Wednesday, 2 April 2014

“Be inspired, enriched and enchanted” it said on the RNCM 's ticket folder.
“Not sure about enchanted,” said Mike.
“Terrified, tortured and traumatised?”
“Might not be so great at the publicity meeting.”

Just back from Tim Hecker. All the above did apply.

With age, so they say, comes wisdom. We'd taken our earplugs. As we were shuffling out, Mike asked me if I'd put mine in. I hadn't. There didn't seem much point nearly. It was so big, so everywhere. Your ribs shook, you seat shook, plugging ears seemed like dusting lamp shades while the Titanic sank.

It was immense and immensely abstract. 
Rarely have I been to anything which so resolutely refused to paint pictures in my head.

The last thing I wrote about had sound masses nudging up against one another. But Hecker is nothing like that. He is all one monolithic sound mass that rises beneath the earth and swells and grinds with the slowness, with the implacability of continents.

At one point, it seemed we were journeying, all of us in that room, that we were moving as one, forwards if not towards. And all around to either side, above and below was terrible and yet we moved on. As if you knew there would be no arrival, no achievement, yet still we did move on. It seemed this was the human condition. Presented with neither nor censure judgement; as if Hecker had no interest in applauding man's bravery or condemning his pig-headedness. It was, as it were, pure description. This is how it is: it is pointless, it takes all our time all our effort and we go on, regardless of how hard it is.

Not a picture but a small story I suppose.

There were maybe four great movements in the hour-long piece. There was never silence but there were minutes when things fell away and only small scratching sounds remained. One of the sections was a little nearer the domestic scale - it reminded me of the Crake valley, hills, rather than mountains, dotted farm houses, field, and stock grazing, the odd beech sweeping low.

That was the only picture I saw.

And it was so small and fleeting as if: there is this, but we cannot stay, it is not yours for there are greater purposes to address.

It was unnerving; the final section bearing in with incredible sadness. 
A needing to hold small things safe.
You'd see people in the audience touching their faces, rubbing their noses or the back of their necks. Were we trying to reassure ourselves we were still real, still alive?

It was huge achievement but hard to comprehend. As all the best things are.

Friday, 21 March 2014

there are neither wholes nor parts


Scott has written a wonderful piece about the composition of “there are neither wholes nor parts” which helps you understand what is happening and why.

But I want to write about what it sounds like.

metastable harmony”, the first track, sounds like wind over a frozen lake, a skate skreeling on the surface, wind raising a resonance in the wires against an iron sky – the essence of sharp, of cold, of ice.
Then with a deep throb – the troll beneath the bridge we all heard about as children growls angrily, “Who's that trit trotting over my bridge?” The Billy Goat Gruff totters across the bridge wrapped in a scream of nervous tension.

there are neither wholes nor parts – II” belongs to Jonathan Sage on basset horn. All watery in a dark cave, a dark pool, a cool clear echo. Ripples calmly expanding.

In “surfaces of emergence” soft and blue emerald masses bump gently together, reminding me of Ivon Hitchen's painting of the Divided Oak Tree.

As wind sweeps a lake surface, as if a single impulse can at once be everywhere, distance and time can be uncoupled and action blush instantaneously, this is a “massy piece”: the cup of air between hillsides, the liquid gasp of sunlight.

With the return of “there are neither wholes nor parts - IA”, this time with Iain Harrison on alto sax, there is s t e a l t h, menace, a hunt is on.
The taut poise of a chameleon, one foot poised, immobile. A lost beast in an arid place.

at least two things” has the slightly anxious breathy voice of Elisabeth Smalt and an eerie almost featureless note that could soundtrack the appearance of the slab in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the slab slowly revolved in Stanley Kubrick's film, the sunlight suddenly slashed into view.

And “there are neither wholes nor parts returns -II”, this time with Jonathan Sage on clarinet, a mood of deep disquiet, maybe the soundtrack of an empty room, nursery curtains blowing at an open window. Or the sounds of a blown leaf in an empty playground, A cry answered only by silence. The silence answered only by its own echo.

photo by Krista Kruger

Sunday, 28 July 2013

FON 2013

There was rule – no-one knew there was this rule but there it was, quietly sitting there, informing the feel and structure of this year's Full Of Noises at Barrow. The rule said, “No lap-tops, no improv, there must be, I quote, 'some kind of score'”.

