Tag Archives: string quartet

September 2018 – upcoming rock gigs – Rumour Cubes, Agathe Max and Dream Logic in London (14th September); Major Parkinson’s European autumn tour (various dates, 26th September to 6th October)

9 Sep

Rumour Cubes + Agathe Max + Dream Logic, 14th September 2018

Like progressive rock before it, post-rock ended up disappointingly short of genuinely inspiring exponents. The blueprint was all very well: retaining rock’s technology and what remained of its countercultural drive while dissolving its rigid methods, its predictable narratives and textures and its conservative exclusions In practise, few could reach (or be bothered to reach) the heights of the movement’s most inspired figures and their new paths: such as Tortoise’s integration of jazz, dub and electronica; Slint’s taut, grinding refusals; Godspeed’s sprawling/brooding scapes of punk-cinema-versus-conservatoire-grandeur; Talk Talk’s mendicant, increasingly hermetic passage from synth-pop to a dissolution of blues, prog and folk into distressed noise and silence; Moonshake’s abrasive post-everything groove and careening samples; Disco Inferno’s angst-ridden music concrete and social challenge. Most post-rockers, then and now, have stuck with a glowering reduction, a boiling-out of rock posturing leaving a glum muted residue of passive riffs and patterns… actually, more of an opt-out than a boil-out; in which say, the impact of Talk Talk’s ‘Spirit Of Eden’ is much-cited but rarely remembered in terms of how it can inform and colour the music, much less for the intimations it can throw up.

Though they’re not overturners – at least, not in the tradition of the bands I’ve cited above – third-generation London post-rockers Rumour Cubes are a welcome exception to the procession of drab refuseniks that make up the bulk of the post-rock movement. It’s probably partly because they’re proud and self-confessed “counter-revolution(aries)”, founded from the start around violin, guitar and electronics and obtaining their rock instrumentation later rather than using and rebelling against it from the start. Their origins, too, stick in post-rock’s teeth. Violinist Hannah Morgan lied about her knowledge of the genre in order to bluff her way into the starting lineup, while guitarist/main composer Adam Stark and drummer Omar Rahwangi were already impatient with its dour restrictions. In an interview with Chaos Theory, Adam’s stated that “as a band we are painfully aware of how boring post-rock can be… what we are trying to do is take what we find amazing about those bands that have influenced us and that are part of our community, and do something new with it.”

What Rumour Cubes have done is in as much in the in the lines of good prog rock as good post-rock – opening the gates to a variety of ingredients and described as a “luminous re-imagining of very many constituent parts” by ‘Louder than War’. As with underrated Aussie unit Apricot Rail, the toned-down interweave of guitars and the Krautrock groove bass often aim for a slow-building pastoral ecstasy while the band seeks a sweet spot that’s more country and roots than graphs and laboratory. The dancing interplay, in particular, between Hannah and viola player Terry Murphy ducks lemony-minimal string textures in favour of something that’s more country hoedown or folk fiddle. Rumour Cubes often hit their own delightful merge-point between the rustic and the highly technological, performing on bowed banjo and (the ubiquitous) post-rock glockenspiel in addition to the guitars, strings, keyboards and percussion, adding brass and harps where they can, and regularly bringing in instruments like the gestural technology of mi.mu gloves, new uses for joystick controllers, software-synchronised video displays and a battery of custom effects pedals to create new textures. Their gigs are, in consequence, joyous and open-ended experiences: collaborations, on and offstage with poets and filmmakers result in

Following two years of silence, and four without new music, Rumour Cubes return to live work via a gig at the Underdog Gallery near London Bridge, in order to premiere a batch of new music (including upcoming single ¡No Pasarán!, which will be out in a few week’s time). Meanwhile, here are some previous bits of Cubery to whet the appetite.



 
A couple of other acts are joining the show – firstly, amplified French acoustic violinist Agathe Max, who fled classical music around twenty years ago in favour of improvised sonic textural music and electrically-enhanced string-drones. Currently playing with Kuro and Mésange, she’s appearing alone on this occasion in order to offer a set of solo violin works. Secondly, Dream Logic: the recent solo project from Adam Fulford (previously known as the guitarist for Bristolian post-rockers This Is My Normal State) It’s pealing, cool-busting stuff which sees Adam all but drowning his own plagent piano lines, guitars and basses in eager tides of yearning orchestral strings and feverish noise clutter, bringing him comparisons to Nils Frahm and to A Winged Victory for the Sullen. This is Dream Logic’s third show (following previous support slots for Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment’s rulebreaking alter-ego the Night Shift and for rebranded ambient post duo VLMV (previously ALMA) and live arrangements usually involve a string quartet: let’s hope he comes up with the goods on this occasion, too.





 
Echoes And Dust presents:
Rumour Cubes + Agathe Max + Dream Logic
The Underdog Gallery, Arch 6, Crucifix Lane, Southwark, London, SE1 3JW, England
Friday 14th September 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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A little later in the month, jumpy and unpredictable Norwegian art-rockers Major Parkinson are dipping into England as part of an autumn European tour presenting their new ‘Blackbox’ album (and which also includes Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands). A jaggedly muscular alternative pop proposition, Major Parkinson’s music recalls a host of eclectic forebears such as The Monochrome Set and Faith No More: most notably, they’ve become a hit with the sometimes partisan (and often hard-to-impress) Cardiacs fanbase, who appreciate unrestrained complex melodicism and truckloads of energy, and have been up and yelping about this band for a while now.

I can’t really top this for an intro…

“Major Parkinson write tunes. But with influences from across the rock and classical genres (from The Beatles to Cardiacs) and a warped vision of the musical world, their tunes are like no other. You may hear a snippet of an East European folk song, a nursery rhyme, a stage musical, even a rock anthem, all played out on a range of instruments that a symphony orchestra couldn’t muster – synths, strings, old typewriters, brass and reputedly a decommissioned jet fighter engine. The musical scores behind their songs are both monumental and breathtaking – explosive synth and guitar sections that pound at your heart and then instantly make it melt with beautiful choral harmonies, and then drawn in you will dance and sing along as if centre-stage in a West End show.

“With songs too that cover subjects as diverse as Pavlovian hounds to ducks in the pond, the sheer scale and absurdity of the Norwegian band’s extraordinary musical world can only be truly appreciated by seeing their seven-piece stage performances live.”



 
All of the upcoming shows appear to be solo flights for the Major, other than London, Berlin and St Gallen. No news yet on the Berlin guest, but in London support comes (bizarrely, but delightfully) from Sterbus, the quirky Anglophile Italian art-popper similarly beloved of Cardiacs fans and who’s sitting on what promises to be one of 2018’s sunniest and most enjoyable rock albums: he’ll be playing with a band including longterm woodwind-and-vocal sidekick Dominique D’Avanzo, Pocket Gods’ keyboard wizard Noel Storey and Cardiacs drummer Bob Leith. In St Gallen, the gig’s being opened by bouzouki-toting Dutch psych-exotica rockers Komodo, whose music also draws on raga, hip hop, desert blues, rumba and ’60s harmony pop and surf rock.



