HCMF 2017: Explore Ensemble, Polwechsel + John Butcher + Klaus Lang, Thomas Lehn

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | Leave a comment

One of last year’s exciting new discoveries at HCMF was the London-based Explore Ensemble, whose performance of Gérard Grisey’s Talea on ‘shorts’ day was easily among its most memorable events. Fittingly, this year Explore was invited back to give a full concert, which only reinforced that first impression from 2016. The same wasn’t true for all of the music they played: new music today has a lot of what might be called ‘eggshell music’, where there’s a pervasive sense that any moment, if one player was to articulate a note just too loudly or obtrusively, the entire piece would instantly crumble to nothing. It’s as tricky to achieve for composers as performers, and in the case of Steven Daverson‘s Elusive Tangibility II: Firelife, the results were far too ephemeral to amount to anything. In La sabbia del tempo, Fausto Romitelli injected his delicate soundworld with interesting bands of harmonic colour though, again, the long-term effect kept one at a bemused distance. The other two works in the programme were much more triumphant, and in some respects one sounded like an iteration of each other. Enno Poppe‘s Gelöschte Lieder was a whirlwind of mid-to-high register masses of details, rigorous, insistent and piercing. There were so many details, in fact, that at times it felt hard to penetrate, like trying to hack through a dense portion of jungle. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , ,

HCMF 2017: We Spoke, London Sinfonietta + Irvine Arditti, GGR Betong

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | 1 Comment

Yesterday at HCMF was decidedly mixed. Contemporary music-making aiming to be radical, at the cutting edge, obviously involves risk. That risk in turn requires a considerable amount of trust: from commissioners and investors, stumping up the cash; from performers, committing to learn and perfect the material; from concert organisers, providing a platform and technical support; and from audiences, sacrificing money and time to engage with it. That trust was sorely tested in the afternoon concert in Phipps Hall given by Swiss ensemble We Spoke. Not too terribly in H and B by Simon Løffler, works that put so much emphasis on their visual and physical aspects – the former involving tuning forks and a machine with four rotating blades, the latter a system of pedals illuminating three lights in different combinations – that their aural content felt impoverished and vapid by comparison; all very unfortunate, but not particularly uncommon in new music concerts. Fritz Hauser‘s Schraffur was less convincing and musically rich than in its recorded version, which i reviewed early last year; i wonder whether it was seeing the gong-based rhythmic scrapings going on that rendered the effect less impressive and diminished its uncanny long-term potential (the recording, let me stress, is very striking indeed). Yet while these works merely taxed our trust – and this was absolutely no fault of We Spoke, who executed each piece superbly – it was well and truly squandered by Hanna Hartman‘s Shadow Box. Its twelve minutes of cracking open eggs and nuts and punching bags filled with air (i came to empathise with how each bag felt) was less a performance – still less music – than a crime scene in which the Emperor had his entire wardrobe nicked. i don’t think i’ve ever witnessed that trust i spoke of being not merely wasted, but egregiously exploited; if Hartman has any talent at all, precisely none of it was demonstrated in this shamefully vacuous crap. Miraculously, despite all this it was worth attending the concert to experience Cathy van Eck‘s Wings, receiving its UK première. Her work involving performers interacting with loudspeakers is always fascinating, and Wings didn’t disappoint. A ballet involving three large panels slowly being re-positioned around the space, altering the nature, effect and accumulation of feedback generated from microphones around the stage facing a single loudspeaker at the back, was wonderful, effortlessly achieving what every other work in this concert singularly failed to do, creating a perfect, seamless, mesmeric marriage of sight and sound. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

HCMF 2017: Gęba Vocal Ensemble, Zwerm

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | 1 Comment

A few days ago, in relation to the (non-)performance at HCMF of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, i considered the question of what noise might be the opposite of, as a means to help defining what noise can actually be. But noise doesn’t have to be regarded as an opposite, or a polar extreme of a particular quality or characteristic, it can simply be something heard in relation to itself. i’m sure the late, great Polish composer Zbigniew Karkowski would have concurred with this. His unique take on noise seems to me to have been articulated primarily in two ways, either regarding and treating it almost like a physical substance, focused upon with a laser-like intensity, or to set it up as a kind of ‘default condition’, the starting point from which – and within which – development and exploration take place. From this latter perspective (pace Shakespeare and Alex Ross) the rest is neither silence nor noise: practically speaking, there is no “rest”, noise is all there is. We use a word like ‘atmosphere’ to refer to the general mood created by a piece of music, but in Karkowski’s case it’s a much more literal atmosphere, an environment in which noise is as ubiquitous as air.

Read more

Tags: , , , , ,

5:4 on Patreon

Posted on by 5:4 in Announcements | Leave a comment

i’m taking a short breather from this week’s concerts and reviews from the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to announce the launch of 5:4 on Patreon. It was in January 2008, almost ten years ago, that I started this blog, devoted to the most interesting, innovative and impressive contemporary and avant-garde music of our time. It all began in a pretty understated way with this article, simply sharing some recent sounds that had been catching my ear.

Since then, the blog has grown enormously, both in terms of the scope of my coverage and readership. I’ve written nearly 800 articles, including reviews of concerts and new releases, comprehensive critiques of new works, conversations with composers and performers, thematic explorations of new music, podcasts and mixtapes, retrospectives of composers and specific works/albums, and annual lists of the best music of the year.

A decade on, 5:4 is one of the very few websites committed to in-depth coverage and critique of new music. Alex Ross – music critic and author of The Rest Is Noise – has described the blog as “a powerful and uncompromising voice in the international new-music world”. My articles have been re-published in print periodicals, and are regularly quoted and cited in academic papers, articles, essays, and programme notes. The blog has therefore come to occupy a rare and important position in the discussion and outreach of contemporary music.

