Monthly Archives: August 2013

South London Car Park Reprise

After enjoying part of the London Contemporary Music Festival at Bold Tendencies, I returned to the car park for We Can Elude Control curated by Paul Purgas. Because I’d pre-booked my ticket and printed it out, I was ushered straight in, past the queueing people, which always makes you feel treasured and important, even if the conferred distinction is transitory and meaningless. Part of the appeal of this venue is the view and I noticed a derelict factory on one side, past the railway line. It sported lots of mobile phone masts, which seemed like a desultory end for a once-productive building. [Looking again, I noticed the projection screen on the roof and later on there was an open-air screening, so it isn’t just an antenna mounting point, after all]

Building ignorance

On the roof, in a section below the bar, there is a partial recreation of Derek Jarman’s Dungeness garden, which I’ve seen but haven’t written about yet.

Recreation of Derek Jarman's Garden in Dungeness

Recreation of Derek Jarman's Garden in Dungeness

Down one level to the same venue as before, this time with a miniature bar specifically for sound art people. Amongst the crowd there was a man with a shirt covered in lighthouses and what you would have to call a fashionable moustache, the first of many I saw that weekend. The first act was Sybella Perry and Ian Woods. She was operating the table of devices manually, producing throbbing oscillations, while he stood a few yards away, facing her. They communicated via glances, to indicate passage changes.

Sybella Perry and Ian Woods

Before the next performance, someone walked up to a group standing near me and exclaimed:

Oh it’s just the fscking label bosses. The fscking head honchos.

(I’ve redacted the Anglo-Saxon particles for daintier readers)

Peder Mannerfelt produced what felt like audio interference patterns, and two ladies were induced to dancing thereby. It was during his set that I first noticed that the lightbulbs behind the stage were dimming in time with the bass thumps. An odd aspect of this venue is the lack of intersection between the people who just come for the bar at the top of a car park and the people like me who come for the Art. At this point, two people I assumed to be in the former category arrived, looked at each other and laughed, in the manner of people not quite fully engaged with what they’d seen. Mannerfelt produced that effect I always like of the gradual resolution of change in where the perceived beat lies. He abruptly walked off at the end and was a little bit naughty, overrunning his slot in his enthusiasm.

Anna Zaradny’s performance was much more orchestral, with gradual timbre shifts. She had a laptop and held a special controller in her hand, that I couldn’t identify. She successfully masked the sound of the screeching trains passing by.

Lee Gamble and John Wall appeared to have some trouble with their laptops, because there was quite a delay, filled with clicking and frowning. Their performance was more fragmented than the others, with more prominent use of samples. I thought they had a third person to the left, at mixing desk, but he turned out to be Miles Whittaker, the final act, preparing. When he did appear, he had a lot of old-style rack modules and what looked like an analogue filter, constantly tweaked, Unlike the previous artists he had a consistent beat, which provoked cheering and dancing in the crowd that had mainly swayed and nodded up to this point. I think one of his devices crashed, judging by his swift power cord action. As the headliner, he was accorded the privilege of an encore, and the moustache man I mentioned earlier was vigorously nodding his head, while the crowd whooped when a rhythmic sequence appeared after a breakdown.

Miles Whittaker

Just to complete the evening, a lady with a tiny poodle walked around near the end.

Would this count as the mysterious “electro-acoustic” music that they were always talking about on Mixing It in the nineties? I don’t know, but I did enjoy it. A great venue for such experiments.

Flickr set

The unexpected arrival of Islington

[Events last week that aren’t covered here: Preview of Alpha Papa at the BFI plus Q&A with Armando Iannucci; special showing of Otto Preminger’s Laura at the ICA; Screen Epiphany showing of Badlands with Alice Lowe at the BFI]

Even through all these wanderings I don’t have much of a sense of the contiguity of the various London neighbourhoods and boroughs. The only remedy is more walking, I imagine.

On Saturday, I set off for the Barbican to see what was going on as part of their Hack the Barbican programme. There were various installations on the way in from the Silk Street entrance (the only one I can reliably find when walking from Liverpool Street), including an extremely large whiteboard, open for public contributions in erasable marker form and @shelf_story, which contains the objects people have suggested for the story ,on the shelves. Looking down from the bridge, I could see some dancers, who were miming to a Muse track. They weren’t on the programme and I think they were called ‘Craft / the Rag Factory’. Once again I was struck how much trust in each other is needed in a dance troupe, especially when you’re being spun around by a human centrifuge. The people sitting in front of me when I went down to that level to watch properly described themselves when the performance ended as the troupe’s “biggest fans”.

