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March 2019 – music and theatre as ‘The Marchlands Arms’ takes over London’s transmigrational pub Ye Olde Mitre for a couple of evenings of border culture (23rd & 24th March)

19 Mar

A little way into the western edge of the City of London, between the jewellers’ quarter of Hatton Gardens and the gated enclave of Ely Place, there’s an inviting little alleyway – a tuckaway court still marked by Victorian streetlights, a little like an urban Narnia portal. As you wend your way up it, negotiating the gentle kink in the middle, a pub appears – a pub which gives the damnedest impression of having materialised from elsewhere and wedged itself into the cut-through.

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

This pub, Ye Olde Mitre, has actually been around in some shape or form since the middle of the sixteenth century – and for a long time it was perhaps London’s only example of a place which was in another place. Specifically, it was legally a part of Cambridgeshire. The beneficiary of a legal agreement regarding land jurisdiction set up around the London estate of the Bishop of Ely, it was the drinking establishment for his London servants. There are tall tales about people on the run from the City of London coppers claiming sanctuary in there, and arguing that the City police had no jurisdiction within the pub walls; no more than the Met did either.

Obviously this is a quirk of law, power and accommodation – mostly a long-standing in-joke for pint-supping conveyancers dropping in from the Inns of Court. Nonetheless, visiting Ye Olde Mitre always feels like taking a step into another kingdom, one which disregards standard unities of time and place in favour of fashioning its own. There’s the mythic touch added by the resident cherry tree, of course (which dates back to Elizabethan times and comes complete with its own Queen Elizabeth legend); but even when you’re not looking for magical signifiers – and long before you’ve become swimmy-headed on beer – the pub has the relaxed, self-contained air of somewhere entirely separate from the London bustle. Many pubs strive to become places in their own right; friendly drop-in nations. Content as its own little capsule of peace, Ye Olde Mitre manages it much better than almost anywhere else I know.

The Marchland Arms, 23rd & 24th March 2019

It’s unsurprisingly that such a place – one that flaunts and celebrates its quirky liminality – has drawn the attention of Marchland, the music-and-theatre production alliance which fixes and thrives on ideas of history and borderlines (as evidenced in their previous festival at the Bridewell a year ago.). This coming weekend, they’ll be taking over the pub, recasting it as “The Marchland Arms” and filling it with nine performances in three separate sections, turning the different spaces within the pub into murmuring, discursive rooms within which performance, music and song will gently ricochet.

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Marchland Arms - 'Once & Future Europe'

Marchland Arms – ‘Once & Future Europe’

Three pieces make up the ‘Once And Future Europe’ section, triggered by Marchland’s “fascinat(ion with) the cultural history of the legendary states that once straddled Europe’s borders. For the three shows that make up this session we asked the artists involved to, in the words of Rimbaud, remember Europe and her ancient ramparts. This is work that explores the influence of those half-imaginary places on the European psyche, and how their legacy continues to influence our notions of identity and belonging.”

The first of these pieces, ‘Lyonesse’, appears to be (at root) a conceptual celebration and exploration of the mythical drowned kingdom between Cornwall and Brittany – in other words, the sunken link in the geographical continuity of the broader Celtic nation. On spec, that sounds like a dusty old disinterral of Edwardian romanticism; but judging by the participants and their preoccupations, it won’t be. Poet-ecologist Dom Bury will, I guess, be mingling Lyonessean legend from his own West Country roots with contemporary concerns about flooding and dissolution, bolstered interjections and engagements from Katharina Engel, a German academic and theatre director whose preoccupation with hills and climbing may also feed into the work. The two will be accompanied by music from singer Sophia Brumfitt and veteran percussionist/hammer dulcimer player Dhevdhas Nair in a rich blend of European Early Music, Indian subcontinental music, jazz and African elements: Euromyth interfolding with full-world diaspora.

 
The pub snug will house ‘The Capital of Europe’ in which Charles Webber – whose two-decade-plus career as a sound artist has seen him write multimedia sound/light-and-music operas (he’s the artistic director of operaNCV), plus work with Crass’ Eve Libertine and innumerable experimental musicians and theatre companies – and Strasbourgian poet/Théâtre Volière co-director Mick Wood collaborate on “an installation of treated sound, found objects, and cut up poetry”, providing “an unguided tour through the abandoned corners, quiet squares and restless banlieues of an ideal, unreal city on the Rhine.” Sounds delightfully like an old pub story, but one which unfolds into multiple additional dimensions and textures; like that European flaneur’s collaboration between Johnny Morris and China Miéville which never actually happened.

Transforming the lounge, the last of the three ‘Once And Future Europe’ pieces – ‘Ionic’ – asks us to reimagine the space as“a café in fin de siècle Alexandria” in which a new dance theatre piece will play out. Rambert School graduate Janacek Wood choreographs an episode of interweaving texts and movements based around the work of Cairo-based, Alexandria-born Egyptian-Greek poet Constantin Cavafy, whose early life saw his family relocate between France, England and Constantinople in their own mournful, economically-driven private diaspora.

