Ecology of the Voice at CSM, 12. xi. 15.

EOV001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Toop organised and orchestrated this conversation/collaboration/improvisation featuring Shelley Hirsch, Sofia Jernberg & Elaine Mitchener. Normal (eloquent) speaking voices drifting into and out of song as if shifting with unseen currents. Elaine Mitchener suddenly and unexpectedly demonstrating  how she had spent the day looking for the structure in Kurt Weill’s ‘My Ship’ – singing fragments of the first line. Almost heart stopping in its brilliant, broken complexity.

An invitation to the audience to join the discussion made me feel protective towards us listeners…there was a lot of talk about control and the performer but I think that listening demands that control is relinquished or, at least, suspended. In this, listening is not passive but it could be seen as a form of surrender. Us listeners are not mere consumers just because we are ‘silent’…the act of listening can form the space of the sound as much as the production of that sound.EOV002

David Toop and guests play Mieko Shiomi

David Toop, Rie Nakajima, Angharad Davies and others performing Mieko Shiomi’s piece from 1963, Boundary Music.

boundary

Coming through the doors of a ground floor gallery at the Whitechapel, each member of the audience was shown into the centre of the space and encouraged to wander. When I came in I asked if this applied to the performance too, little knowing that the performance was already in progress. There was no stage but seats were spread around randomly. People sat around the edges of the space, some with paraphernalia spread before them, a couple holding conventional musical instruments. A single floodlight on a stand illuminated the centre of the space but around the walls edges and corners became indistinct. Some of the performers were already engaged in making sounds and moving through the room. Someone walked around carrying a set of chimes, another was positioning lights under tissue paper and setting off small battery driven motors. Gradually each performer began to engage with the instruments or with the room like sleepers waking. Movements, gestures, sounds were all marginal, almost tentative. As the room filled up the blurring of audience with performance increased. The sounds of chairs being moved, the brief cry of a baby, murmured conversations all merged with the intentional micro-sounds of the piece. At one point I moved my foot across some piece of metal on the floor and another audience member turned round expectantly as if this too was part of the work. One of the performers peeled an apple and handed out the slices, another offered small wooden boxes and then, minutes later would wordlessly retrieve them. One person filmed throughout, many others took photographs but none of these actions were intrusive. At the time there seemed to be no obvious structure to the performance and it was truly immersive with participation enacted through the mere act of being there. Reading the score afterwards I realise that it is all structure…an instruction so simple that each sound and movement falls within the framework.

The piece ‘ended’ as it had begun, without anything to mark its edges. The sounds trailed off, some of the audience drifted out, performers began to pack their stuff away. No applause, no announcement. ‘Boundary Music’ is, in effect, still being performed.

Making drawings as I moved around I felt as if these too were part of the work. I usually edit the drawings in these posts but in the spirit of the piece I have included all 25 of the drawings I made here. Speaking to David Toop in the space later he talked about the possibility of failure that is inherent to the work. I found myself wondering how failure might manifest itself here, what imbalance might occur between the various participants and how we would recognise it.

bm001 bm023 bm022 bm021 bm020 bm019 bm018 bm017 bm016 bm015 bm014 bm013 bm012 bm011 bm010 bm009 bm008 bm007 bm006 bm005 bm004 bm003 bm002

Atomic Bomb! play the music of William Onyeabor. Meltdown, Royal Festival Hall.

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

My second big band experience of the week after the Arkestra  at Cafe Oto on Monday night. This time round, virtually the whole audience was on its feet 2 numbers in…something I have not witnessed before at the RFH. The sound here could never compare with the intimate clarity of the Arkestra at Oto but there was certainly an electric atmosphere to the proceedings as guest stars did their turns to wildly enthusiastic response from the dancing masses. But who were these guest stars? Introductions were lost in the aural blur of the sound system…I got Charles Lloyd (who played a wonderful solo introduction on sax), Alexis Taylor and David Byrne but other names escaped me…maybe all will be revealed by others in the days to come. Not really a night for drawing; here are two from early on and a photograph of the entrance of the 200 piece choir during the finale…

Atomic Bomb!

Atomic Bomb!

