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March 2018 – London classical gigs – composers fresh from the Royal Academy of Music (20th); an International Women’s Day event for London Composers Forum (8th March); an evening with the Ligeti Quartet and cyberpianist John Kameel Farah (14th March); ‘Rise Of The Machines’ at the Converge Festival fuses classical music and artificial intelligence (18th March)

21 Feb

London Academy of Music: Composer's Platform, 20th March 2018Late in March, the composition department of the Royal Academy of Music makes its way over to IKLEKTIC for “an evening of cutting edge new music, specially written for academy performers. The concert will showcase a hugely diverse range of musical influences. Come along and hear new music from the next generation of composers.” No names have been announced yet… but then, that’s part of the point. Come and be in at the start of some new careers.

Just under two weeks earlier, the London Composers Forum will be running a Composer’s Voice event for March, coinciding with International Women’s Day, with a concept which speaks for itself:

The Composer's Voice (IWD), 8th March 2018“This concert will feature exclusively new live and recorded music composed by the female members of LCF, performed by women. With a mixture of choral, vocal and instrumental pieces, it is sure to be full of variety and interest.

“There will be a discussion on the theme of “music by women” between the composers and performers that we hope the audience will participate in also; and an opportunity to discuss several hot topics relating to IWD, music by women, parity and what happens next…”

The LCF IWD event is free and open to all. Forum composers involved and represented are Janet Oates (director of and participant in the Philomel soprano sextet), wind multi-instrumentalist Liz Sharma, Miriam Mackie (founder of Illumination Chamber Choir), experimental performer and Bastard Assignments cohort Caitlin Rowley, singer/actor/songwriter Jane de Florez, Zillah Myers (a member of and repertoire contributor to The Addison Singers who’s also composed for Bude Choral Society) and Pamela Slatter (who’s composed for the London Concert Choir and, more recently, has set Edward Lear’s ‘The Pobble Who Has No Toes’).

Royal Academy of Music presents:
Royal Academy of Music: Composer’s Platform
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

London Composers Forum presents
The Composer’s Voice: Music and Discussion for IWD 2018
Tea House Theatre, 139 Vauxhall Walk, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HL, England
Thursday 8th March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

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Taking a break from performing on ice sculptures and space shuttles in favour of a pub backroom, the Ligeti Quartet have set up a regular monthly gig with Nonclassical in Dalston, to showcase contemporary exploratory string music.

Ligeti Quartet + John Kameel Farah, 14th March 2018

Nonclassical presents:
Ligeti Quartet + John Kameel Farah
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 14th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

This March, they’ll be presenting the European premiere of Anna Meredith’s ‘Tuggemo’), as well as performances of Kate Whitley’s ‘Lines’, Christian Mason‘s ‘Eki Attar’ and Tanya Tagaq‘s ‘Sivunittinni’ (as originally rendered by the Kronos Quartet, with the strings emulating Tagaq’s barrage of Inuit vocal effects via an array of frictional and percussive bow techniques devised by arranger Jacob Garchik).

Here’s a clip of the Ligetis performing an earlier Meredith work, plus the original Kronos performance of ‘Sivunittinni’, an earlier Kate Whitley strings-and-piano piece, and Christian Mason’s ‘Aimless Wonder’.



 
The Ligetis’ guest on this occasion is a pianist – Canadian musician John Kameel Farah, who surrounds and combines his piano playing with an array of synthesizers and processors which filter, warp and orchestrate his performance, which itself allies contemporary classical music with baroque, electronic, Early Music and Middle Eastern elements.

John will be premiering his new composition ‘Spinning Thread’ as well as drawing four more pieces from his back catalogue and from recent album ‘Time Sketches’ (‘Fantasia’, ‘Distances’, ‘Behold’ and ‘Maqam Constellation’) plus a performance of William Byrd’s ‘Hugh Ashton’s Ground’.



 
DJ sets will be provided by Ben Vince (a musician better known for his frenetic sets of improv/loop saxophone playing).

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More Nonclassical DJs (in the shape of Laurence Osborn and others) and more technological approaches and motifs will be showing up for the last of the four events covered in this post. While much of this year’s Convergence festival leans towards avant-garde pop artists with a foot in the contemporary classical world (John Cale, Kamaal Williams, Ben Frost, Simian Mobile Disco and Charlotte Gainsbourg are all appearing over the course of the month), the second in the festivals’s ‘Rise Of The Machines’ concert series takes a witty but serious look at the ongoing crossover between classical music and computer/systems thinking.

