Review: Final Two Days at the London Contemporary Music Festival, Peckham

Ambrose Seddon performance at London Contemporary Music Festival
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


'Music for Loudspeakers' and 'Coming Together', afternoon concerts, LCMF
(Peckham Car Park, 3 and 4 August, 2013; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


Two afternoons in a disused car park in Peckham –  how glamorous can you get? But these were no two ordinary afternoons. The first London Contemporary Music Festival had pitched camp there to curate a feast of daytime musical offerings on their closing weekend.

Afternoon 1: 'Music for Loudspeakers'

The first afternoon was primarily electronic, with pre-recorded samples and live processing output through a network of 50 small speakers on stands at head height spread across the auditorium space. The audience was encouraged to drift amongst the field of speakers, individual pace and trajectories personalising this ambulatory-audio experience.

Aisha Orazbayeva's brightly intelligent deconstruction of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony layered individually recorded elements in seemingly random organisation to bring an engaging left-field perspective to this masterpiece. Delicate passages and the iconic themes overlapped and flowed with an unfamiliar momentum. A work that will transfer well to many environments.

Alvin Lucier's key 1969 work, 'I am Sitting in a Room', was adapted to become 'I am Standing in a Car Park', its text spoken live by Lucy Railton, recorded then repeatedly rerecorded live to rapidly evaporate in combination with amplified ambient sounds, including passing trains and seagulls, and the resonances of the space, retransmitted disorientatingly through the intricate in situ speaker network.

Ambrose Seddon's immersive sound montage, 'Secure', which had evolved as a means of calming his infant son's colic, crossed slabs of raw distortion with watery trickles, and some audience members gravitated to the speakers to get close to the nuances of the less tangible sonics.

Finally, in an inspired take on Steve Reich's 'Pendulum Music' by Jamie Hamilton, all four curators took to playground swings, set up with a microphone attached to each, which caused momentary feedback as they passed over small speakers. Their enthusiastic return to childhood pastime on an afternoon which one of the curators cast as a recreational break in an intense 10 days, was carried on by eager audience members as the swings' seats were vacated in turn.

Lucier performed his piece in Venice last autumn and described how his student experience of the avant-garde in 1960 at Venice's Music Biennale, which notably included a John Cage/David Tudor concert, forever changed the way he approached music - maybe 'Music for Loudspeakers' will have made a similar impression.

Aisha Orazbayeva performs Daniel Harle's 'Prayer' at LCMF
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved
Afternoon 2: 'Coming Together'

The second afternoon was markedly different in spirit, a sequence of nine performances/compositions selected by Sound Four (the curators of the festival) and The Orchestra Project's founders from an open submission of over 100, leading up to Frederick Rzewski's politically charged milestone, 'Coming Together'.

The performances were as entertaining as they were intriguing.

On the roof, in the sunshine, four trombonists were choreographed by composer, Alex de Little, to play while walking only in a straight line either forwards or backwards, breaking off and regrouping while defining the outdoor space with echoes and rhythms, inspired by Alvin Lucier’s methodology.

24 performers were corralled in the enclosed ‘Strawditorium’, under the direction of Michel Haleta, to slowly navigate a tight grid pattern and obsessively manipulate and manoeuvre ad hoc percussive instruments made from everyday objects - clothes pegs, wire plant pot containers, cardboard tubes, mugs, chalk and the like, held together or drawn across the ground by string and wire. An enchanting spectacle.

Three clarinettists charted, with agile walking movements, the entire semi-indoor stage area. Max Welford, the stationary bass clarinettist acted as the fulcrum, and Elaine Kennedy and Kimon Perry traced the semi-circular peripheries. Their tone in Richard Bullen's piece had piercing definition, taking a Borges text as a reference-point: "A high-pitched and almost syllabic music approached and receded in the shifting of the wind ...".

Andrew Hill's edgy solo electronics and a series of duets combining the acoustic and the electronic, defined the territory further - the double bass dextrously handled by Otto Willberg to replicate an old radio being tuned in Vitalije Glovackyte's 'Glitch', and the compelling combination of Stephen Upshaw's viola and Brian Mark's electronics pooling voices, sirens and broadcasts from 9/11 in his recently commissioned memorial piece, 'towers, beautiful, mourning'. Three pieces for acoustic guitar and laptop saw conventional elements from the guitarists' repertoire undermined subtly by Tom McKinney and Tom Rose, on behalf of Slip Discs records.

The marvellously versatile and disciplined Vocal Constructivists threw words ("Oxford Circus" ... "Lovely to see you ..."), syllables, and arms elegantly into the air to articulate Mark Applebaum's unconventionally notated score and nimble performance directions in 'Medium', and with irresistible style they whooshed, whistled, clicked, popped and improvised wickedly in Pauline Oliveros's 'Sound Patterns' from 1961.

Aisha Orazbayeva's energy and acute technical intuition in Daniel Harle's violin/laptop duet, 'Prayer', brought a short, sharp flourish to proceedings before she joined The Orchestra Project, with Simon Bookish as speaker, in Rzewski's major work from 1973. Whilst carrying the weight of commentary on the deaths at Attica Prison the piece was remarkably dignified and considered, with a pastoral calm running through it, heightened by the instrumentation which included vibraphone and piano to lend a soft edge in the face of the harshest of political realities. Its diligent, sensitive interpretation was rapturously received.

Both concerts contributed to the refreshing musical journey that made up the whole LCMF, which augers well for future of this remarkable initiative in conjunction with Bold Tendencies and the generous sponsors of LCMF and Bold Tendencies.

London Contemporary Music Festival was curated by:

Aisha Orazbayeva
Sam Mackay
Igor Toronyi-Lalic
Lucy Railton

for Sound Four at Bold Tendencies, Peckham

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