Coming soon! At some point, more Brighton photos. But probably something else first...
Saturday, 18 February 2017
Oh, alright then, stays at home in Brighton! It can be good to remind yourself your home town is photogenic too, even if some of these sights I see pretty much every day. As ever, full set over on Flickr.
Sunday, 12 February 2017
MAYA BEISER: NEW YORK CELLO
Kings Place, London, Fri 10th Feb
Cellist Maya Beiser was a founder member of New York based contemporary music ensemble Bang On a Can All-Stars, here playing solo. (The parent outfit still exist, and played London five years back.) As the programme looked interesting and I am known to like a good cello, I thought to happen by.
The folk singer June Tabor once stated that her talent was singing, so when it came to songwriting “I just ring up Richard Thompson, it's easier”. Beiser would seem to do a similar thing with composers. Three of the other All-Stars founders – Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon and David Lang – were composers in their own right, and in the programme notes Beiser wrote of the interplay which occurs when compositions are written for specific players. I didn't know, until she mentioned seconds before launching into it, that Steve Reich's 'Cello Counterpoint' was also written for her. (In fact the programme featured only one non-New York based composer, the Argentinian Osvaldo Golijov.)
'Classical' music is often assumed to spring fully formed from the mind of the genius savant, with the musicians merely assigned parts. But can't composers and musicians work within scenes, like rock music can? Isn't hearing a piece by the intended player the thing to do? Like hearing the Mothers of Invention play Frank Zappa? Certainly Beiser's spirited work-through of 'Cello Counterpoint' was stirring stuff.
If the gig was solo only for one piece was it unaccompanied, with the rest using at various points vocals, electronics, loops, multi-track recordings and film projections. One feature was how the projections worked so seamlessly with the music. 'Cello Counterpoint' for example is one of the Reich works where the musician plays over pre-recordings of themselves, here handily demonstrated by seven pieces of video evidence, lined up (according to the programme) “Warholian style”.
While Gordon's 'Light is Calling' was essentially a collaboration with Bill Morrison's visuals, effectively a sequel to the eerie and enthralling 'Decasia'. Warped electronics played alongside sonorous cello strokes, just as Morrison played warped and distressed footage from an old film – images appearing through the psychedelic corrosion, then dissolving again. At first it seemed that the sound and sight were perfect metaphors for one another, the electronics fuzzing the clear cello lines, but as the piece went on they seemed to overcome separation and morph together.
Wolfe's 'Emunah' featured etherial chanting, provided life by Beiser. I can find this sort of thing New Agey, so it perhaps wasn't my favourite Wolfe work. (That may be this.) Yet as with Gordon's electronics they made an effective counterpoint to the deeper, earthier cello sounds. I especially liked the ending, after the vocals faded out for a low bowed hum, verging on a drone.
'All Vows', the second Gordon composition, though not the longest piece was the album track of the evening. It not only featured solo cello but kept to a low range, taking a simple musical line and giving it quite subtle variations. Yet if it demanded close listening it certainly repaid it.
Lang's 'World To Come' was written shortly after the Twin Towers attack, but rather than a political response felt more existential. (Perhaps an understandable response to something like that hitting your home town.) The programme described it as “a kind of prayer”, and it was accompanied by a video by Irit Batsry focusing on water, a kind of matter without form. Creation, as the saying goes, is not a noun but a verb – an ongoing process.
Formally it was almost the opposite of 'Cello Counterpoint', cello and vocal phrases were looped as rich and resonant textures over which the 'live' cello part played the lead. The movements were ably matched by the video. Strongly rhythmic bowing was accompanied by fast pans across glistening waterways, a slower and more ethereal section by close-ups of rippling surfaces, and finally churning and frothing.
If stepping back for an encore seems more a rock music tradition, then Beiser surprised at least me with versions of 'Kashmir' and 'Back In Black' - surely any sensible person's favourite Zeppelin and AC/DC numbers. A constant guiding principle of Bang On A Can has been that rock music can be a source of inspiration, not just through taking elements from it but it's spirit. And what worked was they way these were not re-transcriptions for a more classical idiom but proper rock outs, with bow strings fraying. (Essentially the cello took over the function of lead guitar and vocals.)
Oddly, however, Bach's 'Air On a G String' was sandwiched between them. Which was not only a rupture of mood, but came to feel a little self-consciously eclectic. And I don't see how you can say, as Beiser rightly has, “all these boundaries we're created [are] so unnecessary” and then slap yourself on the back for audaciously mixing it all up. (To be clear, I enjoyed all three pieces, the problem was the programming.)
'Light Is Calling', albeit not from London...
The Hope & Ruin, Brighton, Sun 5th Feb
It's often said that noise music is the punk of today. And true enough it's one of the few music scenes to remain underground, not to be heard flogging designer jeans for middle-aged waists. But more to the point, it exhibits both the pros and cons of punk of old. There's no more learning two chords to form you own band, you can do it just by plugging in a laptop. But, as those of us who recall the hardcore scene of old can attest, anyone can do it is both boon and curse. There's a whole lot of bad electronic noise out there, pressbutton rage in a quite literal sense. But then the rest just makes it all the more important to track down the best...
