The Other Film Festival, part 2

Tuesday 11 December 2007

(Part 1 is here.)
Where was I? Yeah, genre confusion. Some of the film-makers (what the hell, I’m going to call them that) were happily working in ways totally removed from the idea that cinema must be in some way dependent on theatre and narrative. Their art worked in a more purely compositional sense.
Nigel Bunn showed off his inventions, including a newly-built painting machine he had brought over from Dunedin. It was a sweet little device, consisting of a large box covered with various buttons and flip switches. When activated, it would semi-autonomously add abstract splotches of colour to a reel of blank film that was threaded through it. The abstractions were projected onto a screen covered with an array of photosensitive electronic cells, which controlled a simple sound synthesiser. In this way the painting machine manipulated both the image and the music.
Intriguingly, Bunn described his work as ‘cine-sculpture’, playing at the edges of both cinema and sculpture. The latter definition can be understood to contain a description of the entire work – objects, image, and sound, activated in a space. There’s always a pleasure in seeing a new, homemade invention working in ways that you’ve never seen before. On a deeper level than content or a message, it functions in the primary way of art, telling you things you didn’t already know, opening up new possibilities for the imagination.
A much more fiercely reductionist example of this type of work was shown by Bruce McClure, who showed a 45-minute “film” which didn’t actually use film at all. His three movie projectors were set up to screen flashes of white light at regular intervals, each at a slightly different speed, focused on the same spot to produce a flashing, pulsing white circle, first on a black screen, then on a white. He gave us a small warning that the piece is “difficult to look at”, and he wasn’t wrong. The starkness of the image, undifferentiated white light in the darkness, made the image produce optical effects, halos, patterns, and headaches. The soundtrack was a similarly minimal cross-rhythm of clicks that mimicked the pulsing of the three light sources.
In fact, flashing and flickering seems to be the style du jour among a lot of experimental film makers: both Bunn’s and Kerry Laitala’s films often flickered like an early home movie, as did a number of other films shown. After two nights straight of watching one set of flickery images after another in the dark, it all got a bit much and I had to leave before the audience participation all-together audiovisual jam session that ended the Festival.

Brisbane is a place where the arts have traditionally been treated with such suspicion that the lines between “high” and “low” art have blurred, with tenured academic finding themselves as much of a societal outcast as the underground guerrilla artist. This gives a refreshing informality to events such as the Other Film Festival. OFF is three years old now, is supported by government and institutional funding, has guests and visitors from overseas, and was this year presented in the old Brisbane Museum building. Despite all that, the atmosphere was little different from a “secret location” rock gig, with people happily drifting around in the dark, chatting or looking for the stations of free finger-food set up around the lobby.
Announcements of upcoming events were made by people wandering around wielding a small, portable amplifier, often with the reverb turned up so far that the voices were rendered unintelligble. There was no fixed, formal seating in either of the two large rooms used for most of the shows, and punters were free to come and go as they pleased. The artists used whatever wall or part of each room was most suitable for their work. Most striking of all, there was no backstage (let alone a VIP area), so that organisers and artists milled about amongst the audience, happily conversing and answering questions from anyone who happened to approach them.

Theatrical highlights: Kerry Laitala dressing up for the part when manning the projectors for her occult films.
Overheard gossip in the foyer: Howard’s out!
Boring Like a Drill Cultural Beer Exchange: Stubbies of Coopers Pale for $3!
Admission: Free!