Cavafy himself ended up writing a body of work that’s a Hellenistic re-examination of what Wiki summarises as “uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia.” The best-known of these poems is the sardonic Waiting For The Barbarians, in which an external exotic threat serves as both spice and hollowing-out of a moribund politics: I can’t think what that reminds me of now. Music comes from two Greek musicians – singer Savina Yannatou and classical guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis – and from electric guitarist/composer/personal ethnologist Alex Roth, who’s recently been pursuing his own Jewish diasporan heritage on a three-cornered journey that’s taken in Manchester, London and his current dwelling place of Warsaw.

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Marchland Arms - 'Customs & Duty'

Marchland Arms – ‘Customs & Duty’

Three more pieces make up ‘Customs & Duty’, “a session of shows exploring the interaction between folk culture and high art, and how identities shift when the lines between arbitrarily imagined communities are blurred… Must we declare our customs at the customs post? Is it our duty to pay duty on them? To whom do they belong? Who decides what they’re worth? What will they cost us when they’re taken away, dissected, repackaged, and sold back to us?”

For this, there’ll be a variation on the ‘Before and After Schengen’ piece which was one of last year’s Marchland centrepieces: Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes responses to Spanish photographer Ignacio Evangelista’s photos of border facilities, with guests and actors from the Marchland Arms Company contributing to a staging of the outcome, making the room “the Kafka-esque border post of a once or future East-European regime.”

Last time around at Marchland, Carneval String Trio’s viola player Shiry Rashkovsky contributed the ‘Shengen’ music. This year, she’s reviving a nineteenth-century middle-European tale with storyteller James Peacock in the shape of ‘Fritz and the Bohemian’ a tale of kindness, cyclic events and wanderings (“each year, on the first day of Spring, an itinerant musician comes to play beneath Fritz Kobus’ window…”).

Rounding off this section is a new Théâtre Volière play, ‘Goethe in Alsace’ – a one-act historical tale of cultural enrichment, “careless play-acting (and) casual cruelty” set around the border region of France and Germany, and questioning the assumptions and entitlements surrounding nascent male artists and the women whom they select as muses.

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Marchland Arms - 'The Northern Marches'

Marchland Arms – ‘The Northern Marches’

The three final Marchland Arms pieces comprise ‘The Northern Marches’ and focus specifically on the Scottish and English border country “(a) region, rich with the history of the Border Reivers of the debatable lands, the Roman garrisons of Hadrian’s Wall, and dramatic elopements to Gretna Green, has other, fresher stories to tell. How does its often romanticised past inform the Scottish borders’ present, and to whom do its stories old and new actually belong?” For this section, there’s a play (of sorts), a talk and a musical session.

Théâtre Volière return – teamed with poet Katie Hale and singing, fiddle-playing Scottish music specialist Lori Watson – to deliver a preview of ‘Gretna’: an actors/reciter/musician performance and ongoing project “exploring the culture of the region from the perspective of the women so often written out of its history.”

On the trail of linguistics and naming, University of Glasgow professor Eila Williamson provides ‘The Meaningful Merse’; throwing a little light on her REELS project work (Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland) in “a fascinating look at how history’s great, long term shifts in ethnic and cultural identity are often written in to the localised place-names, folk memory and dialects of Europe’s border regions.”

Finally, Lori Watson returns with her own set, performing in duo and bringing Scottish coastal and border folk music to close out the section in “a haunting collision between traditional music and found, ambient sound, in a performance ranging from the intimate to the epic.”

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There’s a general preview here:

 
Dates and times:

Marchland presents:
‘The Marchland Arms’
Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, off Ely Place/Hatton Garden, Holborn, London, EC1N 6SJ, England

February 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs plus previews – Edmund Finnis premieres new piano trio on Britten Sinfonia English mini-tour (12th,13th, 15th February) – plus looks at Edmund’s imminent ‘The Air, Turning’ album and Markus Reuter’s imminent ‘Heartland’ album

8 Feb

A new Edmund Finnis composition is doing the rounds on a Britten Sinfonia micro-tour next week, taking in concerts in Cambridge, London and Norwich. The piece is a piano trio nestled in amongst a programme of compositions which examine chamber music’s historical connection to, and evolution from, Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1. Starting with this sonata, the concert progresses through Leoš Janáček’ ‘Pohádka’ and Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Le merle noir’, with the piano trio then preceding a performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s ‘Sonata for flute, violin and piano’. The performers are flautist Emer McDonough, violinist Thomas Gould, cellist Caroline Dearnley and pianist Huw Watkins.

I can’t find a title – or indeed, much more context and background – for the piano trio beyond this, although all will probably be revealed at the time. At the London date, Edmund’s also providing more details in a ticketed public talk with Dr Kate Kennedy before the concert begins. I’ve previously noted his compositional style as “flow(ing) from the luminously minimal to frenetically eerie orchestral jousts”, so he should have plenty to talk about.

Britten Sinfonia: At Lunch 2 2018-2019 – Bach, Janácek, Messiaen, Finnis and Martinu

  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP, England – Monday 12th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 1.00pm
    – information here, here and here (Edmund Finnis in conversation with Dr Kate Kennedy, 12.15pm – free event – information here)
  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrew’s Plain, Norwich, NR3 1AU, England – Friday 15th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here and here

Edmund Finnis: 'The Air, Turning'

Edmund Finnis: ‘The Air, Turning’

Meanwhile, the first recorded collection of Edmund’s compositions – ‘The Air, Turning’, which has been six years in the making – is out on 9th February on NMC Recordings. Besides the sensual title composition (an orchestral work inspired by the concept of how music’s sound vibrations thrum and manipulate the atmosphere around us), it includes five other Finnis works. There’s the slow-ringing string orchestra piece ‘Between Rain’ (as performed at the Roundhouse and at ‘Organ Reframed‘ in 2016); the crepuscular, haunting ‘Shades Lengthen’ violin concerto; the blossoming ensemble work ‘Parallel Colour’ (in which clarinet, piano, strings and percussion drip and swell like heavy dew in an unexpected spot of bluster) and his ‘Four Duets’ for clarinet and piano.

