Went to the latest Kammer Klang gig a couple of weeks ago. It was recorded by the BBC and is on their website for the next month. Which is good, because I need to hear it again.
For me, the big event of the night was two world premieres by the Canadian composer Cassandra Miller. I’ve heard only a few pieces by her – including a dizzying performance of her choral piece Guide by Exaudi last year – and liked it all a lot. There are times when you discover an artist and you need to hear more; more of that good thing that won you in the first place. Then there are artists whose work you find yourself exploring like an unknown island, kept in suspense over what you might encounter next.
In Tracery: Hardanger, singer Juliet Fraser sang against a recording of herself, doubling and approximating microtonal drones, one breath at a time. If there was a process, it seemed to be part of a meditative rite. This was followed by Traveller Song, in which the Plus-Minus Ensemble accompanied a tape of ragged, keening voices. Again, it seemed to be a documentation of some vocal ritual, with Western musical tropes laid on top. She’s from Canada, it must be something indigenous so I guess we better put up with those scratchy voices. But the ensemble – first just piano four hands, then clarinet, violin and cello, finally just an accordion – were playing some sort of game. At times deferentially minimal, then fulsomely mournful, astringently avant-garde and then, at inopportune moments, flamboyantly romantic. It just seemed to keep going, trying out different costumes and poses. By the end, I didn’t know if it was amazing or terrible.
Tonight I pulled up the programme for the concert for the first time and holy guacamole if the whole thing isn’t a headtrip that would do Kagel proud. The voices are Miller’s own, singing along to Sicilian folk-music without being able to hear herself, then attempting to accompany herself. She describes it as an attempt “to explore my own bodily impulses related to melody” and admits it sounds like “quasi-shamanistic keening” but the whole work is a tour de force in the creative potency of cultural transmission and reproduction. More than any simple cross-pollination from an “exotic” culture, the act of transmission itself is a necessarily distorting process; in which imitation becomes a transformative act that creates something strange and new.
It’s a busy week. Just got notice of a gig I’m playing this Thursday, at Silver Road in Lewisham. This is a great new venue inside a disused water tank; unfortunately it’s about to close as the developers have moved in earlier than expected.
I’ll be playing live versions of pieces from Chain of Ponds, so this is a chance for London people to hear what I was doing at the Inland concerts in Australia last year. Thursday 23 February, 1 Silver Road Lewisham SE13 7BQ. With Adam Christensen and Animal Choir. Doors 7.30pm, £5 on the door.
I’ve also uploaded another album to Bandcamp; it’s called Haunted Comma. It’s an older piece but I still like it. I tuned four sine waves to a major seventh chord and then let them slowly slide into increasingly rarefied mutations of Pythagorean intonation. It’s currently available as a free download for early birds or until I remember to update the Bandcamp page.
Something I forgot to mention when discussing the recent CDs of music by Dante Boon and Giuliano d’Angiolini. In his interview on the Another Timbre site, d’Angiolini says “I do have a great admiration for the work of Feldman, and in particular David Tudor, a great composer who is unjustly forgotten today.” He later adds that “I’m not as wise as Tudor, who disappeared without leaving a trace, like a light breeze on a summer afternoon.” There’s a text in which he writes “I like consonance and also dissonance if it does not derive from an excess of organization, of will. Thus that of David Tudor, which is free.”
I love that he’d found this connection from Tudor’s work as a composer – purely electronic, loud, frequently described as harsh – to his own gentle music for flute, piano and string quartet. So often music wears its influences in ways that are too obvious, imitative or derivative, when compared to visual arts. I’m thinking of that Feldman anecdote: “I once went to the Metropolitan with Mark Rothko, and we’d look at a Rembrandt painting and the way Rembrandt bleeds to the edges. Take a look at Rothko, the way he bleeds to the edges.” When I make music, I wonder about how much I’m really working with what I’ve been given, as a heritage. I had to look up that anecdote so now I’m reading Feldman again speculating on whether music really is an art form. It seems to be connected to this point, of how influence may manifest itself. He’s talking about composers, “what Cage was involved with was what everybody in the mainstream was involved with: variation, finding ways of variation.” “The tragedy of music,” he also says, quoting himself, “is that it begins in perfection.”