 
Full dates:

  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England, Wednesday 26th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • The Water Rats, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8BZ, England, Friday 28th September 2018 7.30pm (with Sterbus) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Saturday 29th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Hafenklang, Große Elbstrasse 84, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Monday 1st October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Cassiopeia, Revaler Str. 99, 10245 Berlin, Germany, Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm (with support t.b.c) – information here, here and here
  • Backstage München, Reitknechtstr. 6, 80639 München, Germany, Wednesday 3rd October 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Grabenhalle, Unterer Graben 17, 9000 St.Gallen, Switzerland, Thursday 4th October 2018, 7.30pm (with Komodo) – information here, here and here
  • Orange Peel, Kaiserstraße 39, 60329 Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Friday 5th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • ProgPower Europe 2018 @ Jongerencentrum Sjiwa, Hoogstraat 1a, 5991 XC Baarlo, Netherlands, Saturday 6th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here


 

October 2016 – upcoming classical gigs – Helen Grime Day at Wigmore Hall in London (15th), Cariolan Trio + Adam Brown at Conway Hall in London (30th); plus Ligeti Quartet in Little Missenden, London and Aberdeenshire (16th, 17th, 30th)

10 Oct

Helen Grime Day @ Wigmore Hall, 15th October 2016

Helen Grime Day
Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England
Saturday 15th October 2016, 1.00pm/6.00pm/7.30pm
information

Wigmore Hall is devoting a whole day to the work of Scottish composer Helen Grime, who’s about to begin her term as the Hall’s first female composer-in-residence for the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 seasons.

An hour-long early afternoon concert will be entirely devoted to Helen’s chamber music, played by a five-piece ensemble of strings, oboe and piano. There’ll be two sets of instrumental works originally inspired by fine art minatures – ‘Three Whistler Miniatures’ (triggered by Helen’s encounter with James Whistler’s chalk and pastel drawings in Boston’s Isabella Stewart Museum) and ‘Aviary Sketches’, influenced by the mysterious ‘assemblage boxes’ of American artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell. There’ll also be performances of Helen’s ‘Oboe Quartet’, and her string duo ‘To See The Summer Sky’, plus the British premiere of the piano and oboe duo ‘Five North Eastern Scenes’. (Here’s a version of the Whistler piece…)


 
In the evening, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and conductor Geoffrey Paterson will take over the hall for a double triptych of music by Helen and her influences.

From the press release: “Helen Grime’s ‘Seven Pierrot Miniatures’ (NB – a companion piece to Schoenberg’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’) project the composer’s uncanny feeling for instrumental tone colours and textural contrasts, whilst her ‘Clarinet Concerto’ (to be played by soloist Mark van de Wiel) is a study in virtuosity that grows more meditative as it unfolds. Oliver Knussen and Elliott Carter have been formative influences in Grime’s career; her duo ‘Embrace’ picks up the duos in Knussen’s delightful ‘Songs without Voices’, and the Carter duo, written for Knussen’s 50th birthday, mirrors this.” There’ll also be a performance of Leoš Janáček’s woodland fantasy ‘Concertino’.

There are two takes on two of those Grime pieces below:



 
In between the concerts, at 6.00pm, Helen will give a forty-five minute talk.

Performers:

Alexandra Wood – violin (afternoon concert)
Rachel Roberts – viola (afternoon concert)
Philip Higham – cello (afternoon concert)
Nicholas Daniel – oboe (afternoon concert)
Huw Watkins – piano (afternoon concert)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group – ensemble (evening concert)
Mark van de Wiel – clarinet (evening concert)
Geoffrey Paterson – conductor (evening concert)

Programme:

(morning concert:)

Helen Grime – Three Whistler Miniatures (for piano, violin & cello)
Helen Grime – Aviary Sketches (after Joseph Cornell) (for violin, viola & cello)
Helen Grime – To see the summer sky (for violin & viola)
Helen Grime – Five North Eastern Scenes (for oboe & piano) (UK première)
Helen Grime – Oboe Quartet (for oboe, violin, viola & cello)

(evening concert:)

Helen Grime – Embrace (for Bb clarinet & C trumpet)
Helen Grime – Seven Pierrot Miniatures (for piccolo, bass clarinet, piano, viola & voice)
Oliver Knussen – Songs without Voices Op. 26 (for flute, cor anglais, clarinet, horn, piano and string trio )
Helen Grime – Clarinet Concerto (for clarinet, piccolo, contrabassoon, harp & strings)
Elliott Carter – Au Quai (for bassoon and viola)
Helen Grime – Luna (for piccolo, oboe/clarinet, E-flat clarinet, horn, percussion & piano)
Leoš Janáček – Concertino (for piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, French horn and bassoon )

Incidentally, Helen has recently announced her first new work as part of the residency, which will be a piano concerto for Huw Watkins and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. This will be premiered at the hall in March 2017. In the meantime, here’s a dip into yet another Grimes piece (her acclaimed orchestral work ‘Near Midnight’, which already seems to be working its way into the repertoire…)


 
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If you’re interested in hearing Helen’s ‘Aviary Sketches’ twice in one month, the The Coriolan String Trio are including it in their Conway Hall concert a couple of weeks after Helen Grimes Day, sandwiched in between two pieces of established classical repertoire…

promo-cariolan-trio

Conway Hall Sunday Concerts presents:
Coriolan String Trio + Adam Brown
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1R 4RL, London
Sunday 30th October 2016, 5:30 pm
information

From the Conway Hall publicity mailshot – “The Coriolan String Trio combines the forces of chamber musicians from two renowned chamber groups, with a thirst for exploring and expanding on the repertoire for String Trio. As founding members of the Finzi String Quartet, viola player Ruth Gibson and violinist Sara Wolstenholme performed internationally, broadcast and recorded together until 2012. Until 2012, Robin Michael was cellist in the critically acclaimed Fidelio Trio for over ten years, with an extensive discography and premiering over a hundred new works for the genre. Since first meeting in 2013, all three have enjoyed collaborating through Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival and projects at Kings Place, London.”

Programme:

Ludwig van Beethoven – String Trio in G Op.9/1
Helen Grime – Aviary Sketches (after Joseph Cornell)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Divertimento in E flat K563

As a bonus, “at a pre-concert recital at 5.30pm, guitarist Adam Brown will perform solo, presenting varied dance forms from across Latin America. Performed works will be recorded on a forthcoming album that will include dynamic new arrangements and exciting first recordings.” No extra details on that, but here’s Adam performing a take on a Jimmy van Heusen classic…


 

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In between the previous two shows, The Ligeti Quartet are touring their interesting ‘Fellow Travellers’ programme at a couple of English venues.

From the Forge website:

“The Ligeti Quartet – consisting of violinists Mandira de Saram and Patrick Dawkins, viola player Richard Jones and cellist Val Welbanks – is dedicated to performing modern and contemporary music, commissioning new works, and engaging a diverse audience. Formed in 2010, they were united by their fascination with the music of György Ligeti, and have since established a reputation as leading exponents of new music.

“The title of this programme and the opening piece, ‘Fellow Traveler’, suggest socio-political and Cold War connotations. The pieces of music you will hear at this concert refer in various ways to tensions and freedom, unity through eclecticism – relevant themes in the month before the US presidential election. The concert is built around two major works by Samuel Barber and Dmitri Shostakovich, contemporaries who in this programme represent classics of the mid-20th century USA and USSR. Their music was related in language but written under very different circumstances; Barber composed his quartet in the prime of his life, buoyed by the artistic perks of The New Deal; Shostakovich wrote of his fear of mortality, in the grips of terminal illness and under Soviet scrutiny.”