Convergence: Rise Of The Machines #2, 18th March 2018

Convergence 2018 presents:
‘Convergence: Rise Of The Machines #2’
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Sunday 18th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Conductor Jessica Cottis (who also contributed to the City of London Sinfonia’s ‘Modern Mystics’ series last year) will be leading a thirty-piece orchestra, bolstered by live devices operated by members of Langham Research Centre (who maintain vintage electronic instruments in order both to safeguard the performance of 20th century classic electronic repertoire and to apply “period electronica” to newer compositions). Composers Beni Giles, Laurence Osborn, Josephine Stephenson, Jo Thomas and Max de Wardener have all collaborated on the event’s world premiere centrepiece, ‘Concerto for Drum Machine & Orchestra’, each of them contributing one of five movements to a composition which “places the drum machine centre-stage as solo musical instrument, bringing the sounds of dance music and hip-hop to the classical world.” Plenty of young and youngish contemporary composers have attempted to bring forms inspired by rave, techno, house into New Classical. As far as I know, this is the first such piece to surrender entirely to the primacy of beat and box.

In Nick Ryan and John Matthias’ violin-and-string-ensemble piece ‘Cortical Songs’ “the orchestra is partially controlled by the neural patterns of a tiny computer brain. The resultant work takes the orchestra into an ethereal sound world of lush strings juxtaposed with the skittering crackles of neural activity.” Magnus Lindberg ’s ‘Engine’ (which dates back to 1996) “(was) inspired by the computing language associated with using the Patchwork1 programme. ‘Engine’ is a sort of generator of musical material, which operates according to the rules pre-established by the composer. The texture is composed by the machine, on which the composer imposes dozens of constraints.” Finally, Barry Guy’s 2015 piece ‘Mr Babbage is Coming to Dinner!’ “was inspired by Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2… The graphic score – hand-drawn and partially coloured by Barry Guy – is a work of art in itself (and) calls on spontaneity and improvisation from the orchestra.”

I tracked down a couple of previous performances of ‘Engine’ and ‘Cortical Songs’ for illustration, so here they are:



 

February 2018 – different senses – in Birmingham, Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter’s Illuminated Loops (25th February); in London, Nest Collective’s Queer As Folk with Sam Gleaves and Landless (28th February)

14 Feb

A couple of quick dips into wider worlds, with minimal blather from me..

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This isn’t the first time I’ve featured the audio-visual collaborations of jeweller and live artist Poppy Porter and multilayering bass guitar maestro Steve Lawson, but if you haven’t heard of/seen either of them before, nor encountered their unusual duo approach, here’s an opportunity to go and immerse yourself at a new show in Steve’s current home town of Birmingham…

Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter - 'Illuminated Loop', 25th February 2018

Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter: Illuminated Loops
Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England
Sunday 25th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

“Steve Lawson and Poppy Porter bring their amazing music and live art show to Birmingham. Steve plays his textured bass guitar loops, Poppy draws what she sees. Poppy is synaesthetic – she “sees” sound, and as the images appear on the paper, Steve treats the emerging art as a graphic score, folding it back into the music in way that creates a glorious feedback loop of art influencing art. It’s an immersive experience, to watch the art take shape before your eyes, to hear the music morph and twist as it is improvised in response to the art.”

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Back in London, the Nest Collective (in collaboration with internationally-minded arts inspirers Dash Arts) have been broadening their commitment to presenting and celebrating the breadth and ongoing relevance of folk music by staging Queer As Folk, “an ongoing series of events celebrating the work of LGBTQ+ artists working in folk, world, and roots music”.

I don’t feel well-equipped to dig into this topic in depth yet. Most straight blokes such as myself who start digging – even with the best intentions – into LGBTQ+ history and culture tend to find it rapidly and explosively unfolding into our faces like a long-compressed jack-in-the-box… or, more accurately, as if someone’s abruptly whisked our blinkers away and we find ourselves in the heart of a bustling, previously invisible party (with its own long-running stories of love and loss, inspiration and pain, quarrels and solidarity, bullying and resistance). It’s quite jolting – although often inspiring – to be confronted with one’s own ignorance.

During my own lifetime, while lesbian women have had an long-established presence in the singer-songwriter field (the redoubtable Holly Near and Joan Armatrading in the ’70s, Melissa Etheridge and Judy Small in the ’80s, the Indigo Girls in the ’90s, to name just the obvious few), it’s been more difficult to identify other aspects of the queer spectrum within folk unless you were already deep in the scene or privileged with word-of-mouth knowledge. Still, all of that is there – as, indeed, it’s everywhere – and this gig, while first and foremost an occasion for good music, should help any fresh attendees to open up a new perspective (and perhaps offer some new interpretations of folk traditions with their shifting tales of love, lust, disguise and transformations).

