London Round-Up

I’ve been back in London for the past ten days or so, where I heard a whole host of wonderful music and other fine things. Most of the reviews are now online, and can be accessed via the links below.

Philip Jeck and Janek Schaefer played a date as part of King’s Place ‘Arctic Circles’ series, which seeks to explore the resonance of music with water in a sort of oblique, memory-infused way. Jeck and Schaefer are excellent candidates for such a subject, and sure enough Jeck’s bespoke An Arc for the Listener made stunning use of oceanic, mired textures of overloaded bass and crackling revanance from turntable. His shimmering, queered ukiyo-e film that served as backdrop was almost as captivating as his music. Schaefer didn’t quite reach Jeck’s heights of vivid time-haunted flow, but his Cageian piece for FM transmitter, radios and booming PA did well to evoke an eclectic and colourful Amazon of the mind.

The revival of Glass’ Satyagraha was even more impressive than the production was on its original run. The music is transitional in terms of its composer’s style and ambition, failing as it does to capture the bold spirit of Einstein (although boasting a serene beauty all of its own), but the peerlessly subtle and attentive production style more than compensates. The large-scale puppetry and other such wonders really need to be seen to be believed. The intelligence of the drama and production animate a glacial, opaque work with a dynamism of perfect measure.

Fresh from a stinging and hopelessly reactionary attack on contemporary composers (which was gloriously censured by Philip Clark in this month’s Wire), James MacMillan was in attendance at the Barbican for a barnstroming performance of his 2007 St. John Passion with the LSO, Colin Davis, and Christopher Maltman. Despite the best efforts of the performers, however, the fundamental futility and emptiness of the work could not be countered.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole trip was Florian Hecker’s exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery. Using one large exhibition space and various multi-channel arrays installed in different dispositions abou the hall, the show creates a swimming, hallucinatory sonic architecture full of fracture, fractal, and fun. My review will be in the next issue of the Journal of Music.

Grup Instrumental de Valencia, Spain’s leading new music ensemble, visited the ever-wonderful King’s Place on Monday for an astonishingly inventive concert of Spanish pieces (and one from Britain – Tansy Davies’ reliably compelling Grind Show). Of many sparky and coarse inventions, it was Mauricio Sotelo’s dizzying yet fresh and distinctive yoking of flamenco and spectral music, with cantaora Isabel de Juive on full flaming form, that was the most impressive. I’ve never seen tradition and innovation parsed so convincingly.

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Finally, Kaffe Matthews gave an inspiring tour of her practice, discussing the social and musical ideas underlying her sonic beds (see above), bikes and benches, and giving a peek into future, underwater sonic explorations. Her dictum Music for Bodies indicates the wonderfully egalitarian, physical nature of her spacious and ear-catching sound art.

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