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June 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental gigs – Neil Luck & ARCO plus Oliver Coates/Eliza McCarthy/Tom McKinney performing Laurie Spiegel, Neil Luck and Alexia Sloane at Kammer Klang (5th June); Anyanna Witter-Johnson, Cecilia Bignall, Beth Higham-Edwards, Gabriella Swallow and others play Midori Komachi, Zoë Martlew, Freya Waley-Cohen, Charlotte Harding and others at Nonclassical EP launch (6th June); Jenni Roditi & The Improvisers’ Choir at Club Inégales (7th June)

26 May

Kammer Klang, 5th June 2018The first full week of June sees a three-in-a-row set of London gigs combining the contemporary classical and the outright experimental.

The Kammer Klang season bridging 2017 and 2018 now comes to its summer close with a double ensemble show featuring the unconventional trio of Oliver Coates (cello), Eliza McCarthy (piano) and Tom McKinney (banjo), and Neil Luck‘s ARCO quartet (Neil on voice and objects, joined by fellow composer/squib-box founder/ vocalist Adam de la Cour, violinist Chihiro Ono and viola player Benedict Taylor).

The Coates/McCarthy/McKinney trio will be playing chamber music by American composer Laurie Spiegel, who divides her time between professional programming and automation and writing the original music which the other two activities both inform and fund. Along with Suzanne Ciani, she’s a precursor of many latterday women immersed in and shaping music tech, such as Holly Herndon.

Once a leading light of the New York New Music scene, Laurie distanced herself from it just as it hit its public heyday in the early ’80s, having come to believe that it had sacrificed artistic integrity in favour of pumping out a readily consumable project. Since then, working for or in collaboration with various giant American communication technology firm, she’s followed her own interactive/algorithmic-inspired path primarily on electronic instruments, ranging from the Buchla synthesizer to early software synths or samplers. Among other things, she’s the conceiver and programmer of Music Mouse, mid-’80s compositional software with a “built-in knowledge of chord and scale convention and stylistic constraints” in order to encourage those who use it to think about other musical factors.

Despite Laurie’s usual focus on electronic sound production and methodology (plus its expansion into visual components), she began her musical life very much as an acoustic player – self-taught on mandolin, banjo and guitar, later moving on to lute – and has continued to write for traditional acoustic instruments either solo or in groups, and it’s this area of her work that gets an airing at this particular Kammer Klang. Seems it’s difficult to dig up examples of her acoustic work on Youtube, so instead here’s a quick, rare clip of her playing guitar followed by the New Music USA documentary from four years ago which it’s taken from, investigating Laurie’s work in broader terms (including the concept of her as a “grassroots technologist”).



 
Accompanied by a video work by Anders Bigum with Neil Luck, ARCO will be performing the British premiere of Neil’s new work ‘Live Guy Dead Guy’. One of Neil’s fields, loosely speaking, is musical theatre, but not of the ‘Oklahoma!’ or ‘Hamilton’ side. Rather, it’s peculiar, sometimes comical or unsettling interactions between live musicians and noisemakers, performance artists and (sometimes) whoever happens to be present in the venue at the time. One of his previous pieces, ‘Submission (Rear Naked Choke)’, is scored for “guitarist and stagehand”, while his choral work ‘PA’ features a standard choir plus speaker but also “optional audience participation”.

‘Live Guy Dead Guy’ has been described as “a batty display of his thoughts around digital identity and avatars.” Here’s a baffling clip from his earlier, similarly-themed lo-budget experimental work ‘Perfect Geek’, in which “a prodigal son returns home from Silicon Valley to visit his traditional Danish parents… he’s brought his fiancé with him; a digital avatar he’s programmed himself. Using a sort of reverse motion-capture/bad-puppet performance technique the scene classical contemporary post-digital fears via jarringly conspicuous non-digital means.”