Enough of me and my vagueness. Here’s Nest Collective’s matter-of-fact briefing for the evening: the rest can just be learned in time…

Queer As Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless, 28th February 2018

The Nest Collective & Dash Arts present:
Queer as Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 28th February 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

“Born and raised in southwest Virginia, Sam Gleaves performs innovative mountain music with a sense of history. Sam carries on the ballads, dance music and storytelling he learned from numerous mentors in the Appalachian tradition including multi-instrumentalist Jim Lloyd and ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams. He tours extensively in the U.S. and, in 2016, toured the UK supporting Peggy Seeger.

In 2015, Sam collaborated with producer Cathy Fink and released a debut record of original songs, titled Ain’t We Brothers. In 2017, he appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival and brought forth a new eponymous record with his singing partner Tyler Hughes, a fellow southwest Virginian steeped in the region’s musical traditions, which has received glowing reviews… Appalachian novelist Lee Smith has heralded Sam as “the best young songwriter around… courageous as hell and country to the bone.”


 
Landless are Ruth Clinton, Meabh Meir, Sinead Lynch and Lily Power. They sing unaccompanied traditional songs from Irish, Scottish, English and American traditions in close four-part harmony. Their repertoire features songs of love, death and lamentation, as well as work songs, shape-note hymns and more recently penned folk songs. They’ve performed in a variety of settings, both in Ireland and abroad, and are closely involved with traditional singing sessions in Dublin and Belfast.”


 

February 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Filthy Lucre’s “night of imagined languages” featuring Claude Vivier, Laurence Osborn, Hildegard of Bingen, Bowie’s Berlin and Byrne’s babble (24th February)

10 Feb

Filthy Lucre, 24th February 2018

Filthy Lucre presents:
Filthy Lucre: “Lingua Inota – A Night of Imagined Languages”
Hackney Showroom @ Hackney Downs Studios, 13-15 Amhurst Terrace, Hackney Downs, London, E8 2BT, England
Saturday 24th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

“Every song in the night uses invented languages to express the things that real words can’t touch… The divinity of nonsense has served, like music, to say the unsayable. Whether associated with religious ecstasy or utopian projects, these utterances are inscrutable yet intimate.”

For a while now, freewheeling concert/club night/collective Filthy Lucre (run by composer Joe Bates, clarinettist Anthony Friend and composer/conductor William Cole) have been putting together events “tied together by artistic concepts, such as cultic rituals and urban sprawl.” I’ve not caught up with them before now, but this event’s an ideal opportunity to get a feel for how they think.

Incorporating chamber choir and synthesisers, the Filthy Lucre ensemble will be performing ‘Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do You Believe In The Immortality Of The Soul?)’ the final, morbidly romantic langue inventée work from renegade Canadian composer Claude Vivier (infamously found in manuscript form on his desk in the aftermath of his murder, which it seemed to predict in its envisioning of a narrator stabbed in the heart by a potential lover). Also in place on the bill will be an exploration of the original lingua ignota of visionary theologian, polymath and composer Hildegard of Bingen (she of the hallucinatory Christian visions and the remarkable command of twelfth century experience from its musicality to its medicine, its theological orientations to the outer fringes of its philosophy).

In addition, Filthy Lucre will be tackling the “nonsense” of the David Bowie/Brian Eno collaboration ‘Warszawa‘ (born from Bowie’s blind phonetic transcriptions of Polish folk song) and the “electric babble” of Talking Heads. I guess they could mean the band’s pulsing Afrodelic loft-music setting of Hugo Ball’s ‘Gadji beri bimba’ (from ‘Fear Of Music’) but it could extend to any of David Byrne’s chopped songtexts – in particular, those on 1980’s haunted, free-form-sermonizing ‘Remain In Light’ and its funk’n’free-association follow-up ‘Speaking In Tongues’ (which could also have lent its name to the event).

There will also be new music by Laurence Osborn (‘ELITE’, scored for tenor, keyboard, two synthesizers and tape), art by Georgia Hicks (inspired by the illustrated manuscripts of Hildegard’s visions, which depict reality as a wheel) and a Hildegard-themed film by Paul Vernon. Various musical arrangements come courtesy of event coordinator Joe Bates himself, and from Emma-Jean Thackray.