Players include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the London Contemporary Orchestra, violinist Eloisa-Fleur Thom and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The more electronic/electrophonic side of Edmund’s work isn’t really present (for a few examples of that, visit his Soundcloud page), but it’s nodded to via the violin-plus-reverb concert hall piece ‘Elsewhere’ (which was touched on in here around two years ago when I plugged its second ever performance by Daniel Pioro). All in all, it’s exciting music – simultaneously translucent, muscular and subtly cerebral, with a rare quality of mystique and engagement.


 
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Seeing that I’ve drawn myself into writing about Edmund’s album, I’ll add something about Markus Reuter’s upcoming string quartet project ‘Heartland’. This isn’t out on record for a couple of months but has just begun to tease on Bandcamp, although Markus was good enough to send me the whole recording this week to listen to. This isn’t the first time Markus has created music which has disengaged from his usual electrophonic world of direct sound-processing and touch guitar, or in which he hasn’t felt the requirement to be present as performer. That would have been the orchestral version of ‘Todmorden 513’ a few years ago: a dense slowly-evolving soundpool built from algorithmic processes, assuming a vast, eerie and slightly melancholic ritual character to overlay its logical progression.

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Across the sixty minutes and eight sections of ‘Heartland’, algorithmic processes are once again the driving engines: mathematics lurk within the extended composition, with fractals, magic squares, and other numerical devices defining its elegant form. The piece, however (beautifully recorded in Berlin’s Kirche Zum Heiligen Kreuz, Berlin last October by the Matangi Quartet) brings more to the listener than an appreciation of structures. Beyond the initial brain-tickle, it seems that different listeners are inspired into different psychoactive responses. Active voyages of discovery seem to be a common theme. Various sleevenote contributors compare the journey through ‘Heartland’ to a Jungian river-ride through the collective subconscious, or to a Kubrickian Star Gate trip; while in the teaser video, Matangi violinist Maria-Paula Majoor appreciates the essential character of ‘Heartland’ as being “contemplative, maybe, (but) not very sure… I like that, in music… I think it’s nice to feel there is a doubt…that also gives the space for interpretation, and also for the listener to create (their) own interpretation”, and cellist Arno van der Vuurst comments that the music seems to be “searching for something”.


 
On a superficial level, ‘Heartland’ sometimes also suggests a bridge between the technical perfection of Bach baroque and the programmatic patterning of New York minimalism. It’s true that that particular bridge has already taken some heavy traffic, and from many different composers; but in Markus’ case he seems to have built his own separate bridge across the same river, and it’s only a part of the architecture and living space which the piece enables – it’s by no means its raison d’être. For initial promotion, Markus has mostly restricted himself to talking about translating processes into music, and about how his algorithmic/fractal note rows (and what progresses from them) work like carefully decorated modes or ragas; but the twinkle in his eyes suggests more. On the literary side, there are explicit references to Scarlett Thomas, short stories and sad goodbyes, and implicit ones to Thomas Mann: Markus also talks about “music that is there already and only needs to be uncovered”, and he’s clearly revelling in his opportunity to go wherever he wants and that “people want to be surprised, and they kind of like the fact that I’m an explorer.”

Matangi Quartet: 'Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland''

Matangi Quartet: ‘Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Heartland”

Due to my own circumstances, I often find that I have to run much of my music-listening time in parallel with entirely unassociated work time. In some cases this works fine: the higher levels of my brain are usually bored with lying fallow while other tasks have to be done, and the business of processing and appreciating music occupies brain space which would otherwise make me rattle and rebel. However, I do find that certain kinds of music are tougher to listen to. Much of contemporary classical music is too immediately information-dense, too neurotically intellectual – and, in a strange way, simultaneously too directly assertive and too demandingly needy for to be able to split my attention while listening to it. (Oddly enough, I have a similar response to hip hop).

‘Heartland’ is certainly full of coding, but when I ran it through the mill of listening necessity I’ve described above – while concentrating fiercely on a pile up of day-job things which needed to be fixed – I found that it also had surprisingly calming qualities. In particular, it had qualities of order – as if the pulse and pitching of the music was putting things right without relying on the usual structural/dramatic clichés to which I respond. While ‘Heartland’ is full of detail and mechanism, and while Markus is particularly open about that, much of its devicery is camouflaged: the piece does not anxiously assert its complexity and importance. Instead, I found it subtle and confident in its own intelligence, like the workings of a brain; not the chaotic, nervy dramatisation of an unbalanced mind, but something more Apollonian, with a matter-of-fact humanity. On this particular pass I didn’t feel skilled enough to analyse everything in it, but from the off I felt the structures and the processes… and also felt that I was somehow sharing in them.