Dilloway is formerly of noisemonger troupe Wolf Eyes. I would gather he was in the UK touring with Genesis P Orrdige, but was tonight solo. His set comprised a contact mike he placed in his mouth and, at one point, a long horn of what variety I do not know. But (from what I could tell) all the rest consisted of tape loops, treated, manipulated and overlapped.
And yet though that means the sounds were mostly pre-prepared there was something quite genuinely out of control about the set. Dilloway was like a Prospero who'd unleashed the storm on himself, elemental forces he was barely able to marshall. Unlike most electronica artists who barely move, he'd twist and convulse as though possessed by the music he himself was making.
And yet again, despite being for this sort of music a lengthy set (the best part of an hour) there were no longeurs, or klunky switches between sections. If it was like watching a man trying to conduct the weather, which it pretty much was, the success rate was surprisingly high. Several times it would build and build in intensity, breaching every barrier you had imagined existed, then suddenly breaking off into a new tangent.
I don't think there's much of a philosophy behind or real-world analogy to be applied to Dilloway. You're not supposed to think about urban alienation, commodity fetishism or Trump or whatever. (And in fact a night off having to think about the orange abhorrence is to be welcomed.) Which I suppose is the point, that he's found a way to say something which couldn't be said any other way. Which makes him a true original.
Here's a completely different set. It's all good...
'RAY LEE: SIREN'
Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, University of Sussex, Falmer, Fri 1st Feb
I knew almost nothing about this sound installation event from ”award-winning sound artist and composer” Ray Lee, except it was attached to a Stockhausen festival. (Which it turned out to have almost nothing to do with. But sometimes you need to go with your instincts, and sometimes they even work.
A series of sirens attached to revolving poles are switched on one by one, emittting pitches matching the height of their stands. As the sound starts to build up it first resembles the venue's description of “pulsing electronic drones” but transforms as it builds up into the electronic equivalent of pealing bells. The only other variant employed was occasional adjsutments to the spin speed, and yet the combination was richly resonant and quite mesermising. Who ever knew sirens could sound so serene? Certainly it brought up the alternate meaning of the term, a captivating sound source which draws you in.
Cool things about the event included the way it built up from a simple premise into a rich tapestry; the 'wires out' presentation, all processes on open display: (relatedly) the way the guys working the sirens seemed more workers or road crew than musicians or performers; your being encouraged to wander the space, effectively remixing the sound in your ears as you moved; and the way it didn't rely on the audience being smart or sophisticated, but merely open to what was going on. But perhaps best of all they way it was experiential, in our YouTubeable world it was something you had to be there for.
JAH WOBBLE'S INVADERS OF THE HEART
Con Club, Lewes, Thurs 26th Jan
Last time I saw Jah Wobble, as you might recall, I was much taken by much of it but found it at times straying too far into muso/fusion territory. This time he has a new album, 'Everything Is Nothing', which is essentially jazz fusion. (Improbably featuring Youth from Killing Joke and Nik Turner from Hawkwind. I bought a copy, played it once and probably will never again.) The trumpeter of that album (Sean Corby) has joined the line-up, improbably sporting a folded hankie in a smart jacket pocket, and at times they now even go in for relay soloing.
And yet, contrary soul that I am, I may have enjoyed this gig more than the last one. And I think that's down to having less of an emphasis on your actual songs, with the ones which survive counter-intuitively relegated to the second half of the set. The only Public Image song remaining is 'Public Image' itself. (Unless you count 'Fodderstompf', of which only the hook and one-line chorus are kept.) The songs that stay are mostly from the original Nineties Invaders of the Heart.
Which is really the band playing to it's strengths. As a singer Wobble is a great bass player, and the outfit simply work best not boxing themselves into song structures but spreading out. Besides, Wobble's patented patter between songs keeps the audience interaction flowing. (After one interjection the drummer bashed a cymbal.)
And the trumpeter's role proved positive. Rather than a wild card he became a calm card, pouring like cooling water over the more active bass and drums, and preventing everything getting too frenetic. I'm not sure many will have previously asked themselves what 'Socialist' would sound like with a cool jazz trumpet break in the middle of it, but the answer is surprisingly positive. Perhaps it worked through sparing use, Corby stepping to the back of the stage when not at work. You don't play all your cards at once.
Saturday, 4 February 2017
(aka This Just in! Trump Still a Dickhead!)
“You're a child. You have the mind and ego of an angry, spoiled, uneducated child. And that's what makes you so fucking scary.”
- As said to Idi Amin in ’The Last King of Scotland’
Yes, more about Trump. Believe me, I'm sick of hearing about the orange abhorrence too, and whatever childish insult that smug face has spewed at someone lately. But alas he's not going to go away by himself, we're going to have to do that for him.