The concert also includes quartet works by the polystylistic pioneer Alfred Schnittke, the polymathic jazz-and-classical composer John Zorn (from a set of intricate, witty compositions inspired by the rules and forms of sadomasochism), and the premiere of a new Duke Ellington-inspired quartet composed by another jazz musician, Laura Jurd (who’s also on tour this month).

Programme:

John Adams – Fellow Traveler
Alfred Schnittke – String Quartet No. 3
Samuel Barber – String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11
John Zorn – Cat O’Nine Tails
Laura Jurd – Jump Cut Shuffle (world premiere)
Dmitri Shostakovich – String Quartet No. 13, op. 138

Here are takes on moste of those pieces:





 
Dates:

In addition, the Quartet will be playing another show at the end of the month, in Aberdeenshire (as part of the ongoing Scotland-wide Sound Festival). This show will feature a different set, although one which illustrates the Quartet’s interests and preoccupations with modern and twentieth-century music.

Sound Festival presents:
The Ligeti Quartet
Woodend Barn, Banchory, AB31 5QA, Scotland
Sunday 30th October 2016, 7.00pm
information

Programme:

György Kurtág – Six Moments Musicaux, op, 44
Béla Bartok – String Quartet No. 5
Iannis Xenakis – Tetras
György Ligeti – String Quartet No. 1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes)

(Again, here’s some playthroughs of most of those pieces by various folk…)




 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – London end-of-month assortment – Project Instrumental play string quartets for free; Eddie Parker’s Mister Vertigo ascends again; an even more diverse Daylight Music than usual (with Stick In The Wheel, No Cars and Alabaster dePlume)

24 Feb

Two shows coming up on the Friday…

Project Instrumental, 2016

Friday Tonic presents:
Project Instrumental
Central Bar @ Royal Festival Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Friday 26th February 2016, 5.30pm
– free event – more information

“Making its Southbank Centre debut in quartet form, players from Project Instrumental invite you to greet Friday evening sipping on the sonorities of some 21st-century string quartets. Described as “simply knockout” (Alex Julyan, Wellcome Trust Fellow) and selected as a Time Out London Critic’s Choice, Project Instrumental brings thrilling performances to unbounded audiences. Instrument-inspired, rather than genre-led, the group evolves around a core of strings and what can be done with them, across genres and instrumental combinations, to create truly enlivening performances, for anyone. Bold, imaginative and boundary defying, this virtuosic group strips back the peripherals with their straightforward contemporary approach to, to create not just concerts, but experiences.”

Programme:

Thomas Seltz: String Quartet No.1
Joby Talbot: String Quartet No.2
Nico Muhly: Diacritical Marks
Bryce Dessner: Tenebre

Though Project Instrumental haven’t made this explicit, all of the contemporary classical composers whose quartets are being played either originally stem from, or confidently dip into, a broad field of popular music. Nico Muhly has long been a byword for latterday classical/pop crossovers, balancing operas and contemporary music ensemble commissions with arrangements and co-writes for Grizzly Bear, Björk, Antony and the Johnsons and Philip Glass. Joby Talbot spent nine years playing on and expanding Neil Hannon’s chamber-pop songs for The Divine Comedy before moving on to a diverse compositional career of ballets, concerti, orchestral and choral works and madrigals (while still doing film scores and arrangement works relating to pop, such as his reworking of songs by The White Stripes for choreographer Wayne McGregor). Bryce Dessner is still best known as half of the guitar/compositional team for Brooklyn indie-rock darlings The National, but balances this against a powerfully prolific output of orchestral, percussion, film and installation-based instrumental works, as well as classical improvisation with the Clogs quintet and work curating Cleveland’s MusicNOW New Music festival for ten years.

Even the most obscure of the four, Thomas Seltz, spent his teenage years recording and touring as a rock guitarist and songwriter with French rock bands (most notably TORO) before making the shift to classical composition at the University of Edinburgh from 2006. Since then, he’s maintained his interest in the classical/popular faultline, writing an electric bass guitar concerto (for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and John Patitucci), ‘Awesome X’ (a comic opera about reality TV) and ‘Mandarin’ (a concerto written for Chinese erhu player Peng Yueqiang and Edinburgh crossover-chamber ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber).

All four composers refuse to be pigeonholed either by their established classical reputations or by their current or past roots/impingements upon pop and rock, seeing it all as a set of disciplines between which they can step as they choose. Seltz’s quartet (completed only last year) documents and honours his musical history, in particular his transition from rock musician to contemporary composer, via rock-inspired “strong dynamic, rhythmic and melodic elements”. Talbot’s possesses a wheeling dovelike softness in its graceful minimal approach, while Dessner’s takes tips from Reich, Adams and Glass but explodes them with a hoedown vigour. Sidestepping his confessed anxieties regarding the emotional exposure of the form, Muhly’s is bookended by an emphasis on lively ticking mechanisms and accents, counterbalanced by a more rhapsodic (and possibly concealing) middle section.



 

It seems as if this Project Instrumental set (or most of it) will be repeated at a National Portrait Gallery Late Shift appearance on April 1st (PI have been performing versions of it since at least last November). I’ll repost details closer to the time. Also in April, look out for a Britten Sinfonia mini-tour featuring a Bryce Dessner premiere.

* * * * * * * *

Eddie Parker, 2016

Eddie Parker’s Mister Vertigo
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Friday 26th February 2016, 8.00pm
– more information

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve been crossing paths with Eddie Parker on record, in concert and (on a few occasions) in person. Back in the ‘80s he was a key member of the raucous, expansive yet deceptively deep-thinking jazz band Loose Tubes, holding his own as both player and composer alongside Django Bates, Steve Berry, Chris Batchelor and many others who went on to shape both pre-millennial British jazz and what came afterwards. While Loose Tubes may always be Eddie’s best-known gig (he also went on to play and write in the sequel band Delightful Precipice), like most jazz musicians he has form elsewhere; having worked as part of John Stevens’ Freebop and as an outstanding soloist and collaborator in the band of South African pianist Bheki Mseleku, as well as leading various groups including the “quartet of twenty instruments” Twittering Machine. In all of these projects, he’s known predominantly for the assured brilliance of his flute playing. Elegant and assertive, full-toned and flexible without ever being forced, it’s an expression of a supple mind-muscle which can shape-shift from tripping lightness to pooling shade in a single graceful motion.

Eddie should, however, be at least as well regarded for his skill as an all-in composer. Drawn from his early training in avant-garde classical, fleshed out by his immersion in jazz, and characterized by both an egalitarian ethos and a sophisticated-magpie taste for eclectic listening, his compositions draw on a vast array of ideas, influences and traditions. Around jazz touchstones such as Gil Evans, Mahavishnu, Eric Dolphy and Weather Report swim disparate seasonings and elements – South Africa, Stravinsky and Debussy; Elizabethan chamber music; salsa and progressive rock; mantras and mediaevalism; Bartok, Berg, Berio and Brazilian – but never in a mere showy and dyspeptic jam of ideas.

Many composers (jazz or otherwise) turn out music which seems to be disassociated from their day-to-day personality, or which is at least canted towards a slightly different space or a stand-alone ideal. This is not the case with Eddie. His tunes and arrangements are a clear reflection of the man himself – by turns committed, kind, cheeky, bucolic and fiery; all with a glittering riverine current of lively intelligence and an eye on the small details of the world. He’s also pretty lucid as regards talking about them – his own blog comments on early and recent material that he’s written for Loose Tubes are well worth reading.