This might not be a purely rational conclusion (and a different week might produce a different flexion of the imagination) but for now I’m sticking to it. Perhaps, beyond its number processes, ‘Heartland’ is a self-contained flexible map for an inner journey; perhaps, for me, it works as a set of complex mental debugging routines generated and given impetus by the chug of bow on string and the singing self-contained musicality that’s propelled string quartets in common for three centuries (and which has built a proportion of my own responses for about a sixth of that time). To these ears, this mind, ‘Heartland’ is a generous piece. It inspires a kind of serenity, even a kind of hope.

‘Heartland’ is out on Solaire Records on 12th April, and can be pre-ordered here and here.


 

February 2019 – upcoming gigs in London and Sunderland (folk, country, etc.) – Mally Harpaz and Valeria Pozzo in London (12th); a resurgent Bill Jones in London and Sunderland (16th & 20th February); Sarah Jane Scouten in London (18th February)

4 Feb

Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo, 12th February 2019

On Tuesday next week, there’s yet another chance to see sometime Anna Calvi drummer/harmoniumist Mally Harpaz present her solo composer side, via live performances of her soundtracks for Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s video-art extrapolations from classic paintings. Debuted a little over a year ago (and revisited a couple of times since then, they’re post-classical piano-centric mood pieces. Various guests will be joining Mally as part of her ensemble – in the past, these have included Mark Neary, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford, Jessica Lauren, Eran Karniel and, indeed, Anna Calvi (a close friend rather than an employer, and one who repays loyalty).

 
As for the future, Mally is still incubating her intended debut album, with two brooding instrumentals having broken cover on Soundcloud two years ago – glowering Gothic impressionism for piano, drum and ghost guitar, dabbed with synth strings and wordless soprano wails. You can hear the imprint of mediaeval-toned cinema epics, Dead Can Dance, some of the foggier Braonáin-isms… but someone really needs to let this woman loose on a New Weird Britain film about a haunted pantry somewhere in the New Forest. Something nasty, with a scary cutlery drawer.


 
As she usually does, Mally is presenting this as part of one of her “off-the-beaten-track” Blind Dog Studio evenings, which also showcase other performers. In the past these events have often favoured under-the-radar female singer-songwriters with impressive multi-instrumental abilities. This month’s show is no exception, featuring Valeria Pozzo.

Originally from Italy, Valeria currently floats in that strangely nationless zone of acoustic jazz pop, where it’d be difficult to tell where she was from unless you asked. She’s the possessor of handy guitar and violin skills as well as being the owner of a supple voice; and from what I’ve heard of her so far she’s hovering on a cusp where she could either carve out a comfortable career supplying smooth, edgeless jazz-folk entertainment at upscale pizza restaurants or take a couple of small, delicate gambles and persistently deliver songs which could turn heads and stop jaws champing.

I much prefer it when she does the latter: easing subtly strange chordings and tunings into her work, adding an extra dimension. Not necessarily unsettling, let alone perverse, but providing a deepening, an extra quality of storytelling undercurrent. What would be, if she dealt in written stories, the story beyond the words: the bit that crept up on you.


 
Valeria’s also making another appearance later in the month, this time at Rami Radi’s Laid Bare At the Ritzy acoustic night in Brixton; where she’ll be appearing with assorted other south London singer-songwriters including post-Damien Rice caroller Archie Langley, Berlin-born acoustic soulster Adwoa Hackman and her white-soul-boy-next-door counterpart Josh Collins. As a bill it’s got its moments, but it’s a little too generic for me to say much here, to be honest; although George Pelham’s buttery lite-soul voice and apparently effortless shuffling of McCartney, Prince and Elton John songwriting sounds pretty good. I’m also going to go back sometime and have a closer listen to the coastal autoharp folk of Olive Haigh – the deliverer of a cute, winsome sound with a garnish of eerie weirdness which becomes more apparent the more you listen (slightly magical/slightly sinister fairytale undertones, and a subtle use of sound embellishments from fiddle slides to pebble rattles).

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Bill Jones, 16th February 2019

There was a time in the early 200s when Bill Jones looked set to be a British folk star with the profile of someone like Kate Rusby – upfront, nicely turned out, fairly straightforward and with her folk scholarship gently on display. (These days it seems to matter less whether you gained it at lockins or at university, though plenty seem to study at both of these schools. Bill was one of those who did both.)

My own initial memories of Bill are wilder, woollier and from a bit further back: from when she was singing loud, pure backing vocals from behind an accordion as an anchoring part of The Wise Wound, who have generally been snootily dismissed as “an indie band” in accounts of Bill’s prehistory but whose absorbing, sometimes frustrating work was more like a remarkable psychedelic quilt being disgorged through a chamber folk-funnel. Back then (still going through formative years) she was something of a band secret weapon: a dark horse who stood apart from the friendly-frictional mental wrestling and gag-cracking that made up much of the Wise Wound’s offstage behaviour, while secretly fostering a great deal of the charm that served her well when she eventually found her own voice and went solo.

It was interesting seeing Bill afterwards, since she was still something of a dark horse: managing to pull off (possibly unwittingly) the trick of being entirely open while remaining entirely enigmatic. Even when revealing something personal in song (such as her family’s Anglo-Indian Darjeeling heritage, as laid out a capella in the title track of 2001’s ‘Panchpuran’) she sometimes seemed less of a conversationalist in what she sang than a conduit, like the flute she also plays. Her sleekly-groomed picture-book folk sometimes made use of the varnished production of pop, but without any concessions or vulgarities; and there was certainly always a sense that while Bill was friendly and loved her craft, she was also keeping a careful reign on the interplay of life and music.

