There’s a curious phenomenon that seems to strike people the longer they spend at HCMF: a cross between regret and guilt at the events they’re not attending. i periodically suffer from it myself, and never more so than on their annual ‘Shorts’ day, which took place yesterday. Fifteen small- and mid-scale concerts, containing 38 pieces, in total lasting around 13 hours—it would take a certain kind of person to go to everything, and i have to confess i’m not that kind, so i experienced what we might call “the HCMF qualm”, my conscience nagging me at the music i didn’t hear and which may well have turned out to be brilliant.
However, i did get to nine concerts, and a thoroughly mixed bag they were. The first thing to say is that it’s an incredible treat to be able to hear such a diverse selection of music as this, and the performance standard throughout the day ranged from highly competent to downright dazzling. The compositional standard was rather more variable, and almost every concert had its share of flops (the worst that i experienced being Jonathan Cole’s butt-clenchingly tedious saxophone quartet Menhir, which the otherwise talented Fukio Ensemble could do nothing to save). There were plenty of moments of magic, however: the wonderfully delicious conclusion to Kerry Andrew‘s anthem O lux beata Trinitas, the disorienting division between fragrance and grind in Rose Dodd‘s electroacoustic Aandacht, some sensitively-judged interaction between organ and electronics in Huw Morgan‘s The Unseeing Eye at the Lung’s Heart and a fascinating sonic network of relationships between clarinet and string trio in Dai Fujikura‘s Halcyon.
All of these made the day worthwhile, offering real insights into their disparate media. Yet the biggest triumphs made even these highlights seem pale by contrast. Percussionist Simone Beneventi ended his recital with the UK première of Francesca Verunelli‘s #3987 Magic Mauve, an 11-minute extravaganza featuring some of the most original and effective percussion writing i’ve ever heard. The work is expanded somewhat through electronics, but they never sound like an ‘outside’ entity; indeed, the kinds of sounds Verunelli obtains from her relatively small palette of instruments often sounded decidedly unfamiliar, so the melding between acoustic and electronic was total. Much of the work exists in the outer fringes of register—deep rumbles and glinting metallics—but the textural interplay is gripping, in many ways simple yet so, so avant-garde. Verunelli tells me that Beneventi has recorded the piece a couple of days ago, so hopefully it won’t be too much longer before more people can discover its wonders.
There was yet more wonder—and no little humour—to be found at my highlight of the day, Jennifer Walshe‘s evening performance at Bates Mill. To see Walshe perform live is to be drawn into something fiercely alive, littered with—indeed, to a large extent fashioned from—the digital scree of contemporary culture, shot through with (mis-)appropriations from a discombobulating array of seemingly incongruous materials. Here’s Walshe’s own summary of her sources for one of last night’s pieces, the first movement of All the Many Peopls:
Lojban, a language constructed entirely according to the rules of predicate logic; the cast of Lohengrin; certain sections from Watt by Samuel Beckett constituting the first examples of process composition; The Public Enemy (1931) starring James Cagney; KRS-One; US and British soldiers making cell-phone videos of themselves blowing things up and uploading the videos to YouTube; Even Dwarfs Started Small; Amazon.com message boards about vampire physiology; sferics; conspiracy theorist Francis E. Dec; detritus from video game voice-overs; August Strindberg; a re-working of ‘The Signifying Monkey’ as an inner city Dublin insult practice; rap video choreographies; The Typing of the Dead; cult Irish martial arts film Fatal Deviation; the collective unconcsious as evidenced by Google Autocomplete; Courage Wolf; 4Chan.
i know, right? The result, filtered through Walshe’s impeccable ear, is an utterly absorbing absurdist compote, a theatrical fucked-up farrago of words, whispers, hollers, squeals, blurts and even, occasionally, song. As tales go, Walshe is the definitive unreliable narrator; but is there anything, anymore, reliable to narrate?
Both in terms of technique and imagination, Walshe is easily one of the finest contemporary vocalists around, a kind of kinked (kinky?) reincarnation of Cathy Berberian, and this all-too-brief performance of hers last night will linger in the mind’s ear for a long time to come. Walshe is back in action on Sunday to present the world première of DORDÁN. i can’t be there, so my experience of “the HCMF qualm” has now become very much more intense…