Personally speaking, 5:4 is now one of the most significant parts of my musical life, sitting equally alongside my activities as a composer and researcher. I love writing it; love the opportunity to introduce and explore new and unfamiliar music to a much wider audience; love being able to discover and share landmarks and pointers that help navigate a coherent way through new works; love being able to demonstrate how exciting and ground-breaking contemporary music can be, and how it can transform our understanding and preconceptions of the art.

Writing and maintaining 5:4 requires a lot of time and energy. A typical article takes anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day or more. I regard such a considered approach as this to be vital for a meaningful engagement with music. As a composer myself, I know just how much goes into the creation of even a single bar or a few seconds of sound. It deserves and needs respect and attention.

5:4 is free to read. There’s no paywall, no charges for reading certain articles, and this is how I want it to remain. And I want to take the blog much further, review a wider range of concerts and releases, record long-form dialogues with many more composers and performers, make in-depth explorations of individual pieces and albums, and create more podcasts. All of these things will expand further the contribution 5:4 makes to the discussion and understanding of contemporary music.

To do this, I need your help. With even a small donation each month, I’ll be able to bring a lot more time and ambition to the blog, and ultimately explore an even greater range of music in even more depth. So if you have found 5:4 an interesting, entertaining, useful or valuable resource over the last ten years, please do consider becoming a patron.

Thank you for your support!

HCMF 2017: Shorts

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | 2 Comments

i’ve been starting to wonder in recent years whether HCMF’s annual ‘Shorts’ day – on Monday, filled with free concerts lasting either 20 or 40 minutes – is actually one of the festival’s main highlights, rivalling the flagship events on the two weekends. It’s certainly an opportunity for musical experiences unlike anything you’re likely to find elsewhere, and this year’s was no exception.

What struck me most was the way entire concerts – rather than individual pieces within them – cohered so entirely as to become akin to a single composition. In the case of Dominic Murcott‘s Harmonic Canon (a world première), this was an especially impressive achievement as the two parts of the work were separated by a gap of over six hours. The work is structured around the imposing form of a large double-bell, which becomes both the visual and musical epicentre of its two 21-minute movements for percussion duo. Two bells, two fundamental pitches (the bells are tuned a semitone apart), two movements, two players, two separate groups of instruments – and in other ways too duality is at the heart of Harmonic Canon. Read more

Tags: , , , , ,

HCMF 2017: Polish Radio Choir, Karin Hellqvist

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | 1 Comment

For the first twenty minutes of the concert given by the Polish Radio Choir in Huddersfield Town Hall yesterday, i was forming the view that, though what we’d heard seemed at odds with his description, Dai Fujikura had nonetheless composed not only two of his best ever works, but better than much of the new choral music i’ve heard in the last few years. However, then Polish composer Agata Zubel came onto the stage to take a bow, and it transpired we hadn’t been told that the entire running order had changed. Only now, after this, did we actually hear the UK and world premières of Fujikura’s Zawazawa and Sawasawa respectively, and as it turned out they were a much more conventional and humdrum affair. Zawazawa was interesting for a time, a mixture of homophonic writing with a muscular delivery giving the impression of a single voice refracted or multiplied into a much larger manifestation. It was let down by an excess of repetition, but quite pretty at times. Sawasawa, by contrast, was thoroughly confused, mainly due to the addition of a marimba that at almost no point seemed connected or related to what the choir was doing. Or, indeed, relevant; often it seemed as though two entirely separate pieces were being played simultaneously. All very odd.
Wojtek Blecharz‘s Ahimsa, the UK première of which had actually begun the concert, explored a fascinating patchwork vocal texture made up of sonic swatches imbued with small, highly characterised motifs, acting like drops of ink being absorbed into a piece of tissue paper. Read more

Tags: , , , , ,

HCMF 2017: The Otheroom, Ensemble Modern + Arditti Quartet, zeitkratzer perform Kraftwerk

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | 1 Comment

Yesterday at HCMF was unusual, personally speaking, as for the most part it involved hearing music not for the first time. In the evening at St Paul’s Hall, Ensemble Modern and the Arditti Quartet gave the first UK performances of Carola Bauckholt‘s Laufwerk, Christopher Trapani‘s PolychROME and Brian Ferneyhough‘s 45-minute collection of ‘encounters’ with the music of Christopher Tye, Umbrations. Bauckholt’s work was new to me, and it worked well as a concert-opener, moving through a sequence of motoric episodes, each one an imitation then an elaboration of a collection of prerecorded sounds made by Bauckholt “when I was alone”. Though not particularly memorable, it was energising and fun. i’ve written at some length about the Trapani and Ferneyhough works following their premières in Witten earlier this year. Hearing PolychROME again was a real treat, and on the strength of this second hearing i came away feeling that the piece works rather like a trap. Behaviourally, it quite quickly feels settled, inasmuch as its ants-in-the-pants jerks and spasms, qualified by brief chord swells, becomes almost too familiar. The turning point – and in hindsight, it’s hard not to hear this as Trapani heralding the start of what’s discreetly about to happen – comes with a prominent horn passage, almost fanfaric. As the music continues, dryer and sharper than ever, one becomes aware that everything is becoming more and more shrill, like a blurred scream coming more and more into the sharpest of focus. And before you even know how you got there, the entire ensemble is shrieking at you, each one louder and more relentlessly cranium-drilling than the last, triggering in the hall a welter of hands being rushed to lightweight ears. Absolutely wonderful. As for the Ferneyhough, hearing it again surprisingly made it sound less rich and ‘romantic’ than it had seemed a few months ago. Read more

Tags: , , ,