Other manifestations I saw included A series of unfortunate events, which comprised drawings of damaged phones with vignettes describing the nature of the damage-causing episode and the owner’s attitude; Soundhack the Barbican was a recording of elemental sounds from around the Barbican; while I didn’t participate in the Ministry of Measurement I did enjoy the bleeps it was producing from the cloakroom downstairs and the intermittent flashing of the stall lights it was producing. According to the signs I saw, there was something happening in the VIP room on level 2. This may have been a tricky trick, because the signs directed me to a nexus of locked doors. As ever, the terrace provided a pleasing lunch venue, while some kids noisily played on the incongruous table tennis table.

Hack the Barbican

The next stop was the Islington Museum, to see From Hollywood to Highbury: Islington goes to the Movies. From the bus taking me there I saw some newlyweds having photos taken in front of an office building entrance. The aesthetic qualities of the entrance were not sufficient to justify such efforts, so I wondered whether this was to commemorate the location of the beginning of the romance – a note slipped during a business transformation workshop. As well as all the photos around the walls, there was a recreation of an old cinema, showing a series of short silent films made by Robert Paul, some usherette uniforms and a 35mm projector. I’m pleased to say there was an old-fashioned comments book, as well. I love reading those.

Parasol Unit after that for the final day of the Merlin James show. Quite a variation in quality, for me, though I felt the colour combinations worked more often than not. I suppose I liked that other than the introductory text, there was no blurb alongside each painting. A fellow viewer went around more quickly than I did and I saw them again upstairs, sketching a painting of a viaduct. Is this just a way of remembering their favourites?

On another bus, towards Camden, there was a strange incident with a cyclist, whose bike was pointing towards us. When I arrived, I was early and so had time to eat a little. Having wandered around a little, there didn’t seem to be anywhere to sit down that wasn’t part of a rent-seeking establishment, so I leaned against the wall of the World’s End pub, nearly facing the station. It’s a very long time since I’ve spent any significant time there and it was simultaneously reassuring and disturbing that all the Indie Tribes were still around. What I didn’t realise for a while is that I’d disturbed my bag contents such that the Banana Shield was poking out, like a strange implement or device.

I’d booked a couple of comedy acts at the Camden Fringe, lacking as I did the good planning or resources for an Edinburgh trip this year. Both were at The Camden Head, so accidentally I had avoided erratic traipsing. Twisted Loaf described themselves as a “clown/character sketch” duo and the description did make sense afterwards. There is something enlivening about comedy gigs in such small venues and they made the most of the situation, the slightly startling interaction with the audience members being physical rather than verbal. For Iszi Lawrence, I had a sofa at the back all to myself, even though with ostentatious politeness I’d taken the end so that there was room for others. Hers was a more traditional ‘show’, albeit a little derailed by audience interventions (by her own admission).  Rather disgraceful was the behaviour of the Chelsea-shirt wearing man in front of me, who actually continued his phone conversation after she’d started her act. Later on he and his lady companion were chatting quite a lot – tsk. A German woman, encouraged by Iszi Lawrence’s questions, rather forgot to rein in her contributions.

Twisted Loaf

On Sunday, for once I had nothing planned and externally-suggested arrangements meant that I needed to find something in my approximate locality, allowing for a prompt return back East. What I found was Arbonauts at the Grave, a commemoration organised by the Blake Society to mark his death in 1827. I arrived a little early and heard what I realised were some of the organisers talking next to me:

How’s your health?

It’s better than it is in Paris. The dirty stuff collects in the valley.

The musicians and singer rehearsed part of their performance, and then the latter wandered around the gravestones, practising her scales. The second violinist arrived admirably late, with no time for pfaffing. It was quite a lovely performance and I was glad to have caught the Arbonauts, having missed Biped’s Monitor the previous weekend. Once they’d finished, the head of the Society gave a short speech and invited people to give their own readings or perform their own choice of poems. To my surprise, several people did, including quite a high proportion of American women. A man in front of me with a Bear Stearns bag, took off his hat to declaim his choice, while others picked Emily Dickinson, W. H. Auden and Patrick Hamilton. Apparently the Blake gravestone isn’t on the actual site of his remains. They’re around the corner, by a plane tree, and the society is campaigning for a new memorial to be created. Russians come and visit the head of the society, amazed that there is no such memorial already, and that seven of the nine houses in which Blake lived haven’t survived, whereas anything even slightly associated with Dostoyevsky is celebrated and preserved.

William Blake 2013

Pigeon Quorum

In contrast to this uplifting and elevated event, I heard genuine Essex types discussing their ways at a pub by Epping Forest later that afternoon:

You have to have a poo on a Sunday morning don’t you, with the paper.

and an incredible amount of linguistic labour went into their car-related discussions, along with adhesives. There are some photos from this walk here.