IMG_0256

Line up update:

Sinkane

David Byrne

Amadou and Mariam

Charles Lloyd

Sarah Jones

Money Mark

Alexis Taylor

Mahotella Queens

Voicelab Choir

Moses Sumney

3 Galleries.

At the end of last week I found myself visiting 3 galleries in less than 24 hours. Each visit had a musical dimension:

The Horse Hospital. X-Ray Audio. I read about this in the Guardian in the morning and discovered that I was already too late to get tickets for the planned performance but I thought it would be worthwhile to drop by. When I got there they were setting up for the evening and trying out a couple of odd-looking discs – both from Ukraine. One was a 7” transparent red flexi with an illustration of a swan in a pond…the audio was a cheesy folk song…this one had to be taped onto the deck to stop it from slipping. The second was a postcard disc…it looked like it was of a painting of an old church in Kiev and the pirated audio was the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’…

good v_edited-1

Here is a scan of the beer mat of one of the Soviet era records cut onto an x-ray plate:

x-ray001

www.x-rayaudio.squarespace.com

Drawing Room. Chromosome Damage Listening Session. This should have been really interesting. The artist of the current show, Daniel Guzmán, had selected a bunch of records that he listens to while he works in his studio in Mexico City to be played in the gallery. These were to be combined with some music from his own band, Pellejos. I liked the idea of listening to the music while looking at the drawings. For some reason only 3 people were present at the event and this took the edge off the whole thing. Still, I heard Jorge Reyes for the first time…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUfz1cXBMcg

White Cube, Bermondsey. David Toop at the Christain Marclay exhibition. The second gig in a series of performances in the gallery. This is a generous undertaking on both Marclay’s and the gallery’s part. Toop’s considered and exploratory sound making and his fragile delineation of a ‘stage’ drew the audience into an intense dialogue with the space and the music despite the austere surroundings of the White Cube white cube.

The audience

The audience

IMG_8071

David Toop in performance.

David Toop in performance.

Listening, Looking, Not Looking. (Evan Parker at Vortex, 22.i.15)

Improvisation transcription - fragment.  About 4 seconds. 58 x 102mm.

Improvisation transcription – fragment.
About 4 seconds. 58 x 102mm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have no idea what it is like to be a musician. I don’t know how they think, what decisions they make when they are playing. And particularly I don’t know how they interact with one another when they are playing. This sense of the distance between listening as a member of the audience and playing as a member of a group has occurred twice this week, on Tuesday at the PJ Harvey fish tank recording session and last night at the Vortex at one of Evan Parker’s regular Thursday night slots. Accompanied by Steve Noble on drums and Marcio Mattos on double bass this, from a listener’s point of hearing, was exemplary improvised trio playing. The two sets were beautifully balanced with each player responding to subtle inflections in the music while making their own distinctive sounds. It seemed that two players could stop at any moment and the third would carry on without taking breath, following the track upon which they had already set out. And when they all played it was as a unity. This notion of the individual within the group was emphasised by the body language of the performers. Parker remained fairly motionless, his eyes closed while he played. Noble hardly glanced up from the drum kit, his concentration at odds with the apparent ease of his playing. Mattos, in contrast, allowed his gaze to roam around the room or at least around middle distance, occasionally bowing his head over his instrument and closing his eyes. From time to time he raised his hand from the strings up to shoulder level and brought it back down in something like a theatrical flourish. But in all of this, and like his fellow performers, he made no eye contact, neither with the other musicians, nor with the audience.

So the closeness or proximity between performers and audience was brought about by listening. (At the end Parker thanked the audience for ‘listening so hard’). But, on the other hand, a distance or separation was brought about by looking. For me (but not, I suspect, for all the audience) this separation was compounded by my not knowing how the musicians interact…how they communicated. They were clearly doing another kind of listening which was not just a matter of degree (from ‘easy’ to ‘hard’ say) but was some parallel to how I was listening.

Does this performance listening separate the sounds being made by the others and allow (create?) a space into which the players insert sounds of their own? Or is it that individual players can anticipate a synthesis of sounds a few seconds into the future….the actual noise of the instruments always running slightly behind their knowledge? I noticed I slipped into saying ‘space’…is this why trying to work out what happens here is so difficult for me? Is improvisation between musicians not a spatial practice at all? When I experience this music it is very much within particular environments…both musician and sound are sited. The performance takes place within a room, a zone within the room, a stage. When I draw the performers, though sometimes no element of the room appears, they tend to be located…even if it is only a location defined by them and the spatial relationship to their instrument.

Maybe my listening practice, unlike that of the musicians, needs to be spatial as this takes the place of their intuitive experiential communications.