Some examples of what’s on offer or what might be propelling the thoughts behind it can be found below…




 
(Update – 19th February 2018 – have just been able to share the Paul Vernon Hildegard trailer too. Looks as if music by Xenakis and Cocteau Twins has been added to the brew…)


 

February 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Kammer Klang featuring Jennifer Walshe and Distractfold Ensemble (6th February)

30 Jan

February’s Kammer Klang sees the Dalston performance evening marching ever further away from contemporary chamber music and embracing an ethos of outright sonic performance theatre. The works presented by Jennifer Walshe and Distractfold Ensemble next week use musicality as merely one available limb of expression – even if many of the tools used are musical.

Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Jennifer Walshe + Distractfold Ensemble (playing Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Hanna Hartman and Barblina Meierhans)
Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL
Tuesday 6th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Kammer Klang, 6th February 2018Witty, shapeshifting Irish composer-performer Jennifer Walshe was once described as “the wild girl of Darmstadt” (by ‘Frankfurter Rundschau’) Often hiding, Residents-like, behind the mask of the fictional ‘Milker Corporation’, she’s delivered nearly two decades worth of intriguing, award-winning work, from near-conventional instrumental composition to way-out self-performed video theatre more reminiscent of a larkier, less traumatic version of Karen Finley.

Examinations and implementations of pop culture have been a persistent creative motif for her. While this can be an embarrassing stumbling block for many a composer hamfistedly trying to ginger up high culture or elevate street culture (most of whom bellyflop soundly into the discomfort zone) Jennifer displays a thorough grounding and innate understanding of how this things can tick. This is clearly displayed in her lightning-switch pop-song collage ‘G.L.O.R.I.’, while her Snapchat-based interactive ‘Thmotes’ project (with its now-you-see-them now-you-don’t exchange of text scores) was but one example of her keen understanding of both how new forms of media operate and how they develop their own operational cultures. Inspired in part by televisual opera experimenter Robert Ashley, she’s also written miniature operas ranging from relatively serious chamber pieces about women in boxing or 2010’s focus-shifting ‘The Geometry’ to trashy X-rated soap scenarios played out by whispering, shrieking, hissing Barbie dolls.

As an intercontinental voice improviser, Jennifer’s co-run witty stunts such as the United Telepathic Improvisation Front; and for the last eleven years she’s exercised and presented a dozen different and distinct alter egos as part of the ongoing Grúpat project (a Dublin art collective of fictional “Guinness Dadaists” in which Jennifer herself creates, becomes and enacts every single artist whether exploring music, films, photography, fashion, sculpture or any overlaps between the forms – personae include grotto-builder Violetta Mahon, filmmaker Freya Birre, sculptor-of-instruments Turf Boon, psychogeographic drag queen multidisciplinarian The Dowager Marchylove and partially-fingerless concert pianist Flor Hartigan). Running through all of this (alongside of the exceptional media savvy) is a riotous stream of Irish absurdism – it’s unsurprising to discover that Jennifer cites Flann O’Brien and the “Irish openness to subterfuge” as spurs to what she does.

Her Kammer Klang performance this time involves her 2016 composition ‘There Was A Visitor’ – of which the title may be a nod to Ashley’s ‘She Was A Visitor’, and which is mostly a compression/selection from another ongoing project of spoofing/serious fictionizing, ‘Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde‘. In some ways a more historically-inclined cousin of Grúpat, ‘Historical Documents…’ is a made-up history of the Irish avant-garde, complete with its own foundation and voluminous archive of compositions, documents, academic articles and sundry ephemera. Jennifer apparently performs it within the context of “a Dadaist Halloween séance”, which she also describes as “a sort of mangled faith healer experience with optional audience engagement.”

(UPDATE, 5th February – for some reason, it seems that Jennifer’s now dropped her scheduled performance of ‘There Was A Visitor’ and replaced it with ‘Is It Cool To Try Hard Now?’, a 2016 composition “for voice, video, electronics and Artificial Intelligence”. There’s not much more information available on this one, other than that it was first premiered at the Jamjar Music Weekend in Belfast – it’s not even listed on the Milker site. If you can find out anything more about it, you’re a better, quicker browser than I am… what the hell, go along and be surprised…)

Manchester’s Distractfold Ensemble (curators of their hometown’s Cut & Splice Festival) will be presenting three pieces, including the evening’s Fresh Klang opener – a performance of Barblina Meierhans’ ‘May I Ask You Something?’. The latter is, in effect a semi-dysfunctional conversation for orchestra: an arrangement of inter-band mutters culminating in an eerie array of distracted frictional instrumental squeaks and a number of uncomfortable silences.