 
The opening Fresh Klang item will be a solo cello performance (by Oliver Coates) of ‘Gate, gate’ by emerging synaesthetic British composer Alexia Sloane, whose inspirations are “nature, philosophy and psychology. She also enjoys exploring the setting of texts from a wide range of cultures and languages. Her method of composing involves very strongly imagining the pitches she wishes to be played or sung both melodically and harmonically away from any instrument. She writes the pitches down in Braille music and then dictates them to an amanuensis. The use and effect of silence in music fascinate her, perhaps as a result of her love of Buddhism.”

Here’s her earlier ensemble piece ‘Colour’ from the 2016 Aldeburgh Young Musicians apprentice weekend.


 

Kammer Klang presents:
Oliver Coates/Eliza McCarthy/Tom McKinney play Laurie Spiegel + Neil Luck/ARCO + Oliver Coates plays Alexia Sloane
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 5th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

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The following night, there’s a launch concert for Nonclassical‘s new EP release – ‘Outside The Lines – Vol. 2’.

Nonclassical, 6th June 2018“The ‘Outside The Lines’ series showcases new and emerging artists, bringing interesting, boundary-pushing music to the fore, and spanning the breadth of the new classical music scene in London and beyond. Curated by radio DJ, tastemaker and all-round musical adventurer Nick Luscombe, the EP celebrates the diverse breadth of new classical music being created in scenes in London and beyond.

“A selection of artists from the EP will perform live, alongside sets by Nonclassical DJs. There’s a new work by Midori Komachi for violin and field recordings, plus a new composition by Zoë Martlew for cello and tape performed by Cecilia Bignall – both of which will be performed live, alongside other artists and sets by Nonclassical DJs.

“Also featuring contributions from singing cellist Anyanna Witter-Johnson, percussionist Beth Higham-Edwards, cellist Gabriella Swallow, and composers Freya Waley-Cohen and Charlotte Harding, the release is available for streaming and download from 8th June. It’s an EP full of artists that are bending the rules and finding their voice – artists that aren’t afraid to colour outside the lines. Enter the secret bookcase at the back of The Victoria in Dalston to join us for the launch party.”

There’s not much more information on the EP just yet, so here are some previous pieces and performances by some of the associated composers and performers:




 
Nonclassical presents:
Outside the Lines #2 EP Launch: Anyanna Witter-Johnson + Cecilia Bignall + Beth Higham-Edwards + Gabriella Swallow etc. (playing Midori Komachi, Zoë Martlew, Freya Waley-Cohen, Charlotte Harding etc.)
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 6th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

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…and the evening after that, Club Inégales continues its Song Of Songs sequence (I’m a bit disappointed that I’ve missed the existence of the preceding ones…)

Club Inégales, 7th May 2018

“…Drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern and Asian poets such as Rumi and Khalil Gibran, and that exceptionally sensual chapter in the Bible ‘The Song of Solomon’, our house band and talented guests will be celebrating music and poetry that expresses love and devotion, in both human and mystical ways.

“In the fourth of five shows, we are very lucky to be showcasing the talents of Jenni Roditi‘s The Improvisers’ Choir, who recently won the Non-Classical Battle of the Bands Competition. They are truly impressive, and we can’t wait for them take us on spontaneous journeys of vocal invention from our Euston HQ.

“As always, our ever-adventurous house band Notes Inégales will be on hand to help bring both artists’ exciting sonic explorations to life. As always, there’ll be delicious food from Taste of India available on the day, and free WiFi.”

 
Club Inégales presents:
Jenni Roditi & The Improvisers’ Choir
Club Inégales, 180 North Gower Street, Euston, London, NW1 2NB, England
Thursday 7th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

April/May 2018 – some more immersive London gigs of various kinds – brain voyages with You Cry Wolf, Joe Corbin and Bokoyono (23rd April); righteous resistance with ‘Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement’ (6th May)

19 Apr

Concerts which go a little deeper… a trip to the heart of the illuminated brain in Brixton and a remounting of past dissent in Poplar, both of which you’re invited to soak yourselves in.