The Other Film Festival, part 1

Sunday 9 December 2007

It was the only election night broadcast I’ve ever missed, and what a corker of a night to miss! I gave it all up to be at the last two nights of the Other Film Festival in Brisbane. Was it worth it? Yes.
Firstly, I got to see Helmet-Head at last: the collaborative project by Rod Cooper and Anthony Magen (remember when reading my comments that I’ve worked with these guys on different projects). Magen is the only VJ on the world I can stand. The usual animations and video samples are there, but only a supplement to the main action. Magen uses the bed of an overhead projector as his workspace, building up, manipulating, and then tearing down again a series of tableaux constructed from an ecelectic array of objects. The effect is simultaneously painterly and theatrical. All of this was projected onto a screen attached to a helmet worn by Rod Cooper, who stood some five metres away.
Cooper held a nifty little device in his hands, which he clutched and poked at in different ways to produce a soundtrack of sufficiently bewildering variety to match the visuals, combining electronic noises, music, quotation, field recordings. The overall effect was a type of omnium gatherum collage that revelled in the richness of its materials.
Upon later examination and questioning, Cooper’s mysterious device turned out to be a handheld cassette player: a low-tech apporach to producing a more complex and sophisticated soundscape than most laptop artists can achieve. The technical limitations of Cooper and Magen’s methods gave a clear, but undectable, structure to their performance, holding their diverse materials together.

As you’ve figured out from the above description, OFF is not your standard evening of sitting around watching movies. There were live performances – theatrical, musical, or both – incorporating film, in addition to light shows, installations, and other less easily categorisable phenomena. Most of these works involved film projectors, old-school film projectors (but hoepfully not old, school projectors), 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm – but not always in the standard ways.
Dirk de Bruyn presented his 1982 piece Experiments, ostensibly a film for two screens, but in fact a live multimedia performance in which he added his own noises and vocalisations to the soundtracks, and frequently adjusted the positions of his two projectors to differently mix and overlap the images from his collage of homemade movies against a large, blank wall. Again, this performance used film as a means to present an amalgam of the plastic and dramatic arts, reversing the old cinematic dictum, making all arts meet beyond the camera frame.
In a similar manner, Kerry Laitala concluded a retrospective of her films with a live performance, Hocus Pocus… Abracadabra…!!!, projecting slideshow images that moved back and forth over a series of superimposed film loops. Laitala’s material typically drew upon images and paraphernalia from the turn of the last century, sharing in that era’s particular fascination with the occult, manifesting itself in seances, theosophy, mesmerism, ectoplasm, table-tapping. It’s no coincidence these images are melded with glimpses from the earliest days of cinema, that time’s other great conflation of art and science, summoning visions from the beyond, bringing inert matter to life.
Tomorrow in part 2: more genre confusion, and the general atmosphere at the Other Film Festival, especially on that fateful election night.

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Friday 7 December 2007

We weren’t expecting this: Stockhausen died on Wednesday. Having completed his brobdingnagian opera cycle Licht (but not having heard the last two of the seven operas performed in entirety), he had commenced Klang, a cycle of 24 works, one for each hour of the day. He figured he had another five years of work in him at least, and time to finish it. A friend of mine has either just finished another study course with him, or else was booked in for one next year.
Pierre Boulez and Stockhausen were the two most prominent figures in Europe’s post-war musical avant-garde, but while Boulez and others settled into the musical establishment, Stockhausen passed through with his sights set on a bigger, cosmic prize. He built up his own private empire to realise goals that seemed impossibly ambitious, intimidatingly grandiose, childishly impractical. Since he started work on Licht, we probably can’t yet fully assess the achievement of the last 30 years of his career.
I first read the news at Sequenza21, which has reader comments and some prime Stockhausen video. The Rest Is Noise has more links, including to audio of his landmark 1956 electronic composition, Gesang der Jünglinge.
Update: Greg Sandow expands on the idea I touched on above, that for such a central figure, Stockhausen was strangely isolated from the music world he had so strongly influenced. ANABlog has full audio of Gesang der Jünglinge, with a brief discussion of the piece.

What’s on top of the pile? (Housesitter edition)

Thursday 6 December 2007

  • Funkadelic, One Nation Under A Groove
  • Beastie Boys, Hello Nasty
  • The Sugarcubes, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!
  • Kid 606, Down With The Scene
  • The Fall, Grotesque (After The Gramme)
  • The Fall, This Nation’s Saving Grace
  • The Fall, Perverted By Language
  • The Fall, I Am Kurious Oranj
  • The Fall, Code: Selfish
  • The Fall, The Light User Syndrome
  • The Fall, The Infotainment Scan
  • Jane Siberry, Maria

(Previously on top of the pile…)

Winter 2

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Yes, it is a little weird flying direct from the resorts of Coolum and Coolangatta back to a leafless London where the sun sets a little before 4 pm. This is not procrastination, this is a warm-up post after arriving home and trying to write coherent, self-contained posts about the antipodean trip.
Before I left, I finally got around to putting some music on my dad’s old iPod so I’d have something to listen to on the plane. This means I can follow up Little Miss Bossy’s meme (as have Deceptively Simple, The Concert, and Soho the Dog.)

