David Briggs – Symphony in Four Movements

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A former Director of Music of Gloucester Cathedral, David Briggs has made something of a name for himself as a creator of large-scale improvisations. From a compositional standpoint, they’re generally contrived and unoriginal; Briggs—like fellow organist Wayne Marshall—has a penchant for creating music in the styles of others, rather than forging an individual style of his own. Also like Marshall, his musical personality tends toward the extravagant, but while in Marshall’s playing the results are reckless and repulsively showy, Briggs manages to focus this quality, bringing a breathless exuberance to his performances. Most remarkable of all, though, is his technique with the instrument, which is simply amazing. Read more

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Throwing down the gauntlet: t.A.T.u. – Beliy Plaschik

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If i was to admit that my love for t.A.T.u. began the moment the video for All The Things She Said was first shown on MTV, it would possibly send out the wrong kind of message. i won’t deny that i found the video surprising and controversial (i was in the company of friends at the time, and our conversation quickly became dominated by it); but above and beyond any pseudo-sapphic high jinks, i was both enthralled by the song and genuinely intrigued by the dark content of both the video and the lyrics. Following my last post, i don’t think it would be fanciful to suggest that what Dubstar was to the 1990s, t.A.T.u. is to the 2000s, their songs bristling with energy and excitement, but often being the vehicle for lyrics that explore and express some very difficult ideas and concomitantly angry emotions. Where Dubstar focussed on the comparatively insular dramas of relationship trauma, however, t.A.T.u. face outward at the world around them, their words directed at society itself. Say what you like about them being yet another “product”, but their songs go way beyond such banal intentions; they’re popular without seeking to please—pop it may be, but not in the least bit plastic.

t.A.T.u.’s newest release, the first single from their forthcoming album, is “Белый Плащик”, transliterated as “Beliy Plaschik” and known in English as “White Robe”. Unlike their previous singles (due to record label upheavals), this has only been available for purchase direct from Russia, which explains its relative anonymity. It’s surprising, considering the incredible success they’ve had, that they’re releasing their music like this—i.e. from a single country only—but it’s not the first time it’s happened (the “Truth” DVD was—bizarrely—only available from Japan, to the chagrin of many fans). Anyway, so much for the (im)practicalities…. While the single was only released last month, the video has been available for some time (since last November i think), so the song can’t really be disassociated from it. It recently came to light that this video is a “TV version” however; the DVD accompanying the single contains a more lengthy version, which makes for a fuller experience. Both, though, use imagery at once striking and deeply provocative. Read more

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Bitter and strong: the legacy of Dubstar

Posted on by 5:4 in Retrospectives | 6 Comments

A few months back, the announcement was made that Dubstar were at work on a fourth album, due for release this year. This came from Steve Hillier, brains of the outfit, who has, in the intervening years since Dubstar’s departure from the music scene, continued to maintain webpages connected with their music. Perhaps Hillier’s prevalent nostalgia is what has kickstarted the Dubstar motor once again; or perhaps they just couldn’t help themselves (real musicians never can); either way, things are afoot. i think that history—with all the old-fashioned benevolence of a grandmother—has been kind to Dubstar; they are encased within a memory that finds playful melodies and darkly acerbic lyrics joined, a paradox perfectly encapsulated in the person of singer Sarah Blackwood, her strongly northern dialect colliding with her angelic, unwavering soprano voice. Dubstar, in short, are like one of Grayson Perry‘s ceramics, discreetly placing disturbing imagery within a context that at first seems familiar and safe. It’s been interesting, then, to revisit all their old releases, many of which have been untouched on the CD shelves for far too long; 10 singles (all long out of print), 3 albums, plus one or two other odds and ends, totalling a little over 7 hours of music—released over a 5-year period, this is a fair achievement. But how does the music acquit itself now? What is Dubstar’s legacy? Read more

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Conflicted and inconsistent: the mentality and detriment of Venetian Snares

