Tag Archives: Kronos Quartet

July/September 2018 – upcoming electronic gigs – Jim Thirlwell’s Xordox goes out in New York, London and Dublin with The The, Teeth of the Sea and Faten Kanaan (variously 2nd, 5th, 7th July and 17th September). Plus an awkward Foetus reminiscence from my past….

29 Jun

Jim Thirlwell, 2018

Jim Thirlwell (either that, or it’s Quentin Crisp’s dark twin…)

Long ago in 1988 (during my gawky teenaged years) I helpless, hopelessly, stupidly loved a girl. One of her responses was to play a trio of Foetus tracks at me an hour or two past midnight, in a room tinged with other people’s dope smoke – first Asbestos, then English Faggot and finally Hauss-On-Fah. I think she was trying to prove a point about her own wildess and non-conformity as compared with my teenaged uptightness: a point seasoned with an extra tint of sadism.

Filtered through unrequited sexual longing and sleep deprivation (plus some secondary stonedness) the music took on even more of a nightmarish aspect. First the screeching, ravening wall of post-Penderecki horror-strings; then a crawling, banging, hate-crime narrative rising to a lustfully murderous snarl; finally the compulsive dance track, enough to have you ricocheting round a warehouse in the dark before realising that you’re slam-dancing to a gonzo tale of racist murders, cocaine-fuelled gang-rape and of lighting out for the outlaw territories.

Given my increasing interest in out-there music, it was a kind of awakening for me, but at the time it was more a kind of uninvited acidic baptism. I’d never heard anything like it; certainly nothing so apparently malignant and evil. I could barely move from my chair. Overlaid on the music, in real time (like an extra overdub, or a cruel remix) was delighted, spiteful female laughter. I’d never managed to make her laugh so much by my own efforts – so there was me told. Perhaps, in a way, it was a slightly twisted message of friendship-but-no-further.

Anyway, it made for a pretty disorientating walk home at half-past-two in the morning. Hornsey Vale’s one of the more peaceful and genteel London neighbourhoods, but that night it felt like hastening through the Haddonfield of ‘Halloween’. Boing, boing, boing…


 
That was a long time ago. The girl’s grown up into a woman and moved to Hove, and we’re not even remotely in touch. I’ve no idea what she listens to now or what she thinks of it; or whether Foetus, for her, is just a memory of a few twisted tracks on a cousin’s long-lost compilation tape which happened to come in handy for baiting an unwanted suitor one bloody-minded teenage evening. As for me – I’ve learnt to appreciate transgressive art a little more, and am less likely to take dysfunctional nights and dysfunctional relationships so personally. I’ve also learnt about the background behind the noise; and have even flippantly bought the odd Foetus record myself, to tease a flatmate with.

Meanwhile, if Foetus’ boiling black humour and theatre of cruelty has lost a little of its edge for me, Jim Thirwell – the man behind it – hasn’t lost any of his. Back then he was already a cutting-edge industrial rock godfather. Now, he’s a long-established sonic progenitor for Nine Inch Nails, Gorilla Black and anyone else who’s picked up an orchestral sampler, a vicious horn section and a junkyard batter-beat with the aim of making mordantly joyous music for a world scripted by the darker angels of our nature.

Over the three decades since his music reduced me to nervy paralysis in Crouch End, Jim’s worked with Lydia Lunch, Electronicat, Nick Cave, Marc Almond and Cop Shoot Cop’s Jim Coleman; and he’s branched his extreme musical satire out across the slow crushing misanthropy journals of Wiseblood (his collaboration with’ Swans Roli Mosimann), the transfer of those flourishing post-Asbestos Foetus instrumentals to the Steroid Maximus project (where they can rant, jazz and gibber in full orchestra majesty without being pinned down by a song) and with SM’s freeform cousin Manorexia. At the height of his performance-art immersion, he wore fake personalities and conceptual skin-suits like all-over psychological scars (Clint Ruin, Frank Want) but since then he’s come to the party as just Jim – behind the music, a sweet kind guy in person and an unashamed music store geek who happens to be drawn to extreme subjects (and into reflecting Western society’s callousness and license for dysfunction back onto itself). For the past twenty years he’s also been part of New York City’s contemporary classical talent pool, writing for the likes of the Kronos Quartet and Bang On A Can, and has also soundtracked cartoon music for ‘The Venture Bros.’ and ‘Archer’ – two parallel endeavours which he takes equally seriously.

Jim’s latest project is Xordox, featuring a new instrumental direction to set alongside Steroid Maximus and Manorexia. Primarily synthesizer-based, it merges his existing electronic production expertise with extended use of the lateral thinker’s dream modular synths by Buchla and Serge. The results were unveiled last summer on the project’s debut album ‘Neospection’, revealing a Thirlwellisation of modular techno. While the hurtling disruptive Alto Velocidad is more remniscent of previous Thirlwell methodology, the only currently embeddable example of Xordox out there is the cosmo-Germanic rush of Diamond. See the video below (it tickles me how different the NASA CGI footage is from the cyberpunk/”Nazoviet”-inspired designs Jim used for the Foetus records).