Bill Jones, 20th February 2019At any rate, after three increasingly well-received albums (plus a live record, an odds-and-sods collection and a trinational collaborative project and tour with Anne Hills and Aoife Clancy), Bill turned away from the road and the spotlight; taking the option of stepping back, while still in her twenties, in favour of home-life in Sunderland, teaching and raising a family. She hasn’t been completely absent from the stage since. Folk-music teaching has less differentiation between instruction and performance; plus there were a couple of 2016 support slots in Tokyo for Flook and a number of low-key charity gigs for Antenatal Results & Choices (a cause close to Bill’s heart).

Now, however, she’s mounting a more substantial comeback, with a new album – ‘Wonderful Fairytale’ – finally arriving this coming May and various folk festival appearances scheduled for England and the United States later in the year. The first sightings are a new song, My Elfin Knight, and a pair of February dates accompanied by violinist/viola player and album buddy Jean-Pierre Garde. Between them, incidentally, the gigs indicate the affable but borderline incompatible polarities of British folk music. The London show in the churchy environs of The Gresham Centre can’t help but come with a bit of lofty gloss (canonicity, scholarliness, high-culture), while the Sunderland hometown gig is much more down-to-earth (a Whitburn Village Heritage Society do at a cricket club which also features floor spots from local singers).

I don’t know whether Bill makes much of these differentiations, or whether the contrast makes her laugh. As far as I can see, she’s just getting on with the music. Here’s the video for My Elfin Knight, which shows that she’s lost nothing in the intervening time: musically, still as sleek as a seal and cool as an early autumn evening. If anything’s changed, it’s the emotional freighting: the passing years seem to have laid an extra presence on her, with the sense of unspoken things lurking closer behind the song.


 
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Among the Nest Collective events popping up for early 2019 is a show by Canadian country folker Sarah Jane Scouten – another artist with firm groundings in tradition plus the willpower to bring it to a fresh new audience. As with the spill of characters around the Laid Bare evening, I can’t say much for Sarah in terms of originality, or in terms of her bringing much that’s new to the table, but with her neither of these things need to matter.

Sarah Jane Souten, 18th February 2019

What does matter is how she takes her chosen song-form back into her corner (a genre that’s still too young to be ossified but is still too easy to render cheesy) and how she refreshes it. Rather than a young revolutionary, Sarah’s a restorer and a reconfigurer: someone who can already turn out classic-sounding songs to fit the canon, and who can personify its ongoing traditions in a way that looks forced and creaky on a rock performer but sits surprisingly well on a country figure. Maybe it’s the storytelling side of things – as with traditional folk, stories get picked up, dusted off and recast in country, rolling on like a wheel. At any rate, Sarah’s consistently impressive, whether she’s turning out honky-tonk or delivering typically countryesque tales of rural life, bereavement and memory with songs such as the recent single Show Pony. She might not be showing you where country is going, but she’ll certainly show you where it will always be coming from.

 
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Dates:

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo + guests
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Tuesday 12th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The Nest Collective presents:
Sarah Jane Scouten
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Monday 18th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bill Jones:

  • Gresham Centre, St Anne And St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Whitburn Cricket Club, The Village Ground, Sunderland, South Tyneside, SR6 7BZ, England – Wednesday 20th February 2019 – information here and here

Laid Bare At the Ritzy presents:
George Pelham + Adwoa Hackman + Olive Haigh + Josh Collins + Valeria Pozzo Trio + Archie Langley
Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG, England
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – drone evenings – NYX & Iona Fortune plus Flora Yin-Wong (3rd February); Matthew Shaw, Anji Cheung and English Heretic (7th February)

29 Jan

A couple of evenings of drone and weird noise for you, here in the Smoke.

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Electronic drone choir NYX and Glaswegian electro-acoustic drone instrumentalist Iona Fortune join forces in Bethnal Green during the coming weekend, for what they’re calling “a liminal ceremony” based on an exploration of the I Ching. The latter’s a particular interest of Iona’s – she’s already released the first of a planned octet of releases on the subject. Live, she blends instrumental performance work on the gamelan percussion set and guzheng zither with vintage electronic textures generated by the EMS Synthi AKS (the same early-’70s suitcase synth that’s responsible for early Pink Floyd sequencing, mid-period radiophonics and various Enossifications), via a composition technique which “involves inner cultivation”. For their part, NYX (eight veiled women singing together from behind two tables strewn with vocal sound processors) stress “mindful experiences, psycho-acoustics and sound healing through an immersive exploration of ambient, noise and electronic music”. Expect a mixture of avant-garde eeriness and ancient intimations, then, mixed with a fat emollient smear of New Age healer atmospherics: something silkily psychoactive.

The focus on I Ching divinations might be Iona’s choice, but the sonic method is NYX’s, who are leading a series of similar concerts (this is the third of four, it seems) in which they coax a collaborator to let go of some of their own battery of electronics and/or field recordings and allow NYX to replace it with their own poly-chorused vocal blocks and twinings. A recent ‘If Only’ interview with NYX’s Sian O’Gorman has plenty of talk about mother principles and the like, but it does make them sound genuine: intrigued by the interaction of specific voices with specific bits of electronic kit, and well aware of different vocal practises delved into across hundreds of years and thousands of miles.

