by Alex Haigh, Caroline Carragher, Robert Garland, Olivia Barry, Gerard Delrez,James Schouten, Christie Cook, Lucie Louvrier, Nick Dwyer, Luci Briginshaw, Ian Wilson-Pope, and James Bowers. At the time, the reception and reviews were mixed: Burstein’s always been a polarising artist, and you either buy into his passion for vividly revived tonalism, torrents of romantic futurist melody and illuminated left-wing metaphysics, or you don’t. Personally, I remember it as being an interesting fable: a contemporary political fantasy with a dash of both verismo and Verdi domestic drama crossing through.

Here’s the promotional video for the original production.


 
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Dates:

Alex Mills: ‘Dear Marie Stopes’
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Saturday 21st September 2019, 4.00pm & 7.30pm
– information here and here

Keith Burstein: ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ (film premiere)
The Verdict Jazz Club, 159 Edward Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 0JB, England
Tuesday 24th September 2019, 7.00pm
– information via email request to Anna Beketov @ Damson PR
 

December 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – Terry Bickers guests with ZOFFF at a psychedelic extravaganza also featuring Knifeworld, Spratleys Japs, assorted Cardiacs and Mike Vennart (21st December)

4 Dec

Spratleys Japs + Knifeworld + ZOFFF. 21st December 2018Just before Christmas, Terry Bickers (evergreen cult guitarist with The House of Love, and one of a slim pantheon of late ’80s/early ’90s Brit-indie guitar heroes alongside Johnny Marr, John Squire, Nick McCabe and a handful of others) is playing a London guest slot with Brightonian psych-rockers ZOFFF. This isn’t the first time he’s done it. A similar collision and happy entanglement is recorded and celebrated on ZOFF’s brand new live album ‘IV’, capturing the September 2017 set in Brighton in which Terry first joined them on stage.

It’s a reconciliation as much as a guesting – after his first spectacular falling-out with The House Of Love, back in 1989, Terry spent four years fronting post-punk psychmonsters Levitation, interweaving his cetacean-contrail guitars with those of former Cardiac Bic Hayes. It’s a period of his career that’s played down now, in the usual, conservative prodigal-son narrative which implies that he was a one-band indie hero who went astray, fiddled about with nothing much, finally saw sense and came back. But while Levitation lasted they were pretty inspirational: a hell-for-leather band of roaring textures and high anxiety which lasted until a depression-fuelled spat saw Terry falling out with the entire band and very publically ejecting himself.


 
It took a long time – and a long course of growing up – for rapprochement to happen, but happen it did. Bic now strums, wails and noises for ZOFFF (alongside Brighton go-to drummer Damo Waters, modular audio-visual synth maverick Richard Gorbutt and Crayola Lectern duo Chris Anderson and Al Strachan) creating a massive brass-laden textural throb of psychedelic sleet. As part of the renewed friendship, Terry’s increasingly been invited along to ZOFFF shows by Bic to resume their mutually supportive, strange-bedfellow guitar duello. By all accounts, he fits right in. Here’s a preview of all of them, including Terry, raising consciousness and the roof down at the ‘IV’ gig in Brighton last autumn (plus a brief phone clip of Terry in action and in the moment)…



 
ZOFFF are playing as part of a pre-Christmas bill which maintains a much-missed tradition. Until they were brought to a crashing halt a decade ago, Cardiacs hosted an annual gathering of their diverse fantribe (usually at the London Astoria) at which they’d play their exuberant, noisy, cryptid pop songs (transmissions from some imaginary Atlantic plateau where no musical forms either died out or became incompatible) and, like kind eccentric uncles, fostered support slots for the likes of Oceansize, Goddamn Whores, The Monsoon Bassoon, Sidi Bou Said, Johnny 4 and other acts from off the beaten track. It was one of the most warm and exciting nights in the alt.rock, or alt.universe, pop calendar, and since Cardiacs’ enforced retirement in 2008 (when leader Tim Smith got very sick indeed – see plenty of past posts), it’s been down to people from those bands, and others, to keep the tradition going. Which they have, building up to this biggest-yet post-Cardiacs event.