 
Of the other two Distractfold presentations, ‘Circling Blue’ is a 2010 tape piece by Swedish sound artist Hanna Hartman (for which Manifold members will be handling the sonic diffusion). Originally commissioned by Swedish radio for a themed programme on Nordic forests, it’s an electroacoustic work for the captured sounds of swirling winds and beating rain plus the recorded and stretched notes of soprano Ida Falk Winland.

The last presentation, ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Laughing’ is a piece of music theatre for amplified quartet and tape playback: a segment of Japanese-American electro-acoustic composer Steven Kazuo Takasugi’s five-movement ‘Sideshow’ sequence. Inspired by the crueller, more exploitative aspects of Coney Island entertainment parks (and drawing its section titles from a set of bleak aphorisms by Karl Kraus, the mordant cultural gadfly and satirist of early 20th century Vienna), the piece is “a meditation on virtuosity, freak shows, entertainment, spectacle, business, and the sacrifices one makes to survive in the world”, in which the instrumentalist perform as if they were “characters in a sideshow. The saxophonist is the Sideshow Giant, having bellow-like lungs. The violist is a sword swallower, expert with a bow sword. The pianist is the Human Spider, having been born with eight hands. The percussionist is the Stuttering Midget and Sideshow Proprietor/Announcer. Each character of this quartet has his or her uncanny double, twin, imposter, accomplice, copycat, deformed clone.”

Strange taped sounds (worked up from Takasugi’s algorithmic processing from his extensive library of recontextualized sonics) plus intense individual performer silences and motions add to the uneasy, surreal and grotesque atmosphere. Reviewing a previous performance in 2017, Stephanie Jones of ‘Sounds Like Now’ observed that it “suggested that the audience (was) masterminding a highly uncomfortable human puppet show… (which) captivated and cradled the audience on thematic pivots such as humour/cruelty and freedom/torturous restraint, while the playback ensured that the performance itself blurred the lines between illusion and fact.”
 

February/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

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Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
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Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

January 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental gigs – Scenatet Ensemble, David Helbich and Joseph Houston at Kammer Klang (13th January, including performances of Matt Rogers and Antonia Barnett-McIntosh); Nonclassical throws it all open (17th January); Candlelight Quartet plays work by assorted new composers at London Composers Platform (14th January)

4 Jan

Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Scenatet Ensemble (performing Matt Rogers) + David Helbich + Joseph Houston (performing Antonia Barnett-McIntosh)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Kammer Klang, 13th January 2018
The year’s first Kammer Klang continues the concert series’ journey away from the more predictable rigours of contemporary classical tradition, and into areas of conceptual gesture and experiment, welcoming composers and musical enablers drawing from chance and the theatre and from the sometimes chaotic, sometimes magical diversity of human interpretation.

Pianist Joseph Houston (whose tally of experimental music collaborations and interpretations includes work with and by Christian Wolff, Simon Holt, Brian Ferneyhough, Colin Matthews, Rebecca Saunders, Christian Mason, and Klaus Lang) will be opening the show for the usual Fresh Klang sequence. He’ll be performing work by transdisciplinary composer, sound artist, performer and sometime curator Antonia Barnett-McIntosh who describes her compositional concerns and approaches as “the specificity of sound gestures and their variation, translation and adaptation, often employing chance-based and procedural operations.” Here’s a video of Joseph playing Luigi Nono, followed by one of Antonia’s pieces.

 
Brussels-based David Helbich is not so much a composer as a philosophical conceptualist interested in performance. In his travels, he “creates various experimental works on stage, on page, online and in public space… (moving) between representative and interactive works, pieces and interventions, between conceptual work and actions. A recurring interest is in the understanding of an audience as active individuals and the search for an opening-up of experiences in an artistically restricted space.”

In keeping with this, he’ll be engaging the venue audience in a “performative rehearsal” of his ‘No Music’ piece, guiding and suggesting their own collaborative potential soundmaking abilities into a spontaneous, instrumentless timbral noisework never to be exactly repeated. As he says, “No Music is no music, but still a musical experience. No music, still for your ears. Since 2010 I have worked on scores for pieces that could be performed right at the spot, in whatever context, as long as one could freely use both hands and had two functioning ears. The pieces offer notated situations of organised listening and simple ear manipulations. I understand this material more as a practice than as a series of composition, even though they can appear as such. Pieces appear in printed form as well as in spontaneous performances or entirely set theatrical or concert performances. These interventions are entirely personal and therefore not so much interactive as ‘inner-active’, self-performative. The reader as the performer as the listener.”


