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November/December 2017 – more assorted Smithery – BarmyFiveseveN play Tim Smith at Connector V, Amsterdam (2nd November); Spratleys Japs’ Wonderful Winter Wonderland tour of England (14th-17th December)

15 Oct

Coverage of the complex, perverse and joyful musical work of the sadly incapacitated Tim Smith – whether inside or outside his mothership Cardiacs band – frequently figures in here. It’s good to bring you all more about his continued crossover from cult status to something wider: this time, with news of a conservatory jazz gig in Amsterdam and of the continued afterlife of Spratleys Japs.

Connector V, 2nd November 2017

Broedplaats Lely & Steim present:
Connector V
Steim, Schipluidenlaan 12-3E, 1062HE Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thursday 2nd November 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Composers are not necessarily dead. They also do not necessarily write symphonies in D flat minor in a 4/4 time signature.

“Tim Smith, frontman of the British band called Cardiacs, is a great composer who wrote lots of music permeated with energy, humour, beauty, Britishness. By people who only partly open their ears (or their minds for that matter), his music has been defined as being “chaotic”. The opposite is true, however: it is strongly organised music and all one needs to be able to do is count past four (and not forget about prime numbers). This challenging mix of punk, prog rock, orchestral and live electronic music (also known as “pronk”) will be performed by BarmyFiveseveN, a “small big band” ensemble of around fifteen players from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, armed with live electronic extensions.”

Connector V is part of a monthly series at Steim: regular readers should recognise this particular one as a follow-up to the Smith-covering set by Alex Brajkovic Ensemble at Amsterdam’s Jazz Ensemble Festival back in April, and it does in fact feature most or all of the same players, put together by rebel prog professor Jos Zwaanenburg. No-one seems to have recorded/posted evidence from the last time, so I can’t show you how it went – but as before, I can give you some very loose indications as to how this concert might might turn out by referring you to English Rose Orchestrations’ string quartet version of one of the featured pieces, The Duck And Roger The Horse.


 

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Spratleys Japs, 14th-17th December 2017The following month, Spratleys Japs consolidate the success of their Brighton and London reunion shows over the last couple of years by setting out on a bigger, broader English tour taking in Yorkshire and the West as well as the south east, with a mass of current/former Cardiacs and friends coalescing as support around the tour dates.

Read more about SJ here: in brief, though, they’re a short-lived and swampy alternate-universe pop project (part alien folk maunderings, part glam-punk punch and part spindly antiprog) which Tim put together in the mid-’90s with then-girlfriend/muse Jo Spratley. Now revived by Jo and a collection of Brighton art rockers, they’ve got a second wind and have been rattling through fresh gigs partially in tribute to Tim and partially because the enthralling, infuriating puzzle-box songs have a peculiar life of their own.


As regards the backup, looming raconteur Stephen Evens brings his scowling, sardonic British pop along to the London, Brighton and Bristol shows (possibly with full band in tow for all of them). In a similar vein, Yorkshire dark-melodrama rockers The Scaramanga Six pile in at the Huddersfield date, while the Brighton show also sports vigorous dream poppers Hurtling and noisy art-rock goons Ham Legion (the latter performing their Syd Barrett tribute as “Vegetable Men” (plus another acoustic set from Kavus Torabi, squeezing in time in between fronting Gong, Knifeworld and his radio broadcasts). At Bristol there’s another onetime Cardiacs guitarist, Jon Poole, possibly bringing both solo stuff and one-man versions of his clever-pop work with The Dowling Poole; plus ZOFFF (the reverberant south coast kosmische/deep-psych band featuring Crayola Lectern‘s Chris Anderson and yet another ex-Cardiac six-stringer, Bic Hayes).

As with most Cardiacs-related events, these give you a cross-section of a under-celebrated ongoing British sub-scene; stretching from surprisingly accessible, sharply written latter-day take on Britpop right through to mantric pedal noise and squirts of lysergic space-cadet juice. Here’s a selection of sundries from all concerned:









 
Full dates:

  • The Parish, 28 Kirksgate, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Thursday 14th December 2017, 7.30pm (with The Scaramanga Six) – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market, Bristol, Avon, BS2 0EJ, England, Friday 15th December 2017, 7.30pm (with Jon Poole + ZOFFF + Stephen Evens) – information here and here
  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Saturday 16th December 2017, 6.00pm (with Kavus Torabi + Stephen Evens (full band) + Hurtling + Ham Legion As Vegetable Men) – information here and here
  • The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Sunday 17th December 2017 (with Stephen Evens + others tbc) – information t.b.c.

