Post-Confusion, 2: Tim Parkinson, Eventless Plot, Luciano Maggiore

Sunday 20 February 2022

Speaking of forgotten trends in experimental music from past generations, I recently listened to a two-hour free-form slab of late night US public radio from 1975. Amongst all its eccentricities, the oddest thing about it was how it reminded me of Tim Parkinson’s septet (2004), which I had played just before. Two performances of the work are given by different ensembles in this album release; it’s a piece for live chamber ensemble with use of pre-recorded audio. “Simultaneous parts begin together and thereafter continue independently. Parts for melody instruments may be played in any order. Percussion parts and audio track are fixed.” As a study in immersive simultaneity, the ideas and means are not new, but the music is still strikingly otherworldly. Part of this may be down to the awareness of history going on behind it, focusing on the sound over the technique. The live sounds vary incongruously without ever trying to be pointedly different or disruptive, while the recorded sounds remain impassive; moreover, everything appears in a dreamlike, distant haze. The musicians are expected to be placed around the room, which presumably happened in both these instances, so that the recording captures the room as much as the sounds that inhabit it.

I’ve talked about Eventless Plot a few times before, with their group compositional approach being both an extension and an antithesis of free improvisation. With several minds at work, the focus is on finding order, guiding divergent impulses into a single, emergent intelligence that is as clear as it it complex. Released last month, Apatris is a collection of four concise pieces for tapes, piano, percussion and electronics. The trio (Vasilis Liolios, Aris Giatas, Yiannis Tsirikoglou) play without guest members this time, producing atmospheric but transparent works that subtly develop and distinguish themselves from each other. With piano as the main melodic component here, its utterances are kept brief, setting the layers of unpitched sound into relief while giving them further colouration by contrast. It works effectively as a companion piece to No options, their earlier collaboration with bass clarinetist Chris Cundy, both in musical approach and in scale.

The unifying conceit I’ve got in the back of my head from listening to these pieces is “post-confusion”, as an evolving but contemporary approach to accommodating the state of information today, a multiplicity of ever-present, contradictory messages in constant competition. How does music adapt to, repurpose, combat or shut out this situation? The term might be used in a similar way as “post-irony” gets thrown about, which was how it kept passing through my head while listening to Luciano Maggiore’s Drenched Thatched Roof again even after I swore not to. This is the guy who did that collaboration with Louie Rice Synthesised voices and low frequencies to eat crisps with a while back. There’s even less information to work with here; if you’re one of the 150 people who got the limited edition CD then there’s a 6-page booklet to go with it but I’m going to guess that all the pages are black. Short loops of grey-sounding tapes repeat a handful of times, then stop. Pause, repeat for 68 minutes (Maggiore does tell you up front that the track divisions are meaningless). Every element is laid out one at a time, neatly separated, but it’s still incomprehensible. You’re so sure that some of these sounds are being repeated that the idea they might all be different is unbearable. I have no idea what is going on, even though it keeps telling me.

Eventless Plot: Anisixia

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Collective composer Eventless Plot is made up of Vasilis Liolios, Aris Giatas and Yiannis Tsirikoglou, using objects and instruments combined with live electronics. They jointly produce performance scores for themselves and chamber ensembles, as in this new Edition Wandelweiser release of a 2019 composition titled Anisixia. The additional musicians here – Nefeli Sani, piano; Chris Cundy, bass clarinet; Eva Matsigou, flute – take the foreground, to the extent that a casual hearing suggests the piece is entirely acoustic. The core trio’s contributions on digital processing, analog synthesiser and psaltery played with e-bow act to subtly transform the acoustic instruments, extending decays and sustaining overtones. This group shows admirable commitment to effacing both their individual identities in composition and their presence in performance.

It’s an Edition Wandelweiser release so no detailed notes on the composition. “Variations of the initial score were incorporated within the choreographic performance “guest project” presented at the Archeological Museum of Thessaloniki, October 2019.” More than other works I’ve heard by them, Anisixia displays signs of subjectivity in the way it unfolds. With no obvious overriding force guiding the piece, it takes the form of a stately but gentle processional, with the piano taking the lead as the others provide a harmonic shadowing. At just under 37 minutes, it establishes the same quiet presence as some of Feldman’s longer works, making its own time. I’m not sure if the recording was made as part of the museum performances or not: my only complaint about this piece is that I wish it was captured with greater depth and clarity.