1. If someone says ‘Is this OK?’ you say?
“Yesterday When I Was Young” (Buddy Greco)
It’s OK, but it used to be better.

2. What would best describe your personality?
“Tu Es La Soleil De Ma Vie” (Brigitte Bardot and Sacha Distel)
I am the sunshine of your lives, but in a language you might not understand.

3. What do you like in a girl?
Cybersonic Cantilevers” (Gordon Mumma)
Yeah, well who doesn’t like a nice set of cybersonic cantilevers?

4. How do you feel today?
“Study for Player Piano No.7” (Conlon Nancarrow)
According to Kyle Gann, I am feeling something like a sonata.

5. What is your life’s purpose?
“Magnetizing” (Handsome Boy Modelling School with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien)
All my life, I have stroked myself in one direction to attract ferrous materials.

6. What is your motto?
“Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over The City” (Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band)
“Greenfield Oriens Ego Pulsus An Cassus Infantia Gero Totus Super Urbs” looks better on my family coat of arms.

7. What do your friends think of you?
Nicolas Slonimsky at the Berkeley Piano Club, 1971
They think I’m witty, talented, erudite, charming, and older than god.

8. What do you think of your parents?
“Elemental Procedures” (Morton Feldman)
It seems I have a rather Beckettian attitude toward my conception.

9. What do you think about very often?
Konx-Om-Pax” (Giacinto Scelsi)
I am closer to Richard Gere and Bono than I realised.

10. What is 2+2=
“Post-PraeLudium Per Donau” (Luigi Nono)
[tuba solo]

11. What do you think of your best friend?
“Theme from Swan Lake” (Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys)
A Japanese surf group covering a classical chestnut. Make of that what you will.

12. What do you think of the person you like?
“Half A Canyon” (Pavement)
American indie slackers pretending to be Stereolab. Make of that what you will.

13. What is your life story?
“Winter (Hostel-Maxi)” (The Fall)
Going somewhere cold, bleak, and British. Yep. I’ll take both of you on! I’ll take both of you on!

14. What do you want to be when you grow up?
“Identity” (The Gordons)
Noisy, obscure, and from New Zealand.

15. What do you think when you see the person you like?
“Symphony No.4 (Chiaroscuro), 2nd Movement: Mystical Plosives” (Gloria Coates)
No, I mean it in a good way, don’t you see?

16. What do your parents think of you?
Computer World (for repeat 1 play)” (Kettle)
We don’t understand, but you seem to know what you’re doing.

17. What will you dance to at your wedding?
“The Projects (PJays)” (Handsome Boy Modelling School with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Dave from De La Soul)
Hell, everyone’s gonna dance to this at my wedding!

18. What will they play at your funeral?
Kissing Jesus in the Dark” (Mystery Labs (John Oswald))
They will want everyone to leave my funeral before it’s over. How very like them.

19. What is your hobby/interest?
“Study for Player Piano No. 25” (Conlon Nancarrow)
Time consuming, obsessive, nerdy music stuff no-one was expected to listen to. A little close to home, this one.

20. What is your biggest secret?
John Cage interviewed by Jonathan Cott, 1963
I am secretly antagonistic toward John Cage, and secretly take Norman Mailer’s gibberish seriously.