 
Nominally headlining are Spratleys Japs – at one time, an obscure Cardiacs/Tim Smith spinoff. In recent years they’ve been resurrected by their co-vocalist Jo Spratley to celebrate this studio-bound hedge-rock corner of Tim’s work: a kind of wild forest variant on Cardiacs (like a series of strange tome pages, faulty language primer scraps and tufts of Syd Barrett’s pubes ritually scattered and hung from briars throughout Mythago Wood). Now, they’re advancing along the neglected but still-open pathways it set up. Joined by her son Jesse on bass, plus ZOFF’s Damo Waters and psychedelic French escapees the Rodes brothers, Jo’s reinvigorated the original knotty/peculiar Japs songs and (over the past year) built some more of them from scratch, much to Tim’s delight. (“You get wisped away round some corner of God knows wot. You knew it was gonna be good, but not this good…”)

A few of these new songs will be made available at the show as the band launch a boutique vinyl single – the usual deal: limited edition, double-yer-action a-side, hand-carved by trained mice, signatures and so forth. For a longer, more fleshed-out story, try here. For a taste of Spratleys old and new, see below.




 
Also at the party are ever-rising post-Cardiacs crew Knifeworld, led by the irrepressible Kavus Torabi. His ever-broadening string of exploits have included fronting the current Gong and the long-lost Monsoon Bassoon, guitarring for Guapo and the late-lineup Cardiacs, gabbling nonsense in between records on DJ dates with snooker ace-turned-weird-rock patron Steve Davis, and adding a little extra weirdness to the interim-Pogues music of Spider Stacy. Over the course of a decade and four records, his Knifeworld work has spiralled up from a solo project to become a honkingly powerful brass-and-reed-laden all-star octet; interlacing prog, indie rock, psych, experimental tones and cycling minimalism into an exuberant package of lysergic babble and quadruple-ended hookery.


 
Everything’s being lit by south coast psychedelic illuminators Innerstrings; and for bonuses, Bic’s contributing a DJ set, as are Kavus and Steve Davies. Plus, there’s going to be a jamboree set of Cardiacs covers and reinterpretations. This will feature a pile-on scratch band featuring Spratleys Japs bolstered by members of all three of the night’s other bands, plus yet another former Cardiacs guitarist (wildcard and Wildheart Jon Poole) and former Oceansize frontman Mike Vennart (currently stretching ears and punishing stages with his post-Oceansize projects Vennart and British Theatre, as well as putting big-league time in as a hired-hand guitar ace for Biffy Clyro).

As a low-key taster for what this might be like, here’s Kavus guesting with Spratleys Japs for a couple of Cardiacs numbers in Brighton last year. This month’s full show is likely to be a friendly cyclone full of flying twigs and bright colours. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, get on down there.


 
Spratleys Japs + Knifeworld + ZOFFF
The Garage, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Friday 21st December 2018, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

December 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – Shiva Feshareki’s turntablist ‘Firebird’ (6th December); a celebration of female choral composers for Christmas in Muswell Hill (8th December); Keith Burstein’s chamber music (14th December); Plus Minus play Armstrong, Franzson, Miller and Rodgers (18th December)

1 Dec

Some December classical manifestations of various kinds…

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'Shiva Feshareki: Late-Night Firebird', 6th December 2018

As part of the ongoing Spitalfields Music Festival, composer and turntablist Shiva Feshareki will be performing her own vinyl-manipulation rebuild of Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ in Bethnal Green on the 6th December- as “a live turntable composition that she forms in the moment. Using her trademark turntabling techniques, she deconstructs Stravinsky into new forms and perspectives, using nothing other than the original composition on vinyl. Expect sonic manipulations that bend time and play with space and perspective, transforming The Firebird into new shapes that reveal its sculptural depths.”