UPDATE, 18th October – apparently we can also expect a couple of imminent fundraising Cardiacs cover versions from Spratleys Japs and Stephen Evens (Odd Even and Two Bites of Cherry), plus other surprises they’re keeping a little tightlipped about for the moment.

Meanwhile, Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones (another Spratleys friend from previous gigs) has been added to the Brighton concert, which now also features a Torabi/Steve Davis DJ set. Support for the Brixton Windmill show in London is going to be thrashy prog-pop stuntmeisters The Display Team and rapidly rising Windmill favourites Black Midi. Below are a couple of moments from Emily and the ‘Team. (There’s not much more I can give you about Black MIDI. They’re so new that the paint’s hardly dry on them, and their Soundcloud page is still empty; but I did manage to establish that they’re an experimental/instrumental rock five-piece of teenage Croydonians and that they’re “purveyors of the darkest dreamscapes”…)



 

October 2017 – upcoming London classical gigs – Music-in-Motion & Gildas Quartet immersive show, and the Ligeti Quartet’s ‘Remembering the Future’ (both 28th October)

8 Oct

There’s a couple of classical concerts at the end of the month: not necessarily groundbreaking in what they play (although there is one premiere involved) but interesting in how they arrange their programme or in how they perform it.

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Music-in-Motion, 28th October 2017

Conway Hall Ethical Society presents:
Music-in-Motion Ensemble & Gildas Quartet, directed by John Landor
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1R 4RL, London
Saturday 28th October 2017, 3.30 pm & 7.30pm; Tuesday 31 October 2017, 7.30pm
information

“Following his powerful staging of Janáček’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ with the Gildas Quartet at Conway Hall last May, John Landor returns with the quartet and the newly-formed Music-in-Motion Ensemble of thirteen string players to present an eclectic programme of music from Purcell to Pärt.

“Immersive, visual and theatrical, Music-in-Motion brings a bold new aesthetic approach to the traditional classical concert. Turning the whole auditorium into a “theatre of music”, the musicians become embodied channels of the musical drama, dissolving boundaries between performers and audience. You are welcome to sit, stand, or even lie down pretty much anywhere during the performance, so you can bring your own cushion or mat, or use ours. It’s a social event too! At the evening concerts, you can bring in drinks from the bar, and everyone is invited to the ‘after-party’ where audience and performers can mingle and discuss the performance, or indeed anything else!”

What this means in practise is the exploding of the orchestral positioning and of orchestral uniformity – while retaining the hidden discipline of the orchestral units, the musicians wander out on their own across the performance space and through the audience as individuals rather than remaining en bloc, with each performer free (and encouraged) to act out the emotionality of the music. The set’s a selection of well-known repertoire war horses: the presentation and implications are less familiar.

Programme:

Johann Sebastian Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G BWV1048
Antonio Vivaldi – Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro in B minor RV169
Arvo Pärt – Fratres
Leoš Janáček – String Quartet No. 1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’
Henry Purcell – Chacony in G minor
Edward Elgar – Introduction and Allegro Op. 47

* * * * * * * *

The Ligeti Quartet present “Remembering the Future: Tradition and the Contemporary String Quartet”
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 28th October 2017, 7:30pm
information

Since their formation in 2010, Ligeti Quartet, 2017The Ligeti Quartet (violinists Mandhira de Saram and Patrick Dawkins, viola player Richard Jones and cellist Val Welbanks) have commissioned multiple new works and collaborated with artists from all types of musical backgrounds including Anna Meredith, Elliot Galvin, Kerry Andrew (Juice Vocal Ensemble, You Are Wolf), Laura Jurd, Meilyr Jones, Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy), Seb Rochford (Polar Bear), Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming), Shed 7 and Submotion Orchestra. They are currently working on a long-term project with Ernst von Siemens prize-winning composer Christian Mason to create a series of ‘Songbooks’ for string quartet, based on overtone singing traditions from around the world.