They’re also determined – and proud – to promote the female voice, skills and mindset. All performers in the concert series have been women: unsettling folktronica performance artist Gazelle Twin following operatic chanter Hatis Noit, with layering classical/noise minimalist Alicia Jane Turner scheduled for the next event.

Meanwhile here’s a little of Iona working on her own, plus a snippet of NYX working with Gazelle Twin. Chop, edit and remix in your mind’s eye as appropriate.


 
As a kind of counterbalance to the concert’s Orientalist leanings (for all the sincerity, with this amount of New Agery it can feel as if it’s an act of looking in rather than belonging), the support slot goes to an actual Asian diasporan musician: electronicist Flora Yin-Wong, Chinese-Malaysian by roots but London-born. With an outright interest in club culture and dissonance, Flora seems to be more futurist than tourist but touches on the evening’s mystical tone via her use of field recordings from south-East Asian temples, re-brewed and teased within electronic processing and contemporary beat frameworks. Some of what she does twinkles, but other parts form arresting fields of explosive ritual noise right from the first note – see below.

 
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The following Thursday, up in Manor House, New River Studios plays host to the London launch event for Matthew Shaw‘s “debut” album ‘Among The Never Setting Stars’.

Calling it a debut is a little disingenous, since Matthew’s been putting out music for two decades now. At the turn of the century he sat somewhere between Bark Psychosis, Mojave 3 and a sedated Mike Oldfield, releasing soft-edged, deeply rural dream pop as Tex La Homa. At the start it was murmured acoustic-indie guitar folk – equal parts Drake and Velvets – expanded by synth rills, echo and field recordings; but gradually the singing diminished and the backing tracks became more interesting, the sounds took over and the local Dorset landscape (both physical and psychic, stone circles and solstices) impressed itself ever more deeply on the music. Though Matthew was also spending time helping to add sonic depth and audio subtext to folktronic pop band Sancho, in his own work the pop structures were dissolving away to allow the other ingredients to billow forwards.

By the middle of the decade Matthew was carrying out duo work: bizarre electrophonic ritual music with Nick Grey as 230 Divisadero and theosophical dronery with Andrew Paine as The Blue Tree. Since 2010, he’s run the limited-edition experimental label Apollolaan Recordings and issued a couple of Cornish/antiquarian-slanted location music releases in collaboration with Brian Lavelle as Fougou. Suggesting that he’s only officially going solo now is also a little disingenous – there have been releases under the Matthew Shaw name since he started Apollolaan, with a host of them still on Bandcamp. They’ve explored the usual territories of the recurring mystic tradition – alchemy and magick, psychogeography, cosmic astrology – but without the pomposity that’s usually bundled into the package.

Generally speaking, Matthew comes across as a listener rather than an imposer; travelling from temporary cottage to temporary cottage and from site to site with his guitars, sampler, KAOSS pad and electronics as an itinerant tinker would carry his tools. His work often sounds like an attempt to fuse an English pastoral tradition with spiritual/kosmische protractions and with occult/avant-garde post-punk aesthetics, blending in a folk-inspired interest in the cycles of seasons and life plus the rituals one makes to mark them. Typically New Weird Britain, then – and ‘Among The Never Setting Stars’, true to form, is apparently based around field recordings of “occult landscapes”. I would have expected the resulting pieces to have been more alarming, or at least more disorientating in the standard dark-ambient style (in which thunderheads mass like war in heaven and nature is overwhelmed by random electricity and ferociously foraging ants). On this occasion, however, Matthew seems to have been brought to a pitch of innocent (if slightly eerie) pastoral serenity – his source material buried to the point of absolute dilution or effective erasure beneath a gentle edgeless electrophonic skirl, like a cloud-organ recital in a roofless, open green church.


 
Also on board for the New River concert are the harsher drone-and-sample-scapes of Anji Cheung. Sometimes these are unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual. Sometimes they’re car-boot clatter under a lowering sky; sometimes they’re beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz. If Matthew’s work remains rural (and white), Anji’s is another aspect of NWB: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).



 
Playing hosts are English Heretic, the multimedia collective who for fifteen years have been self-appointed English psycho-historical curators, magickal Situationists and NWB forerunners. They’ve always carried their enthusiastic immersion in all things Britannic, eldritch and peculiar with warmth and wit, embracing the absurd without turning it into a cheap laugh; and putting a more inclusive and welcoming face onto the uncanny, sometimes belying the depth of their work. If I ever need an exorcism (or, more likely, some kind of psychic mediator) I’ll probably give them a call.

Plenty of music can be fed into the English Heretic stewpot – they’ve cited “psychedelic folk, ritual ethnographic recordings, electronica” as part of their fuel, and they’re very happy to drop into thrumming cusp-of-the-’70s psych rock at any opportunity, but in many respect the music’s secondary to the tales and the texts, the visual images and the intimations. Head Heritageur Andy Sharp has mentioned, in ‘The Quietus’, his tendency to extrapolate scraps and findings into something bardic and numimous – “reading around, something will catch your attention, and then I treat it in a magical context: taking the view that restless spirits or troubled souls inhabit the environment.” Sparks from hidden resonances (including those which are actually in plain sight and hearing) permeate the work.