Here’s the woman at work on various projects over the last two years: there’s a clip from her saxophones, ensemble and turntables concerto about four minutes in…


 
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Fortismere Community Choir: 'Composed By Women & Christmas Carols', 8th December 2018

Fortismere Community Choir: ‘Composed By Women & Christmas Carols’, 8th December 2018

On the same night, in north London, Fortismere Community Choir will be performing a concert mingling standard Christmas carols with music composed by assorted female composers. Alongside the tunes about mangers and heralding angels, you can expect to hear a programme of music stretching (in varied leaps) across a thousand years, from the mediaeval carnal/spiritual chant of Hildegard von Bingen‘s ‘O quam mirabilis est’, the Romantic grace of Clara Schumann‘s ‘Abendfeier in Venedig’ and Ethel Smyth’s 1920s suffrage anthem ‘March of the Women’.

There are also latterday works – the reinvented English chorale influences of Cecilia McDowall‘s ‘Ave Maris Stella’; the fusion of African-American spirituals, American art songs and German/Italian choral music tradition in Rosephanye Powell‘s ‘Glory Hallelujah’; and the world premiere of ‘Women’s Rights’, a new composition by an emergent young British contemporary composer, Phoebe McFarlane.

Examples of most of the programme below:






 
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'Keith Burstein. Chamber Music. The Beauty Power.' Friday 14th December 2018On the 14th, composer Keith Burstein returns to Waterloo’s 1901 Club for another lunchtime concert featuring an hour’s worth of Burstein piano and chamber music.

Some new pieces will be making their debut, with the trio lineup of cellist Corinne Morris, clarinettist Peter Cigleris and Keith himself on piano joined by mezzo-soprano Sarah Denbee on the sarcastically-titled Northern Irish Backstop March, and Keith also presenting the live premieres of his piano preludes ‘The Beauty Power’, ‘Sonata’ and ‘Moto Perpetuo’. In addition, there’ll be the piano/clarinet/cello trio ‘Memories of Lithuania’, the ‘Wiosna’ cello sonata and a fourth piano prelude (‘The Ferryman’) while the concert will open with Keith and Sarah performing four songs for mezzo soprano and piano (‘Longing’ and ‘Heaven Riven’, both originally from the ‘Songs of Love and Solitude’ cycle, plus ‘Futility’ and ‘Atonement’).

This summer’s performances of Keith’s latest opera ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ seems to be contributing to pulling him out of the relative critical cold he’s often labored under. He’s now being hailed for the “sheer fertility” of his melodic instinct by ‘Planet Hugill’, and received approving notes from venerable critic Meiron Bowen regarding his revitalization of “the virtues of pre-twelve-tone music and all the techniques that have been explored since.” You can choose whether or not you buy into his vigorous philosophy of “super-tonalism” (within which Keith reasserts the tonal idiom which he considers to have been steamrollered out of credibility by the more cultish aspects of serialism and atonalism, while also aiming to blend in other musical lessons learned throughout the twentieth century). What isn’t in question is his connection to direct expression, and to creating music with an accessible human connection, as is evident from the pieces below. (You can read a longer summary of Burstein music in my preview of last year’s 1901 December chamber concert here.)




 
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Plus Minus: 'Armstrong, Franzson, Miller, Rodgers', 18th December 2018

On the 18th, the Plus Minus ensemble returns to its regular concert berth at City University for an evening of instrumental music with electronics by “four of the most refined and distinctive voices in contemporary music”, in a more straightforward form than their recent, more performative tour. Ensemble member Newton Armstrong provides two pieces (‘thread—surface’ and ‘the way to go out’), while his former student Georgia Rodgers provides one (‘St. Andrew’s Lyddington’). The remaining two pieces are ‘Traveller Song‘ by Cassandra Miller (whose compositional sense was described by ‘Musicworks’ as “the wryness of Samuel Beckett in combination with the whimsy of Italo Calvino”) and a new, as-yet-unrevealed work by New York-based Icelandic composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson (whose compositions are characterised by “an installation character, transporting the listener into some sort of temporal limbo, where a sense of the static is layered with delicate inner quickening…. exquisite tangible tension.”).

