Music We’d Like To Hear, 2019 season (part 2)

Tuesday 6 August 2019

(Part 1 here.)

Music We’d Like To Hear‘s latest season continued their bold approach to reappraising recent music. The second concert began with a live performance of Timing by Phil Harmonic (aka Kenneth Werner) – a piece which had only existed up to now as a recording of a one-off, unscripted studio performance in 1979. Two performers on electric keyboards play chords, each telling the other when to change. It seems like nothing more than a simple excercise, but the performance revealed deeper implications. Each musician, and the music, is dependent on the other’s actions; yet neither can control what the other may do, only when they shall do it. Each knows what to do, but not when they may do it. In one way it is like one of Christian Wolff’s open scores where the musicians can only progress by consensus, but with an adversarial element. Each musician has the power, should they choose to do so, to subvert and disrupt as well as to collaborate. The spoken imperative to “change now” takes on a greater burden for the audience. Francesca Fargion and Tim Parkinson’s performance used a transcription of the same chords from the recording but in this piece, timing is everything.

I went to a fine performance of Alvin Lucier’s Chambers at one of these gigs a few years ago so it was slightly surprising to see it get another airing, except this was a completely different interpretation. The basic concept of filtering sounds through different, small acoustic spaces was reinterpreted by Rie Nakajima and Lee Patterson in a much broader way. Much of the sound was non-electronic and unamplified, particularly Nakajima’s. Any concave object or surface was considered as a potential acoustic filter for the transmission of sounds; even the sound of an open or hollow object against another surface is determined by the shape, down to a bottlecap pushed across the floor.

The gig ended with Enrico Malatesta performing Éliane Radigue’s Occam XXVI, circumnavigating a pair of cymbals with a violin bow, occasionally holding a frame drum to resonate above the cymbals’ surface. There’s a kind of meticulousness in these pieces in which the perfection of the player’s gestures in producing an immaculate surface of sound becomes fascinating in itself. Here, the music again seemed like a technical exercise but this time I struggled to find anything deeper. Radigue’s long history of work with synthesiser drones should mean that the apparently simple surface of harmonies reveal a more complex interplay of shifting overtones, but perhaps here the lack of precise control over the instrument’s harmonic spectrum and the overfamiliarity of bowed percussion sounds work against the odds of the listener finding an aural epiphany.