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You Cry WolfMath-rock usually constructs and communicates meaning from the abstraction of numbers, even though it’s generally played to non-mathematical people. Ducking underneath song forms, it communicates less through stories, textures and timbres than through its attempts to mine the ecstatic human response to pattern-building. For Brighton math-rock trio You Cry Wolf this clearly isn’t enough. From the start, they’ve not followed the usual mathy practise of turning their back on vocals and words, with guitarist Owain Arthur delivering a near-continuous murmur of cryptically anxious lyric over the bare-bone instrumental notes.

Building from their earlier, more straightforward mathwork (and from their occasional taste for plaintively en-mathening mainstream pop such as Coldplay’s Trouble), You Cry Wolf have broadened out into their own brand of rock theatre projects – ingenious and immersive low-budget affairs in which projected film, sound, venue decoration and even live scent have become integral to the work; a sort of DIY 4D cinema. Their quarter-hour piece ‘A Fresh Start (for Peter Russo)’ (which toured around various fringe festivals in 2015) delved into the psyche and day-to-day experiences of an obsessive, alcoholic middle-aged gardener.

On spec, it sounds like an earnest ‘70s-to-‘80s collision between a lost piece of melancholic English prog and a stern German art cinema – or perhaps a glummer, hushed take on a Mars Volta extravaganza. The proggy theatrical elements were increased by the fact that the band played inside a pod of angled sheets, obscured from view by projected filmwork (from video artist and onetime Polar Bear collaborator Jacek Zmarz) and bolstered by wafts of floral scent as they tried to induce their audiences into following the story through Peter’s eyes and senses: sharing his day-to-day impressions and actions, coming to understand his personal search for meaning and a possible redemption.


 
From the accounts I’ve heard, it was quite an experience, moving from the earthbound and mundane to the magical. Here’s what ‘The Line Of Best Fit’ made of it during its home stint in Brighton, and see above for a video clip of the film and music content, (though it’s evidently a pale shadow of the mirrored and scented storytelling environment which the band summoned into being for each performance.

Transcendence was the climax and key to the ‘Fresh Start’ show; heartened by the success of ‘A Fresh Start’, You Cry Wolf expanded to a related but even larger conceit for 2017’s ‘Only God’ (which ran to a couple of shows in Brighton and south London in June last year and now makes a return to Brixton as the centrepiece of a three-hour concert tagged as “a new fantasy to lose yourself inside”).

You Cry Wolf + Guests
Upstairs at the Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG London, England
Monday 23rd April 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

In many respects, it sounds like a souped-up twenty-first century take on those 1960s psychedelic gigs which attempted to induce altered states with oil-slide projections and the flickering low-tech visual pulses of dreamachines. With ‘Only God’, the band are attempting to stage “a lurid dream-world, a hallucination comprised of fragments of a waking-life reordered into dreamy irreality… a vivid journey inside the dreaming mind.” As with ‘Fresh Start’, the live band setup is augmented by a custom-designed set (this time devised by club installation specialists Moonstone), video projections (specifically commissioned from Cargo Collective artist Agathe Barré) and scene-setting aromas.

According to the band “the concert marks an exploration of the significance of dreams and their effectiveness as tools for introspective self-discovery. As we are prone to futilely create meaning from our dreams, so too is the audience encouraged to create their own conclusions from the fragments of the story provided in its performance. Making use of pithy and surreal lyrics, sensational abstract imagery and fresh emotive rock-music, You Cry Wolf invite the audience to take centre-stage as they are transported inside the narrative, to see through the eyes and into the soul of the sleeping protagonist. There is no stage, no spot light; You Cry Wolf have created a window into their music and inside their protagonists’ fictions, where human experience and narrative supersede traditional performance convention, where concept and character-construction form the all-consuming conditions for this music-based escapade to unfold.”