According to the programme notes, “each of these composers is concerned, albeit in different ways, with the fundaments of the compositional act and the manner in which sonic materials can be contextualised, processed, layered and transcribed. Plus Minus aims to present an evening of music that is strikingly contemporary without recourse to outside references, current technologies or multimedia. it is a focussed program that seeks to sonically take stock of where we are in new music today by stripping back the layers so that only the sound remains.” This is a free event with limited capacity, so book for it soon.

 
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Dates, times, places and links:

  • Shiva Feshareki: ‘Late-Night Firebird’ – St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England, Thursday 6th December 2018, 9.30pm – information here
  • Fortismere Community Choir: ‘Composed By Women & Christmas Carols’ – St Andrews Church, Church Crescent, Muswell Hill, London, N10 2DD, England, Saturday 8th December 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Keith Burstein/Corinne Morris/Peter Cigleris: ‘Keith Burstein. Chamber Music. The Beauty Power.’ – 1901 Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE, England, Friday 14th December 2018, 12.00pm – information here and here
  • Plus Minus: ‘Armstrong, Franzson, Miller, Rodgers’ – Performance Space, College Building @ City, University of London, St John Street, London, EC1V 4PB, England, Tuesday 18th December 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

October 2018 – more Daylight Music sessions in London – Caoilfhionn Rose, Tomorrow’s Warriors StringTing and Abimaro (6th October); Terry Edwards, Seamus Beaghen, Douglas Dare and Deerful for ‘Organ Reframed’ (13th October)

1 Oct

Daylight Music‘s autumn season of free family-friendly Saturday lunchtime gigs continues with organ music, singer-songwriters, brass, jazz strings and synthpop…

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Daylight Music 290: Caoilfhionn Rose + Tomorrow's Warriors StringTing + Abimaro - Saturday 6th October 2018The 6th October show features Caoilfhionn Rose, Tomorrow’s Warriors StringTing and Abimaro.

Caoilfhionn Rose has an eclectic range of influences, including the Mummers, Polly Paulusma, Broadcast, Rachel Sermanni and Peter Broderick. She featured on The Durutti Column’s 2014 album ‘Chronicle LX:XL.’ She is currently recording her debut album with Matthew Halsall of Gondwana Records.


 
Tomorrow’s Warriors StringTing is a flagship ensemble from Tomorrow’s Warriors, the celebrated hothouse for young jazz talent in the UK, led by violinist Rhiannon Dimond. Blazing a wide trail for women and strings in jazz, their musicians are core players in Tomorrow’s Warriors’ acclaimed Nu Civilisation Orchestra and are ones to watch as they begin to make an indelible mark on the London jazz scene.


 
Abimaro is a singer and songwriter from London who is inspired by life, faith and stories. Having previously lent her vocals to bands such as Zero 7, Cinematic Orchestra and The Free, Abimaro released her debut solo EP in July 2017. Abimaro is also a Music Facilitator, regularly leading projects for organisations including The Roundhouse, Spitalfields Music and the Southbank Centre.”


 
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The 13th October show is another in the Union Chapel’s ‘Organ Reframed‘ series, in which a variety of musicians play, interact with or are accompanied by the Chapel’s resident Willis pipe organ. In Daylight Music’s case, a variety of singer-songwriters from different disciplines are involved. On this occasion, the performers are Terry Edwards (with Seamus Beaghen), Douglas Dare and Deerful.

Daylight Music 291: 'Organ Reframed' - Terry Edwards (with Seamus Beaghen) + Douglas Dare + Deerful - Saturday 13th October 2018

“Jazz and rock multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards has performed and released records both as a solo artist and in collaboration with artists such as Madness, PJ Harvey, Spiritualised, Nick Cave and Tindersticks. For this special performance, he will be joined by composer Seamus Beaghen on Union Chapel’s Henry Willis organ. Seamus has played with Iggy Pop, Death in Vegas, Madness and Morrissey, to name but a few. The performance is going to be semi-improvised in four interlocking sections. A multi-genre musical offering, wind-based without electronics – the improvised giddy sound of pipes, trumpet and saxes (occasionally two at once!).