For this performance, the Ligeti Quartet are performing traditional (20th century) and contemporary pieces. These include two Bach related works (a Sofia Gubaidulina tribute and a Birtwistle rearrangement of fugues, , a revival of the debut composition by http://www.plusminusensemble.com Plus-Minus Ensemble co-leader/Cut and Splice curator Joanna Baillie (originally written for Apartment House, and performed here in its 2006 string quartet version) and a brand new piece by former Unthanks member/ Streetwise Opera composer-in-residence/Timeline Songs director Stef Conner (whose body of work as a composer has revealed her as a walker and crosser of fine lines between classical, folk, jazz and antiquity).

Programme:

Johann Sebastian Bach (arr. Harrison Birtwistle) – Three Fugues from the Art of Fugue
Anton Webern – String Quartet, Op. 28
Joanna Baillie – Five Famous Adagios (2006 string quartet version)
Stef Conner – (LQ Commission, title tbc) (premiere)
Igor Stravinsky – Concertino for String Quartet
Sofia Gubaidulina – Reflections on a Theme B-A-C-H
Georg Friedrich Haas – String Quartet No. 2
 

October 2017 – upcoming London classical/experimental gigs – Howard Skempton at 70 (13th October), Rarescale’s New Baroque (14th October)

5 Oct

A couple of quick referred notifications of a pair of upcoming gigs on the classical/experimental cusp – just the blurb…

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Howard Skempton @ 70, 13th October 2017

Club Inégales presents:
Howard Skempton at 70
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Friday 13th October 2017, 10.00pm
– information here and here

“Club Inégales’s live club nights in Euston create the unexpected chemistry that enables the special to happen as brings in the best in new and spontaneous performance. Its house ensemble Notes Inégales was created by two innovators in British music (Peter Wiegold and David Purser) and features some of the finest players in the country, dedicated to improvisation as well as other contemporary repertoire. Peter has been a pioneer of bringing together composition and improvisation, working directly with musicians in the creation of new work.

“Vocalist, accordionist and composer Howard Skempton has made two delightful visits to Club Inégales, performing his solo accordion pieces and singing and playing with the ensemble. In this special concert at Kings Place, Howard will be joining Notes Inégales to improvise and perform new arrangements of pieces including ‘In Cuba They Play With Maracas’, ‘Chorale Inégales’, Show Me The Limelight’, ‘Trapeze’ and a seventieth birthday tribute to American composer Christian Wolff, entitled ‘Forget the Minuet’.”

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rarescale's 'New Baroque', 14th October 2017

rarescale presents:
New Baroque (with Carla Rees & Michael Oliva)
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 14th October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“The first in a series of concerts combining new and old repertoire for baroque flute, ‘New Baroque’ explores how a historical instrument can be used in modern times through a series of collaborations with imaginative contemporary creators. In this eclectic programme, hear new works for baroque flute solo and with electronics by a range of living composers interspersed with music from the baroque era.

“The performers are rarescale regulars Carla Rees and Michael Oliva. A British-based low flutes player and arranger, Carla is the artistic director of rarescale and runs low-flutes publishing company Tetractys, working frequently in collaboration with composers to develop new repertoire and techniques. Originally trained as a biochemist, Michael is rarescale’s composer-in-residence: an electronic musician, with a fondness for woodwind he lectures in and teaches electroacoustic music and music technology at the Royal College of Music and Imperial College. In addition, he runs and premieres multimedia opera work with madestrange opera, a company dedicated to producing new forms of the genre for modern audiences. Recent works include a requiem commissioned by the choir Mosaic (2010) and a new full length opera, ‘Singularity’ (2015).”

The programme is still to be confirmed, but here’s a double taste of what’s likely to be involved:

&nsbp;

October/November 2017 – upcoming London experimental gigs – post-various loops and shades from Rothko, Yellow6 and Darkroom (12th October); Moondog For Gamelan plus Steve Lawson/Corey Mwamba duo (28th October); Steel Pan Fusion plays Philip Glass (23rd November)

4 Oct

Several longstanding Misfit City experimental favourites (all veterans of the liminal cross-encroachments between British post-rock, noise and electronic explorations during the 1990s) feature in a mid-month triple bill of shifting noise, words and melodies down at IKLECTIK.

Champion Version presents:
Edition 1: Rothko + Yellow6 + Darkroom
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 12th October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Champion Versions Edition 1, 12th October 2017Though they’ve passed through a shifting variety of lineups and different instrumentation, Rothko are based around a single constant: Mark Beazley’s resonant post-industrial bass guitar, which speaks stern granite-y notes and impressionistic chthonic drones and blurs, sketching and deepen evocatic musical landscapes from unyielding post-punk city visions to soft-edged post-rock hillscapes.