 
Founded in 2008, the Scenatet ensemble have enjoyed nearly a decade working in the overlapping area of live music, film, art spaces and conceptual staging, choosing to move “in a cross-genre field of music, drama and happenings towards areas with yet undefined genre… aiming to create conceptual art works where music is part of a larger whole.” Three Scenatet musicians (clarinettist Vicky Wright, viola player Gijs Kramers and cellist My Hellgren) will be premiering a new piece by British composer Matt Rogers (who, among other career triumphs, was the first composer to be commissioned by Transport for London’s Art on the Underground programme). His new piece, ‘Weep At The Elastic As It Stretches’, is a musical adaptation of ‘Prayer’, itself an excerpt of N.F. Simpson’s classic 1958 absurdist play ‘A Resounding Tinkle’.

As Matt recounts, the original text piece “takes place as a radio broadcast within a scene which is both domestic and ludicrous.It takes the form of a prayer of thanks, but the content is entirely atypical, asking that we rejoice in all manner of unexpected objects, situations and concepts, taking great delight in the most categorical of descriptions and in a complete lack of distinction between the mundane and the exotic. As is typical of Simpson’s work the effect is both ridiculous and sublime, encapsulating the ineffability of an existence somehow both arbitrary and profound. ‘Weep at the Elastic’ as it Stretches wishes to embody the attitudes and spirit of Simpson’s prayer, the final stage direction of which reads “The introductory bars of ‘Sweet Polly Oliver’ in an orchestrated version are heard from the wireless.”…”

A couple of related videos…

 

* * * * * * * *

After that, 2018’s first Nonclassical concert might feel like a comparative retreat to the familiar. A “Battle of the Bands” event transposed to the contemporary classical world, it’ll be judged by Nonclassical’s own Gabriel Prokofiev and Eleanor Ward (plus Dominic Murcott of Trinity Label and BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey), and aims to throw open some doors of opportunity for unheard or underheard contemporary composers, musicians and ensembles at the start of what might be an interesting career.

Nonclassical Battle of the Bands, 17th January 2018

Nonclassical presents:
Battle of the Bands (performers t.b.c.)
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 17th January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“Battle of the Bands is back! Join us at The Victoria, Dalston on 17 January 2018 as we try and find the next big artists who want to showcase new and experimental classical music. From avant-garde classics to works with electronics, spoken words or improvisation, the night will showcase some of the best up and coming talent in the alt-classical scene.

“Battle of the Bands is an open contest for soloists and groups of any size. Instrumentation is limited only by your imagination! Any combination of acoustic and electronic instruments will be considered. Playing time is from five to fifteen minutes.”

I stress that it might seem like a retreat to the familiar. In fact, they’re encouraging contributions “from avant-garde classics to works with electronics, spoken words or improvisation” in order to “showcase some of the best up and coming talent in the alt-classical scene.” If all contestants really choose to stretch the envelope, we could end up with something as left-field as the Kammer Klang event above.

In a feat of considerable brinksmanship, Nonclassical are closing the competition a slender eight days before the concert. If you’re interested in entering, you have until Wednesday 10th January to fill in the application form and link to a demo track on SoundCloud, YouTube or Vimeo.

* * * * * * * *

London Composers Platform presents:
London Composers Platform: The Candlelight Quartet performs Miguel Alonso, Stirling Copland, Bertie Douglas, Allister Kellaway, Tom Mudie, Grady Steele and others
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Sunday 14th January 2018, 7.00pm
information

In between the two gigs above (both in terms of dates and the various Hackney locations), Servant Jazz Quarters is putting on an evening of “new works for piano and string trio composed by musicians from popular and classical music backgrounds.” The Candlelight Quartet will premiere a string of new contemporary classical works by an assortment of young composers: most of them at the start of their careers, and many of them currently known for work in other musical fields, including Allister Kellaway, who leads avant-rockers The Mantis Opera), dance pop experimentalist Tom Mudie (a.k.a. Mom Tudie) and Grady Steele (who spends much of his time as singer/guitarist for young indie/art-rockers Shark Dentist, who have a couple of singles out on Ra-Ra Rok Records). Other composers with works in the mix include Miguel Alonso, Bertie Douglas and Stirling Copland (the last of whom has had at least one string quartet performed at an LCP event before). It all has a welcome air of self-starter to it.


 

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