 
Douglas Dare is a London-based singer-songwriter, originally from the coastal town of Bridport, South West England. His live sound combines acoustic instrumentation including piano and percussion with glitchy electronic elements. Inspired by the likes of Portishead, Elliott Smith and James Blake, Douglas combines a rich and haunting vocal with lyrics crafted from his own poems and short prose. For this performance he aims to play the organ as sensitively as he can, reworking some of his older material and introducing some new as he explores the organ’s sonorities in the chapel, singing tenderly with this powerful machine for the first time.


 
Deerful is Emma Winston, a keyboard player, singer and producer based in London. She writes lush, sad, romantic electropop about feelings on synthesisers small enough to use on the bus. For this performance, Emma will combine the chapel’s Henry Willis organ with electronics.”


 
Daylight add “to get you in the mood for this show, we did an organ playlist from previous years and other related shows. It took a lot of organ-ising so we hope you’ll pull out the stops to make time to listen…ahem…”


 
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All gigs are at the usual place – Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England – with a suggested donation of five pounds (go on, it’s worth it…) Dates below:

  • Daylight Music 290: Caoilfhionn Rose + Tomorrow’s Warriors StringTing + Abimaro – Saturday 6th October 2018, 12:00pminformation
  • Daylight Music 291: ‘Organ Reframed’ – Terry Edwards (with Seamus Beaghen) + Douglas Dare + Deerful – Saturday 13th October 2018, 12:00pminformation

Details on November Daylight concerts to follow in due course…

October 2018 – upcoming London pop gigs – Bellatrix and Amy León; Clémentine March, Garden Party and Svetlana Smith (both 2nd October)

29 Sep

Bellatrix + Amy León, 2nd October 2018Polydisciplinary pop-charmer Belle Ehresman – better known as Bellatrix – pops up at Elektrowerx at the start of October. She’s been on the up for a couple of years now: the former leader of The Boxettes and a onetime UK beatboxing champion (as well as someone who’s chalked up a parallel musical life as a jazz double bassist), she’s recently subsumed all of these skills into a freeform pop approach.

I caught her a couple of years ago at Rich Mix, just her on her own. Citing influences from Bjork, Ravel, Nina Simone and Sun Ra, to Mingus, Fleetwood Mac and The Pharcyde, she was nothing if not eclectic. For half an hour the venue was her sketchpad as she flung out work-in-progress – a set of unclenched, openhanded musicality in which she finger-painted in assured fashion on mini-synth, loop station and double bass; unfurling songs, meditations and mouth-driven beatscapes in jazz, experimental pop and the loosest of hip hop tones; floating dreamily a little way above the earth.

Since then, Belle’s put together a band, spat out a couple of quirky EPs and stormed the big streaming services, bypassing Bandcamp and Soundcloud to go straight with the Tidals, the Deezers and the Spotifys. For all the boho trappings and the whimsicality (her first EP was called ‘Real Stuffed Owls’), there’s clearly quite a bit of faith and funding behind her. While her former freeformery has settled into more accessible attention-gripping songcraft, I’m hoping that her wholesome world will mesh enough with the demands of that level of glaring attention sharky commercial demands: dropping into one of her sessions should feel like visiting an enchanted workshop, not like chasing a YouTuber.



 
In support is New York singer, songwriter and slam-poet Amy León. Once part of the Nuyorican Slam Team, she now rolls solo: a powerful, joyous, positive-political performer with her work rooted in specific experiences (blackness, womanhood, social inequality) and fusing them all into a compulsive stew of hip-hop spoken-word and sung R&B. Amy’s subject matter’s stirred by rage and outrage, the surviving of brutality and broad sweeps of oppression. Her ethic is to overcome it (in time-honoured civil-rights-movement manner), via a celebration of love, bursting through shame and tears with defiance.