In support – and perhaps at least partially integrated into the bigger idea – are Bokoyono (an “instrumental psych/desert/surf-rock band, ready to rip you a new one”) and modern electric blues guitarist Joe Corbin (on this occasion armed with “a set specially prepared to rip open the doors of perception until all inhibitions disappear and your mind is malleable for the moulding!” Moonstone member Cal Lewis (also of and loft-party specialists Solis and Palooza) pulls double duty by taking over the DJ slot, which is intended to be as immersive as the rest of the evening…


 
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From psychedelic innerspace to direct action and a spot of tea… a change of tone.

Over at Poplar Union in early May, there’s what appears to be an insurrection boutique. Deptford’s Black Smock Band (“South London’s premier gay socialist folk band”) are collaborating with Bethnal Green’s Daedalus Theatre Company to revive a spot of English radicalism and invite you to participate.

'Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile  Incitement', 6th May 2018

“The Black Smock Band and Daedalus Theatre Company have worked with Tower Hamlets residents and students from the Applied Performance course at Queen Mary University to create a truly unique, local gig-theatre performance, teaming up with a seventeenth-century rebel to uncover England’s history of protest and ask what it all means today. Expect a song, a dance and perhaps the start of the revolution! They also invite you share your thoughts on East London life over a cup of tea at their pre-show tea party, along with a spot of placard-making and protest-song writing too, if you fancy.

“Part of a long-term project to explore past and present stories of protest and dissent, this performance has been made with a special focus on current and historical protest and dissent in Tower Hamlets. It was developed at Ovalhouse in South London through a series of scratch performances leading to a commission to create a full production for Brixton City festival. The project is an ever-changing, locality-responsive piece of gig-theatre using historical texts and songs alongside new material, using gatherings over tea with local people to inform each new version of the performance.”

The piece is inspired by Gerrard Winstanley, an oft-obscured figure from English history. As one of the founders of the Diggers movement, he led the squatting and constructive reclamation of enclosed private land during that seventeenth century period in which England teetered between the traditions of monarchy and the possibilities of communitarianism. Viewed back through the lens of a twenty-first century London (one being gradually consumed by the kind of landgrabs and land-banking which insidiously push out and exclude its long-term occupants), he and some of his arguments have gained a new resonance and timeliness.

Expect current issues to seep into the story, primarily the erasure of working-class home neighbourhoods and the displacement of their communities by gentrified developments (the transformation of the Heygate Estate into the gentrified Elephant Park, the looming threat of a similar outcome via the Haringey Development Vehicle, and – for Poplar residents – three decades’ worth of the marginalisation of poorer householders and tenants by the glittering elite massing of the Dockland developments).

Travelling around with band, actors and crew is The Mobile Incitement Unit – “a portable installation by artist Andy Bannister containing everything needed to stage a performance, run participation workshops and, of course, foment revolt”. Art is a hand grenade, but sometimes it’s a tea urn.

All going well, the piece should tour nationally in 2019 – for the moment, you can be a part of it here in London, or get more involved by inviting them over to your neighbourhood via the page here.

Black Smock Band & Daedalus Theatre Company present:
‘Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement’
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Sunday 6th May 2018, 1.00 pm-2.30pm (tea party), 3.00pm (performance)
– information here and here

Here’s a video explaining some more about the project (and offering a peek at the M.I.U.)…


 

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.”
 

October 2017 – upcoming English gigs – Holly Penfield chops and changes in London (18th October); Minute Taker’s multimedia love-and-ghosts story ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ in Glasgow, London & Brighton (15th, 21st, 22nd October); Cardiacs’ ‘Marenest’ fundraiser showing in Bristol with The Scaramanga Six (21st October); and something on Paul Diello

7 Oct

Holly Penfield presents:
‘Holly Penfield – Spooky Little Girl’
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HY, England
Wednesday 18th October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here

Holly Penfield: 'Fragile Human Monster', 18th October 2017For a while, there, I was spun back. Twentysomething years ago, I was a regular at Holly Penfield‘s ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ (having first caught her performance on a random Edinburgh night back in 1992). Ostensibly based around sleek ’80s synth’n’sequencer pop, her shows had a number of twists. More like ’70s songwriter confessionals, they stirred yearning jazz and blues strands back into a genre which had mostly eschewed them. Based around Holly, her Kurzweil keyboard and a saxophonist (usually her husband Ian Ritchie, who’s had a hand in everything from Scouse artniks Deaf School to the Roger Waters band and the ‘Lonely Planet’ theme), they also 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.