For this particular concert, English Heritage is airing part of the ongoing audio-visual project ‘London’s Imagined Dead: Cinematic Deaths in London’. The section they’ve picked takes its cues from the Brit-horror era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s: the era which spawned ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘The Blood on Satan’s Claw’, although they’re focussing on a lesser-known Hammer offering, ‘The Asphyx’. A 1972 tale of horribly botched Victorian research into the transmigration of souls, the film’s final sequence features the cadaverous, wandering-Jew meanderings of the story’s main character, still alive in the 1970s and condemned to a hateful, decrepit, guilt-ridden immortality. That last sequence was filmed at Battersea’s Winstanley Estate, later briefly notorious (in UK garage circles and in tabloid-land) as the home turf of So Solid Crew.

The finale of 'The Asphyx'. (Well, it was the early '70s and they'd run out of budget. Just concentrate on the concept...)

The finale of ‘The Asphyx’. (Well, it was the early ’70s and they’d run out of budget. Just concentrate on the concept…)

Visiting the present-day location, EH have taken note of the estate’s mysterious-looking murals (actually reliefs, carved into the Winstanley’s concrete walls) and have drawn from them to create new visual scores. Full of primal symbols and strange abstracted geometries, the carvings have an ancient air to them; but actually they’re early ‘60s commissions from William Mitchell Design Consultants, formally put up as part of the refurbishment during the estate’s post-war rebuild, and not even a decade old when ‘The Asphyx’ was filmed. English Heretic know this, of course, but are well aware that the ideas which places, objects and initial associations trigger off are at least as important as the actual truth. In this case, they’ve intersected film and building fabric to inspire literal musique concrète. Their pun, not mine. Not that I’m sulking about having been beaten to the punch…

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

comm-une presents:
NYX with Iona Fortune
The Pickle Factory, 13-14 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, England
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 6.30pm
– information here and here

English Heretic presents:
Matthew Shaw + Anji Cheung + English Heretic
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 7th February 2019, 8.00pm
– information here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Armed With Bow & Portia van de Braam, Devon Loch and DJ Francesco Fusaro (30th January); UnicaZürn and Howlround (1st February)

27 Jan

Armed With Bow & Portia van de Braam + Devon Loch + Francesco Fusaro, 30th January 2019

As Armed With Bow, cellist and synth operator Will Langstone creates layered post-classical loop music with a psychedelic Moog-prog twist, exercising his fascination with cosmic planetarium visions, space voyaging and the like. The show he’s headlining at 93 Feet East this Wednesday will present his ‘First Encounter’ piece: a “four-part space odyssey conjured through cello, synthesizer, and four analog tape emulators” and a collaboration with dancer-choreographer Portia van de Braam.

 
Under his Devon Loch alias, Richard Greenan (founder of exotic miscellania label Kit Records) will play a set of his own. It’s touted as a “hybrid live/DJ performance, combining manipulated classical, field recordings and live electronics.” Presumably, it also draws on the sweetly warped ambience of his recorded work, with its protracted porcelain-tinkling post-Cluster synths, its Satie-citing frosted parlour-piano knots, its unexpected moments of gentle folk guitar and its subtle, surrealist-radio-inspired electronic disruptions.

 
On formal DJ duties, there’s Francesco Fusaro – journalist, broadcaster and co-curator of smart/knowingly bizarre Anglo-Italian mutant dance/post-classical label MFZ and the 19’40” “anti-classical” recording series and, as “Froz”, occasional trap techno-musician (something which he approaches with the same thoughtful dedication and whimsical wit as his other work).

* * * * * * * *

UnicaZürn + Howlround, 1st February 2019A couple of days later at IKLECTIK, UnicaZürn (the longstanding team-up between Arkkon/Shock Headed Peters guitarist David Knight and Coil/Cyclobe’s keyboards-and-reeds player Stephen Thrower) resurface to play music from their new album accompanied by one of their regular friends, Guapo percussionist Dave Smith.

There aren’t too many details, but I’m guessing that it continues the scenic but chilly slow-evolving boil of waterside atmospherics and psychedelic sound-painting which they’ve displayed on their previous albums ‘Transpandorem’, ‘Temporal Bends’ and ‘Dark Earth Distillery’: a lapping tidal cascade of heavily treated guitars and saxophones, stratified synth textures and ringing light patterns. It’s the sound that emerges when you’re charmed and transfixed by the water-and-light textures and presences of the sea and river scapes you live beside, but keep having them disrupted and transformed by feed-in from the third eye perspective you’ve also maintained.


 
Fellow Touch label artists Howlround (named after splurging patterns of electronic audio-visual feedback and centred on itinerant sound designers Robin “The Fog” Warren and Chris Weaver) are also performing. They’re happy to retrofit not just from old BBC Radiophonic Workshop concepts, but from a fair amount of the original technology. I can’t vouch for where all of their gear comes from (though they reject artificial reverb and computer processing), but they’re usually to be found manipulating a quartet of old reel-to-reel tape machines, to the extent that it’s a creative and performance trademark. Frequently, they produce site-specific sounds, on-the-spot film soundtracks and made-to-measure musique concrete.