On this occasion they’re appearing in an expanded version of the beautifully bleak words-and-shades trio last mentioned in ‘Misfit City’ just under a year ago (in which Mark was joined by recitateur Johnny Brown from Band of Holy Joy, and by Inga Tillere on projected visuals). In place for tonight’s show is a fourth member – Mark’s Low Bias colleague Graham Dowdall (a.k.a. Gagarin), whose synth wizardry’s brought him into collaboration with Pere Ubu, Suns of Arqa, Roshi and no less than two former Velvet Undergroundeers (Nico and John Cale).


 
Intermittent and elusive, yet steadily prolific, Jon Attwood’s solo guitar project Yellow6 has links with the undersung east London post-rock scene of the 1990s (which also spawned A.R. Kane, Disco Inferno, Moonshake and Bark Psychosis (BP’s drummer Mark Hartnett would later put in a Yellow6 stint). Moving away from his initial goth and anarcho-punk roots (tempered with soul), Jon was drawn into the world of minimalism, repetition and reverbed/distorted drone loops. Shaped equally by Jon’s natural humility and his “obsessive need to create” toward an artistic peak he’s not yet reached, Yellow6 has produced over fifty releases with results variously described as “gentle shape-shifting misery” and “beautiful, shimmering and blissful”.


 
With roots in Cambridge science culture, propulsive and unorthodox ambient duo Darkroom initially found their feet in the fertile 1990s ferment surrounding art-poppers No-Man (initially sporting the latter’s singer Tim Bowness as a member, and providing that particular scene’s experimental edge alongside Steven Wilson’s electrodrones as Bass Communion). Since then, like a wide-orbiting comet, synthworker Os and guitarist Michael Bearpark have forged their own idiosyncratic path in and out of various drone, loop, texture and improv clusters, as well as becoming in-house soundtrackers for brain investigations at the Hub. Moving on from their earlier minglings of boiling starstuff, ambient techno and gasping tidal experimental textures, their more recent music is moody, beating improvised electronica increasingly shaped by Mike and Os’ rediscovery of attenuated blues tones, troubled elongated Neil Young guitar churns and dark bass clarinet voicings. For more assorted ‘Misfit City’ froth and musings on Darkroom, click here. Less celebrated than their gigmates, they’ll be opening the show. They could just as well be closing it.


 
This concert has been set up by boutique vinyl art-music label Champion Version, who’ll have one of their limited-edition vinyl EP featuring all three acts available on the night.

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Towards the end of the month, there’s an intriguing reconnection between late twentieth-century New York and the Indonesian form which inspired so much of it…

Moondog Gamelan, 28th October 2017
Europalia Arts Festival Indonesia presents:
Iwan Gunawan & Stefan Lakatos’ ‘Moondog For Gamelan’ + Steve Lawson/Corey Mwamba
LSO St Luke’s, 161 Old Street, St Luke’s, London, EC1V 9NG, England
Saturday 28th October 2017, 7.30pm
information

“Few musicians are the source of as much intrigue as Moondog. A blind man from Kansas transplanted to New York City, he dressed as a Viking and chose to live on the streets. His compositions reflect his experiences of hearing his way through the city – motifs borrowed from Jazz, Classical and Native American music unwind over the constant beating of a tom-tom drum, like the thumping of a subway train. Occasionally field recordings of traffic noise or crying babies sneak in, as if leaking through an open window. It’s the sound of a city, the sound of a wealth disparate parts coming together to create a complex whole – a kind of urban gamelan.

“For this concert, Moondog’s output is literally reimagined as gamelan by Iwan Gunawan (a reknowned contemporary Javanese gamelan composer known for combining the tradition with the use of electronics and computers) and Moondog’s friend and pupil Stefan Lakatos (who performs using a homemade percussion instrument given to him by the composer himself). Featuring instruments built especially for the occasion, this performance takes gamelan out of its traditional context, taking on Moondog’s experimental yet optimistic compositions. Almost minimalist in its construction – indeed, Moondog alleged that Phillip Glass once called him the “father of minimalism” – the influential outsider musician’s melodies resonate amid the controlled chaos of gamelan.”


