It’s a good week for acoustic guitar. It’s a good week for interfacing modern classical and electronica; or for catching some Montreal drama from a couple of Arcade Fire alumni. But first of all…
Three grimy, wirey helpings of noise rock.
Rolling out of Reading in a skewed spray of Stella lager and caffeine headaches, headliners Workin’ Man Noise Unit have been hailed as the closest thing that England will ever come up with as an answer to Rocket From the Tombs. I’d hoped that whoever said that actually meant Peter Laughner’s Pere Ubu-spawning proto-punks (rather than making a Rocket From The Crypt typo) and to be fair, it’s near enough: while much of it is base-level punk/trash-blues rammed ’til it bleeds with blue-collar howling, the band’s nightmarish conviction and their overlaid sweep of jet-engine and sawmill-shear noise guitar is a little Tombs-esque, and pretty impressive. Credit where it’s due – they’ve impressed noise-shaman Julian Cope enough to get a slot playing at one of his book launches, they’ve turned out a mean Black Sabbath cover EP, and their logo is an incontinent, blind-drunk logger-turned-chainsaw-murderer. Berkshire might not be where you’d usually go to pick up a raw chunk of backwoods ire, but the Unit are looking to change all of that.
Second on the bill, Casual Nun are a more spaced-out alternative to the Unit’s sonic savagery, offer something less straightforwardly brutal and a little more mysterious. The Londoners’ songs are looser-limbed, smudged with an echoing grind, concrete-blues riffs full of muscle-ache, and hallucinating echo-vocals. The result sounds like a kind of psychedelic hard labour: a tripping chain gang wearing to skin and bone. You could imagine men made up entirely of skinny elbow-and-knee joints, all linked together by bruises.
If one-man agony factory Dean Robinson-Saunders – a.k.a. Knifedoutofexistence – doesn’t end up onstage under a horrible, guttering post-supernova bloodlight, then something’s gone wrong. Merging the burnt-out ends of power electronics and sparse slow-motion grindcore to worrying effect, his songs sounds like a man bent under jet-black clouds, shouldering a sledgehammer and a headful of horrors and slowly, painfully demolishing the ruined hovel he’s hiding in. Compelling anti-heroics.
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A few posts ago, I covered Nonclassical and their various post-classical mashups: I’ve just cottoned on to the fact that they’re back with another one.
‘Inspired by Martinů’ juxtaposes selected parts of the oeuvre of 20th century Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů (whose 125th birth anniversary we’ll celebrate in December this year), with London’s contemporary classical scene as represented by artists around the acclaimed Nonclassical label.
For this concert, Nonclassical founder, composer and DJ Gabriel Prokofiev (on laptop) will be joined onstage by piano virtuoso Lada Valešová, violin wunderkind Tereza Anna Přívratská (of Jubilee Quartet) and vibrant mezzo-soprano Lucie Špičková. They will be carrying out a unique attempt to reimagine Martinů’s most influential chamber pieces by creating real-time improvised soundtracks, avant-garde audiovisual installations and once-in-a-lifetime musical reworks.
Full details on and tickets for the event are here, with the Facebook page here. Nonclassical have been kind enough to point us towards a Martinů cheat sheet. I’ve probably plugged this a little too late for anybody else to enter the Martinů remix competition, but here’s the information on that if you’re interested. Here too is a video clip in which Nonclassical’s Eleanor Ward explaining some of the ideas behind both Nonclassical itself and the remix project.
As a fuller taste of Martinů, here are clips of part of one of his violin sonatas and a live performance of his Fantasie for theremin, oboe, string quartet and piano.
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Here’s information on the first of the week’s acoustic guitar gigs:
Jon Gomm & Matt Stevens (The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, UK, Wednesday 21st October 2015) – £15.00
Born in Blackpool and now based in Leeds, Jon Gomm is one of Britain’s top percussive-fingerstyle guitarists, creating drum sounds, basslines and twisting melodies all at the same time from a single acoustic guitar. He’s also one of the few such guitarists worldwide who primarily applies those polyphonic skip, tap and slap skills to songwriting rather than to pure instrumental pieces, drawing his inspiration from assorted sources from Robert Johnson to Radiohead. Born to a family deeply involved in music, Jon grew up in a household where touring musicians lodged on the understanding that Jon would get a guitar lesson out of the arrangement, meaning he received one-to-one instruction from the likes of BB King and Jack Bruce. A player since two and a songwriter since six, Jon’s been releasing records since 2003’s ‘Hypertension’ but is best known for Passionflower, a song which went viral on YouTube three years ago. It’s still a great showcase for what he does, so here it is again:
Though he doesn’t seem to have been formally credited yet, Matt Stevens is playing support. Increasingly a ‘Misfit City’ regular, Matt is a critically acclaimed guitarist and composer from North London. For his solo gigs, he uses a battered acoustic guitar and multiple layered lines of texture and counterpoint achieved via a loop pedal, plus variety of propulsive playing techniques and a fervent omnivorous musical mind steeped in everything from folk music to progressive rock to punk and process music (I wrote about one such performance here). Following three self-released albums (and a number of EPs and live recordings), Matt signed with Esoteric/Cherry Red Records to deliver his fourth album, 2014’s well-received ‘Lucid’ (which featured expanded instrumentation from members of King Crimson, Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and Frost*).