If you can dig up Holly’s long-lost debut album ‘Full Grown Child‘ – a brash early ‘80s Chinnichap production – you’ll hear an Innuendo-strewn, pop-belting cross between Suzi Quatro, a bleach-blond Rizzo, ABBA and full-on coke-blizzard-era Stevie Nicks. ‘Fragile Human Monster’ was the fallout from all that: an onstage realisation of Holly’s independent followup ‘Parts Of My Privacy’, in which she and Ian went back to her bluesier and torchier San Francisco roots, merged it with Ian’s techno-pop skills and teased out a series of passionate, cracked paeans (plus jarring digressions into performance art) about fear, instability and how the lost rebuild their lives and make their way. Tremendously tuneful but at odds to the music biz, the ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ was that rare thing: outsider music with genuine craft and skill. It was also pretty queer and culty, drawing a diverse squadron of waifs and strays of all stripes (including me) to Holly’s home venue on the Kilburn High Road. Eventually it wore Holly out: putting it to rest, but still hanging onto her stubborn kookiness, she applied her remarkable voice and stage presence to a new career as a jazz cabaret diva. She’s made, I think, just one revisitation to Monster territory since (which you can read about here).

Holly Penfield: 'Spooky Little Girl', 18th October 2017Late this summer, though, Holly announced that she was bringing the old show back for an evening in October, though she wasn’t clear about how she’d be doing it: perhaps reworked for the acoustic jazz band she’s used for the last couple of decades, or perhaps with her going it alone (with the Kurzweil and sequencers brought out of mothballs and will go it alone). At any rate, I thought I’d be going along – possibly in search of my own confused, similarly theatrical mid-twenties self, perhaps to see if I got along with him a little better.

However, everything was upended in early September following Holly’s jolting appearance in the auditions for ‘The X-Factor’. Ubercamp, leather-clad and singing Meredith Brooks’ Bitch, she went full-on nightclub and came on to Simon Cowell like a kinky Weimar nightmare with a riding crop. Inspired by the experience (and not a little miffed at the mocking edit that made it to TV) Holly’s now claiming that “the evil jazz cabaret performer in (me) has clawed its way to the surface”, and has morphed the October show into an upbeat Halloween “Spooky Little Girl” special (billed as “cabaret classics, spooktacular rocking favourites and self-penned songs as only our Diva can deliver them”).

I can’t help thinking that an opportunity’s been lost (or steamrollered) but I might show up anyway. She’s still promising to pepper all of the knowing cornballery with old FHM songs; several existing set standbys (such as Stay With Me, seen below in a torch-jazz arrangement from 2009) originated in the old show, and a new-ish piano/vocal song Confessions (posted up online a year ago) suggests a creative leaning back towards the old days of torch and bearing witness. Regardless of any of that, there’s still the voice; there’s still the onstage magnetism. Should be some sort of a blast.



 
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Minute Taker: 'To Love Somebody Melancholy' (live show)Also during the midmonth, acclaimed LBTQ folktronicist Minute Taker (aka Ben McGarvey) takes his multimedia show ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ out on tour in England and Scotland. I missed the news about his summer tour (which spiralled out from his homebase of Manchester, taking in Oldham, Chorlton and the Didsbury Art Festival plus a trans-Pennine appearance at Hebden Bridge) but managed to catch the news about his autumn followups in Glasgow, Brighton and London (including an appearance at the seventeenth century “actor’s church”, St Pauls in Covent Garden). Here’s the story:

“Singer-songwriter Minute Taker and BFI award-winning animation artist Ana Stefaniak have created a haunting, modern fable told through projected film and an epic live band performance of Minute Taker’s upcoming album… Expect to be immersed in a dark and magical world of strange animated characters and piano songs brimming with ethereal harmonies, fizzing synthesisers and orchestral twists.