21. What do you think of your friends?
“AT&T” (Pavement)
Enjoy them without analysing them.

22. What should you post this as?
“Winter 2” (The Fall)

Me, direct from New Zealand! (new gig)

Saturday 24 November 2007

Alas, Bowerbird is no more. These were the kind people who offered to let me play at their next gig, but they’ve had problems with their venue. Instead, at the very last minute, they’ve arranged an unofficial Other Film Festival after-party:
Sunday 25 November, 7pm.
116 LaTrobe Terrace, Paddington, Brisbane.
Thee Ideal Gus (Pumice + Armpit, NZ)
The Deadnotes
Brutal Hate Mosh
and Ben.Harper, the famous New Zealand musician (it sez here)

Ben.Harper live in Melbourne

Monday 5 November 2007

Tuesday 13 November at The Make It Up Club
Bar Open, 317 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
With Dur-e Dara and Ren Walters, Blow, and boy Brightbulb and Robert Curgenven – looks like a night of electronics, percussion, guitar and winds. Something for everyone!
$7/$5, 8.30pm.
I’ll be playing a new piece for digitally simulated feedback, The One Who Was Neither Or Nor. It’s a more sophisticated development of the principles used in St Paul’s Pianos With Real Nightingales. More details soon.

The New Magic Online Survey 4: Citizens on Patrol

Friday 2 November 2007

If you don’t know the drill by now, check what’s happened before. As always, a solitary dud bobs in an ocean of brilliance. A little more mainstream this time, but not much worse for it.

A Little Bitty Tear – Burl Ives
Born A Woman – Sandy Posey*
Dream A Little Dream Of Me – Mama Cass
Good Vibrations – Beach Boys
Hitch Hiker – Bobby & Laurie**
I’ll Have To say I Love You In A Song – Jim Croce
It Never Rains In Southern California – Albert Hammond
Let The Heartaches Begin – Long John Baldry
More Than I Can Say – Leo Sayer
Not Responsible – Helen Shapiro
Please Don’t Ask Me – Johnny Farnham*
Quando Quando Quando – Engelbert Humperdinck
Sad Movies (Make Me Cry) – Sue Thompson
Somewhere My Love – Ray Conniff Singers*
Stand Tall – Burton Cummings*
Take It Easy – Eagles
The Tips Of My Fingers – Roy Clark*
Time To Say Goodbye – Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli
Volare – Bobby Rydell
What In The World’s Come Over You – Jack Scott*
What Will My Mary Say – Johnny Mathis*
Wind Beneath My Wings – Colleen Hewett
Woman – John Lennon
You’re My World – Cilla Black
Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife – Glen Campbell*

That last one really should be by Wayne Newton, but it’s a minor quibble.

Toot toot! I forgive Richard Taruskin. Toot!

Saturday 27 October 2007

I’m packing my bags for Australia, so I don’t have time to weigh in on Richard Taruskin’s latest essay in The New Republic, “The Musical Mystique“, the latest in the ongoing Sick Man Dialogue classical music has been having with itself for years (“How do I look? Do I look alright? I think I’m feeling a bit better today, how do I look?” etc etc). Others are already wrestling the 12,000 word behemoth to the ground.
In fact, I haven’t read past the first page, and I only got that far beacuse The Rambler was kind of enough to notify me that Taruskin quotes a witty, intelligent, perceptive “netizen” called Ben.H.
I have only one problem with this. Actually I have two problems, but anyone who quotes me approvingly is OK with me, even if they call me a “netizen”. The main problem is that I don’t remember writing it, and couldn’t find it anywhere on my blog. It took a bit of googling to find it was a jokey, throwaway comment I apparently made on a Sequenza21 post six months ago. According to the website, I wrote it at 9.10 am, which can’t be right. Most likely that’s USA time, which meant I wrote it very late at night, and was quite possibly tired and emotional.
Mind you, Taruskin follows up my quote by saying Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by Blair Tindall “contains the smartest and most constructive take” on the classical music industry, so maybe he was in a similarly, uh, frivolous mood when he started writing his little review.
Actually, it’s more of an honour to find myself quoted (via Taruskin’s quote) in the Something Awful forums. Even though they say “poo poo” too much and can’t discuss any type of music without someone instantly mentioning Frank Zappa.