 

In support, there’s a duo performance by another ‘Misfit City’ favourite – bass guitar looper Steve Lawson and experimental vibraphonist Corey Mwamba. Collaborators for at least a decade, they’re a pair of accessible yet stubborn musicians creating their own long-distance version of village music on the outskirts of the music business. Recorded/filmed evidence of what they do is surprisingly thin on the ground (I can’t find any) so you’ll have to go on word-of-mouth info about their past gigs. Expect some aspects taken from jazz and fed through sundry loops, delays and perky processors, but don’t expect them to be confined by that – their musical minds stretch from contemporary classical and process music to goofy tunes, and their textural tastes from lowdown murmur to ear-piercing noise. A big bucket to dip into.

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While we’re still on the topic of New York minimalism and Philip Glass, look out next month for what sounds like it’ll be an enthralling conjunction of Big Apple pulse and Caribbean tonal warmth…

Steel Pan Fusion Play Philip Glass, 23rd November 2017

‘Steel Pan Fusion Plays Philip Glass’
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Thursday 23rd November 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“One of the most influential and important composers of the twentieth century, Philip Glass is a pioneer of minimalist music alongside fellow luminaries Steve Reich and Terry Riley. With a body of work that stretches beyond contemporary classical music into film scores, operas and more, the source material is rich for reinterpretation. We have commissioned London based ensemble Steel Pan Fusion to perform a selection of works from Glass’ extensive repertoire, from his peerless ‘Glassworks’ to the soundtrack for ‘The Truman Show’.”



 

October 2017 – upcoming London experimental gigs – the Radiophonic Workshop takes over the British Library (13th October)

3 Oct

A quick reposting…

Radiophonics Workshop, 13th October 2017

The British Library presents:
Late at the Library: The Radiophonic Workshop & Guests
Entrance Hall @ The British Library, 96 Euston Road, Kings Cross, London, NW1 2DB, England
Friday 13th October 2017, 6.30pm

information

“The Radiophonic Workshop are one of the most influential electronic music groups of all time. Founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, it was home to a maverick group of experimental composers, sound engineers and musical innovators including the late Delia Derbyshire. In a series of small studios within the labyrinthine corridors of the BBC Maida Vale complex, the Workshop set about exploring new ways of using – and abusing – technology to create new sounds.


 
“Their influence on popular music has been profound. As the in-house composers of music and effects for the BBC they created the sonic backdrops for ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and countless others. From The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Prince and Pink Floyd through to some of the most innovative contemporary electronic artists and DJs, the Workshop’s legacy continues to grow as new generations of musicians discover their catalogue of extraordinary recordings.

“Now, nearly two decades after the Workshop was decommissioned, original members Peter Howell, Roger Limb, Dr Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland and long-time associate composer Mark Ayres are back working together. They soundtracked the childhoods of several generations, now they’re back to soundtrack your Friday night with a two part set. The first is a live version of their first studio album for twenty-five years, the improvised work ‘Burials On Several Earths’, with guest collaborator Martyn Ware (Heaven 17, The Human League and BEF). The second is a heritage archive set in which the Workshop perform some of their best known material – including the high water mark of early British electronica – the signature tune for ‘Doctor Who’.

“Join the Radiophonic Workshop at 6.30pm for a special in-conversation event ‘Soundhouses: The Radiophonic Workshop at 60’. Tickets include entry to the Late event. Visuals for the night are performed by Obsrvtry, a collaboration between Michael Faulkner (founder of D-Fuse) and Ben Sheppee (creator of Lightrhythm Visuals), with a guest DJ set from Tom Middleton of Global Communication.”


 

October-December 2017 – opera and musical theatre – the ‘Rough For Opera’ scratch night in London (9th October); Lucy Steven’s Kathleen Ferrier bio-show tours England (21st/26th/27th September, 3rd December)

2 Oct

Next week in London, a window on some nascent opera work…

'Rough For Opera' #16

Second Movement present:
Rough For Opera #16: A Scratch Night For New Opera
Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, London NW8 8EH
Monday 9th October 2017, 7.30pm
information

“…’Rough For Opera is a performance platform for composers to share new work and opera in progress. Each event is a snapshot and celebration of contemporary opera making, with most work being brought from page to stage for the very first time. With an informal and intimate atmosphere and a Q&A following each performance, Rough For Opera is a great way for audiences to engage directly with opera makers and for composers to get invaluable feedback about their work at an early stage in its development.” 