“In ancient Greek philosophy Aristotle first popularised the notion that artists, poets and writers were of a melancholic disposition. In the middle ages melancholics were thought to be possessed by demons if they could not be “cured” of their depressive tendencies. Set on a desolate seashore, ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ explores the notion of the archetypal artist as he journeys through the euphoric highs and the self-destructive lows of his creative cycles. A new romantic relationship brings the artist the contentment he craves but it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else lurking in the shadows; a ghostly, shapeshifting third entity whose form is entirely dependent upon the artist’s current mindset. Sometimes a saviour, a source of inspiration and hope, sometimes a savage, ruthlessly determined on driving his lover away.”


 
Ben comments “one of my biggest influences when creating ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ was Kate Bush’s masterpiece ‘The Ninth Wave’. Such a wonderfully magical, otherworldly and at times frightening journey into the unknown. I never tire of going on this adventure with her. Come join our own dark adventure, inspired by Kate’s.”

Dates:

  • Websters Theatre, 416 Great Western Road, Woodlands, Glasgow, G4 9HZ, Scotland, Sunday 15th October 2017, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • St Paul’s Church, 29 Bedford St, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, London, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Latest Music Bar, 14-17 Manchester Street, Brighton, BN2 1TF, England, Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm (with Paul Diello) – information here

Additional support comes in Brighton comes from the award-winning “pop/folk/fabulous” singer-songwriter Paul Diello, who recently wowed the Brighton Fringe Festival with a sold out run of five-star-review shows and who promises “a special set of songs” for the occasion. Citing Madonna, Bowie, Kate Bush and Anohni as inspirations, Paul is an increasingly powerful artistic presence in the LGBT underground, operating in the febrile interface between cabaret, chart pop, queerness and visual staging (in particular, via video). Provocative and insidious, with an ear for the brazen tunes of ‘80s synthpop, Paul reminds me of a tougher Marc Almond – albeit with the sturdy physique of a dockside bouncer – while his songs are sharp confections of fists, flowers and standing your ground.


 
* * * * * * * *

Kate Bush seems to have become a recurring presence in this thread. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ve always drawn a vague connecting line between ‘The Ninth Wave’ and Cardiacs’ 1989 album ‘On Land And In The Sea’.

Despite their common south London roots and the bare three years between them, there doesn’t initially seem to be much linking Bush’s silky-petalled Fairlight-driven art pop with the shrill, switchbacking, horns-and-artpunk firepower of Cardiacs, let alone their urchin squawks versus her sensual coo (though I’d have loved to have heard them cover each other). Dipping beneath the surface, however, reveals plenty to unite the two work. There’s the common and commonly transmogrified debt to English prog (in the structural ambition, the little flourishes of grandeur, and the enthusiastic mining of everything from twinkling tunes to violent psychedelic riffs, looming synth orchestration to jigs and jittering dreamscapes). There’s the common immersive marine motif – even when the sea’s banished from the foreground, it’s always present to embrace, propel, threaten or dissolve the bobbing characters within the songs. And although ‘The Ninth Wave’ centres pretty clearly on the near-death experience and night journey of a single castaway, while ‘On Land…’ zig-zags crazily over suburbs, shorelines, skies and inlets while weaving through multiple blurred perspectives (from the individual to that of a kind of profoundly skewed post-war national consciousness) in both works a half-sleeping, half-waking British mythology gets forked up and worked over anew, with a relentless filmic curiosity.


 

‘On Land And In The Sea’ provided most of the songs played in Cardiacs’ 1990 concert film ‘Marenest’, which brings its own chaotic theatrics to a fundraiser showing in Bristol. Live support comes from brutally grand, macabre Yorkshire rockers The Scaramanga Six, bringing a punchy live set based in part on their new crowdfunded ‘Chaotica’ album.