Reprise: Eventless Plot, Catherine Lamb

Monday 7 December 2020

They’ve already put out some great stuff this year, but in the last couple of months both Eventless Plot and Catherine Lamb have each released another album. While Eventless Plot’s Another Timbre album Parallel Words showed the trio – Vasilis Liolios, Yiannis Tsirikoglou and Aris Giatas – acting as group composers for a small ensemble, Surfaces places the focus back on them as performers. It’s, basically, percussion: there are electronics at work in there – Max/MSP, that sort of thing – as well as plain old electrical devices, and the sleeve notes assure the listener that there really is an analog modular synth and guitar to be heard somewhere, too. The percussion instruments and associated sounds of small, amplified objects predominate, with the more technically advanced devices being used in a similar percussion-like manner. By ‘percussion-like’, I mean here that the trio takes the approach to percussion described by Vinko Globokar in his essay “Anti-Badabum“, where they treat their instruments “simply to invest each movement, however innocuous it first seems to be, with a meaning.” The technique is akin to James Tenney’s percussion postcard pieces, or John Cage’s later percussion works, alive to the inherent sonic qualities of objects. If there’s a compositional scheme behind this recording, then it’s sufficiently loose to allow for this type of exploration. The title Surfaces describes both their manner of playing and the music they make: passages of sound whose gross attributes appear static while being constantly alive and changing with subtle variations in timbre and texture. Ageing mechanical devices combined with inspired instrumental choices and insidious granular synthesis produce a complex, organic sound. At one critical point, they would appear to leave one piece of equipment running alone, just doing its thing.

Fresh from hearing Catherine Lamb’s vast synthesiser opus wave/forming (astrum), I’m now returned to more familiar turf with her Prisma Interius VII & VIII. The Prisma Interius series is written for live musicians with added harmonic resonance from synthesisers, made by taking sound from outside the performance space as a source for subtractive synthesis. The dynamics and coloration form a kind of harmonic space which contains the musicians inside a rarefied environment, a world that can define its own passing of time. Both pieces here stretch out towards forty minutes without ever feeling long, or even particularly slow. I’ve heard parts of this cycle before, with the same lightness of touch and faint folkish traces, but Prisma Interius VII seems to be the clearest expression in this series yet. Regular collaborator Johnny Chang on solo violin evokes a time and place with a simplicity of melody that’s unobtrusive enough to seem inevitable. The harmonic coloration is faint at first, then grows in your consciousness while never dominating, always an elusive counterpart, a true dialogue de l’ombre double (without Boulez’ crude and distracting manipulations). It has that fusion of form and content as experienced in nature, where you grasp it at once but keep coming back to it differently each time. Prisma Interius VIII expands from solo to the Harmonic Space Orchestra, an all-star ensemble on tenor recorder and low strings. For what it loses in lightness of touch, it gains in a wider pitch spectrum and drama, without stooping to the dramatic. Sometimes, the musicians stop, leaving you to wonder how the silence might reassert itself.

Eventless Plot: Parallel Words

Friday 21 August 2020

Beats me how people find these things, but I’m glad that they do. Eventless Plot is Vasilis Liolios, Yiannis Tsirikoglou and Aris Giatas, a trio of musicians in Thessaloniki. The music they make can be hard to describe. It is typically referred to as ‘group composition’, a term that usually implies homogeneous improvisation or undifferentiated free-for-all, but that’s far from the case here. For starters, their newest release, Parallel Words, sees them working with a small ensemble of flute, clarinet and strings in addition to their own playing on instruments an electronics. This ensemble takes its lead from compositions jointly worked out by the trio; these compositional structures may, or may not, allow them certain degrees of freedom. Such strategies can often be highly reductive, but Eventless Plot work in a more idiosyncratic way, with intriguing results.

The title work had its material composed conventially at the piano and was then developed with instrumentation and electronics dividing the music between them into two independent strands. In its unhurried pace, the piece moves back and forth between tension and release as the strands – flute and piano versus strings, with electronic sounds thickening the plot – drift in and out of synchronisation, at times in conflic and at others in accord. The piece moves with an aleatory fluidity, while also creating a slow-motion contrapunctal call and response, each instrument in turn commenting on the others.

The opening work, Cosmographia, consists of a structure where the overall shape and individual parts were created to give rise to “common melodic slow shifting patterns and acoustic textures”. From one section to the next, each musician is allowed greater or lesser control to vary pacing and elaboration, with alternate tunings and extended techniques introduced both as variation and as material itself. The works on this disc fall into the “soft and slow” school of music but the playing on both these pieces, together with the imaginatively developed compositions, allows for a complexity of texture and detail to match the typically careful focus on timbre. Eventless Plot’s ‘group compositions’ guide the ensemble with a mercurial intelligence that is both human yet beyond individual subjectivity, quietly confounding expectations as each turn creates a new hybrid of sound.

That impersonal, third mind approach can be heard more explicitly in the final work, Conversion, which seems to be closer to some of the group’s previous work. The trio gently strike various percussion instruments and objects, each with contact microphones attached. The amplified vibrations are transformed into strange gong and marimba-like sounds, with bowed cymbals and electronic filtering producing continuous tones. These soft, sustained sounds are augmented and shaded by a viola, played by Stefanos Papadimitriou, who appears on all three pieces. The emphasis on exploration and discovery is at the forefront here, but that same tendency can be heard in the other pieces, applied to compositional principles.