 

Evan Parker

Evan Parker

Marcio Mattos

Marcio Mattos

Steve Noble

Steve Noble

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evan Parker

Evan Parker

Marcio Mattos

Marcio Mattos

Steve Noble

Steve Noble

Recording in Progress

pjh003

The set up is in the basement of Somerset House…in the building recently abandoned by the Inland Revenue. Visitors are guided through the former rifle range after decompression and mobile drop-off on the ground floor. In a one-way mirrored cubicle in the old gymnasium, the musicians, producer and technicians are already at work…we can see and hear them but they are isolated from us. No one within the recording studio looks up to the glass, the barrier remains intact. I find it hard to concentrate at first….this audio/visual voyeurism is unfamiliar territory. The space is full of instruments some of which look like props – though a beautiful old snare rum is later pressed into service. Listen out for a hurdy-gurdy on the new PJ Harvey album. The talk inside the box is technical but then the assembled musicians run through a fairly short section of a song…or maybe it is a fairly short song…and it is possible to discern the beginnings of a ‘track’. It all looks like hard work and everyone is very well-behaved and patient. They do know they are being watched and this is bound to affect the ‘performance’. John Parish as producer sits on a white sofa (the whole interior is very white) and nods and suggests different approaches to the instrumentation. Snare drums, flute, saxophone, guitar and melodica are put to use with a good deal of experimentation with percussion on a marching-style rhythm. He asks PJ Harvey – ‘How’s your song doing in the middle of this?’ – she laughs in response. It seems quite tentative from everyone’s point of view…I have no idea if this is normal. At one point Parish says to Kendrick Rowe on drums something along the lines of ‘…you get into the groove at that point and there’s nothing wrong with that but maybe it should be a kind of standing up groove rather than a sitting back groove…’. The ‘audience’ are very attentive and quiet though we have been told that we don’t have to be. The session is about 50 minutes long and there is the feeling that people don’t want to miss anything.

Here is the text that Steve Donald (who was there with me) sent me afterwards: ‘Just thinking about the PJH gig…Spatially and temporally I though it seemed an ‘immersive’ experience but simultaneously I was acutely aware of being outside of ‘the vitrine’ and, consequently, excluded from the process…Nevertheless, in this instance, I sensed the contrived exclusion ‘set up’ somehow provided a privileged vantage point…(view is somehow too inexact). In retrospect, the vitrine set up made me think of the recording, documentary process more as an experimental, anthropological science project…More than a formal art installation…’

Kendrick Rowe and PJ Harvey

Kendrick Rowe and PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey on saxophone.

PJ Harvey on saxophone.

http://www.artangel.org.uk/projects/2015/recording_in_progress

PJ Harvey, voice, saxophone.

Kendrick Rowe, percussion.

Terry Edwards (?), flute, melodica.

Alessandro Stefana (?), guitar and percussion

John Parish – producer.

Dark Rococo

silver002Yesterday, I found myself looking at some Rococo silverware in a showcase I had designed. This is not the kind of thing that usually interests me but the spectacle of all that glittering detail was dazzling; the drawn lines of natural form pushed to extremes.

Later in the day at Cafe Oto after a virtuoso display of extended saxophone playing by John Butcher and Seymour Wright, I found myself immersed in the shock and awe of a duet by Russell Haswell and Kevin Drumm. Last week I spent another hot night in Cafe Oto being assaulted by high volume sound played by men dressed from head to toe in black…the weather making the uniform particularly incongruous. Last week’s version was the Franco-Japanese pairing of Makoto Kawabata and J. Francois Pauvros…a barrage of relentless and exhilarating effect-laden guitar work. For the Drumm/Haswell duo an additional 4 speakers had been set-up enclosing a square space and from the start the possibilities of this surround sound were exploited with noise crossing diagonally across the space, circling and switching from back to front. As the music continued the layering became denser and picking out individual cadences among the squalls and sliding shrieks became more difficult…and I was reminded of the Rococo silverware I had looked at in the afternoon. The sound was creating a peculiarly 2-dimensional field in which no one theme or line could be picked out. So my mind drifted from thinking about the sound of warfare to thinking about this as the aural equivalent of dense, overlaid, endless pattern. And this suggested to me that this packed sound-environment was actually ‘content-less’ and, even, ‘decorative’. I have never considered this immersive and often brutal music in these terms before and I suspect that it is not the way the musicians think about it (?) but I do not think it takes away from the pleasure of loosing oneself within the endless labyrinth of this music. I even began to consider the chosen black dress code and the performers’ passivity as part of this ‘field’. Instead of being a negation of persona in the visual presentation of the work, these attitudes become at one with a swirling, Rococo surface.