Enough Nono for Now

Friday 26 October 2007

Two uncanny audience experiences in one week: after hearing concertgoers on Sunday coming away from a Philip Glass gig humming a 12-tone row, on Tuesday I was at Queen Elizabeth Hall to hear the Arditti Quartet play Nono’s Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima. I’ve previously explained what I think of this piece, but hearing the Arditti’s performance of it brought another dimension I hadn’t noticed before.

Just as its title suggests, Nono’s quartet is an extended series of silences, or near-silences of sustained faint chords, at times barely audible, from which brief fragments of muted activity occasionally surface. The Arditti played these long, soft notes with almost inhuman accuracy, the intonation almost never wavering. The sound was immaculate, remote.

Fragmente – Stille is music in which time is suspended, unlike Nono’s later, last works, such as the ‘No hay caminos, hay que caminar’ pieces, in which one is made always conscious of the sense of time passing. Again, the titles of these last pieces are apt, evoking journeys (La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura) instead of silent contemplation: the music is less rarefied, more grounded in human activity than derived from an abstract ideal.

The emphasis on action and motion, within a similar hushed, fragmentary sound-world, is present to such an extent in Nono’s last works that some of them demand the musicians move from place to place during the performance. His last piece, “Hay que caminar” soñando for two violinists, was played at the Royal Academy of Music on Monday evening: the two players gradually circle each other round the audience before finally meeting on stage. The musicians must feel their way through disconnected gestures hovering between silence and noise: faltering harmonics, rushed arpeggios, the sound of wood on strings, more the shadows of sounds than the sounds themselves. Most remarkable is the way Nono writes for the pair of instruments, each echoing the other to reproduce similar effects to those he had previously obtained though using electronics.

Nono’s use of electronics was heard at an earlier Royal Academy concert, which The Rambler has described so I don’t have to. It is followed by a brief discussion of what happened in the second half, which was disrupted by boozers like me enjoying the subsidised beer in the attached student bar, blithely oblivious to the concert having started again without anyone informing us. It’s small comfort that the people responsible for the house lights were also in the bar, and so completely missed their cue as well.

I forgot to mention what that other weird audience experience was: during a forty-minute string quartet comprised almost entirely of the quietest sounds and long silences, played in a full concert hall in autumn in London, not a single person coughed.

He takes his girlfriend to a Philip Glass gig but forgets to mention that it will be five hours long.

Tuesday 23 October 2007

I had told her Music in 12 Parts is a big piece, but she thought that meant it went for two hours or so. When he completed the work in 1974, Glass’ ensemble of electric keyboards, amplified winds and voice would typically play the whole thing over a series of three evenings, not in a single, marathon event like last Sunday at the Barbican. Besides two 15-minute intervals, there was an hour-long break halfway through, so that musicians and audience alike could recuperate, and I could mollify my partner with a large glass or two of house red.
Of the three main concerts staged by the Barbican as part of their Philip Glass 70th birthday events, this was the one I was interested in. It was also the one which still had tickets available on the day. The other two concerts were new works, both collaborations: one with Patti Smith, the other with Leonard Cohen. Glass has a strangely duplicitous career and reputation. Today he is best known for the numerous orchestral pieces, film scores, and collaborations he has made over the past twenty-odd years, yet most of this music is his least interesting and (I’m predicting) least enduring work.
By contrast, Music in 12 Parts is Glass’ essential composition, the full flowering of the radical techniques he developed in the late 60s and the source for all of his subsequent music. Unfortunately, since the 1980s Glass has done little to develop these innovations, preferring instead to add derivative embellishments to his earlier stylistic breakthrough. Consequently, the distinctive body of music Glass wrote for his own ensemble in the 1970s now seems even more unusual and further from the mainstream now than when it was written, when set in context against his later movie music and large orchestra commissions.
I was going to refer to Glass collaborations with Smith, Cohen, Ravi Shankar et al as crossover music, but really, most of Glass’ later output has been a crossover collaboration with the capital-C Classical music world, with all the attendant weaknesses all too typical in such hybrid genres. Returning to early Glass now always seems like a revelation of a true composer buried beneath the comparatively conservative accretions of his more familiar music.
Music in 12 Parts enthralls and exasperates in turn, its sheer length and single-mindedness acts first as an obstacle, then as a means of transmitting the sense of discovery and excitement that sustains its newly-formed musical language. There’s an appealing candour in its obstinacy and roughness, right down to the inevitable lapses in the musicians’ technique as they play a score which demands superhuman consistency and stamina, and the heedless way each new part butts up against the preceding one.
Sadly, the sound mix on the night was a little too rough, and for most of the first half of the concert the flutes and saxophones were drowned out by the voice and keyboards. Also, the whole thing could have, should have been louder. Maybe I’ve become jaded, maybe Glass has mellowed too much with age, but even in the 1980s his concerts were deafeningly loud, and it served to immerse the listener in the music, shutting out any other distractions.
After the show, the strangest thing happened. As we all left the theatre we could hear members of the audience drifting through the streets, humming the tune. Specifically, they were trying to recapture the peculiar 12-tone melody that emerges during the final part.