These skills haven’t gone unrecognised, and commissions for Eddie from the Apollo Saxophone Quartet and Ensemble Bash are just part of it: but there’s also been immensely valuable community composing, promotion and guidance work from Eddie, such as his efforts with with Impro Integrated and his ongoing children’s educational project Groove On. His 2001 endeavour ‘People Symphony’ picked up on the human and cultural complexity of London, sprawling via public performance and collective practise across four London boroughs and thirty pro musicians plus students of all ages, abilities and disabilities, joining in a rich stew of Indian, Brazilian, African and Turkish-inspired music mingled with jazz, rock and pop. All of this is memorable – still, in the process of digging up information for this news post, it struck me how little information on it survives. Perhaps much of Eddie’s work is like most jazz performances – a collision of opportunity and uniqueness tied to a particular time and place, a particular coming-together of people which (especially on a good night) results in a grand flare of cooperation and shared memory, echoing on in the minds and the rolled-out histories of those who were there, but forever unknown to everyone who was outside that room on that night. Maybe there’s something precious in that, but I can’t help but feel that there should be more memory, more awareness… a fuller appreciation of what’s gone down and soared up.

Rather than go on in this vein, instead I’ll be a little more positive and draw the attention to Eddie’s longest-running concern: his Mister Vertigo sextet, who play in London this weekend. Eddie’s longterm cohorts Steve Watts (double bass, another Loose Tuber), Julian Nicholas (saxophone) and Mike Pickering (drums) have been in the band since its mid-‘90s inception, while the newest recruits are up-and-coming guitarist Rob Luft (replacing John Parricelli) and pianist Matt Robinson, who follows in the footsteps of Troyka’s Kit Downes and the band’s long-standing original piano maverick Pete Saberton (who died in 2012). As a unit, Mister Vertigo is a light-footed, easily accessible ensemble whose apparent breeziness subtly disguises the opportunity to experience Eddie’s compositional work up close and intimate. Expect fine playing, a warm chamber of illuminated discourse and wide-ranging thought.

Embeddable examples of Eddie’s work are thin on the ground, but here’s a brief video of Mister Vertigo in action (albeit with Eddie leading from keyboard rather than flute) plus a Debussy-inspired piano piece from Groove Music…



 

Incidentally, Eddie’s occasional keyboard work has developed into a fuller occupation in recent years, due not least to his work as one of a battalion of keyboard players in the vintage analogue synth group The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, for which he also composes. He’s just released an album of synth compositions called ‘The Exoplanets Suite’, which will be launched at the Mister Vertigo gig (copies should be available there for about £12.00, but can also be ordered via Eddie’s Facebook page).

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The following evening, there’s a Daylight Music afternoon with no particular theme… or, to put it another, an afternoon of their own free eclectica.

Daylight Music 217, 27th February 2016

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight 217: Stick In The Wheel + No Cars + Alabaster dePlume
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 27th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (£5.00 donation suggested) – more information

Stick In The Wheel are a folk band from East London. Championed by John Kennedy (Radio X/Mercury judge) and fresh from winning fRoots Magazine’s 2015 Album of the Year, they’re “ripping apart the preconceptions surrounding folk music to retrieve the tender, beating heart at the centre of traditional English culture” (CLASH Music) – as the band themselves put it, “this is our culture, our tradition.”

No Cars is a Japanese pop band formed and based in Hackney, London UK – a mixture of rock, garage, gipsy, swing, jazz, calypso, punk, Punjabi etc. with a Japanese pop twist.

 

Alabaster dePlume (Gus Fairbairn), is a performer, writer and musician. Since 2011 he has produced three albums on Manchester label Debt Records, toured Europe as a solo performer, produced short films, and written/performed a play with circus-aerial in Dublin. He has also presented a series of combined-arts events, and his recordings are played on national radio, most recently described as “cheerfully uneasy” on Radio 3.

Joel Clayton – from Indo-Anglo folk-fusioneers (and unlikely steampunk-scene heroes) Sunday Driver, and sometimes known as trappedanimal – joins us on sitar in our fourth/in-between slot this week.

* * * * * * * *

News on March concerts coming up shortly…
 

January 2016 – upcoming gigs – Kiran Leonard’s UK mini-tour; Laura Cannell plays Liverpool, Glasgow and Bradford (with In Atoms, Jozef van Wissem, Magpahi and Stephanie Hladowski); in London, a Julian Dawes fundraiser at The Forge and an Ichi show at the Harrison; in New York, Legs play the Manhattan Inn and Rough Trade NYC with Blank Paper, Tropic Of Pisces and SKP (Lip Talk, Cosmicide). And Tom Slatter doesn’t play Brighton, yet…

10 Jan

Born in Oldham, currently Saddleworth-based, but occupying a wayward and exciting multi-instrumental/multi-genre orbit (which takes in, among many others, Todd Rundgren, spangled electronica, Dirty Projectors, Van Morrison and Nancy Chodorow) teenage wunderkind turned twenty-year-old psych-pop pioneer Kiran Leonard embarks on a quick British tour this coming week. For a sampling of what’s on offer, have a listen to Kiran’s most recent single, which examines the panicked, unwilling misogyny of pubescent boys and uses it as a launchpad for sixteen minutes of charging, spontaneous-sounding twist-and-turn musical quest. Spattered with snippets of radio, cut’n’paste ADHD changes and lo-fi turnarounds, it sounds like Lou Reed and Jim O’Rourke grappling over the steering wheel of a gawky teenage Yes.

For the tour, Kiran’s four-piece band features three other flexible Manchester music luminaries. Guitarist Dan Bridgewood Hill also plays as dbh and with NASDAQ, Irma Vep Band and Seatoller), bass player Dave Rowe is from Plank and Andrew Cheetham drums with acts including Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura, Easter, Butcher The Bar, the Birchall/Cheetham Duo and experimental rock duo Yerba Mansa. Support across the dates comes, variously, from Yerba Mansa, introverted Manchester singer-songwriter Tom Settle, Marc Rooney (taking a solo break from his usual band, Glaswegian “past post-modern bug-eyed beatniks” Pronto Mama), Edinburgh rock juveniles Redolent and inventive Sussex girl duo Let’s Eat Grandma.

Something of what to expect from the support bands is below:




This gig info was added to the top of this post at the last minute, and these gigs are selling out fast, so move quickly.

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The past week’s death of Pierre Boulez cast an overwhelming shadow over the classical and avant-garde worlds. Under that pall, it’s easy to forget that breed of composers that the post-war work of Boulez and his acolytes sometimes eclipsed – working at a humbler altitude, often inclined to traditional tonalism and craftsmanship and generally writing for the vast and undersung body of working musicians and small regional music groups, their work’s left out of the big conversations. It may break fewer boundaries, or no boundaries at all, but (to my mind, at least) it doesn’t necessarily have a lesser value. Not only does it often demonstrate an empathy for the musician over the concept, it demonstrates music’s quality of constant giving, showing that the older schemes which a younger and more intemperate Boulez once dismissed as being played out are anything but: revealing an ever-renewing, ever-fertile grain to be worked with and against even in well-mined territories.

To my ears, the work of Julian Dawes fits into this category. Five decades of his composing has produced chamber and keyboard music, theatre compositions, youth pieces, assorted works on Jewish themes (including Kaddish songs, Exodus cantatas and Holocaust pieces) plus an acclaimed mandolin concerto. All of it displays a lambent, empathetic feel for subject, performer and musician; and this coming Wednesday sees some of it compiled for a dedicated concert in London.