Russell Haswell & Kevin Drumm

Russell Haswell & Kevin Drumm

Missed/Remembered/Mis-remembered

I have been thinking about this entry for months…at least since visiting Taiwan in 2013. I have been putting it off for two reasons…

  1. It deals with religion…particularly Buddhism. I know next to nothing about Buddhism.
  2. It is also ‘about’ my friend Tom who died some years ago. This blog doesn’t quite seem like the place to talk about him…the blog doesn’t usually stray into personal territory. Tom was a Buddhist and he knew I was sceptical and an atheist. I didn’t want to write something about him that was slight. Maybe what follows doesn’t add up to much but now I think it is better to write something than say nothing.

I was going to start with a postcard that I bought in Dens Road Market in Dundee in the mid-1970s. Tom might have been with me at the time, I don’t know. My memory of the postcard was that it was in black and white and showed a group of traveling musicians in Nepal or Tibet. I have just found the postcard after a long search and this memory is only partially accurate. It is in black and white, there are two musicians, two acrobats and a large family group with horses in the background…so they are probably nomadic performers. But the location of the picture is ‘Kirgisen’ which is now Kyrgyzstan. The people in the picture are probably Muslims and not Buddhists. So this opening paragraph, instead of making a direct link to Tom, opens up questions of memory.

I didn’t see Tom between him telling me he had cancer and his death. He thought there was more time than there turned out to be – I wanted to believe him and did. The last time I saw him he left me this card:

card002

‘Nam-myho-renge-kyo’ is a phrase to be chanted. ‘Kyo’ is ‘the sound or vibration that connects everything to the universe’. At Tom’s funeral outside Glasgow there were beautiful unaccompanied Buddhist chants sung by his friends from the temple of which he was a member…suddenly it seemed to me that I had underestimated his beliefs. I regretted not seeing him before he died. I was sad that we often did not see eye-to-eye though I also knew that our friendship had been robust and we never fell out. We grew up quite close to one another before we met and there were, I think, many complicated bonds between us…bonds of difference and bonds of similarity. If Tom had been asked to depict the chanting he might have drawn this:

circle001

 

 

 

 

I might draw this:

circle002

 

 

 

 

 

In Taiwan, I found myself in a culture where Buddhism and its manifestations were never far away…even though it was probably not the kind that Tom adhered to. One afternoon, as part of the work I was doing there, I visited the University Hospital and there were street stalls selling little ‘Buddha boxes’.

https://likeahammerinthesink.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/box.mp3IMG_5047

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our guide advised me against buying one of these because she said that they were just for people who were dying. I didn’t believe this (it turned out I was correct…they were being sold at the hospital to give comfort, not to accompany the dying into the next world).

Then that evening we went to one of Taipei’s oldest temples. Compared to any Christian church this place was really lively but there was no music (I am not entirely sure of this…maybe there were prayers).  I picked up one of the free cassettes:

IMG_5046https://likeahammerinthesink.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/chant.mp3

 

 

 

Then we walked around the Night Market…if the temple had been an intensive visual and olfactory overload, this was multiplied in the market and had an added layer of cacophonous sound. At a corner near the temple I stopped and recorded a woman sitting on a bicycle chanting the name of Buddha.

taipei

Compared to the sound at Tom’s funeral, the cassette tape and even the little Buddha box, this chant is harsh and discordant and it is the flip side of the calm that these other sounds generate.

I think about Tom most days.

Resonance at Oto

 

 

 

Rie Nakajima

Rie Nakajima

Resonance Radio 104.4 Fundraiser at Cafe Oto, 13th February 2014.

Rie Nakajima has a particular take on performance. For the second time on seeing her at Cafe Oto she set up her table of paraphernalia at the back of the space. So most of the audience need to turn 180 degrees and readjust their viewing positions. For the first part of her set she sits on the floor in front of the low wicker table thoughtfully activating the various battery driven gadgets that are her instruments. The process is gradual – she takes her time before setting the mechanics in motion. It almost looks like she has never done this before and is working out the logistics of it as she goes along. And in some ways I guess she is doing just that. About half way through she gets herself a seat but even then she is crouching over the table. It is as if she is buried in the work at hand – buried not just in the sound but also in the actions that produce the sound. Unlike many performances the audience are drawn into this position too – searching along with her for the next move, the next noise as if it was a process of archaeology. We are all looking down watching the small spectacle of movement, sound, action, repetition. This all demands a certain commitment of attention from the audience….and this is what Nakajima, her performance, her music, requires. This is an exercise in close, communal listening.

http://www.rienakajima.com

Yuri Suzuki reinvents the DJ.

Yuri Suzuki reinvents the DJ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janek Schaefer

Janek Schaefer

 

 

 

Janek Schaefer presents his half hour radio special.

Janek Schaefer presents his radio special.

 

 

 

 

Oscillatorial Binnage

Oscillatorial Binnage