If ‘On Land…’ really was intended as some kind of concept album, it hid the fact under a typically Cardiacs welter of invention and disinformation. In contrast, ‘Chaotica’ wears its conceptual heart on a stained sleeve – the Scaramangas have been pretty open about its roots in “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society. A place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” ‘Chaotica’ might not quite be a Brexit ‘Quadrophenia’, but it’s clearly leaning that way.


 
As is generally the rule with Cardiacs-related events these days, all profits on the day (including bonus donations by bucket or booking-stage gifting) are going to fund the care of Cardiacs’ driving force Tim Smith as he continues to battle against the aftermath of heart attacks and stroke. Note that the venue is quite hard to find, hidden as it is away behind the rubbish bins in a nondescript Bristol car park. Some Cardiacs fans would claim that this is only appropriate.

‘Maresnest’: Tim Smith Benefit with The Scaramanga Six
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.00pm
information
 

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.


 

May 2017 – upcoming London classical gigs – polygender opera with ‘Binary Optional’ at CPT (May 25th & 26th)

21 May

One of the month’s more interesting London opera events…

'Binary Optional', 25th & 26th May 2017

Oedipa & Lucia Lucas present:
‘Binary Optional’
Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, Euston, London, NW1 2PY, England
Thurday 25th & Friday 26th May 2017, 9.00pm
information

From the press release, spliced with a little more research:

Oedipa collaborates with the extraordinary female baritone Lucia Lucas (Wuppertaler Bühnen, Deutsche Oper, Chicago Opera Theatre) on an evening of song in transition: from masc to femme, classical to queer and oppression to freedom.

“A freelance opera singer based in Germany (who has previously held full-time contracts with the Badisches Staatstheater, Kalsruhe, Theater und Orchester Heidelberg and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin), Lucia Lucas is a strong dramatic baritone specializing in Verdi roles, and has sung roles including Ford in ‘Falstaff’, Iago in ‘Otello’, Escamillo in ‘Carmen’, Le Grand-Prêtre in ‘Samson et Dalilah’, Jochanaan in ‘Salome’, Alberich in ‘Das Rheingold’, Thoas in ‘Iphigenie en Tauride’, Figaro in ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, Leporello and Giovanni in ‘Don Giovanni’, Mephistopheles in ‘Faust’, Don Pizzaro in ‘Fidelio’ and Nick Shadow in ‘The Rake’s Progress’.

“Beyond this, Lucia is one of the small but growing number of transgender woman performing significant operatic roles (a list of singers which includes Breanna Sinclairé and Emily De Salvo, whose own unusual range covers baritone to soprano). As Lucia commented in an interview in ‘Slipped Disc’ a couple of years ago, “I am performing all of the same things. Still singing angry old men on stage, but fringe projects have also started appearing as possibilities”. ‘Binary Optional’ is one such project – singing Bizet, Britten, Wagner, Purcell and Adams, flirting with Sarah Vaughan and ‘Rocky Horror’, Lucia draws on her experience singing classical repertoire across the world to tell her incredible story and celebrate the fluidity and plurality of gender in opera.


 
“Oedipa is the alter ego of writer/director Finn Beames (who’s dedicated himself to working “against the male perspective”) and a diverse range of varying collaborators. As Oedipa, groups of artists create and produce live performances in theatre, opera and related forms, often with an emphasis on music.

“Based in London and working internationally, Finn won the 2015 Genesis Future Directors Award at the Young Vic for his production of Man: 3 Plays by Tennessee Williams in the Clare theatre. He also holds the 2015 Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship, granted by the British Council for research into the eponymous Brazilian architect and the creation of a piece of theatre. For his own company, bodycorps, he recently directed a sold-out run of a new opera about depression, funded by The Wellcome Trust and ACE. Finn has commissioned further new work for bodycorps, including a musical based on The Sorrows of Young Werther. In 2014 Finn wrote, directed and designed a new music theatre work for the London Sinfonietta with composer Gavin Higgins, which they are currently expanding into a triptych. Finn is a director/librettist on the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh Music, and a member of the Young Vic Directors Network and Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York.”
 

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