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Through the last few years, my opinion of Venetian Snares has been in the descendant. But from the outset, let’s be fair; while Aaron Funk has, on occasion, produced music that rarely rises beyond mere drivel—Songs About My Cats, Chocolate Wheelchair Album—he has also achieved some mind-blowingly brilliant creations: Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding and the wonderful Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. Venetian Snares’ output often gives the impression of listening to someone with Tourette Syndrome plugged into a cluster of samplers and effects boxes. At times, a sense of control is lost, resulting in a miasmic, dull mess (Making Orange Things)—but when the control is maintained, it can focus into a beam of shockingly vivid, effluvial rage (Winnipeg Is A Frozen Shithole). Funk, it would seem, is not always sure where the line is drawn between being extreme and being excessive. i think it has a lot to do with the fact that, since 2000, he has released no fewer than seventeen Venetian Snares albums, and around the same number of singles/EPs. Astonishingly prolific but, of course, quality and quantity rarely coincide. In this sense, i’ve come to regard Aaron Funk as something of a latter-day Darius Milhaud: a vast quantity of music, much (perhaps the majority) of which is formulaic and tiresome, but nonetheless containing a few gems that reveal the hand of an absolute master. Into this highly ambivalent context comes Detrimentalist, the first Venetian Snares album of 2008. Read more

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Ensemble Exposé: Brian Ferneyhough – Incipits (UK Première) plus Davies, Xenakis, Barrett, Dillon and Sørensen

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Here’s a real treat for those who prefer their contemporary music to be at the more intellectually rewarding end of the continuum. It’s music from a concert given at the ICA in London by Ensemble Exposé (plus violist Garth Knox), under the direction of Roger Redgate, who also discusses the music being performed. The concert explored works by diverse composers, from the relatively gentle and meditative soundscapes of Paul Davies and Bent Sørensen to the more densely intricate textures of James Dillon and Richard Barrett (Barrett originally co-founded the ensemble with Redgate); Xenakis, as ever, stands apart, uniquely indescribable. It culminated in the first UK performance of Incipits by one of the greats of contemporary music, Brian Ferneyhough, a fascinating work exploring different ways to start a composition. Also included is a lengthy interview with the composer including a number of other short pieces. Read more

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Versions, versions everywhere (plus a red herring): Autechre – Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae

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Early yesterday morning, after a number of the wrong kind of glitches at Bleep.com, the final tracks of Autechre‘s Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae became available. Versions, versions everywhere: and with this—after 44 tracks, totalling almost 5 hours—i think one can assume that the Quaristice project is at an end. i, for one, have found it to be a fascinating and thoughtful journey. As a whole, the project poses the question of whether any of the tracks from the original release should be regarded as ‘definitive’, or instead that all of the versions are different but equally significant expressions of a common (or even an uncommon) idea. My impression is that both contain some truth; there’s clearly some connection intended to be made, as the track titles bear similarities that invite comparison. Like its predecessor, Quaristice (Versions), then, this album may be heard both in its own context, as well as the wider one encompassing all three Quaristice releases. Read more

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Joie de vivre in Bath: Bach, Dhafer Youssef, Messiaen

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

Last Wednesday, i and the Beloved were at Bath Abbey, for a “Messiaen Centenary Celebration” given as part of the Bath Festival. The highlight of the concert was Messiaen‘s rarely-performed Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine, preceded by two works, a keyboard concerto by J. S. Bach, and the world première of Les Ondes Orientales by Dhafer Youssef. Thankfully, the concert was recorded by the BBC, and broadcast yesterday. Joanna MacGregor is the artistic director of the Bath Festival, so she was prominent in all three pieces. The Bach concerto is spirited and fun, with some lovely string writing, particularly in the slow middle movement; the solo part is highly florid, and almost continuous, but Joanna MacGregor tackles such things with incredible ease. In fact, she appeared so relaxed with the material that her communicative/reflective facial expressions seemed to become rather exaggerated (think Natalie Clein, but not so comic); all the same, it was a refreshing opener, a kind of musical sorbet. Read more

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