 
Much of Howlround’s output sounds like studio offcuts – bleedthroughs and bloopings, bits of strange reverb, amplifier grumbles, signal chain malfunctions swept up from the floor. What’s surprising is how these elements are cleverly recombined into new pieces – not novelty cut-ups, as you might expect, but a pleasingly spooky chamber music which also sometimes shows off their ability to twine surprisingly sweet melodies into the noise. Both Simon Reynolds and ‘The Quietus’ reckon that they’re hauntological. If so, the haunts in question are beloved rooms where the ghosts of technicians and visionary tinkerers linger, prolonging the memories of three decades of sonic experimentation and the summoning of peculiar, arresting, inspiring aural landscapes.

(Re that last little flight of fancy – I think it’s worth mentioning that Robin actually did do something like this back in 2011 – prowling the corridors of onetime BBC World Service home Bush House, and first capturing and then reworking the ambience before the Beeb moved out for good.)


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Distroed presents:
Armed With Bow & Portia van de Braam + Devon Loch + Francesco Fusaro
93 Feet East, 150 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London, E1 6QL, England
Wednesday 30th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here

Touch presents…
UnicaZürn + Howlround
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Friday 1st February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

January/February 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – two premieres – BBC Symphony Orchestra delivers Richard Causton’s ‘Ik zeg: NU’ alongside Brahms and Schumann (23rd January); Peter Eötvös conducts his own ‘Multiversum’ for the Philharmonia alongside Bartók, Stravinsky and Stockhausen (7th February)

20 Jan

Quick news on two classical premieres coming up…

On 23rd January, Richard Causton’s new orchestral piece ‘Ik zeg: NU’ (‘I Say: NOW’) receives its debut performance courtesy of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It’s in good company; sitting alongside a double bill of Brahms’s Third Symphony and Schumann’s heart-on-sleeve Cello Concerto, conceived to “celebrate the friendship and musical kinship between the two composers”, conducted by Sakari Oramo and with Stephen Isserlis doing the cello honours for the Schumann.

Richard Causton

Richard Causton

But let’s focus on the Causton piece. A pleasantly humble, persistently thoughtful composer, he’s consistently delivered the goods for over twenty years now, coming up with carefully-conceived and intuitively shaped compositions. Rather too many contemporary composers hide behind their lofty concepts and allow the verbal summaries to make up for shortfalls in musical communication or audience connection. This isn’t the case here – Richard specialises not in the kind of pieces which provide concertgoer kudos without any particular joy and enlightenment, but the kind which gently, kindly set the intelligence humming. Regardless of your level of classical cultivation, you tend to leave a performance of a Causton piece feeling cleverer and more enthused than you did when you went in. It’s a rare gift, whether you’re talking about something wielded or something given.

In a recent interview with ‘Final Note’ magazine, Richard sheds some light on the new work, which is inspired by family history and the sudden sense of being set against larger, more confusing/difficult-to-process events, while also drawing comparisons between life and music. “…It’s always slipping through your fingers and if you’re lucky enough you might have some wonderful time, but you can never keep it… Music can do things with time that no other art form can… (it) can have a complex and oblique relationship with clock time; it can intensify or stretch it…. There’s a lot of fast music, which is also quite static; it’s like when you walk past a school playground you can hear so many different games, voices and conversations, and with all that going on it can still seem static – but at the same time playful and too rapid to grasp properly. We can stand back and listen to it as one big landscape. There are other parts of my piece that are extremely slow, but transform gradually over time, which can force us into a very slow place of listening. In the collision of these two kinds of music the ear is pulled in different directions.”

On 7th February, veteran Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös conducts his own new piece ‘Multiversum’ for the Philharmonia Orchestra. Written for orchestra, pipe organ (played by Iveta Apkalna) and – unusually – a Hammond organ to be played by László Fassang (and chosen as an instrument for its timbral ability to “continuously change colours” ), it’s a reiteration of space-age wonder which arrives at a time when awareness of space exploration and research is on the upturn.

Peter Eötvös (photo © Jean-Francois Leclercq)

Peter Eötvös (photo © Jean-Francois Leclercq)

It’s also an exploration of deep-level physics: Peter, who has previous form for experimenting with amplified instrument technology (not least during a lengthy spell as Stockhausen’s engineer, copyist, conductor and general utility man) and for investigating cosmically-slanted compositions, comments that “since Yuri Gagarin´s journey into space in 1961, technological advancements have caused us to marvel at the miracle of the cosmos. Research like Witten´s theory of the eleven dimensions and string theory has astounded us with its speculation on the nature of outer space, and has spurred me on in my compositional fantasy.”

In an interview this month on ‘Bachtrack’, Peter confesses that he’s been fascinated with the idea of creating a giant ambient cosmic sound since he was a teenager, and throws some more light on the conception and arrangement of the piece, including the unusual but carefully-considered positioning of the musicians onstage to provide the right kind of sonic wraparound.

‘Multiversum’ comprises the second half of a performance which also includes Schoenberg’s ‘Accompaniment to an Imaginary Film Scene’, Bartók’s ‘Dance Suite’ and Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony in Three Movements’, all chosen for their rhythmic charge and twitching nervous orchestral energy.

Obviously there are no advance clips for listening to, but here are a couple of previous Causton and Eötvös works for the curious…



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo/Steven Isserlis: ‘Richard Causton, Schumann and Brahms’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

Philharmonia Orchestra/Peter Eötvös/Iveta Apkalna/László Fassang: ‘Bartók, Stravinsky & Eötvös’
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Thursday 7th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

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