Let's get the obvious out the way. Some are saying “well Obama did bad stuff too”. And so he did. Those drone strikes didn't deliver cup cakes. He deported people in record numbers, effectively licensed extrajudicial killings and all the rest of it. But the strange thing is, I don't remember most of those people saying any of this at the time, which might have been a good moment to mention it. The fact that this argument can be used unamended by both ends – by trumpers for Trump and more-radical-than-thou ultra-leftists - suggests it's not really much of an argument at all. Okay, Obama was bad. But Trump is worse. And the thing about worse is, it's worse.
(See also “despots have had State visits before”. This is a paraphrase of “but we've hung out with so many mass murderers already, it's too late to change now”. Which is itself a variant of the “we've always practiced slavery” argument.)
And as for “protesting after an election is anti-democratic”... Seriously? The guy who said he'd only accept the result if he won suddenly discovers the joys of being process-bound? A process which quickly narrowed people's effective choice down to two elite insiders as widely loathed as Clinton and Trump, waited for one to gain a three million majority then handed the result to the other – that's going a bit past flawed, really.
And “give him a chance, you don't know what he'll be like yet”? Guys, you know this stuff isn't decided by lottery, don't you? That candidates put forward their programmes beforehand and stuff? Besides, how does that measure against Trump's repeated boast to be getting through the changes so quickly? He's doing dumb shit now. Let's have some smart opposition at the same pace.
But if we're to win we need to look out for his weaknesses, and our potential weaknesses too.
This much is obvious – from any angle, that travel ban is bollocks. The Department for Homeland Security has stated right-wing extremists area greater danger than Islamic jihadists, a conclusion borne out if you look at those pesky fact things. But then again,
the average American is under greater threat still from being shot by a toddler. Just as much as that stupid wall, the travel ban is designed to work only as a distraction.
And was it ever thus. The Situationist publication the Spectacular Times said of power “it's only real security lies in the construction and maintenance of myths and illusions. First and last, it is a show”. And the former reality TV star presents the Presidency as a form of theatre. He literally signs his ordinances for the cameras. That the travel ban couldn't even succeed on it's own terms is effectively beside the point. A big media event has occurred which has had that label attached to it. It's not policy, it's self-advertising.
We've been told so repeatedly that demonstrating against Trump is “pointless”, that seems a pretty good indication we need to keep going. But beware. We need to be wary of doing the same as him, of creating a rival show programmed against his, of demonstrating just to give the papers a photo-op. That feeds the narrative. It doesn't disrupt it.
In particular we should avoid focusing too much on celebrity endorsements. We should of course be grateful for the support and participation. Even from Madonna. Even from Meryl Streep. (Though one of the few things I agree with Trump about is her acting.) But that stuff plays too neatly into Trump's supposed 'anti-elite' stance.
So how do you oppose something? Through providing it's opposite, right? And the opposite of Trumps' sound-bite knee-jerk gesture politics is substance.
People, brought up in a hierarchical society such as this, tend to assume there's some trade-off to be found between authority and liberty. Too much of one we're shoved into labour camps, too much of the other and the bins don't get collected. Hence even those who don't wear white hoods or shout “heil Trump” blithely assume that authoritarian states are a model of efficiency, that Hitler sorted out the German economy, that Mussolini made the trains run on time. It seems so self-evident, they don't think to check those facts.
And to Trump's supporters, that trade-off is supposed to have gone too far one way. Those checks and balances are like traffic calming measures in the way of an angry driver, pointless encumbrances put there by busybodies, best just ridden straight over. His not following due process, even defying the courts, is taken as a measure of his strength.
While we need, not to push the trade-off the other way, but to question it's existence, to stop framing the thing as a security vs. liberty dilemma. For those 'facts' above are wholly wrong. And will only ever be wrong. Authoritarian societies are not run by genius masterminds, surging ahead of lesser bulbs, but by caprice and whim. The makers of those 'tough decisions' are removed from the effects, and keen to surround themselves with sycophants who'll tell them all went swimmingly.
We should focus on the travel ban's manifest malevolence. But we should also focus on it's bumbling ineptitude, where even Trump's own spokesman was unable to explain how it would work and ended up contradicting himself, where the British Government was advising travellers one thing and the State Department another. People might be willing to follow a tough if reckless figure, but a bumbling amateur? When he loses his appearance of strength he loses his selling point. It'll be like pricking an orange balloon with an ugly face on it.
And underlying that point, we should remember not all the grievances of Trump's supporters are reactionary. The situation is more complicated than Trump simply selling them a line. Their grievances are more often a mixture of reactionary and progressive, allowing Trump to deliver on one half and perpetually rain-check on the other. But then American history is a longstanding process of the rulers dividing the ruled by race, so it's scarcely a surprise to see it internalised by this point. But even if that's internalised, it doesn't mean it can't be unpicked. We just need to pick on, from Trump's many weaknesses, the weaknesses that others will see as weaknesses. “Heil Trump” must become “fail Trump”.
Coming soon! Back to the standard gig-going and behind-time art exhibition reviews...