A Concert of Commemorative Music by Julian Dawes  (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Wednesday 13th January 2016, 7.30pm) – £9.00 to £12.00 – information & tickets

This is an evening of music which Julian has written to celebrate people and events. The night is also in memory of Emma Daly, and the proceeds of the concert will go to the Rosewood Chemo Ward at the Darenth Valley Hospital.

Programme:

Love Life and Lyric (for soprano and piano)
Reflection on Psalm 43 (for piano) – first concert performance
Homage (for string quartet)
Wedding Song (Louisa) (for soprano, violin & piano) – world premiere
Piano Sonata – world premiere
Bagatelle for a Wedding (for string quartet)
Songs from ‘The Song of Solomon’ (for mezzo soprano, tenor & piano)
String Quartet (slow movement)
Sonata for Violin and Piano

Performers:

The Holywell String Quartet
Vivienne Bellos, Helena Massip (sopranos)
Camille Maalawy (mezzo soprano)
Cantor Jason Green (tenor)
Sophie Lockett, Louisa Stuber (violins)
Mitra Alice Tham, Stephen Dickinson, Andrew Gellert, Alex Knapp, Julian Dawes (piano)

Soundclips of Julian Dawes’ music on the web are few and far between, but I’ve managed to dredge up these two videos – one of Cantor Jason Green performing one of Julian’s vocal pieces, and a low-key one of Julian talking about his work (on behalf of the publishing service Tutti). You can also listen to soundclips of some of his work at the page for Omnibus Classics’ release of his ‘Chamber Music’ CD.


Julian’s most recently completed project is ‘Pesach Cantata’ with a libretto by Roderick Young telling the story of Passover. This will be premiered at the New London Synagogue in April 2016: I’ll post about that closer to the time.

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There are a series of concerts coming up featuring East Anglian musician Laura Cannell. Playing a variety of instruments (predominantly straight or overbowed fiddle and double recorders, but also percussion and “other rarified wind instruments”, Laura fuses early and mediaeval music with a mixed ancient-and-modern approach to improvisation and to transcendent musical ceremony, taking fragments or inspirations from earlier sounds and melodies as the basis for exploration, illustration and linkages.


Laura will be playing up and down the country over the next few months at a variety of different events and locations, Each one has different musicians on the bill – Brooklyn-based Dutch lutenist and composer Josef van Wissem, who’s bringing the baroque lute out towards the worlds of experimental rock, folk and film; Liverpudlian tape-loop composer In Atoms whose “blissful and evocative” soundscapes and tones mix heath music and throbbing clubby sub-bass with the industrial and reveal him straddling Anglo-pastoralism and the European electronic grandeur of the Schultzes and Jarres; and two Yorkshire singers, Stephanie Hladowski (whose work stretches from reggae to traditional folk) and Magpahi (a.k.a. Todmorden based multi-instrumentalist Alison Cooper, who assembles a collage of folk song, fairy tale, Elizabethan poetry and dreamworld sonics from a variety of instruments and is inspired by “sepia stories, stray animals and recurring dreams of migration”).

Here’s the gig list, and something from each of Laura’s gigmates (including something quite rare from Magpani via the Was Is Das clubnight and promotions):





Laura has further gigs coming up later in the year, which I’ll also be posting about in due course.

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Born in Nagoya, (but now based in Bristol with his wife and collaborator, alt.folk singer Rachael Dadd) Ichi is paying London another visit with his truckload of invented instruments and mind-snagging riffs, digging a dayglo-lined tunnel between the avant-garde and a children’s playroom.

Ichi (The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, London, WC1H 8JF, UK, Saturday 23rd January 2016, 8.00pm) – £11.00 – informationtickets

From the Harrison’s blurb:

Ichi takes the notion of a one-man band to new limits, combining his quirky handmade instrument inventions (stilt-bass, kalilaphone, balloon-pipes, hatbox-pedal-drum, tapumpet, percussion-shoes & hat-trick-hat) with steel-drum, ping-pong balls, toys & everyday objects all in the space of one short set. Somehow there’s an ancient, ritualistic feel to his performances – he’s like the misplaced leader of a tribe. To see Ichi live is to witness something so playful and unusual you know that you’re experiencing something entirely new. It`s fun, it`s danceable, it`s exciting…. Also a practicing and exhibiting artist and film-maker, Ichi is usually seen with a cine camera in his hand, or his hands rooting through Bristol skips for materials for his musical and sculptural inventions, or his hands in the earth making human sized interactive earth xylophones as he did at Bristol`s Forage Festival.

And where words fail, there’s always the video to Ichi’s recent single Go Gagambo, “a song about mistaken identity (gagambo is an insect unfortunate enough to be mistaken as a big mosquito, resulting in probable death by angry clapping hands)”.


* * * * * * * *

I’d been hoping to bring you news of London acoustic steampunk-prog hero Tom Slatter playing Britain’s first actual steampunk bar (the recently opened Yellow Book, which is squirreled away in the Lanes of Brighton and claims to have been founded by time-travelling Victorians). Sadly not. Message just in – “This gig has been postponed. Don’t go there expecting to see me on the 23rd! Do go there if you want to see the venue, which is lovely. I will be playing at the Yellow Book in the near future. Watch this space.”

* * * * * * * *

Lastly, there are a couple of New York gigs (this week and towards the end of the month) by a ‘Misfit City’ favourite of recent years, Brooklyn-based groove-pop band Legs, who mix irresistible New Wave dance grooves with twitchy emotional neurosis and a verbose, occasional waspish Steely Dan-esque approach to songcraft under the double-keyboard licks.

Legs + SKP (Hypnocraft @ The Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11222, USA, Monday 11th January 2016, 8.30pm) – free event (suggested $5.00-$10.00- information

This pay-what-you-like gig is a Legs headliner, at which they’re supported by SKP – a.k.a. Sarah Kyle, frontwoman of Brooklyn psychedelic pop band Lip Talk. Sarah is also a member of recent Interpol tourmates Cosmicide, which features most of Lip Talk plus ex-Secret Machines leader Brandon Curtis.


Blank Paper + Tropic Of Pisces + Legs (Rough Trade NYC, 64 N 9th Street, Brooklyn, New York, NY 11249, USA, Friday 22nd January 2016, 8.00pm) – information here and heretickets

This latter one’s a bottom-of-the-bill show for Legs. Swings and roundabouts, but they can play on both. At least they get to perform at Rough Trade (should be a natural audience booster) and they also get to act as warm-up and gig primer for two other stylish and eminently compatible Brooklyn acts. Keytar-wielding Blank Paper mix up classic hip hop rhythms, distant glimmering-city synthpop tones and vocals with just the right degree of hauteur for detached explorations of love and obsession sheathed in immaculate tunes. Tropic Of Pisces is the new project from Mon Khmer/Oberhofer sideman Mathew Scheiner – his geeky white-boy solo funk seems to be inspired equally by glam, hip hop and South African township jive, though he himself describes it as “a warm, magical place that you must be special enough to have found.” Judge for yourselves below via the videos, with their ninja noir and tinfoil chic.


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More gig news next time, including shows by Of Arrowe Hill and Earl Zinger with the Emanative & Collocutor Duo; plus an appearance by Sealionwoman.