Matt is also one-quarter of the acclaimed garage/prog/punk collective quartet The Fierce & The Dead, who are now two albums into their career and increasingly gaining attention across a broadening fanbase. Perhaps it’s partially due to this band’s success that Matt has announced that his next few acoustic gigs will be his last for the foreseeable future. In that case, this is the second-to-last gig (the other, in Rotherham, has already sold out) so this is your last chance – for now – to see the original Stevens method live. There’s a taste of it below…
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Speaking of last-chance-to-see…
Catch it while you can – Montreal instrumentalists Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufield are playing what may well be one of their last duo gigs for a while before each returns to solo work. Best known to the general public via their contributions to Arcade Fire (and, to a lesser extent, Bell Orchestre), Colin and Sarah have been collaborating as a separate act for three years; culminating in this year’s ‘Never Were The Way She Was’, an instrumental concept album loosely based on “the life of a girl who ages slow as mountains”.
Eschewing looping and overdubs (though not timbral processing), both their studio recordings and live performances rely on carefully textured and timed interactions between Colin’s saxophones and Sarah’s violin (with assorted clarinets, cornet, French horn, flute and vocalisations also available as part of the palette plus Colin’s repertoire of breath-and-key noise, multiphonics, circular breathing and pitching tricks) If this sounds like familiar free improvisation territory – esoteric squeaks and clacks, mostly of interest to other improvising musicians – believe me, it isn’t. Colin and Sarah’s shared musical sense and composing chemistry is dramatic, tuneful and thoroughly accessible – a quest inside a pair of instrument cases and through a batch of effects pedals, ranging around the world and stewing together a thrilling mixture of elements from Arabic to Australian, Appalachian to Balkan via electricity, wood, cane and weather.
The results have thrilled avant-rock fans, jazz aficionados and more casual listeners alike. Delivered with majestic gusto, conviction and wit, a glittering, brooding spectrum of melodies, timbres and vivid musical associations emerge from the duo’s creative chemistry. Bass and tenor saxophones rendering chopped and screwed club sub-bass, skirling smokewalls and Chicago jazz inventions; the ghosts and progeny of old folk airs called up by bow and string; frowning, intricate dark-toned instrumental builds recalling Godspeed, King Crimson or The Dirty Three; and as an annealing factor, some of that Montreal dusk (ominous, hinting at past or future breakdown, but so fertle for inducing mood and edge). It’s a real pleasure to see two musicians walk shoulder-to-shoulder into the deeps and return with something so right.
Playing in support is Klavikon – Leon Michener’s one-man project which applies higher technology to the Cowell/Cage tradition of prepared-piano, amplifying and treating the signal via various pickups and real time analogue processing, and involving both serious and tongue-in-cheek playing-mechanism inventions which include a robot dog. Aleatoric ideas from Stockhausen and Cage fuse with electronic dancefloor work including “cascading batteries of percussion, sub-basses and abstract soundscapes” – see below.
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Meanwhile, Daylight Music are setting aside the acoustic rock’n’folk songwriters for a week in order to take one of their occasional forays into contemporary classical fusion. Read on…
Daylight Music 204: Iskra String Quartet with Minotaur Shock + Isobel Waller-Bridge, (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK, Saturday 24th October 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00
The Iskra String Quartet (their name meaning “a spark” – to ignite) is a London-based collaborative group of string players who enjoy making music together regardless of genre. The quartet has had a particularly strong relationship with Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, whose music they’ve toured extensively across Europe: a particular highlight being a set of performances of Johannsson’s ‘The Miners’ Hymns’ in collaboration with American artist film maker Bill Morrison. As sometime pop performers, Iskra has worked closely with pianist/composer Olafur Arnalds, with The xx (on the ‘Coexist’ album and on Jamie xx ‘s score for the ‘Tree Of Codes’ ballet) and with Radiohead (creating a string quartet remix of The Reckoner from ‘In Rainbows’) as well as with Vampire Weekend, Sufjan Stevens, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Katie Melua, Duke Special and My Brightest Diamond. Recently they performed as a trio alongside The Lone Bellow on ‘Later…with Jools Holland’. Within the world of film and theatre soundtracks, Iskra have collaborated with composers Dustin O’Halloran, David Julyan (with whom they performed for the 177th Daylight Music concert in November 2014) and Alex Baranowski (on the twice-BAFTA- nominated film ‘McCullin’ and for Sir Nicholas Hytner’s National Theatre production of ‘Hamlet’ starring Rory Kinnear).
Iskra’s first release was the three-track ‘Discoveries & Inventions’ EP in 2010. Their forthcoming album, ‘Iskra’ (1613 Recordings, October 2015) celebrates their tenth anniversary and features contributions from composers previously linked with the group (Johann Johannsson, Olafur Arnalds, Alex Baranowski, David Julyan) as well as new composer collaborators (Peter Gregson, Luke Anthony, Paul Frith and Isobel Waller-Bridge).