St Paul’s Pianos With Real Nightingales

Sunday 21 October 2007

For piano, digitally simulated feedback, and two nightingale stops. Section: MP3, 6.54MB. It’s about a man who made the scene, with a half-arsed twittering machine, in a disused shop in Willesden Green. Read the whole sad story.

Looks like someone left the brown M&Ms in the bowl

Friday 19 October 2007

No sooner had I invoked the name of Eddie Van Halen in a comment on my last post about Glenn Branca’s microtonal guitar symphonies, than Sequenza21 posts a YouTube video of Van Halen’s trainwreck rendition of “Jump” at a concert last month:

The backstage sound guy accidentally plays the synth opening at 48K rather than 44.1 causing a 1.5 semitone tonal conflict to occur. Eddie and the crew attempt to roll with the microtonal noise but no… it is not meant to be.

To answer another commenter here, this is what a rock’n’roll Portsmouth Sinfonia sounds like.

Attitude Problem 2: Glenn Branca at the Roundhouse

Thursday 18 October 2007

“Given the laws of probability,” a friend of mine said afterward, “I suppose it was inevitable that any selection of a hundred guitarists would contain at least one wanker. But that guy up in the back row, he was one in a million.”

Glenn Branca was in London making the usual noises he makes, both on-stage and off. First there were his usual interviews where he says “kick ass” a lot and tells you how totally freakin’ loud his music is. The Rambler found links to a couple of them:

“I am the most pretentious person on the face of the Earth,” he declares, “but I’ve always tried to make powerful artistic statements, confronting the audience in what I thought of as a Brechtian way – that idea of the alienation effect.

“My music isn’t for everybody; it’s not pop music by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve always done things that I would like to go and see. I like things that are going to challenge me, things that are going to f*** [sic] with my perception. As it turned out, in New York and elsewhere, I’ve met a hell of a lot more people who are like me.”

It’s Branca’s “Barnum thing”, as one commenter on The Rambler’s site said, adding “the real show is watching people who show up to see if anything is going to happen.”

I showed up at the Roundhouse in Camden, slightly woozy after a few too many Chimay Rouges at the Belgian bar down the road, to see what would happen when Branca presented a performance of his notorious Symphony No.13: Hallucination City for 100 electric guitars. I had two good reasons for doing this (going to the concert, I mean – I don’t need a reason to drink Chimay): despite his macho posturing, I quite enjoy Branca’s music. Sure, it has a few too many flat spots, and the drumming is usually a bit Spinal Tappish but, as I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for microtonal music.

The real appeal of Branca’s music, outside of the visceral thrill of dozens of loud electric guitars hammering away, is his use of the harmonic series. All the guitars are carefully retuned to overtones of a common base frequency. At first, the guitars sound exotically out of tune, until the combination of sonorities causes beautifully pure harmonies to float up over the crashing din, and then the small shifts in pitch create aural hallucinations of one harmony melting into another.

