Archive for September, 2010


September 21, 2010

I think Michel Serres has given us a good way to think about musical taste. In The Parasite, Serres remarks, ‘History is the locus of…immense effects with futile reasons, strong consequences from insignificant causes, rigorous effects from chance occurrences’ (20).

This sort of structure seems to me to be reproduced endlessly in our judgements about music. I’ve always been puzzled at how it could be possible for someone to dislike, say, Abba, or Webern, or John Butcher, or Tricky, or Saariaho, or whomever, when I love them so much. Could an objective schema of musical quality not be determined, and enforced(!)?

Clearly, accidental and incidental factors come into play. I’ve always conceived what I see as reactionary judgements in terms of a pre-structural framework that produces misbegettings of artists on a sort of hypersubjective plane outside of, or at least tangential to, the music as it appears to me. Needless to say, I replicate my own version of this plane when forming my own judgements. The Serres model shows us that such incidental factors very easily swell into larger and more permanent effects.

Incidentally, here’s a review of mine of a truly mind-altering event: Phill Niblock’s Stosspeng set to the first section of Carlos Casas’ Avalanche.



September 12, 2010

So I’ve been living in Belgium—though, thanks to barely concealed cultural and ethnic tensions, it’s hard to think of the place as a unity—for the past year. I’ve been quite impressed by the musical scene here in Brussels, with regular new music available at the opera house, La Monnaie, and from ensembles such as Ictus and Musique Nouvelles, and a fairly decent array of underground and mainstream musics in evidence at venues such as Recyclart and Botanique. A little further afield, in Ghent and Aalst particularly (the latter mainly thanks to the Kraak festival), much more is on offer.

One thing that I felt has been missing somewhat is an idea of a living Belgian tradition of notated composition. Beyond the raft of medieval Flemish composers (Marais, Obrecht, Josquin etc.), and Henri Pousseur and Cesar Franck closer to our own time, I wondered who might be in the ascendant in 2010. Dolphins into the Future had impressed at Kraak, but outside of an impressive enough work by Luc van Hove a few months ago, and the Tim Mariëns‘ arranged Harry Partch Ictus concert, I’d heard nothing of contemporary Belgian notated music. Until, that is, last night’s highly interesting portrait concert of Philippe Boesmans given by Ensemble Musique Nouvelles under the astute and generous direction of Jean-Paul Dessy at La Monnaie.

The concert featured five works ranging from across Boesmans’ career. Emerging out of this was a sensitive and exciting composer clearly indebted to earlier models derived from Stockhausen and Pousseur, but clearly in possession too of a distinctive voice of his own. The latter was to some extent evident in the tensile rhythmic periodicity of Boesmans’ music, but it was particularly apparent in spectral tendencies that manifest at two outer edges of his work; as fields of extended resonance concerned with the music between the cracks of equal temperament on the one hand, and as an openness to octave doubling, to tonal gravitation, and to augmented consonant triads on the other. Boesmans’ music alights at the pivot of spectral music, the postwar avant-garde, and restorative postmodernism, but does so as a conclusion, rather than a premise.

This worked-through multiplicity subtended the second work (following the short but intriguing foreplay of Boesmans first published work, Sonances I), Sur mi, tantalisingly. Written for the Stockhausen-like ensemble of two pianos, one percussionist, and live (in this case extremely restrained) electronics, Sur mi worked through cycles of piano harmonies—with enigmatic vertical dominant complexes playing off of Boulez-derived serialistic hyper-sequences of overbearing figuration—marked off by colotomic striking of crotales, and enhanced by the high partial apostrophes of the barely-there electronic organ.

The third, Ornamented Zone, utilised the Messiaen quartet of violin, cello, clarinet, and piano to whirlwind effect, subtly developing the tension between an imitative ripple motif on the one hand, and more oleaginous and tonally elastic glissades on the other. For the rest of my review go here. I’m going to see Boesmans’ opera, Yvonne, at La Monnaie this week, and am now looking forward to it all the more.


September 6, 2010

An extravaganza of music this weekend at the Proms, where I was fortunate to hear the Ardittis tearing syntax a new one in Ferneyhough, the Berlin Phil glorying in Austro-German grotesquery, and the BBC Singers make the most of some good, some slight, new scores from British composers. I also witnessed a curious reclamation of the 1910 Last Night, where jingoism was made spectral by the phantom of a million souls sacrificed for the good of the British Empire. At least in my eyes it was. (I’m still amazed at the willingness so many evince to celebrate what could be described as at best an ambiguous historical record.)

Incidentally, I also heard Florian Hecker’s steamrolling delineation of hyperchaos (where the universe could only be conceived, pace Meillassoux’s insights, in terms of a chronics, not physics, because of the impossibility of providing a rational demonstration that the laws of nature are not, in fact, contingent) in a wonderfully bewildered Octagon, at the urgent and inspiring Speculative Realism event at Tate Britain. Admiring Robin Mackay’s ‘interventions’ in the room dedicated to the Romantic sublime, hearing Hecker’s ripping sonic assaults choreograph chaos in the background, I almost felt as if I’d stepped into some interzone of the uncanny where Lovecraft was worshipped as a new Shakespeare, and musical politesse could be found in the tentacles of scorched high partials and clefting noise loops.

Speculative Realism trys to find ways to engage with realities outside of, before, and after the human, and it was suggested many times in the panel discussion that art, with its courting of the uncanny and the Weird, might offer a unique window into that reality. For me, it seems art also opens us up to a non-subjective space (with respect to the death of its author, etc) perfectly suited to such SR engagements. It’s made by humans, but escapes their grubby mits in that making.

A Clancy Brother

September 2, 2010

A very good friend – and very good Andriessen-Noise-Skempton-Romitelli-Furrer (I could go on) influenced composer – of mine’s new website: Seán Clancy. Check it out!