Live reviews

London Contemporary Music Festival 2022 Closing Concert

London Contemporary Music Festival (LCMF) ‘Hysterical and Happy’ Concert

(Woolwich Works, 19 June 2022; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

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Joëlle Léandre
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2022. All Rights Reserved

The final date of LCMF 2022 included three standout solo performances – from Pat Thomas (piano), Elaine Mitchener (voice), and Joëlle Léandre (double bass) – and a fitting finalé from Tom Foulsham which used the nearby Thames as its canvas.  
Following on from experimental choir Musarc’s immersive performance with singers dispersed around the hall, Pat Thomas launched his explosive set based on two Thomas Wiggins (a.k.a. Blind Tom) compositions from the 1860s. Wiggins was a blind, black slave, an exceptionally gifted prodigy who became an international sensation, with a life peppered by questions of exploitation.

Pat Thomas. Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2022. All Rights Reserved

‘Rainstorm’, composed when he was 5 years old, veers from gentle melody to thunderous highpoint and back. ‘The Battle of Mannassas’ offers similar contrasts which Pat Thomas embraced with characteristic passion and energy. Hands and forearms crashed the keyboard, only to give way to delicate, flowing passages. Left and right swapped register roles. Power pummelling and trudging rhythms alternated with snatches of patriotic songs. Thomas allowed no let up as he tangentially communicated something of the contradictions, anger and isolation that Thomas Wiggins experienced. John Davis’s documentary, incidentally, gives insights in to Blind Tom’s life (link).

Elaine Mitchener gave a riveting rendition of Christian Marclay’s ‘No!’ (2020), its score comprising 15 sheets of comic book cutouts, mixing images and onomatopoeias (comic book words), which ‘should be interpreted vocally and physically’ in whichever order the performer decides over ‘roughly 15 minutes’ duration. This follows on from Marclay’s celebrated ‘Manga Scroll’ (2010) seen at Cafe Oto with Phil Minton (review) and subsequently with Mitchener herself.

Mitchener’s twisted facial contortions, spring-loaded shrieks and leaps, flailing limbs, explosive shouts, intimate utterances and slinky glances, choking, retching, strangulated ululations, animal calls, menacing threats, clasped, wringing hands, an out-of-nowhere whistle and finally a drawn-out, fading ‘No’, all combined to define a captivating performance.

Elaine Mitchener. Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2022. All Rights Reserved

Joëlle Léandre poured heart and soul in to her two improvised pieces for double bass, to reveal the vibrant soul and heart of the instrument itself. Insistent bass rhythms, taps on the woodwork, long passages of bowing to capture its resonance, and a move from abstraction to hints of jazz, culminated in a vocal blues call obliquely acknowledging its turbulent history.
There was reference to climate catastrophe in Claudia Molina’s ‘Polymer Hauntings’ where single-use plastic items were loosely integrated with the piano played by Katherine Tinker and Yshani Perinpanayagam, but Ewa Justka’s hard doof/rave music felt out of place in a festival championing the innovative, coming over as self-indulgently nostalgic and stuck in a techno time warp.

The final act of the festival took the audience out to Woolwich pier to watch Tom Foulsham’s ‘B flat arrangement for 3 musicians and 1300 metres’ acted out on three small boats over 20 minutes, with fond echoes of Bow Gamelan Ensemble. Each boat carried a musician – two trumpeters and a trombonist – each of whose instruments was connected to a bright light of circular construction which would flash in unison as they played a single note at repeated intervals while the boats moved in a predetermined, circular pattern across the Thames. An entrancing ending.

LINK: LCMF website

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