PRIVATE VIEW / PUBLIC HEARING (June/July 1999)
Unknown Public and the South London Art Gallery in Camberwell have collaborated in an exciting new south-east London venture. A series of innovative concerts took place in this 'perfectly proportioned, top lit Victorian gallery to complement an exhibition of cool abstract paintings by Sean Scully which provided a perfect foil to the extraordinary sounds to be heard. The gallery has excellent acoustics and proved a friendly, informal venue where it was easy for musicians and listeners to meet each other. There was a gratifyingly large attendance and further concerts are intended. The musicians taking part were all associated with releases on the Unknown Public and Sound Circus labels. Composer John White, with solo saxophonist John Butcher, presented Low Voltage, High Power; Helen Chadwick with a Royal National Theatre choir took part in a Naked Sound evening, and Joanna MacGregor presented John Cage in video and live prepared piano as an Outside In Pianist. Finally, Jonathan Impett (trumpet) and Walter Fabeck (chromasone) shared demonstrations of live electronic composition and improvisation.
Joanna MacGregor is a marvellous communicator. She explained and demonstrated the mysteries of Cage's prepared piano which had entranced her, and included a selection of his enticing Sonatas & Interludes, which are recorded complete on Perilous Night, the best of the first releases on her own innovative Sound Circus label, which was launched last December (sc 003).
She ended with a blistering account of the famous North American Ballad by Frederic Rzewski, Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues, a tumultuous, relentless evocation of mechanistic oppression. (Rzewski's own recording of his North American Ballads & Squares is on hat ART CD 6089)
Two musician-composers taking part are at the cutting edge of live electronic music. Walter Fabeck invented his unique and exotic Chromasone in Holland. It is moderated through bodily movements and to perform he wears special gloves fitted with sensors. His interest was in bringing visual communication back into the world of electronic music to combat the sometimes-dispiriting feeling of coming to a public concert hall to listen to music emanating from immobile loud speakers. His performance included live improvisations of his sound track to Borowczyk and Marker's film Les Astronautes.
Jonathan Impett engrossing solo trumpet recital displayed the lyrical potential of his instrument in subtle, concentrated solo pieces by Scelsi, the last of them built from a single note and requiring circular breathing to produce a seamless continuity of sound. Jonathan Harvey's Ricercare una melodia employs tape delay to multiply the trumpet with and he manipulates its sound until there are four slower and lower voices 'with an immense depth, sounding like magic tubas'. Jonathan Impett explained and demonstrated his 'meta-trumpet', which enables him to construct music during its actual performance, both the trumpet part and his own physical actions processed by computer. The instrument is covered with sensors and "looks like a trumpet in intensive care"! The "score" of Mirror-Rite consists of a range of sounds and the computer's programmed responses to the performer's actions.
An enthralling hour. (Jonathan Impett's programme of Scelsi, Berio, Finnissy, Harvey, Wolpe and his own music is on Attacca Babel CD 9476.)
Peter Grahame Woolf
John Cage Sonatas and Interludes and The Perilous Night with commissioned works for prepared piano, and electroacoustic compositions by students of Liverpool Hope Joanna MacGregor, prepared piano Sound Circus SC 003 (Available from Unknown Public)
Sound Circus, Joanne MacGregor's own independent record label, was launched in December 1998 at Perilous night, a memorable event at London's South Bank Centre. A packed audience of young people enjoyed their first experience of John Cage's most famous innovation, the prepared piano, and that evening's programme became the best of the first batch of Sound Circus releases.
John Cage (1912-92) straddled the century as an inspirational liberator from preconceptions about music and its performance. Meeting him in his old age, I was struck by his gentle friendliness and obvious interest in listening to new music of every kind. His impact upon world music has been arguably greater than that of any other American composer. His invention of the prepared piano captivated Joanne MacGregor, its elaborate transformations sounding to her like "a lush garden of wind chimes, babbling brooks, 88 gamelan players and African xylophones".
Perilous night is a double CD, alluringly packaged in a specially designed folded book format, instead of the usual jewel case. One CD is devoted to Sonatas and Interludes, 16 delectable pieces in Scarlatti's binary form with repeats, mainly tranquil and with strong ancient Indian references. The other has the six pieces of The Perilous Night, darker music written during a time of emotional turmoil. This takes much further the piano preparation, with objects like pieces of rubber, plastic and metallic bolts inserted amongst the strings to precise instructions. It is juxtaposed with specially commissioned pieces for prepared piano and tape by Django Bates You live and learn, Deidre Gribbin The Broken Piece of the Moon, Jonathan Harvey Homage to Cage and Andrew Toovey You may (not) want to (be) here/hear , interposed with brief electronic pieces by student composers.
The whole is a marvellous conception magnificently realised. A first edition to cherish, inspired programming with immaculate recording and presentation - recommended enthusiastically.
Peter Grahame Woolf
new sounds for open ears and minds
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