Saturday 27 January 2018


Kings Place, London, Sat 20th Jan

Celebrated Minimalist composer (and regular Lucid Frenzy fave) Steve Reich has sometimes taken the view that regular musicians can be unattuned to his way of doing things. (My mental analogy for this is always luvvies hamming their way through Brecht.) Whereas he has dedicated a piece to Colin Currie (more of which anon), who by turn has formed this group primarily to play Reich’s music.

The two halves of the programme followed the same chronological structure, picking a piece from the Seventies, Eighties and post-millennium respectively. And in so doing gave a good primer in the changes to Reich’s music.

Reich spoke in the programme of an initial “desire to make music with the simplest possible instruments”. And ’Music For Pieces of Wood’ Having not listened to ‘classic’ Minimalism for a while, I found my ears needed to get acclimatised to it all over again. You need to stop picking out the individual lines and start taking in the overall piece, listening to the wood not the trees. (Pun not intended. Oh alright, it was intended.) As said after another Reich night: “In Minimalism the sounds are so similar they superimpose on one another before they even reach you and your ears are no longer quite sure what they're picking up.” There’s a kind of sonic ‘shimmer’ which takes over once you get there.

But it was the second Seventies work, part one of ’Drumming’ (1971) which most won my heart. Bongo drums were struck with sticks to create an unusual sound, which the players built up through cascades (at point pummelling with a blur of arms) before breaking back into slower and more basic tempos. Reich states enthusiastically “there is only one basic rhythmic pattern”, yet it’s enough to entrance you the whole time.

’New York Counterpoint’ (1985) and ’Vermont Counterpoint’ (1982) both featured solo wind players accompanied by pre-recordings of themselves. Perhaps the sort of thing already covered in previous instalments. But further proof that there’s nothing chin-stroking ‘difficult’ to Reich. Both were positively rhapsodic to listen to, and put me in mind of Spring sprouting despite the temperature outside.

If the title of ’Mallet Quartet’ (2009) suggests more non-standard instruments, this later work actually uses two vibraphones and two marimbas, merely struck with mallets. Unlike any of the earlier works, they quickly divided into ‘lead’ and ‘bass’ sections. (“The marimbas set the harmonic background which remains rather static” while “the vibes present the melodic material”, as Reich puts it.) All of which might make it accessible enough to be a good introductory work for newbies.

Or at least that’s what I was thinking until we hit the middle, slow movement. This was perhaps the most unReichean part of the whole programme, only suggesting the rhythmic pulses that normally seem the connecting molecules of his music. He confessed “I was originally concerned this movement might just be ‘too thin’, but I think it ends up being the most striking, and certainly the least expected, of the piece”. And Reich is right.

’Quartet’ (2013) was the piece dedicated to Currie, and as the most recent work did mark the other evolutionary end to ’Drumming’. Reich has described it as “one of the more complex I have composed”, and despite being the finale my reaction was almost the opposite to ’Drumming’. It was still recognisably Reich, but seemed to have lost his rosebud, it did more but signified less.

Currie promised the launch of a label, tracking their recordings of Reich. With perhaps more live shows to go with it…

Part of ’Drumming’. by the CCG but from elsewhere...

Cafe Oto, London, Fri 12th Jan

Regular readers won’t know of my love for Australian free improvising trio The Necks. Not because I don’t keep going on about them, but because there are no regular readers.

But those numerous sightings left me with no conception whatsoever of what drummer Tony Buck might do left to his own devices. More than most other bands, the Necks work as an ensemble – it would be an absurdity to abstract any individual element from their playing. So the only way to find out what he’d do seemed to be to show up and see…

It was in fact not quite a solo gig, as Buck was accompanied by three musical mobiles. One scraped metal sheets across the floor, another struck a cymbal and so on. As he could switch these on and off, and speed up and slow them down via pedals, these acted as somewhere between live-action samples and automated musicians. (Though at points he’d employ actual samples too.) Belying his day-job, it was mostly guitar he’d play over the top of these. In fact he only took to the full drum kit right at the end.

It was very much something else to the Necks’ measured serenity, with some of his guitar assaults going into full-on noise territory. But it was more than decibel-level different. Necks gigs have a muso/anti-muso quality to them, as if the music’s already present in the ether and is just being made manifest through the players. (They’ve said in interviews how things like their mood on the night doesn’t affect the music much.) Whereas this felt more being created from moment to moment, Buck setting up processes and then reacting to them, ellipses in the turning of the mobiles becoming part of the experience.

The gig was quite a ritualistic affair. Buck entered through the audience, playing bells and in the place of the traditional Australian corks wind-chimes attached to his hat. They effectively masked his face throughout. Then at the end, contravening the rock’n’roll orthodoxy of leaving ‘em on a high, he exited the same way while leaving the mobiles going. People sat listening to the mobiles alone for several minutes before breaking into applause.

A short series of edited excerpts of Buck doing something similar in his cellar…

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