Through the feed – Lucy Claire ‘Collaborations No 1’ EP and London launch gig, plus ‘Tim Smith’s Extra-Special OceanLand World’ reissue

3 Jun

Lucy Claire, dishing it out (photo courtesy of This Is It Forever Records)

Lucy Claire, dishing it out
(photo courtesy of This Is It Forever Records)

Lucy Claire Thornton – currently better known as “Lucy Claire” – is a contemporary classical/ambient electronic crossover composer who counts Erik Satie, Peter Broderick and Bjork as influences, and whose work has been hailed as “brilliant, delicately-wrought sketches” by ‘The Quietus‘ and as “immersive and slightly disorienting” by New Music webcast station ‘Amazing Radio‘. She’s releasing her newest release ‘Collaborations EP No 1’ on This Is It Forever Records on June 15th: the same week features a launch concert in London promoted by Chaos Theory (the inspired crew who put on that Sweet Niche/Macchiana del Tiempo/What?! triple bill of fusion jazz which I reviewed last summer). Here’s what they have to say about this gig:

“(We are) excited to host this launch party for the first in a series of collaborations EPs from Lucy Claire, along with many guest performers. ‘Collaborations EP No 1’ will be available with unique handmade packaging at a reduced price at this event only, along with two download codes for remixes by worriedaboutsatan and Message To Bears…. This evening we will see Lucy perform works from ‘Collaborations No 1’, featuring (contributions from German singer/songwriter/producer) Alev Lenz and producer Bruised Skies.

Support will come from electronic classical composers Leah Kardos and Jim Perkins. Almost three years after we worked with Leah on the launch of her debut album ‘Feather Hammer’, we’re delighted to be back together. Tonight we will see bigo & twigetti label-mates Leah and Jim performing new collaborative material… as well as selected works from Leah’s second album ‘Machines’, a concept album with lyrics made up from cut up spam emails, which will feature singer Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz. We will also hear them perform new material by Jim (which will be released later in the year on bigo & twigetti) and re-workings of material from ‘Feather Hammer’.”

All three acts will be basing their performance around piano, electronics, and string quartet. The concert takes place on Thursday 19th June at 7.30pm, at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, and advance tickets can be bought here for under a tenner. For various frustrating reasons, I suspect that I won’t be able to attend this gig myself. Perhaps someone who’s reading this could go, and then tell me what it was like? (Not that I want to make you feel like interns…)

* * *

Considering that he’s still cruelly immobilised by the after-effects of the strokes that felled him six years ago (see ‘Misfit City’ posts passim, here and here), the voice of Tim Smith has rarely been heard in the land so loudly. The profile of his band Cardiacs has been stealthily growing (albeit through YouTube and nostalgic webchat rather than their much-missed live shows) and we’ve recently had or will have new or imminent releases from self-confessed Smith acolytes Arch Garrison, Knifeworld and Stars In Battledress.

Tim Smith: 'Tim Smith's Extra Special OceanLandWorld'

Tim Smith: ‘Tim Smith’s Extra Special OceanLandWorld’

Meanwhile, the core Smith-eries just keep on coming – this year’s already seen reissues of relatively rare Smithwork (Mr & Mrs Smith & Mr Drake or Spratleys Japs) and a deluxe double vinyl reissue of key Cardiacs album ‘Sing To God’ is due for July). At the end of last month, Tim’s mysterious label The Alphabet Business Concern also sneaked out a CD re-release of his obscure 1995 solo album ‘Tim Smith’s Extra-Special OceanLand World’. A typically arch and sinister ABC press release reveals all (well, not really… and all capitals are deliberate, or at least deliberately annoying):

“AN ANNOUNCEMENT! PLUCKY? PERHAPS. GIFTED? PERHAPS NOT. Nonetheless Tim Smith, in an unforeseen spat of hubris, took it upon himself to exclude his so-called friends (acquaintances at best) to perform a collection of songs in isolation. Foolhardily believeing it may raise enough capital to barter his way from the labyrinthine clutches of obligation to which HE had previously agreed and to which, thankfully, he is bound to this day, in 1995 this solo album was release. Circumstance , of both design and fate have since rendered this ‘offering’ unavailable. UNTIL NOW. As if to mock his feeble attempt at emancipation THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN once again make available ‘OceanLandWorld’ with the proviso that the covenant can never be broken.”

Ducking under Alphabet’s theatre-of-cruelty bombast, the following actual facts can be dug up. The OceanLandWorld album was recorded by Tim on his own between 1989 and 1990, during a time of upheaval in the entangled world of Cardiacs. Three of the band’s key instrumentalists – Sarah Smith, William D. Drake and Tim Quy – had all either left or were about to leave, and at the same time Tim’s marriage to Sarah had ended. Next to nothing’s been said about this last event, and the other departures have always been described in a matter-of-fact way. In the long term, it seems that the baggy, unlikely, familial mass of Cardiacs-people (with their collective love of music and their sense of common adversity and purpose) managed to accommodate and contain the various splits and departures without lasting bitterness.

Still, although the suggestion in the sleeve-notes that Tim recorded and performed the ‘OceanLandWorld’ songs alone “by way of a penance” is a typically Alphabettian joke, there’s a certain rue to the tone of the album (not least when, behind a bouncy pop march, Tim sings cryptically about tears and about worms chewing on wooden people). Previously wrung happily through the efforts of other people, Tim’s songs are now being filtered through machines: check out those cascading sequencers and springy synth-bass whacks behind his reedy squawk and bustling guitars. Hardly surprisingly, there’s a slight pre-fab feel to the album. If previous Cardiacs albums sometimes felt like the scruffy, well-lived-in old houses in the band’s south-west London suburbs, then ‘OceanLandWorld’ feels like a race around a new satellite town: thin slivers of post-war history, new bricks and formica, a Toytown street plan.

That sense of uneasy rootlessness plays a part in this picture. Tim stutters out an album of faux-jaunty pop songs, without his musical family to push against and to be held by (even if Sarah does briefly return on one song for a gracing of saxophone). The familiar staggering, stumbling embrace of Cardiacs songs is replaced by a Scalextric skid. It’s to Tim’s credit that he somehow turns this into an asset: to these ears, ‘OceanlandWorld’ captures the giddy weightless of post-traumatic sensation, the impression that everything you are has been tossed up into the air like streamers and comes down spread-out and thinned-out, but still recognisably you. In the same way, familiar Cardiacs tics and inspirations work their way through the fabric of the album, with epic punky chorales and proggy vistas opening up like a junkyard requiem.

The album also features one of Tim’s most breathtakingly beautiful songs, Swimming With The Snake. The man rarely, if ever, even starts to explain what his songs are about, but this particular song communicates mysterious undercurrents of pain, loss and love with a rare and stunning magic.

If what you’ve seen, heard, and read here intrigues you, you can order the reissued ‘OceanLandWorld’ from here.

Lucy Claire online:
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Tim Smith online:
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Leah Kardos online:
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Jim Perkins online:
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Alev Lenz online:
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Chaos Theory Promotions online:
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CONCERT REVIEW – The Bochmann Quartet (performing Keith Burstein’s ‘String Quartet No. 1 – ‘Dance Of Death/Dream Of Love’) @ Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution, Highgate, London, UK, sometime in 2002 (“rich, dissenting harmonies… the discolorations of love”)

28 Aug

Outside it’s a dark and rainy night in Highgate. Random and forceful, the wind lashes a miserable drizzle against the Highgate Lit and Sci’s bright white rational walls and skylighted roof. Sometimes, nature just cues you in.