Working as Minotaur Shock, Bristol-based David Edwards first made a name for himself nearly fifteen years ago via albums and EPs of wide-screen pastoral folk-tinged electronica incorporating field recordings and other instances of nature-love (he once released an EP with a title that might have been lifted from a birdwatching manual.) Of his five albums since 2001, the most recent is 2012’s ‘Orchard’ for which he returned to his original record label Melodic following a two-album stint with 4AD. ‘Orchard’ also saw him returning to the use of acoustic instrumentation (strings, flutes, clarinets) in addition to his own electronics, drums and “weedy acoustic guitar”. He has a previous connection with Iskra – his 2008 composition ‘Accelerated Footage At Night’ (originally released on the ‘Amateur Dramatics’ album) was rearranged and performed by the quartet on ‘Discoveries & Inventions’.
As a composer, Isobel Waller-Bridge has worked primarily in television and theatre and film (she won the Best Composer award at 2014’s Underwire Film Festival for her score for Claire Oakley’s film ‘James’, and has scored multiple plays performed in venues across the UK). Her work spans a wide range from large scale orchestral music to experimental to folk, and has been performed in concert halls across Europe, USA and the UK (sometimes by a mixed ensemble of her own combining acoustic strings with piano, minimal sounds and electronics). Her ‘Music For Strings‘ album, featuring six symphonic works for large string orchestra (including Untouched By A Storm, during which the orchestra divides into twenty separate string parts), was released in April this year. Isobel has recently been commissioned to write a ten-minute “cosmological” work to score projection-mapping of the story of the universe onto Durham Cathedral as part of the Lumiere Festival in November.
A special additional guest, Angus Macrae, will be playing piano at points during the afternoon. These will be in a similar vein to the pieces found on ‘Awake’, the debut EP released by Angus this year, which featured intimate piano improvisations with a backdrop of spiralling tape delays, distant voices and deep analog synthesisers. Like Isobel, Angus is a composer-musician best known for his soundtrack and theatre work, having composed for a wide range of productions at venues in London and Edinburgh; for short films including this year’s ‘Interlude’ (winner of the 2015 Sci-Fi London 48 hour film challenge), ‘The Listener’, ‘Way Out’ and the documentary ‘On Guardian Mountain’; and for dance works including Wayne Parsons’ ‘Meeting’ and Tamsin Fitzgerald’s ‘Lucid Grounds’ (the latter in collaboration with Alex Baranowski.) A follow up to ‘Awake’ is currently in development with a planned release in late 2015.
Up-to-date info on this particular Daylight Music afternoon is here.
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I first saw Pierre Bensusan many years ago at the Union Chapel. Although he was supporting fellow guitarist Antonio Forcione (who’s a master not only in terms of staggering technique but also in terms of showmanship), he more than held his own against the headliner’s prowess. Bensunan didn’t and doesn’t play with that hand-spinning percussive flash that’s in vogue with many acoustic fingerstyle guitarists, then and now (including Forcione and Jon Gomm, above). He didn’t need to. Instead he offered a deep, communicatory and involved playing style with a depth and complexity all of its own, drawing from his own French-Algerian-Sephardic background and broad listening, interweaving a host of simultaneous techniques from traditional to jazz to neo-acoustic, and spinning out polyphonic melodies as sun-warmed and vivid as a Mediterranean afternoon. He was a pleasure to hear.. and he’s back in London for three dates this coming week.
Pierre Bensusan (The Half Moon, 93 Lower Richmond Rd, Putney, London SW15 1EU, London, UK, Sunday 25th to Tuesday 27th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £10.00/£12.00
Here’s the tour blurb…
The “Mozart of Guitar” is back in the UK. Over the past forty years, fingerstyle acoustic guitar virtuoso Pierre Bensusan has taken his unique blend of world, Celtic, jazz and folk inspired music to all corners of the globe. Winner of the 2014 Independent Music Award in the Live Performance Album category for his triple live album ‘Ecore’ Pierre is recognized as one of the great guitar players of the 21st century. Described as a “genius” by the likes of Jon Gomm and ‘Melody Maker’, immortalised by the tune ‘Bensusan’ written in tribute by the late Michael Hedges, and referenced as an important inspiration to many other great musicians, Pierre Bensusan is a one-of-a-kind artist whose music transcends genre and time.
“How the guitar would want to sound if it could play itself” … in Pierre’s music there is an uninhibited sense of musical freedom and expression, a sense of something both playful and serious, otherworldly yet right here right now. His “manner” of playing defies classification – crossing world, classical, jazz, traditional, folk and more. None can be isolated as simply “world music”, “Celtic”, “Arabic” or “French”; rather, they represent our world in its current state, a world sharing itself, fusing cultures together in ways we have never experienced. Not to be missed!
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The final October gig previews are coming up shortly, plus the first November ones…