London Contemporary Music Festival – New Complexity and Noise
(Levels 7-10, Multi Storey Car Park, Peckham. 2nd August 2013. Review by Rob Edgar)
Last night saw another instalment of the London Contemporary Music Festival, a unique (and free) festival held in the top two levels of a multi-story car park in Peckham. The publicity described it as a night of “New Complexity and Noise” and talked about the worlds of contemporary composition and improvisation “colliding”.
Anthony Pateras astounding solo piano improv involved: dense clusters hammered their way up and down the keyboard, trills between all white and all-black notes at the top end shuddered through the building (the piano was amplified), and dark percussive notes boomed out at the bottom end. At times the piece would morph into a fierce, rapid toccata dominated by minor seconds and other ‘close’ intervals (clearly one of Pateras’ quirks, his electronic improvisation was dominated by sawtooth waves close together at the bottom end creating a constantly shifting pulse. A sort of anti-rave).
More improvisation came from percussionist Steve Noble, an intensely musical player who teased out cymbal harmonics to present us with a rich, layered sound with unusual harmonies. His piece was in a state of continuous development with a handy reference point of a loud and repetitive cymbal crash which helped us get our heads around a highly intelligent and complex piece of music.
The main strength of these perfromances was that the lines between composition and improvisation were blurred. The irony of the New Complexity school’s music is that it is so complex that the performers are not expected to get it absolutely right each time; despite the fact that everything is written down so precisely – on the face of it, with no room for mistakes – the performers are given so much room for interpretation and expression. Michael Finnisy’s English Country Tunes (performed with abundant energy by Mark Knoop) followed on from Pateras’ set and the ethos was clearly very similar.
I had small quibbles with the quality of the sound of the amplified piano in Finnisy’s music (the mid range of the piano was not clear). Cassidy’s songs only as sad as their listener (for solo trombone, performed by David Roode) and Ferneyhough’s Cassandra’s Dream Song (solo flute performance by Sara Mineli) were expertly played but the solo instrument pieces just weren’t loud enough for the audience to savour the nuances and subtleties, drowned out by chatter from the bar at the back.
This is all understandable, it is the first time something like this has been tried, and the chatter at the bar just meant that everyone was enjoying themselves. Huge credit is due to Sound Four, the organisers of a very special, innovative, gem of a night. Things this good don’t happen often, let’s hope there’s another next year.
See Geoff Winston’s Review of the Glenn Branca Ensemble at the Festival HERE
I think this is review is fairly in line with my own feelings. I found the atmosphere to be a relief from the stuffiness of more traditional classical venues. The sound of the tube screeching by along with the noise of people chattering was oddly pleasant. In some cases it even felt appropriate.
I had two quibbles: firstly, the program was poorly communicated. There was an insufficient level of detail to enable us to figure out which piece we were listening to and no indication of when there was going to be a break. When I realised no break was coming, I decided to run out and quickly buy a drink and subsequently missed the performance I was most looking forward to.
Secondly, I disliked the Russell Haswell performance. From the moment he walked out on stage, with his carefully crafted stubbing of a cigarette before beginning and his super-cool lack of seriousness in checking his phone mid-performance, I felt that I'd been transported from the car park where experimental contemporary music was being exhibited to a silly Shoreditch nightclub frequented by vacant teenagers. I'm a fan of noise art and have seen plenty of interesting performances in that genre over the years. However I didn't care for this one. Giving the musical reasons for my dislike would take me into a level of detail that would be unenjoyable to read. If I was to sum it up in a few words: shallow, cool, boring.