This month’s edition features the following short opera performances (between ten minutes and half and hour apiece):

Michael-Jon Mizra – ‘Can you Give Up Your Seat Please?’ 
Georgina Bowden – ‘Radium’ (libretto by Eleanor Knight, directed by Ruth Knight)
Voicings Collective – ‘Voicings’ (composed by Michael Betteridge, written by Rebecca Hurst, directed and performed by Freya Wynn-Jones)

Post-performance Q&As will be led by Professor Paul Barker (RCSSD).

* * * * * * * *

Over the course of October (and at the beginning of December), a labour-of-love musical staging of the life of classical and folk singing legend Kathleen Ferrier is touring some of the more out-of-the-way venues in England. From the sound of it, it’s a pretty portable show, so if you’re interested in booking it for your own venue, drop the production company a line.

Dramatic Solutions presents:
Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife!

Lucy Stevens (as Kathleen Ferrier)

Lucy Stevens (as Kathleen Ferrier)

“This new one-woman play with music tells the story of the great English contralto, whose voice and recordings are treasured to this day. Kathleen Ferrier was one of Britain’s phenomenal women of the twentieth Century. ‘Whattalife!‘ tells her story from her debut as a singer in 1940, her meteoric rise and her tragic death in 1953. ‘Whattalife!’ is the first staged dramatisation of Ferrier’s life, evoking the spirit of the war and post war years. Just like Kathleen during her short but full life, the show has a great sense of fun and talks straight from the heart. 

“Professional actress and contralto Lucy Stevens has researched and created a unique and totally engaging performance. The play is written in Kathleen’s own words taken from her letters and diaries. Sung music with piano accompaniment from her repertoire is woven through the text.”

There’s a ‘Guardian’ article on the piece here, in which Lucy reveals how the piece was put together and throws light on the life, moods and artistry of a strong-minded and talented woman who went her own way during a time when such things weren’t so readily accepted.


 
Dates:

  • Holy Trinity Church, New Road, Bengeo, Hertfordshire, SG14 3JJ, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pmemail for details
  • Cooper Hall, Selwood Manor, Frome, Somerset, BA11 3NL, England, Thursday 26th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Anthony Minghella Theatre @ Quay Arts, Sea Street, Newport Harbour, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BD, England, Friday 27th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Dorchester Arts, Corn Exchange, High East Street, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1HF, England, Sunday 3rd December 2017, 2.30pm information

And purely to indulge myself, here’s Jocelyn Pook‘s mid-’90s setting of a Ferrier loop as part of her minimalist song-cycle ‘Deluge’: best known as the theme for a mobile phone advert (and, as the video image shows, as fodder for numerous new-age compilations), it’s a little classic of minimalist fusion.


 

June 2017 – upcoming London/German gigs – Lindsay Cooper remembered by Half The Sky (22nd June – plus Avantgarde Festival appearance on 25th June)

15 Jun
Half The Sky, 22nd June 2017

Half The Sky (photo © Jean-Hervé Péron)

Long before the knot of current pop culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, the late Lindsay Cooper was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz. Later this month, the Half The Sky ensemble (led by vigorous curator/arranger /multi-instrumentalist Yumi Hara) will be bringing their showcase of her music both to London and to a small town outside Hamburg, re-animating the work she created for Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music For Films between the late ’70s and the mid-’80s.

Originally formed in 2015 for festival appearances in Japan and France, Half The Sky derive their name from the Maoist/feminist maxim, “women hold up half the sky”, as used by Lindsay as a composition title on Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’ album, back in 1978) and feature an impressive alliance of British and Japanese art-rock musicians. As well as Yumi on keyboards, lever harp and vocals, the ensemble features two members of Cicala-Mvta (Miwazow on koto, ching-dong percussion and voice; Wataru Okhuma on alto saxophone and clarinet), the Korekyojinn/Altered States bass guitarist Nasuno Mitsuru; Chlöe Herington (the reeds and melodica player from Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and V Ä L V Ē) and finally two of Lindsay’s former Henry Cow/News From Babel colleagues (singer Dagmar Krause and drummer Chris Cutler). As Yumi points out, “the gender split follows Lindsay’s general practice and the example of the original bands – Henry Cow (50% female) and News from Babel (75% female).”