And so real (concrete) instruments were to the fore. With a vengeance. A composition – graphic scored - for church organ, trumpet, four tubas. What a shopping list that is!

But first, Tom Scott, native Barrovian.

We were in St James' church. As England was in the midst of an unseasonal heat wave, the light inside the church was high and easy. The doors open for a little air.

Tom set off a mysterious unseen drone (not from a laptop, obviously – cos the rule said . . . ) and from behind the lake surface of the grand piano, sent single notes rippling through the vault.

It was vastly minimal and very very quiet and - in response - the audience slowly fell more and more silent. This was a beautiful journey. Letting the drone and the single piano notes fall into the background, threw into relief each pew's creak with someone's shifting weight, each drag of a foot, each stifled cough.

Outside, now and again children squealed, a siren faded across the distance, a motorbike brushed the air. And, gloriously, seagulls added their voices, calling high and distant, above the piano, above the drone.

The odd thing was, as the sounds from inside the church settled and vanished, so too did the outside sounds. Perhaps someone closed the door, muting them. A shame because, while it lasted, it was a glorious effect.

Then things started to happen indicating the imminence of “Entoptic Landcape”, a composition by Lauren Redhead: persons detached themselves from the audience and took up postions by the four tubas which had been sitting quietly around the church (one right behind us!). A young woman in a spectacular frock turned into an organist. Mr. Deakin who was our MC filled us in on the gory details while the nervous tension mounted and we giggled too readily at his jokes. After all, a line-up like this could have meant war!

But it wasn't. Anything but. The tubas breathed like sleepy dinosaurs, sometimes whispering emerged, like an echo from a future human race. The organ effaced itself. The trumpet (played by Gail Brand) failed to efface itself and emitted curious mooing and farting noises. Then there was some kind of consensus – the animals moved in concert, the volume built, an uncertain purpose drove them forward. Any moment this could have become huge. But it didn't, it cut and died There were re-flickerings, muttering, these creatures seemed to graze the plain as individuals. The herd instinct in them identified them as prey not predators. Fascinating though it was and maybe determined as it was to avoid an obvious Big Statement, the lack of cohesion was disappointing. Perhaps, because of the graphic scoring, another performance might be altogether different. Those dinosaurs needed waking up a little.

If you dare, bring a stick and poke them.

Tom James Scott

Lauren Redhead. composer of Entoptic Landscape

Gail Brand. trumpeter

ORE 2 tuba players who, when left to themselves ,turn to drone

Sunday, 11 November 2012

LEVENS PARK [Deer Park]10-11-12


The idea was to do the walk alongside the River Kent through Levens Hall parkland, crossing the bridge near Sedgwick and coming back on the other side. But it was fair chucking it down and we sat in the car and stared gloomily at the windscreen and very nearly took our boots off again. But it did stop and we braved it. I'm glad we did.

The trees had the last of their autumn colours and there are Tulip Trees - yellow and green and a redwood that smelt cederous with ferny needles a pinky tan. Beaters were gathering and the pheasants were in for it. On the far side a red tractor trundled along chased by the Bagot goats . They are black and white with long silky hair and huge elegant curving horns. Over the brow of the hill the guns and their dogs were waiting. The red tractor came along – I expect it was bringing something fortifying. They must have been frozen rigid.
A tiny thing ran and ran away from us, if it was a female pheasant it was very scrawny – we saw a male and a couple of females scurrying at the foot of a hedge and where the path bends away from the river leading you out of the park another handful of pheasants ran along the wall and one bobbed under the gate.

There's two muddy fields to cross, which are a pain and you turf up on the Lane by Park Head cottage. Follow it along and little birds are playing chase in the trees, long-tailed tits, blue tits and chaffinches. Then you go down steps to cross beneath the A590 on a concrete terrace built into the road bridge over the river. It is an odd place, surprisingly beautiful, and there is a wee wooden cabin on the opposite bank. Downstream a heron stared from a mid-stream island.