Initially it seems perverse for the Bochmann Quartet to sandwich Keith Burstein’s new composition between two gems of classical string assurance (Mozart’s Quartet In G, K387 and Beethoven’s Quartet In F Opus 18 No. 1). As a latterday composer, surely Burstein’s work belongs with the moderns… whoever they are in these days of “post”s and “quasi”s.

But maybe not. Burstein’s “post-atonal” compositions are far from the deconstructed chance/hazard/subjective strategy of the varied Cage and Stockhausen traditions, from the shocking trills and tangles of Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle (one British compositional generation up) or even from the complex, angry clash of his near-contemporary Mark-Anthony Turnage. Also, his passionate defense of a renewed respect for traditional tonality suggests he’s spinning back towards the arms of classical music, where the breadth of human emotion can be represented in harmonious, resolvable tone colours; and where every piece contains all the pointers to a final flourish, a final satisfying closure of emotion before the dignified applause.

Well… not quite. The actual separation is made explicit by the Bochmanns’ assured navigation of Mozart’s enlightened equations beforehand, and by their stately walkthrough of Beethoven’s forest moods afterwards: each of them eminently satisfying. It’s not just the qualities of musicianship from all four players – committed and graceful throughout. It’s the way that those familiar pieces, rich in harmony and involvement, leave a pure satisfaction in their wake. In the face of jagged modernist upheaval and playful post-modernist scatter, our educated, structured culture still prizes its rationality: the patterns of classical music run through this, reassuring us that whatever emotions we go through, all will pass to resolution. Of all compositions, string quartets (as Bochmann cellist Peter Adams reminds us) were once considered the pinnacle of composed music – that which implies an ideal for living, for feeling.

Burstein’s String Quartet No. 1 (which sports, with an antique and near-mediaeval directness, the subtitle of “Dance Of Death/Dream Of Love”) reflects this particular ideal and its associated duty far more than does the dissonance and overt chaos of modernity and post-modernity. Yet as a composer Burstein remains too honest to simply copy the balance of classical music’s ideals. Marked by different times (when ideals are less easy to envisage, let alone achieve) this string quartet is rooted in an earlier Burstein composition – ‘This Year’s Midnight”, a choral meditation on the Holocaust. It draws on the bitter nourishment of bereavement; and of the splintered confusion when the rudder of faith snaps and incomprehensible chaos seems to have moved in for good. Contained in a shell of formal behaviour and formal tonality, it illustrates disturbance with diffident, insinuating elegance.

Movement 1 (Farewell) builds out of gently interleaving, swelling tonal planes – each instrument alternating through slow arcs of intensity, circulating restlessly. An elegy, for certain, but one in which decorum and dissension mix like the conflicting undercurrents of grief at a death. Complex emotions are hauled up skittering into the open; a disagreeing family protesting mutely and piecemeal at the funeral speeches, their disagreement only in betrayed by the shifting of tense shoulders and the blur of lips. Similar in its morbid beauty to the disturbed vigil-music of Billy Strayhorn’s Blood Count, Farewell is tolled to silence by Adams’ tense cello before Burstein conjures an aspirant, wounded passage with a translucent John Taverner frugality. Launched achingly upwards, it’s kept airborne by the Bochmann Quartet’s gritted bowing: both composition and performance feeling like the heroic efforts of straining birds’ wings.

As a counterweight – a celebration of ongoing lives and commitments in the face of loss – Movement 2 (Paradiso) is a wedding dedication. Filled with serenity, lofted on a bluesy cello arpeggio, its aspirational qualities are still shaded by rich, dissenting harmonies. Here, Burstein seems to have captured the discolorations of love. He illustrates its small perversities, the need for steering, the impossibility of a pure love in a troubled world, but the sheer necessity of striving towards it.

Keith Burstein: ‘String Quartet No. 1 (Dance Of Death/Dream Of Love’) – 2nd movement: ‘Paradiso’ (performed by The Bochmann Quartet)

The third movement, Animato Nervosa, seems to show the alternative – or what happens if loss and fear are allowed to overshadow life. Distracted and lonely, it suggests a neurotic correctness forever threatened by worry. The vivid spectre of collapse tugs constantly at its order and structure, the disturbance led by Adams’ increasingly aggressive cello lines. More brittle than the preceding movements, it’s also more obvious in its violence. The title is as much medical as musical – the dissension hovering in Farewell is ingrained here. It’s more personal, more destructive in the fierce shying of the melodies; and it’s here that the Bochmann Quartet show a darker mettle in the broken, conflicting string lines. As Adams delivers a final growling, twisted stab, there’s a tense pause; then Helen Roberts replies – and seals the movement – with a vicious snap of viola strings.

The fourth and final movement (Totentanz/Liebestraum) sees Burstein draw more sharply on the Jewish music in his background and on the collective bereavement which informed The Year’s Midnight. The nervous jazzy energy and cartoonish structures of Kletzmer folk music simultaneously energize the piece and seem to set it up for wreckage. In the rush of the dance, Michael Bochmann and Mark Messenger deliver bold violin strokes which grow gradually more and more frantic, almost leaping backwards onto each other’s toes. All is suddenly cut off, leaving all four musicians rocking precariously on the brink of a void. From here, the Quartet seem to be picking up pieces of music and attempting fearfully to rethread them on a sobre spine of cello. At last, love’s dream melody arrives – but as comforting as it is, it’s also shot through with trauma (not least by the return of the tolling cello from the first movement).

Burstein’s work is more tuneful and more polite than much of what we’re accustomed to from today’s abrasive, bullishly challenging concert-hall premieres. But in its mannered English way, it’s just as confrontational about the fears that beset us.

The Bochmann Quartet (Michael Bochmann) online:
Homepage

Keith Burstein online:
Homepage

Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution online:
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Mondriaan Kwartet @ Fuse Leeds 04 festival (performing John Zorn/Toek Numan/John de Simone/Richard Ayres) @ The Venue, Leeds College of Music, Quarry Hill, Leeds, UK, 4th March 2004 (“brimming over with the enjoyment of physical and audience challenge”)

12 Mar

We’re all consenting adults tonight, in for an evening of potential torment at the hands of four extremely accomplished Dutch experts. As we wait, we’re eyeing an ominous device. Rearing up from the floor, it initially resembles a homemade shower cabinet, adapted to work as an electrocution chamber.

Any second thoughts?

The towering gizmo is the Octachord. It’s a nine-foot sound-sculpture (to be precise, an electrophonic harp) doing double duty as accompaniment for Mondriaan Kwartet –  but that’s for later. Right now, its main role is to focus our attention. Eight metal extrusions like park-fence railings (actually tubes holding the Octachord’s strings and movable bridges) jut up from a chipboard sound-box, sitting on a set of squat castors. Hugged by a tracery of control wires and delicate devices, the tubes ascend to a cross-brace like an oversized hash sign.

Like many sound-sculptures, the Formica surfaces of the Octachord and its festoonings of light-industrial debris give it a frail, domesticated Heath Robinson structural logic, offsetting its intimations of menace and tortured electricity. You could imagine it sitting in the corner of your spare room, exchanging polite machine-conversation with the boiler. But you wouldn’t want to imagine it roaming the house in the dead of night: looming towards the bedroom door, exuding fat blue sparks…

I was mentioning torment? That’ll be courtesy of John Zorn. For as long as he’s been blowing frenetically over jazz and hardcore art-rock, this viciously intelligent post-modern saxophone maven has doubled as a modern classical composer. His waspish chamber music dominates the Mondriaan’s repertoire tonight – and when I say “torment”, I mean it literally.

