Dai Fujikura

5:4 at HCMF 2013 – Shorts

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Concerts, HCMF | 2 Comments

There’s a curious phenomenon that seems to strike people the longer they spend at HCMF: a cross between regret & guilt at the events they’re not attending. i periodically suffer from it myself, & never more so than on their annual ‘Shorts’ day, which took place yesterday. Fifteen small- & mid-scale concerts, containing 38 pieces, in total lasting around 13 hours—it would take a certain kind of person to go to everything, & 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 & which may well have turned out to be brilliant.

However, i did get to nine concerts, & 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, & the performance standard throughout the day ranged from highly competent to downright dazzling. The compositional standard was rather more variable, & 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 & grind in Rose Dodd‘s electroacoustic Aandacht, some sensitively-judged interaction between organ & electronics in Huw Morgan‘s The Unseeing Eye at the Lung’s Heart & a fascinating sonic network of relationships between clarinet & 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 & 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 & electronic was total. Much of the work exists in the outer fringes of register—deep rumbles & 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—& 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 & British soldiers making cell-phone videos of themselves blowing things up & 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 & 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 & imagination, Walshe is easily one of the finest contemporary vocalists around, a kind of kinked (kinky?) reincarnation of Cathy Berberian, & 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…

Tags: , , , , ,

Mix Tape #25 : Best Albums of 2012

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Best of the Year, Mix Tapes | 7 Comments

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

Today marks 5:4‘s fifth anniversary, & so i’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who regularly read, share & respond to the articles & music explored here. Since 2008, the blog has grown from being an occasional hobby (reading the earliest articles, that fact is rather painfully obvious) to something that now receives significantly more time & attention. i very much hope that 5:4 can grow & become even more interesting & useful in the next five years; all comments, criticisms, suggestions & other feedback is always very warmly encouraged.

But to return to the present, & to continue our annual tradition, here is a new mix tape featuring one track from each of the forty entries on my Best Albums of the Year list. The mix includes more extreme dynamic variety than in previous years, so while i’ve done a little to mitigate that, be warned that at times the music veers between extremely soft & very loud indeed. As ever, if you like what you hear in the mix, please support the artists & buy the music; links are included on the last two days’ posts.

i’ve remarked in the past on the provisional nature of all ‘Best of’ lists, & so to keep things current, i’ve updated the summaries of the Best Albums/EPs of the Years, to reflect further listening than had been possible at the time; the revised lists can be found under The Lists on the main menu.

The mix tape lasts a little under 3½ hours; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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

Best Albums of 2012 (Part 1)

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Best of the Year, CD reviews | Leave a comment

This is a list surrounded by other lists leading to other lists, lists … that explain everything by being gateways into worlds of sound, feeling and information…
…the love of making lists is an attempt to remind us of what it is that has happened, and what is happening, all at once, as time and humanity collapses into itself. …
The list is a collage of hopes and wishes, of knowledge and exhibitionism.
(Paul Morley, Words and Music)

So we move on to the list of lists, the forty albums that have made the greatest impact over the last twelve months. Here are the first twenty to have made the cut.

Read more

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

Attraction & resistance: NMC Debut Discs – music by Huw Watkins, Dai Fujikura & Sam Hayden

Posted on by Simon Cummings in CD reviews | 1 Comment

i don’t think it’s hyperbole to describe NMC Recordings as one of the bastions of contemporary music in the UK. For as long as i’ve been listening to new music (more than two decades now), NMC’s output has been a dependable point of continuity, & many of their releases have become both landmarks & benchmarks in the history of late 20th- & early 21st century British music. So it’s exciting to see NMC embarking on a bold new initiative: Debut Discs, a new series of 12 recordings to be released over the next four years, exploring the music of “emerging British composers”, whose music is currently under-represented on CD. Launched last month, the first three discs are devoted to the music of Dai Fujikura, Sam Hayden & Huw Watkins. They make for a stimulating & highly contrasting trio, one that resists & attracts in roughly equal measure.

Huw Watkins’ music is emphatically the latter, being by far the most accessible of the three. He opts for a nostalgic brand of music, earnest & lyrical, harking back to an earlier time. There’s nothing pastiche about what he does, & yet it seems entirely right to describe the five pieces on his disc as “neo-romantic”. Melody presides, & while Watkins affords them the opportunity for considerable variety & invention, there’s the unshakeable feeling that one’s heard all this before. The skill with which the pieces are put together can hardly be criticised—there’s not a note out of place, & Watkins’ sense of drama is strong—but the shadows of their progenitors are often so potent as to be a fatal distraction. The piano music—represented here in one of Watkins’ earlier works, the Four Spencer Pieces, played with consummate skill by the composer—manages to loosen its bonds to the past, but they’re the exception on an album that’s otherwise frustratingly over-familiar & straight-laced.

Caught betwixt the extremes of attraction & resistance is the music of Dai Fujikura (born in Osaka but resident in England since his mid-teens). The forthright independence of Fujikura’s compositional manner is striking, eschewing the styles & mannerisms of his birthplace; indeed, “Everytime I see some ‘Japanesenesses’ in my own score when I am composing, I delete them”. The five pieces on his disc comprise three substantial ensemble works & two brief solos, all very different in nature & instrumentation. What unites them is a fresh relationship with lyricism, one that allows Fujikura the possibility to go where his ideas take him, where unexpected episodes or shifts feel entirely comfortable (a quality he shares with Takemitsu, but for entirely his own reasons). The sudden bassoon cadenza in Secret Forest is an almost shockingly fragile hiatus in what is otherwise a dense & homogeneous work, dominated by huge bursts of string activity, while the latter half of Phantom Pulse somehow abruptly navigates from percussive bombast to a cloud of resonant lacework with no ill effects. But it’s the closing work, Okeanos, that shows off Fujikura’s skill best, the introduction of sho & koto contributing in no small part to its deeply hypnotic (& at times gorgeous) five movements.

Discussion of Sam Hayden’s music has hitherto been dogged by references to its apparent inaccessibility. But his music requires no apologia; it’s true that it is both powerfully demonstrative & utterly individual, but if ever there was a perfect invitation to the listener to sit up & engage with something on its own, genuinely new, terms, this is it. Everything about these four ensemble pieces (plus an electroacoustic chamber work as a bonus download) cries out its contemporary credentials, from the compositional techniques Hayden uses (brief descriptions of which double as programme notes) to the titles of the works, & there are times when it almost feels like a kind of aesthetic clipping is happening. But overall, it’s an invigorating kind of resistance, & gazing into the textures & structures Hayden creates is simultaneously disorienting & captivating. It’s not without its problems; in misguided, the intended momentum seems to short circuit under the strain of its stop-start material, & both system/error & presence/absence come across less as immersive encounters than (undeniably impressive) spectator sports. However, in the 20-minute Die Modularitäten, Hayden finds a perfect synthesis of his techniques & outlook; its polyphony is highly dramatic & deeply engaging, less a series of episodes than a large, unfolding narrative with a plethora of twists en route; & the moments when electronics lurk, barely audible, at the periphery are pure magic. Bonus work schismatics is also outstanding, the solo violin establishing a dialogue with electronics that one doesn’t just follow, but is pulled right into its epicentre.

All three releases are available on CD everywhere, & on download from the NMC shop.

Tags: , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: