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March 2017 – upcoming gigs – selections from the Sheffield Classical Weekend (17th-19th)

6 Mar

There’s plenty going on at the three-day mid-March Sheffield Classical Weekend, with the city permeated with music including many old and new favourites. Among what’s on offer are two different performances of Arvo Pärt’s ‘Fratres’ (one by a wind band, one by a host of strings), two Dreams of China concerts covering formal Chinese classical compositions) and a host of choral shows (the classic monk’s-debauchery of Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ via Schubert’s ‘Mirjam’s Siegesgesang’ and Brahms’ ‘Ziguenerlieder’, through to a variety of pops choirs.) Though I’d advise checking out the entire, pleasingly diverse programme, here are my own brief and subjective picks from it, if you’re interested.

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Oliver Coates & cellists: ‘Canticles of the Sky’ – Kelham Island Museum, Alma St, Sheffield, S3 8RY, England, Saturday 18th March 2017, 3:30pm & 5.00pminformation

“A UK premiere featuring star cellist Oliver Coates (Radiohead, ‘Under The Skin’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’). Olly and a host of cellists will surround the Kelham Island audience and lift you skyward with this ethereal and dreamy work from Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer John Luther Adams. Also featuring extracts from J.S Bach’s Cello Suites.”

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Five Choirs: Sounds From Heaven – St Marie’s Cathedral, Norfolk Row, Sheffield S1 2JB, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 2:30pminformation

“Perched around the sides of the excellent acoustic space within the Cathedral Church of St Marie, five Sheffield chamber choirs – Abbeydale Singers, Sheffield Chamber Choir, Sterndale Singers, Sheffield Chorale and Viva Voce – will “create a swoonsome heart-lifting soundscape of song.” As well as old and new choral standbys by John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Felix Mendelssohn and others, the concert will include the premiere of ‘Kraal’ a commission for five simultaneous choirs written by Jenny Jackson (a member of Sheffield’s own contemporary composer collective, Platform 4).”

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More music fostered by Platform 4 will be popping up a few times over the weekend. Flautist Rachel Shirley performs “a selection of colourful and inventive works for flute, piano, blown bottles and saxophone“; there’s an evening date at Yellow Arch Studios with players from Sheffield Music Academy, performing the collective’s own “imaginative cutting-edge compositions”. There’s a “mind-bending” collaboration with Opera On Location in which “stories are turned upside down and endings become beginnings in (a) selection of operatic palindromes, where the music is the same both backwards and forwards… featuring Paul Hindemith’s short opera ‘Hin Und Zurück’ (‘There And Back’), plus new bitesize and puzzling pieces…” Platform 4 also contribute the cello-and-electric keyboard piece ‘Upright Stance’ to be performed alongside Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto at Oliver Coates’ concert with Sheffield Music Hub Senior Schools.

  • Opera On Location with Platform 4 – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 8:30pminformation (contains strong and sexually explicit language – recommended for 18+)
  • Rachel Shirley: ‘Hooting & Drinking’ – Channing Hall @ Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, Saturday 18th March 2017, 3.30pminformation
  • Oliver Coates & Sheffield Music Hub Senior Schools: ‘From The Heart: Shostakovich’ – City Hall Ballroom @ Sheffield City Hall, Barkers Pool, Sheffield, S1 2JA, England, Sunday 19th March, 12:00pminformation
  • Platform 4 with Sheffield Music Academy – Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 6:30pminformation

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On the Friday and the Saturday, there are some thoughtfully programmed Sound Laboratory events centring on the music, ideas and influence of Pierre Boulez. Saturday sees a triple-banked set featuring pianists Beate Toyka and Matthew Odell, violinists Darragh Morgan and Lucy Phillips, clarinettist Sarah Watts and the University of Sheffield New Music Ensemble.

Each of these mini-concerts sets one of Boulez’s first three Piano Sonatas against another piece. ‘The Conflict And The Passion’ pitches ‘Piano Sonata No. 1’ against Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in a study of thwarted passions. ‘Deconstruction & Digitalisation’ presents the classical deconstruction of ‘Piano Sonata No. 2’ and the electro-acoustic contrasts of ‘Anthemes II’. ‘Choice And Chance’ (the only one of the concerts to feature two Boulez compositions) offers ‘Piano Sonata No. 3’ and the clarinet-and-orchestra piece ‘Domaines’, contrasting a piece in which major options are available to the performer and one which is considerably more ordered and regimented.

The series opens on Friday with a special Boulez-inspired concert in which “the avant-garde becomes child’s play… primary school children from across the city explore the curious frontiers of contemporary electronic music and present the results of their musical experimentation.”

Sound Laboratory:

  • ‘Computer Music’ – Firth Hall @ University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 1:30pminformation
  • ‘The Conflict & The Passion’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 1:30pminformation
  • ‘Deconstruction & Digitalisation’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 3:30pminformation
  • ‘Choice and Chance’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 5:00pminformation

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Among the Chinese-inspired events is one in which Chinese and European chamber music merge as celebrated guzheng zither soloist Xia Jing teams up with The Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan on violin, Adi Tal on cello and Mary Dullea on piano). They’ll be presenting a concert of brand-new musical premieres – Gao Ping’s ‘Feng Zheng’ (‘Kite’), Jeroen Speak’s ‘Silk Dialogues 7’, Dylan Lardelli‘s ‘Shells’, and ‘Time Bends In The Rock’ by Sheffield-based composer Dorothy Ker.

Fidelio Trio & Xia Jing: ‘Global Soundtracks: Silk Dialogues’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 9:30pminformation

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In addition, there’s a variety of pop-up performances across the three days, featuring abbreviated sets by event headliners plus showings by small instrumental and vocal groups. It’s an open-minded spill moving out from classical forms to embrace folk, alt.chamber and other kinds of music.

One promising set of contributors are Manchester quintet Kabantu, who’ve thankfully dropped their previous name Project Jam Sandwich and who also “throw away the rulebook to bridge countries and cultures, creating an exuberant and joyful soundworld… vocal harmonies from South Africa coalesce with everything from Celtic reels and Brazilian samba to Balkan folk music and beyond.” Featuring violin, guitar, cello, double bass and percussion in addition to voices, they’re playing a pop-up show but also two separate consecutive-but-entirely-different sets at Yellow Arch Studios.

Classical by Night – Kabantu @ Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 6.30pm & 9:30pm – information here and here
 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – pianos all over the world for Piano Day 2016

27 Mar

Piano Day, 2016

Following the previous post’s coverage of the Daylight Music prelude for Piano Day, here’s all of the information that I could gather up about the main event, which is taking place all around the world on Monday 28th March.

This is the second Piano Day, following its very successful launch in 2015 by Berlin-based pianist and piano specialist Nils Frahm as a day for musical unity. As Nils puts it: “why does the world need a Piano Day? For many reasons, but mostly because it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the piano and everything around it: performers, composers, piano builders, tuners, movers and most important, the listener.” For anyone who plays, or loves, or has wrestled with the wood-strings-felt-and-levers monster, or its digital facsimiles, this is a day for you.

The event kicks off in Germany with a piano marathon…

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Justė Survilaitė presents:
Piano Day | Berlin: ‘24 Hours Piano Non-Stop Session’
Michelberger Hotel, Warschauerstrasse 39/40, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Sunday 27th March 2016, midnight, to Monday 28th March 2016, midnight
more information

Twenty-four pianists play through a full twenty-four hour period, beginning at midnight on Sunday 27th March, and going all the way through into Monday, finishing at midnight on the 28th.

The contributors come from the wide range of creative musicians who make their home in, or are drawn to, the energised art scene of contemporary Berlin; and represent its cultural breadth. There are classical players (Víkingur Ólafsson, Marina Baranova); there are jazz and improv players (Declan Forde, Jo Junghanss, Rieko Okuda, Marco Maria and Amine Mesnaoui, the Moroccan jazz/New Music electric pianist who specialises in playing inside his Fender Rhodes). There are musicians from the dance scene – techno star/DJ/label boss Lucio Aquilina, electronica producer-composer Florestano (whose musical ideas all start on “an old black piano”) and Sonar Kollectiv mainstay Arnold Kasar (whose work is informed by dance music, Arthur Russell and prepared piano).

Extra genre spice is added by English singer-songwriter and crossover multidiscipline musician Tom Adams, Anglo-Czech prodigy Emika (whose work spans from dubstep to classical), , Claudio Donzelli of folk trio Mighty Oaks, Doron Burstein (the composer/player behind the ‘Don’t Shoot the Pianist’ speakeasy event at Berlin’s Fahimi Bar) and Eike Schulz (who as well as being a pianist is one of the three scriptwriters behind recent one-take heist film ‘Victoria’) Other contributors to the day are more difficult for me to track and pin down from five hundred miles away (Kolja Ulbrich, Ellas, Janek Prachta, Christian Badzura, Solaris 4.1, Susann Helm) and even more special guests are promised for the twenty-four hour stint.


 

In addition, there’s a second associated Berlin event:

Raw Classic Podium presents:
Raw Classic Podium #1, featuring Martin Kohlstedt
Art Loft Berlin, Gerichtstrasse 23, 13347 Berlin, Germany
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information

“When is something old actually something new? Does music evolve in the imagination of the composer, in the hands of the musician or the listener’s head? And do these questions have a practical application in the concert hall?

On Piano Day, composer Frieder Nagel and Jochen Küpper (founder of Stattbad) will launch their new discussion series ‘Raw Classic Podium’, which offers the public the opportunity to enjoy art unpolished – together with selected artists from the neoclassical scene. Martin Kohlstedt opens the new series of events with an insight into his creative process. The idea of the finished work is abandoned – a workshop starts. Working on techniques of modular composition, the pianist draws the audience into his activity. One way or another, expect an intense experience.”

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There are three concerts in England (all of which are in London):

Alev Lenz presents:
Piano Day | London: Alev Lenz + Lucy Claire + Yuri Kondo + Marie Schreer
One Good Deed Today, 73 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8AG, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

“Last year, Alev Lenz and Lucy Claire brought us two new Piano Day tunes fresh from Alev’s London studio. This year the two have decided to celebrate Piano Day with a special acoustic piano concert together with Yuri Kono and Marie Schreer. You will not only be able to hear the four women’s collaborative tracks premiered at the celebration (all of which you will be able to find on Lucy Claire’s new EP, ‘Collaborations No. 2’), but also short solo sets from all four artists: and you will have the opportunity to buy their respective works (including the brand-new EP) in a one-day-only special Piano Day pop-up shop.”

Float PR/Drowned in Sound/LateNightTales present:
Piano Day | London: Anna Rose Carter + Ed Harcourt + Lily Hunter Green + Michael Salu + Robert Kaniepien + Felix Faire
De Montfort Suite @ Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green London E2 9NF, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– more information here and here

“Float PR, the Drowned In Sound webzine and the Late Night Tales label team up for an evening of piano, art, film and honey.

Anna Rose Carter (the modern classical/ambient/minimalist pianist who’s one half of Moon Ate The Dark, in which her piano is fed through guitar signal processors and amplifiers by Christopher Brett Bailey) will perform a solo piano set made up of new compositions, existing pieces and works in progress. Chamber pop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ed Harcourt will premiere some piano version of new material from his forthcoming seventh album, set for release later this year. Artist and musician Lily Hunter Green (accompanied by violinist Tom Moore) will perform on the piano against a backdrop of bee recordings. She will also present to the audience how her project ‘Bee Composed’ (which saw her placing a beehive inside a piano) has helped increase awareness of the declining bee population.

Musician and creative coder Felix Faire (whose work explores embodied and synaesthetic experiences of music, space and image through the media of light, sound and code) will presents a real-time audio-visual performance using the ROLI Seaboard RISE, a radically new musical instrument that reimagines the piano keyboard as a soft, continuous surface and puts expression back at the player’s fingertips. (Felix’s previous work with ROLI technologies has included a Oskar Fischinger-inspired ROLI Seaboard GRAND ‘motion experiment’ designed to audio-visually illustrate the instrument’s delicate sensitivity and continuous expression: every nuanced sound created by contact with the Seaboard was translated into a swirling plume of ink, responding directly to the haptic expression of the performer).

In addition, Michael Salu (an award-winning creative director, writer and visual artist) will present the exclusive first play of ‘Nocturnes’ (a specially commissioned short film created for Piano Day) and artist Robert Kaniepien (a.k.a. R.K. Polak) will create a bespoke piece of art across the evening on a 160cm x 160cm canvas using oil pastels, acrylic, enamel and pencil (a continuation of his ‘Tendencies’ series).”

Erased Tapes Records presents:
Piano Day | London: Peter Broderick + Michael Price & Peter Gregson + Douglas Dare
The Courtyard Theatre, 40 Pitfield Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6EU, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
more information

An intimate evening of piano performances from Erased Tapes artists and associates, with experimental folk musician and multiple collaborator Peter Broderick, film and television composer Michael Price (in duet with cellist Peter Gregson), and piano/glitch singer-songwriter Douglas Dare. All proceeds raised will go towards the donation of a piano for the World Heart Beat Music Academy, an organisation whose mission is to provide music training and mentorship to disadvantaged youth in London.

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Across the Channel, there are two concerts in France…

Souffle Collectif & Les Rendez-vous Contemporains de Saint Merry present:
Piano Day | Paris: Alvise Sinivia & Sabine Rivière + Melaine Dalibert + Frederic Blondy + Marina Voznyuk + J.G. Matthews
Église Saint-Merri, 76 Rue de la Verrerie, 4e, Paris, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Église Saint-Merri will host a dance-and-piano performance by Alvise Sinivia and Sabine Rivière (“Le son n’a pas de jambes sur lesquelles se tenir’, or ‘The sound has no legs on which to stand’); a program of American minimalists performed by Melaine Dalibert (which may also include her own ‘Cortège à Véra Molnar’); piano improvisations by Frederic Blondy and Alvise Sinivia (one piano apparently “suspended in the air”, the other “on the ground”) and Marina Voznyuk of Murailles; plus ‘Capricorn’ a poetry-and-piano performance by J.G. Matthews.


 

La Route Du Rock Booking presents:
Piano Day | Nantes: T. Beach + Rasim Biyikli
Le Lieu Unique, 2 quai Ferdinand Favre, Nantes 44000, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 4.00pm
– free event – more information

T.Beach is the Lopez sisters (two voice, four hands) who play a piano music of water and love, inspired by the poetry of beaches and featuring recreational and melancholic French-language songs set to primitive rhythms.

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Rasim Biyikli creates free-spirited music in multiple formats for film, art installations, software and so on. He is the founder of the research studio and multi-media resource center Studio d’en Ô, and – as a pianist – has worked and collaborated on many albums. He is best known for his project Man, which sits at the crossroads of pop, jazz, contemporary and electronic music (in the tradition of composers such as Brian Eno, Yann Tiersen, Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone).

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Canada offers something virtual…

event-20160328-pianoday-jmblais

Piano Day | Montreal: Jean-Michel Blais
Online (details tbc)
Monday 28th March 2016
more information tbc on Facebook

In a special virtual concert (recorded live in Radio Canada/CBC Music’s Studio 211) Montreal-based pianist Jean-Michel Blais will perform compositions from his forthcoming debut album ’II’(out on Arts & Crafts Records on 8th April), a collection of piano pieces and textures influenced by Erik Satie, Lubomyr Melnyk and Philip Glass and incorporating subtle touches of electronics and field recordings.


 

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There’s also an event in Israel…

event-20160328-pianoday-telaviv

Piano Day & The Zone present:
Piano Day | Tel Aviv-Jaffa: Maya Dunietz + Deejay Shuzin + Tomer Bar + Dani Gottfried + Shlomo Gronich + Yonatan Daskal
Haezor/The Zone, Harechev 13, 67771 Tel Aviv, Israel
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information (in Hebrew)

The Israel event for Piano Day features two jazz pianists separated by sixty years but linked by their musical enthusiasm (veteran and Red Sea Jazz Festival founder Dani Gottfried and the up-and-coming Tomer Bar), Yonatan Daskal (keyboard player for Castle In Time Orchestra, Quarter To Africa and many more) and a contribution by Deejay Shuzin.

In addition, there are performances by two of the broadest and most industrious of Israeli musical talents – Shlomo Gronich, a gifted pianist who, for four decades, has composed and delivered pop songs, soundtracks, television and dance music and orchestral/choral work (from a palette of jazz, classical, soul, prog rock and original Israeli songs, and working with a host of collaborators of all ages and backgrounds); and his latterday parallel Maya Dunietz (whose work covers and excels within a remarkably broad range of musical styles and approaches – free jazz, art rock, punk, polka, “circus-core” and classical; plus choral conducting, stints with the bands Eatliz, Habiluim, The Midnight Peacocks and the creation of sound installations).

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There are two very different concerts taking place in Australia…

Piano Day | Brisbane: Alistair Noble + Momo
Private house concert, Brisbane, Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information – direct booking here

“Brisbane-based pianists and composers Alistair Noble and Momo Hamada will host an intimate living-room concert, playing their own pieces as well as some by Nils Frahm. Organic vegan finger food and selected teas will be provided.”

Bennetts Lane Jazz Club presents:
Piano Day | Melbourne: Luke Howard + Nat Bartsch + Timothy Coghill + Timothy Stevens
Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, 30000 Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– pay-what-you-like – more information

“A special evening of solo performances by Melbourne-born jazz pianist and composer Luke Howard and his friends: trio leaders and soloists Nat Bartsch and Tim Stevens, plus instrumental scenic-pop composer Timothy Coghill. They’ll be playing their own compositions, including several new works of Nat’s. You will also have an opportunity to hear a few of Luke’s favourite compositions by Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Nico Muhly. Entry is by donation with all proceeds to Entertainment Assist, supporting the mental health of Australian entertainment industry workers.”

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Lithuania and Slovenia are providing one concert each…

event-20160328-pianoday-vilnius

LOFTAS presents:
Piano Day | Vilnius: Hauschka
Vilnius Art Factory & LOFTAS Club, Švitrigailos str. 29, Naujamiestis, Vilnius, Lithuania
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

LOFTAS will host a performance by German pianist Volker Bertlemann, better known as Hauschka, an experimental/pop crossover musician who’s also one of the most recognizable twentiy-first century proponents of prepared piano.

Kino Šiška presents:
Piano Day | Ljubljana: Bowrain + Nace Slak
Kino Šiška, Trg Prekomorskih Brigad 3, Ljubljana
Monday 28th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Kino Šiška is hosting an exclusive solo piano perfomance by Bowrain, a.k.a. Tine Grgurevič, whose music usually incorporates jazz piano, modern classical elements, electronic beats and textures, and cunning uses of cultural and philosophical sampling. The evening will be opened by Nace Slak, a 17-year-old student at the Conservatory for Music and Ballet Ljubljana, who will perform piano pieces by Nils Frahm.

* * * * * * * *

Finally, there’s a show in Japan…

Sonorium/ Kitchen Label presents:
Piano Day | Tokyo: Haruka Nakamura Duo/Trio
Sonorium, 3-53-16, Suginami-ku, 168-0063 Tokyo, Japan
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

The Piano Day celebration in Tokyo will host a show by pianist Haruka Nakamura playing in duo/trio setups with two other members of his regular ensemble (Akira Uchida on saxophone and Isao Saito on percussion).

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If all of this is making you feel a little left out – perhaps your country or city isn’t represented, or perhaps you’re feeling that you might have put something together yourself – then what’s stopping you? This the day when you don’t have to walk past that piano on the street, or in your workplace, or even gathering dust in your home. This is the day when you can strum a stray melody, pick out a single note, or indulge yourself with a full performance of anything at all, and know that you’ll be in touch with all kinds of players (from the remarkable to the casual) across the globe. And – if you missed the day altogether and are reading this too late, head back up and check out some of those links. Pianos everywhere. If I have a bit of time, I’ll flesh them out with a few more.

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Coming up soon… a look at gigs in early April…
 

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’ album (“like floodwater in the night”)

10 Feb

Jim Fox: 'Last Things'

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’

Renewing his Cold Blue Music label for the millennium, Californian composer Jim Fox has set himself up as its figurehead, although not in a triumphal manner. Pomp and flamboyance wouldn’t sit well with Cold Blue’s explorations in New Music, and this first new release out of the Cold Blue bag doesn’t need to grab attention, anyway. The two Fox compositions on this album (slow-moving, implicatory, atmospheric and deliciously disturbing) surround you instead, like floodwater in the night.

With distractedly moving electronic traces making up the bulk of the music, The Copy Of The Drawing is rooted in chopped, diced and rearranged texts from letters sent to Mount Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1955 while Los Angeles swelled from backwater to metropolis. These fragments are recited by Janyce Collins in a ice-queen whisper. Her cold lips brush your ear with a beautifully cool eroticism, its detachment only increasing its power. Often phrases are followed by glassy, ratcheting harmonic sound: as if a telescope, smoothly rotating on gimbals, is trying to take a fix on the target the words imply.

Slithering passes of moth-soft electronics slide around the words as if they’re unimportant, part of the ambient backchat in any place of science. Occasionally almost-vocal smudges of transparent noise ring up in (and fall away from) the foreground: although in some respects there is no foreground, just a slow sub-zero swirl of ambient hints, briefly smeared, like time-exposure photographs. Scrapes and subliminal swarms, jump-starting drifting thoughts in the narration; quick-drowning sounds like disturbances in ice-water or the imprints of decaying viola counterpoint and dying Gregorian chant.

Allegedly, The Copy Of The Drawing is non-dramatic. But Fox’s placement of these words, the stop/start fragments and interrupted clauses (“a jumbled mess – enough to give you an idea”) suggest otherwise. The phenomena of observed and notated science are often invoked with the reverence with which scientists replace religious awe, but sometimes as a kind of anchor (“light is always the same – water is H2O…”) against the misgivings whispered in brief passes elsewhere. “Self-deficient – diffused self – applied phenomena – name – danger lies in the abstract…” Before long we’ve heard statements of meticulous preparations (“I have put it in three different envelopes – airproof, fireproof, waterproof”) and chilly accounts of emotional hallucinations. “I still heard talking – I have heard babies crying and screaming – like in a photo – babies can hear me writing this – the pictures can talk to me – they’re not lonely – and it won’t stop…”

Jim Fox: 'The Copy Of The Drawing' (30-second excerpt)

Explicit disturbance is rare, and Collins’ voice remains uniformly glacial whatever the content of her script. Nonetheless, anxiety and revelation are blended throughout, with the prismatic narrative musing on thoughts such as “No-one may ever have the same knowledge – everything running up and in and out.” Certainly there’s disintegration here – a loss of assurance, causality dissolving into “a possibility – there was such a thing – invisibility… before that – all history – it doesn’t seem possible… / it’s closer if you draw a line – on that line – all depends.” At one point, Collins recites a list which explicitly fails to reduce events, phenomena and states of existence to anything tidy. “Stuff – factors – motion – the perpendicularity – the process – the parts of things – the female principles of nature – etcetera – quite incomprehensible due to its invisibility – something that is true – close by – far…”

Covertly, Fox seems to be attempting to reconcile the cosmological with the personal. Collins’ narration of astronomers’ notes seem to take on revealingly intimate suggestions (“thousands of small pushes a second – inertia is very great”) and equates the paths of cosmic debris with those of people (“one of the incoming pieces of matter – there may be more – they may travel together…”) Maybe it’s a reflection of the gravity of cities like Los Angeles – pulling in immigrants, the lost and wandering, accreting mass as it does so. Maybe it’s an idea about scientists allowing the unsettling parallels of poetry and metaphor to sneak into their notebooks and resound in those working lives which they’ve obediently sealed away from personal concerns. This is observatory music, for certain. But the question of exactly what is being observed here is an open question. It’s one which ultimately leaves you without an answer; although perhaps it does leave you with a cold, indifferently sensuous kiss.

With Last Things itself, the sky is lowering. An ominous drop, as Fox conjures up not so much a drone of bass synth as a faraway envelope of it (massed over our heads like apocalyptic cloud) and then rings us round with a distant thunderous fence of bass-register piano, rumbling tectonically and eerily, like the harbinger of the great Californian earthquake. Trapped between stooping sky and unquiet ground, we bear witness to a passionate, wordless pieta in which the dominant instrumental voice (Marty Walker’s brilliantly tortuous bass clarinet) sounds famished, and as oppressed as we are by the press of sound. Walker’s control is remarkable – he travels between delicate, near-inaudible quivers of notes; great wide splits of sound that crack with emotion; and magnificent mournful coyote calls, summoning up visions of friendless desert vistas.

Jim Fox: 'Last Things' (30-second excerpt)

Relief, of a sort, comes from Chas Smith’s pedal steel guitar. Almost choral in its breadth, it’s the one truly calming element in Fox’s musical painting. It’s a Pacific palliative which voices itself as distant balm to Walker’s painful questioning, or as a glimmer of light on the crack of the horizon. At around the eight-and-a-half minute mark, sounds like distant foghorns appear in the murk to add their own skein of warning and disquiet. More ethereal, less hungry, but hardly less of a disturbing portent are the rubbing glass rods on Rick Cox’s treated guitar, hanging dying trails of luminescence in the middle distance.

When Last Things fades out, the hope of things resolved has given way to a kind of acceptance. We’ve come to terms with the fearsome displacement and anxiety in Fox’s California soundscapes to such a degree that we’ve probably failed to notice that he’s finally resolved the music with a chordal and dynamic shift so subtle as to almost escape notice – like life settling itself in, a warm beast, around the jags, harshnesses and daily warnings of a threatening environment.

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’
Cold Blue Music, CB0001 (800413000129)
CD/download album
Released: 5th February 2001

Buy it from:
Cold Blue Music (CD) – various downloads available from Amazon and similar.

Jim Fox online:
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