|Stephen O’Malley at LCMF, Ambika-3
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved
Five Ways to Kill Time – 2015 LCMF
(Ambika P3, 13th December 2015; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
The premise for the third night of London Contemporary Music Festival was that time as a dimension in music can too easily be taken for granted.
Ellen Fullman’s elegant Long Stringed Instrument, over fifty feet in length, was installed as the centrepiece of the massive Ambika-3 hall at the beginning of the festival, forming a slanted, sculptural division of its floor space. Fullman has described its genesis for a specific project space: ‘In the summer of ’88 I realized a fantasy of making a giant long stringed instrument with lots of players. … The room was 145 feet long and two resonators would hold 90 strings. … A player moves out to a designated colored line, which, in effect, denotes a specific period of time.’
The strings were set horizontally at waist height in two parallel sections. In an entrancing performance of the world premiere of The Watch Reprise (2015), Fullman stepped in to the space between them to touch and manipulate strings with her hands, moving back and forth along sections of the instrument, drawing out subtle, ambient vibrations, drones and sustains and sharper, sitar-like tones with acoustic chords and single note pitches floating and flooding the space.
By gentle contrast, the tender blues- and ragtime-inflected pieces of Ethiopian composer/pianist Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou (who, unfortunately, was unable to perform these herself due to travel permit problems) were imbued with a sense of relaxed, yet constrained time, lilting, thoughtful with repetitions that would incrementally get out of synch and recombine in pleasantly discordant order.
The Plus-Minus Ensemble, an Anglo-Belgian octet of over 12 years standing, took Bryn Harrison’s Repetitions in Extended Time (2008) through a series of four movements where each instrument, including piano, cello, bass clarinet and electric guitar, had its own individual voice overlapping in lightly dappled acoustic space, resting on strong, repetitive figures. Quietly modulated evolution was the key.
Aisha Orazbayeva’s healthily unconventional virtuoso approach to the violin was pitted against vocal performer Tim Etchells in their practiced, improvised dialogue, Seeping Through, that both sparkled and spluttered as its verbal insistence teetered at the edge of the banal with repetitions of everyday phrases purporting to carry more meaning or authority than perhaps they deserved.
Stephen O’Malley’s thunderous, crashing guitar barrage, a continual exploration and reprocessing of chords that could have been extracted from Pete Townsend’s repertoire with The Who, created a monumental endnote, in intentionally curated contrast to Fullman’s brightly subdued butterfly net of wire sounds. A monochrome film which metamorphosed from the viscerally dripping bowels of the earth to fizzling catherine wheel firework revolutions served as a visual point of reference above O’Malley playing in near-darkness by his bank of speakers, as thrumming whirlpools of raw rhythm bled in to the space.