The other good reason I went is for comparison. About fifteen years ago I went to a performance of Rhys Chatham’s piece for 100 electric guitars, An Angel Moves Too Fast To See. (Branca and Chatham seem to have been in a pissing contest over who can get the most microtonally-tuned guitars into one piece: Chatham has since written a piece for 400 guitarists.) It’s the only piece of Chatham’s I’ve heard, and I found it underwhelming: I remember lots of steady-rocking chords that quickly got tedious, interspersed with some interesting passages of glissandi that swept back and forth across the orchestra. There was also the distraction of some of the more extroverted guitarists roped in for the concert – this is where the anecdote at the start comes from. All in all, it felt like the music existed solely for the sake of the idea of having so many guitarists on stage. Other people have told me I should give Chatham another chance.

The first encouraging sign at the Branca gig was that there were only about 80 guitarists on stage, and not 100 as promised. This was good, it suggested the Symphony was about the music, not the logistics. The music was typical of Branca’s work, but thankfully typical of his better work: insistent, pounding rhythms of dense chords that moved from one eerie tonal region to the next, balancing the harmonic complexity with the overall noise and sensation just about enough to keep anything from getting too dull.

The drums were as big and dumb as usual, but the interplay between the conductor and the drummer (who plays without a score) in setting the tempo for the pickup orchestra gave them a purpose not usually obvious on record. All four movements were pretty much fast. Added theatrical interest, besides observing the different guitarists’ behaviours, was provided by Branca himself skulking around backstage, occasionally wandering amongst the instruments to check how things were progressing.

Special mention goes to the guitarist who needed to rush off for a toilet break between movements. Many of us in the audience were feeling for you. This Symphony goes for over an hour and, after those Chimays and a £3.50 pint of Kronenbourg I’d brought into the theatre for succor, as soon as the applause died down I was racing for the nearest toilets. As were half the crowd, who were queuing down the corridor for both the ladies and the mens. Never seen that before.

During that final movement, there was no sight as gladdening as the conductor turning to the final page of the score, nor a sight as heartbreaking as when he then turned back a few pages for a dal segno.

Tom Hughes in The Guardian has written about his experience as one of the volunteer guitarists appearing in the piece (and quickly learning to read music along the way).

Attitude Problem 1: Haswell and Hecker at Conway Hall

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Last week I saw Pansonic play at Conway Hall, along with Haswell and Hecker performing with a UPIC computer music interface. I’ve been to Conway Hall before and described that strange little venue last year: I hope the all the noise didn’t distract the seminar on “Mindfulness” being held down the hall.
It was the wrong sort of place to hear a Pansonic gig. (I remember someone saying later that there had been a last-minute change of venue after a double-booking elsewhere.) I enjoyed the last time I saw them, but that was at the end of a long night in an overcrowded, smoky, noisy club. This time, everything felt a bit too flat and distant to get a connection with the music. Besides, the main reason I was there was for UPIC, and Haswell and Hecker had played first.
UPIC is among computer music nerds as the revolutionary musical instrument developed by Iannis Xenakis in the 1970s, but opportunities to actually hear music created on it are relatively rare. Haswell and Hecker’s set, with its harsh electronic sounds clashing against each other, accompanied by strobe lights and hyperactive laser beams, forcefully summoned up flashbacks from The Ipcress File. I’m not sure if that was the intention. The way they exploited UPIC’s features was impressive: for all the brutality of the noise they generated, there was a richness of detail in the sound so often lacking in computer music. Even at its most abrasive, the music was kept alive with nuanced shifts in tone.
The light show was a distraction. It had all the bluster of the music, minus all of the charm. The use of laser was reminiscent of Robin Fox’s gigs, but where Fox’s light displays complemented the music, here it quickly became irritating. It felt like H&H lacked confidence in the ability of their music to hold the listener’s attention for extended periods of time, and used the lighting as a diversion. The overall effect was the reverse, making enduring the complete set a chore.
The lighting was one part of what seemed like an attempt at imposing a type of rock attitude to the set. Despite some wonderfully intricate quiet sounds which punctuated the early stages, most of the music fell back onto a deadening reliance on a uniform goes-to-11 volume level. Meanwhile, Haswell kept pulling mildly ridiculous rockstar moves at his console. No amount of heavy-metal posturing can fool anyone into not thinking you’re some nerd hunched over a computer.