You come out by a couple of cottages and the river here is dropping over terraces, some look like mill races (there used to be a gunpowder works somewhere hereabouts), but some are natural terraces of limestone, the higher ones flat undercut plates sitting above the flow. This lane joins the road to Sedgwick as it crosses the river. This is Pigwilly Wood! Water was gushing into the river from little waterfalls, dripping from the limestone in veils and a stream burbling down in a torrent.

That lane is a bit tiresome and it rises to cross the 590. Dropping down afterwards is the entrance back into Levens Park on the Eastern side of the Kent.

This is a fine avenue of oak all the way back. And all in yellow and brown autumn clothes. Behind one trunk were hiding two minute goat kids about 12” nose to tail. I hope their mother remembered to come back for them later.

By the time we were coming to the end of the avenue the guns and their dogs were going back to the hall, one guy passed us carrying eight male pheasants as I could see and a couple of them pretty nice and plump.

The deer herd had made its way down to a flat area near the river. They are Black Norwegian Fallow deer apparently which would account for them being black! – there must have been twenty to thirty head of them. A fine buck, two young bucks, the rest does.

Good day!

Friday, 5 October 2012

A night of 7” vinyls

Tonight, scrubbaging in the Danish basket of 7" vinyls, we happened to listen to . . .

Of Montreal, I was a Landscape in your Dream (2004)

Thee Moths (Alex Botten), So Many Different Suns (2010)

Lucky Pierre (Aidan Moffat) Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child (2000)

The Moody Blues Night in White Satin (1967)
Back in the day, music videos like this could be seen in pubs on a Scopitone, the first of which were made in France. Our Mike remembers seeing one (he would) in Jersey when he was 12 (1963). I didn't know this:

Anti Vietnam war lyrics."Knights in white satin, never reaching the end"...Soldiers that don't make it to the end of their tour in Vietnam are returned in coffins lined with white satin. "Letters are written, never meaning to send"... soldiers write the "letter home" in case they are killed and keep it in their locker, hoping it is never sent. Hidden meaning at a time when the censors wouldn't allow anti-war sentiment in any media.

Longpigs Blue Skies (1999)

George The Summer of Stars (1999)

Empress Drink the Town Dry (2003)

Rothko remix of Hefner's Alan Bean (2001)


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Harsh Majesty

Someone – well it was Michael Holland – said to me, “ I dunno - why, Richard Skelton? What is it? I don't really get it. I can take or leave him really.”
Now I have sympathy with this point of view because when I first heard Richard Skelton there was such a hoo-ha , such a critical acclaim thing going on but when I listened I remember thinking it was scritchy scratchy,  just a heap of unpleasant sounds threaded through some otherwise pleasant drone. It was, to my mind, “spoiled”.
I thought, I bet this one's an awkward bugger.

But now I find it hits the spot. There is some itch I did not know I had. Skelton scratches it.
This is drone that could not be used as a background to the diaphanous, formless Northern Lights, oh no. Instead it is full of “all trades their gear and tackle and trim”. It is built of iron sounds, of teeth grinding through metal, of grit and sharp rock. Although it ends as drone: although it ends as a deep wide soundscape, it is built, not of water or air but from the breath of work, of abrasion. From life shaped by constant small contact with sharp edges. It is a soundscape redolent of the forge, of iron and of tearing flakes of rust.
I am listening to a couple of pieces Skelton's written about hills: Black Combe in the Lake District and Cappanawalla in Galway. Both overhang the sea and both - is it coincidentally? - face into the west. In them is a lyrical flow that might describe their flowing skylines and yet they are built from harsh wailing sounds that might be rock pushing against rock, mountains building or weathering, sounds that might be the hard bright glitter of sunlight on waves.
I really like Richard Skelton's work now. I am a sucker for drone, its slow hypnotic builds, the way its swathes swirl around like mountain mist, and I am provoked and needy about the hard edges of the sounds Skelton uses.
So, no. I can't “take or leave him” really. His cracked and unflinching look at nature, it seems, has something to say that I need to hear. And the unexpected overall beauty that emerges from God-knows-where maybe pretty much describes the way things are.