She can sing like battered, determined grass, giving with the gale; she can speak soft; she can wail with rage. Her hard-hitting grit will anchor Belle’s dextrous free-floating thistledown. It would be fascinating to see what they came up with together.

 
Bellatrix + Amy Leon
Electrowerkz, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith, 2nd October 2018 On the same night, Friends Serene are putting on a show of their own. Headlining is former Water Babies member and current Snapped Ankles-er Clémentine March – French-born, Brazil-schooled, London-cradled. Solo, she mixes the pressing, noisy dynamic of ‘90s indie rock with the airy, summery liberation of French and Latin pop melodies. Clanging, precisely-tooled guitar parts (like little iron chandeliers) mesh gently with her sleepy Gallic coo, which in turn rises to indie-siren clarions as she rambles across three languages at will. She’s a sleepy intermittent whirlwind, variously flicking up the debris and festival decorations in Mediterranean towns, and sometimes swirling them into intent little vortices as the mood takes her.


 
In support, Garden Party are the duo of singer Yujin Jo and instrumentalist George Edmondson. They bring along bedsit-glamour trip hop sounds in a Portishead/Moloko tradition, reaching towards a skinny R&B feel. It sounds thin as tissue paper or thrift-shop bedsheets at points, and Yujin’s voice is a tiny Eartha-kitten laze. Still, Garden Party revel in the worn, recovered texture of their soundworld and – on recent track Real Tapes – sometimes reach out for something a little more ambitious; rattling their collection of instruments, oddments and samples to reach out through the radio towards a bigger world.

 
Russian-inspired “neurotic synthpop duo” Svetlana Smith complete the bill: they’ve had a debut EP out since July, which you can find on Spotify if you like. As with Bellatrix, they seem to have vaulted a promotional stage: and since I object to streaming services which rip their clients off, I avoid Spotify like the plague and have stayed pretty ignorant as to what SS sound like. However, both ‘Bittersweet Symphonies‘ and ‘From the Streets‘ caught them just under a year ago: the latter highlighted “innocent but empowering love songs, preaching about love for yourself not another, all bought together in an elegant package taped together by sickly sweet and catchy melodies” while the former reported back on something “cynical and sexy, sweet but deadly… synth-pop with bitter lyrics of heartbreak and disdain.”

That’s the way of it, I suppose: a person can show completely different faces to different people on the same occasion, and one man’s light ear candy is another’s compelling poison. At least they agreed on the initial sweet taste; while I’m left wondering whether Svetlana Smith is deliberately Janus-faced, a kind of emotional double agent or just some kind of cannily blank song-canvas. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

This is a free event, but the usual “book-your-slot-first-and-turn-up-early” business applies.

Friends Serene presents:
Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here, here and here
 

October 2018 – upcoming classical/experimental gigs in London, Manchester and Birmingham – Jack Sheen’s an Assembly tour performances of Louis D’Heudieres, Rowland Hill and Charlie Usher (1st, 2nd, 4th October); Kammer Klang returns with performances of Matthew Shlomowitz, Phill Niblock and Ryoko Akama by Lucy Railton, Evie Hilyer-Ziegler, Jessica Aszodi, Antoine Françoise and Patrick Stadler (2nd October)

28 Sep

At the start of October, Jack Sheen’s experimental music ensemble An assembly embark on a brief three-date English tour including the world premieres of two brand-new, specially commissioned pieces and the London premiere of a third.

An assembly on tour, October 2010

“An assembly are a group dedicated to contemporary and experimental music, installation and performance. Conceived as a large, open, and flexible group with no fixed line up, format or personnel, An assembly have appeared in many guises, tackling works from virtuosic ensemble scores to mass group readings, via text scores, graphic notation, long duration performances, one-on-one ASMR installations, physical performance, and wrestling. For this tour, An assembly presents an ambitious two-part programme of new works by emerging composers and artists.