 
Xordox have secured July and September support slots in Dublin and New York on the comeback tour for The The (with whom Jim was a collaborator and contributor, in particular on 1983’s ‘Soul Mining’). Also arranged are fairly short notice headline dates in New York and London for the first week of July (the latter hosted by top psych/noise curators Baba Yaga’s Hut. For the live sets, Jim’s being joined by an additional keyboard player (long-time collaborator Simon Hanes of Tredici Bacci) and will be playing in front of a visual backdrop by Swedish artist Sten Backman of Great Big Container.

 
At the headliner gigs, New York support comes from synth artist Faten Kanaan who’s “inspired by cinematic forms: from sweeping landscapes & quiet romances, to the patterned tension of 1970s film scores… focuses on bringing a human touch to electronic music.” Her Germanic romantic/horror textural blends are created by “live-looping them, sans sequencers or arpeggiators. In symbiosis with technology is an appreciation for the vulnerability of human limitations, imperfections, and simple gestures.” London support comes from roof-raising underground heroes Teeth Of The Sea who merge extended brass-laden psych-rock voyages with techno and rave methodology, updated for twenty-first century urban impulses.


 
Dates:

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

* * * * * * * *

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).

* * * * * * * *

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:



 

January/February 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 1) with Kronos Quartet, Xenia Rubinos, Face The Music, Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering and Bang On A Can (27th January, 5th February, 15th February)

15 Jan

Looking over to America, the Saturday after next sees the first date in New York City’s snappy, broad-based Ecstatic Music Festival.

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018

“Starting on 27th January and running through 26th April 2018, the festival, hailed as “the alt-classical world’s main showcase” (‘The New York Times’), will feature collaborations from more than seventy-five composers and performers from different musical genres across the sonic spectrum, including Kronos Quartet, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Margaret Leng Tan, Glasser, Xenia Rubinos, Mantra Percussion, Mahogany L. Browne, Carla Kihlstedt, Patrick Zimmerli, Ethan Iverson, Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, and many more. A collaboration between New Amsterdam Presents and Kaufman Music Center, the festival has nine collaborative one-night-only performances featuring world premieres, new arrangements and the exclusive opportunity to hear artists discuss their work.”

Here are some details for the first three shows (taken from the programme and tweaked/expanded where necessary), spread out from the end of January to the middle of February:

Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz's Civil Engineering, 27th January 2018

Xenia Rubinos can make social consciousness sensual,” says the ‘New York Times’. Her catchy yet exuberantly visceral songs meld weighty social issues with intimately personal ones and draw from a broad palette of influences ranging from Caribbean and jazz to indie rock, hip-hop and punk.


 
“Xenia will team up with Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering, a high-energy, ten-member multi-dimensional big band led by the protean multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz, “New York’s indie-rock Zelig” (‘New York Observer’) and Landlady frontman, to perform new arrangements of her songs, his songs, and composers they love, and to premiere new works written for the Ecstatic Music Festival.


 
“Regarding the project, Adam claims to be “chasing the spirits of Duke Ellington and Gene Wilder. I am trying to operate at a large scale that hits at the heart and can go anywhere at any time. Songs, improvisations, and adventures with a big band of impossibly talented people. This is Civil Engineering.” The band has included Alec Spiegelman, Ross Edwards, Brandon Seabrook (Seabrook Power Plant, Needle Driver), Ross Gallagher, Noah Garabedian (Big Butter And The Egg Men, Ravi Coltrane), Stephanie Richards, Curtis Hasselbring (The New Mellow Edwards, Decoupage, The Curha-chestra) and Patrick Breiner.

Kronos Quartet & Face The Music, 5th February 2018

“The adventurous, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet – one of the most celebrated and influential ensembles of our time – joins NYC’s acclaimed youth new music ensemble (and Kaufman in-house orchestra) Face the Music to perform new works written for Kronos’ “Fifty for the Future”, a commissioning, education and legacy project showcasing contemporary approaches to the string quartet that features new works by some of today’s foremost composers.



 
The two ensembles will perform separately and together: there’s no details on the Kronos setlist yet, or on the combined programme, but Face the Music will be performing Yotam Haber‘s ‘From The Book’ and Kala Ramnath‘s ‘Amrit’.

Bang On A Can People's Commissioning Fund Concert, 15th February 2018

“Co-founded in 1987 by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang On A Can has grown from a one-off concert band to a ceaselessly active, multi-bodied and internationally famous New Music ensemble, building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Set up in 1997, long before crowd-funding became the norm through Kickstarter and the like, Bang On A Can’s People’s Commissioning Fund has pooled contributions of all sizes from hundreds of friends and fans. Since its inception as a radical partnership between artists and audiences to commission works from adventurous composers, it has commissioned over fifty works of music for New York’s electric Bang on a Can All-Stars.

“This concert, compiling new commissions for 2018 and a few old favourites, is a New Sounds Live co-presentation: it will be hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer and streamed live. There will be world premieres of pieces by George Lewis and Angélica Negrón, plus a new look at “historic” PCF-commissioned pieces by Pamela Z, Annea Lockwood, Lukas Ligeti and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.”


 
All concerts are performed at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA. Dates and times below:

  • Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering – Saturday 27th January 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Kronos Quartet & Face The Music – Monday 5th February 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Bang on a Can People’s Commissioning Fund Concert – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30pmhere and here

For those who might not have already followed up on the remaining six dates between March and April, I’ll stick up reminders closer to the time…
 

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