Yumi’s comments on the music:

“In 2013, soon after Lindsay passed away, Matthew Watkins made a call for arrangements of her mini-composition ‘Slice’ for a special edition of his podcast ‘Canterbury Sans Frontières‘. I made a transcription of the piece and recorded it for solo clavichord. Chris Cutler and I also played it in Japan and New York. A little later, inspired by the three memorial concerts Chris Cutler organised in 2014 with the original bands, I put Half The Sky together to play Lindsay’s music in Japan.

“With the exception of ‘Slice’, it was only after – and because of – the 2014 concerts that any working scores for the Henry Cow pieces became available, having been painstakingly assembled from Lindsay’s notebooks, original band-members’ surviving parts and careful analysis of the recordings. A handful of the News from Babel songs – none of which had ever been performed live – had already been reconstructed for the memorial concert by Zeena Parkins; the rest I had to work out from scratch – as well as rearranging everything for a mixture of occidental and oriental instruments.

“This programme is approached very much as a music of the present – and not as an academic reconstruction.”

In addition to Half The Sky’s performance, the London show will feature DJ sets from two of London’s more interesting musical personalities. Marina Organ’s known both for three decades of staunch work as writer/co-driving force of ‘Organ’ magazine and for her indefatigable DJ/interviewing work on ‘The Other Rock Show’. James Larcombe is the keyboard player and sometime composer with Stars In Battledress, Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Zag & The Coloured Beads and the William D. Drake band; now he seems to be extending his talents (or at least his brassy neck), to disc-spinning.

Half the Sky: Music of Lindsay Cooper

  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Thursday 22nd June 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Avantgarde Festival, Steinhorster Weg 2, 23847 Schiphorst, Deutschland, Sunday 25th June 2017, 2.15pm – information here and here


 
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Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform. In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through.

Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation. Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild.

Although she also put in stints with both the cheery Canterbury fusioneering of National Health and the terrifying dark-folk band Comus during the 1970s, Lindsay was probably best known for her work with the powerful political chamber-prog of proto-Rock In Opposition ensemble Henry Cow (a creative ferment which she joined and left twice and, like most Cow-ers, never entirely left behind). Having initially brought in her toolkit of reeds, woodwind and piano skills to play on the band’s second album ‘Unrest’, she subsequently made small inroads into the writing, contributing to a number of group compositions on ‘In Praise of Learning’ and the ‘Concerts’ set. As a composer, though, she finally came into her own on the band’s final, all-instrumental statement ‘Western Culture’, on which she was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland).

Lindsay Cooper

Lindsay Cooper

Perhaps more significantly, by this point in the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG; a project which she co-ran with vocalist Maggie Nichols in parallel with her Cow work. Generally considered to be the preoccupation and property of educated, intense, white men, the British and European free improvising of the time tended to be a little short on jokes (bar occasional pranking along the lines of the Free Art Research Trio). FIG allied Lindsay and Maggie with various other musical and performance talents – “feminist rock” trumpeter Corine Liensol (who’d played in Jam Today with a young Deirdre Cartwright), pianist Cathy Williams (who’d worked with another Cow-er, Geoff Leigh, in the Rag Doll duo), future filmmaker Sally Potter, latterday Cow cellist Georgie Born and Swiss free-jazz pianist Irène Schweizer (the last being allegedly the only European female improviser on the ‘60s and ‘70s scene). In classic feminist tradition, FIG not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve.

In comparison to the demanding and abstruse Maoist politics of Henry Cow (which, in private, sometimes resembled a brutally masculine university debating society preoccupied with games of political high-grounding), FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic. In addition to the music, their shows featured parodic stagings and examinations of domestic work (such as kitchenwork and cleaning) and of consumer preoccupations. Vegetables were peeled onstage; household tools such as dustpans and brooms pressed into service as props and noisemakers; oppressive or manipulative memes transformed into call-and-response singing.

Reading accounts of FIG work reveals a tale of tough gigs, audience misunderstandings and frequent frustration. Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see. It’s a shame that much improv and theatrical work is always of the moment and tends to vanish like dew in the morn. Without recorded evidence or restaging, it fades into hearsay, and in this case an important chapter in Lindsay’s work has to dwell in a kind of word-of-mouth samizdat.

Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined another former Cow colleague ((the now-mellowed Chris Cutler) for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel: here, Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

Half The Sky provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.


 

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