“Field recordings and midi-instruments are internalised, vocalised and imitated by voices and instruments in Louis D’Heudieres‘ ‘Laughter Studies 6b’; four vocalists stand downstage from a small instrumental quintet, describing and imitating their own private soundtracks of synthesised tunes and field recordings, transmitted to them via earphones in a surreal and hysterical collision of subjectivities accompanied by angular melodies and midi-drum solos.

“Award-winning visual artist Rowland Hill continues this process of interpreting found material in a new film and performance commissioned by An assembly. Created as a response to Edwin Denby’s 1959 review of Stravinsky’s final ballet ‘Agon’, Hill uses Denby’s review and its relentless metaphors, references and precise visual shocks as a script for a new work, taking the linguistic articulation of a dance and returning it to a choreographed state through film, live performance and sound in a work which Jack Sheen irreverently describes as the “silliest piece I have ever commissioned.”

“The concert will culminate in the world premiere of ‘An assembly’ by Brussels-based composer Charlie Usher, a forty-five minute meditation on listening, hearing, and duration for large ensemble and audio. A constant wave of fourteen-second miniatures, ‘An assembly’ invites us to eavesdrop on real-time transcriptions of music Usher listened to while writing, and as the piece folds into itself, and unfolds away from us, we trace this vast new work into our evening.”

Dates below: note that the London concert is free, but you’ll need to book a space via a ticket system. Note also that there’s a more in-depth preview of this concert tour on Ben Harper’s ‘Boring Like A Drill‘ blog.

 
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In the same week, avant-classical/experimental chamber evening Kammer Klang returns to London to start its own autumn series.

Kammer Klang, 2nd October 2018The main draw for the October opener is the British premiere of Matthew Shlomowitz’s ‘Lecture About Listening to Music’, 2017 performed by two members of Ensemble Nikel (pianist Antoine Françoise – this time on synthesizer – and saxophonist Patrick Stadler) and by singer Jessica Aszodi. A well-known interdisciplinary singer, Jessica has mastered an unusually wide vocal range: on this occasion, however, she’ll just be talking, delivering the lecture component as Antoine and Patrick traverse a range of musical ideas including unsettling atmospherics and repetition, quotes from 1980s mainstream pop and cerebrally playful and jazzy concepts.

Post-modernism aside, this is an upfront and accessible piece. It’s literally, a talk on how we, with our information-age sweep of unconscious and studied influences, access and process music in the present day (but with Matthew providing lengthy, sympathetic musical illustrations as well as the lecture text). Here’s an earlier performance: also featuring Antoine and Patrick, and with Matthew himself in the role of lecturer.


 
Kammer Klang’s programmer Lucy Railton will be performing ‘Harm’ by New York minimalist/microtonalist drone composer Phill Niblock; a 2003 drone piece sourced from cello. Here’s an earlier version, with the source tones performed by cellist Arne Deforce, to give you an idea…


 
The October Fresh Klang piece (performed by violinist and recent Goldsmiths music graduate Evie Hilyer-Ziegler) is Ryoko Akama’s ‘Reaction, for a string instrument’, composed this year. Ryoko’s pieces, sometimes released via text scores and conceived as much as performances as they are compositions, are attempts to create “listening situations that magnify silence, time and space… offer(ing) quiet temporal/spatial experiences.” A performer herself, she works with “tiny aural and visual occurrences that embody “almost nothing” aesthetics“: small items from which miniscule sounds can be coaxed and made microscopically purposeful. A peek at Ryoko’s homepage reveals delicate assemblages (everyday lab equipment, ancient pedal sewing machines, tin cans, glass bottles, kitchenware, paper balloons, woolen gloves) waiting to be played. As regards Evie’s violin interpretation, I reckon it’s fair to expect some very small, quiet violin playing: perhaps a fitful breath on the strings…

Kammer Klang presents:
Jessica Aszodi/Antoine Françoise/Patrick Stadler perform Matthew Shlomowitz / Lucy Railton performs Phill Niblock / Evie Hilyer-Ziegler performs Ryoko Akama
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

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