By Zorn’s own admission, the splintered suite music of ‘The Dead Man’ is a detailed representation of a sadomasochism session in progress. Violins, viola and cello conjure the impact of blows and the rests of anticipation; the distortion of twists and cruel stretches; the shocks and the sensuality. If this sounds like sensationalism or game-playing, then bear in mind that Zorn apparently practices what he’s preaching here. If he’s setting up as an ambassador for the joys of S&M he makes a compelling job of it, by writing music that’s as eerily seductive as it is violent.

As for the performers, Mondriaan Kwartet are a New Music string quartet par excellence – an effortless collective embodiment of Dutch cool and elegance – but they’re clearly brimming over with the enjoyment of physical and audience challenge. They dive passionately into Zorn’s music with its hornet squeals; its sudden pops of ordnance; its super-pianissimo glass-pane skitterings of bow on strings. The Dead Man itself sounds like nothing so much as music for duelling crabs – perilous music, with its structure continually threatened by tensile collapse. The concerted classical discipline and harmonies are beset by savage scrapes, and by drifting descending tones and atmospheres that alter the air like eerie lighting effects. When they’re not slithering their bows over the strings, the players rattle them against the fingerboards; or swat at the air with them, making muted whip swooshes. Over the top of her viola, Annette Bergman’s eyes flick from colleague to colleague for cues. On the execution of a particularly tricky Zornism, a broad grin flashes across her face – guileless, yet mischievous.

Setting Zorn for a while, the Mondriaan move to ‘Stringtones for String Quartet’ by Dutch composer Toek Numan. Reflecting his work in dance theatre and film soundtracks, Numan’s piece is presented in highly visual terms – performed in near-darkness accompanied by film projections, a rotor of light passing across gelid red tiles and flickering and fractionating into restless patterns. The music itself is a shudder of anticipation, broken by staccato plucks before it’s allowed to go far in sustaining itself: a drone undermined by quick strikes and harmonies, eroding backbone even as they provide an intriguing sour extension. Revealed in parallel, Numan’s work embodies and illustrates a dividing line between continuity and the disturbances arising in its wake.Throughout, its value seems to lie in the challenge of balance which it sets its players.

There’s a problem with this at first, as it seems that (beyond the admiration we can offer to the Mondriaan’s brinksmanship and precision) there’s little for us to grip out here in the audience. But then there are the flashes of small reward. A shared line of falling/rising harmonic keen from the violins. There’s a brief, bright glimpse of harmony as the Mondriaan power through a sudden and unexpected mosaic of notes (like The Kronos Quartet on full Manhattan throttle), only for it to disappear just as rapidly. These moments materialize more and more frequently as the piece progresses and finally ‘Stringtones…’ is revealed for what it is : a modernist’s veil dance – thoroughly orchestrated, but with its component parts almost always left entirely masked, or extracted and scattered across its length.

Throughout all of this, the Octachord broods onstage like a threatening science fiction prop. Appropriately, it’s finally brought into play for John de Simone‘s ‘Deus ex Machina’ – a compositional nod to the primal thrills of science fiction B-movies, in which the Octachord plays the Alien Menace to the string quartet’s Earthlings. At the Octachord’s controls, its creator Robert Pravda gets to play the obligatory mad scientist, but only up to a point. Unshaven, and sporting long warrior’s hair, he provides an air both of frizzy chaos and of gentle politeness. This sets off the Mondriaan’s collective neatness and precision before a single note is played.

The Mondriaan go to work around Pravda in a sawn-up staccato, one violin off on a gull-flight glissando above the dense, intense, angrily compressed structure. As bows swoop up and down to precise point on instrument necks, Pravda totes a seven-foot button-studded control stick with an air of mild trepidation. Finally, cued in by a two-note violin ostinato, the Octachord activates with a brutal transformer hum before swelling out to a factory bray like a clutch of singing drill-bits. Under Pravda’s gaze, flashing green lights crawl up and down the rods like slow abseilers, riding the bridges as they set the pitch. The sound is terrific – vast, oppressive and urgent harmonic waves.

Unfortunately, it’s immediately a fatal distraction from the quartet music. This vanishes into indifference as the Octachord rides balefully along within its own entirely separate space. Given a long solo passage, with many of its dancing lights alight, it renders us a wonderful unearthly noise like a glass harmonica being ravished by ravenous microscopic metal worms. Watching it chunter along like a psychedelic cathedral clock (or a captivating ‘Doctor Who’ relic), we forget all about the strings, and the composer.

With ‘Deus Ex Machina’ over and the interval in progress, I sidle up to the Octachord (alongside other nosy audients) and sneak a peek at Pravda’s copy of the score. Our explosive giggles prove that curiosity has finally cracked up the cat. The instructions from de Simone are simply to turn the Octachord on, to let the Mondriaan phase in with the string drones and come to a halt; and to then “do your thing for 2-3 minutes, or until audience is bored…” It’s a good joke. Still, it’s not enough to make up for the feeling that a marvellous sound-sculpture roar has been wasted –  that it’s been bolted onto a halfway-interesting chunk of aggressive minimalism in a cavalier and casual fashion, only for both to fall flat. Yoked together, to death.

Another new work – the two-part ‘No.38 for String Quartet’ by Cornish composer Richard Ayres – begins with bouzouki-style picking. Armed with plectra, the Mondriaan members claw gently at the strings of cello, viola and violin for Part 1. Jan Erik van Regteren Altena’s first violin, is the exception: ejecting a thin strand of stressed melody, hurtling helplessly off the side of the instrument. Part 2 has the full quartet engaged in a hopping dance full of skidding harmonics. Dispatched with zest and vigour, it sounds like children’s skipping songs being enticed into a motorcycle formation, and then run violently off the road. Later on, other vivacious dances are sliced and diced in Ayres’ conceptual grinder. It seems that John Zorn doesn’t claim the monopoly on cheerful sadism.

However, Zorn does claim composer’s laurels for the evening, as the Mondriaan close the concert with his ‘Cat O Nine Tails’ – a masterfully disruptive witty soundtrack to an imaginary cartoon. Ripe with cunning flirtations with chaos – and peppered with a wealth of Americana – it offers the Mondriaan another opportunity to stretch out and relish. Scourging turbulence and shimmers cross over with jaws and saws; fragments of hoedown reels start up and are swallowed by silence, jump-cut with passages of rich serenity or sly threat. Inside its parade of styles and suggestions, Eduard van Regteren Altena gets to quote jazz bass on his cello, and Zorn also throws in a brief shuffled history of the fiddle’s musical journey across Europe and America via kletzmer, Appalachia and Hollywood. Certainly, there are gimmicks a-plenty – but here, as in cartoons, the architecture of gag and message combine, part of a bigger picture.

Mondriaan Kwartet online:
Homepage

John Zorn online:
Homepage MySpace LastFM

Toek Numan online:
Homepage Homepage - blog LastFM

John de Simone online:
MySpace

Richard Ayres online:
Homepage MySpace

Robert Pravda & the Octachord  online:
Homepage Facebook and also this article.

The Venue (Leeds College of Music) online:
Homepage

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