It was while walking to Bunhill Fields for the Arbonauts that I saw the Islington borough sign and was surprised to see how far south it comes, showing, if show be need be, that I have no idea where I am most of the time.

South London Car Park Symphonies

Vacillating between the Wayne McGregor ‘interventions’ at Conrad Shawcross’ Timepiece, in the Roundhouse, and the last day of the London Contemporary Music Festival, I chose the latter, on scarcity grounds. I followed a couple from the Overground who looked like they might be heading to a car park for a musical event and indeed they were. There was a group around the side of the car park who seemed to know where they were going, which is not a sensation I tend to enjoy during these excursions, unless I’m heading across Hungerford Bridge walkway.

Told that they weren’t quite ready yet, I was directed towards the roof, where most people had gathered. While I looked over the side of the car park, I heard someone say that he was:

on the northern edge of Hipsterdom

(which is, apparently, just north of Victoria Park) while someone else lamented:

God damn my bone density

There was a bar at the other end and a sculpture of small coloured streamers suspended from wires. They must have used professional glue because it was very windy but I didn’t see any of the streamers flying off.  After a few minutes the crowd gathered at the top of a ramp, where there were four trombonists and a man with a tablet. This was Alex De Little’s Trombones in Spaces. The players would start in ones or twos and begin walking down the ramp towards the lift shaft, with the latter causing increasing amounts of echo as they proceeded. I thought this worked very well, with the wind adding extra effects.

Downstairs next, to the

area to the left of the Strawditorium

for Michael Haleta’s 4 Points 40 Paths. As we entered this area closed off from the main car parking space on that floor, there were already 40 people standing around on a field of coloured chalk marks. The conductor was standing on a concrete breeze block and he gestured for the performers to start. In the section near me they had: a large plant pot, some tin cans, some metal flexes, a wooden carving on the end of a string. They each started walking along their set of chalk colourings, making sound with their instrument in a certain way. The conductor would then signal the next section with increasing numbers of fingers and they would start moving again, using their instruments differently and perhaps taking a different path.

Michael Haleta: 4 Points 40 Paths

I wasn’t able to discern the system behind the dots and the performers’ movements. It was a good combination of performance, space and sound.

Out into the main space after this and the first piece there was Vitalija Glovackyte’s GLITCH, for double bass and cassette player. The layering of feedback, distortion and drones on top of the double bass worked rather well and the broad grin from the player was justified.

Vitalija Glovackyte: GLITCH
(note the clothes pegs used to secure the pages of the score – necessary in the car park wind)

The Vocal Constructivists were next, with Mark Applebaum’s Medium and Pauline Oliveros’ Sound Patterns. They were arranged in small groups, each one making different noises and choreographed gestures, then moving around to different positions. At first I was reminded of Kurt Schwitters, though less reliant on speech-like sounds, and I was very curious about what the scores they were using looked like. For the Oliveros piece, one of the performers became the conductor and there was no element of itinerancy. I don’t know whether this was part of the piece or the group’s interpretation, but there was some extravagant gesturing when they made plosive sounds, that made quite a contrast. Music with a separate ‘performance’ element again, and the performers’ enthusiasm was winning.

Vocal Constructivists

Vocal Constructivists

On the trains towards Peckham I’d been reading the final stories in BorgesFicciones (on recommendation) and it was a pleasing conjunction that the next piece was Richard Bullen’s Garden of Forking Paths (the name of one of the stories). Someone sat with his bass clarinet (not something I’d seen before) while two others with what I would in my ignorance think of as ‘normal’ clarinets started from behind two supporting beams. The latter walked in a circle around us before ending up behind and to the side of the seated player. The range of sounds from the bass clarinet was impressive, including something a bit like a didgeridoo at one stage.

Richard Bullen: Garden of Forking Path

To follow was Andrew Hill’s Abstracted Journeys, a collage of found sounds that made the car park structure genuflect to sub-bass, at last. He’d chosen a good variety of sources, I thought.

Before the next piece I saw a couple walking a small dog through the car park and I wondered whether it was a very fussy dog, music-wise, or whether they were surprised to find a musical event taking place on their normal dog-walking path.

Brian Mark: towers, beautiful, mourning, Tuesday 2013

The viola player for Brian Mark’s towers, beautiful, mourning, Tuesday had a delay pedal and his accompanist triggered/processed various sounds on his laptop. There was a synchrony between the sirens he was triggering and those passing by outside, along with the trains and general Peckham noises.

For the following three pieces, Music from Slip Discs release TML [SLP005], there was an alternating pattern: the guitarist would play, then the laptop-wielder played sounds, including what sounded like snippets from the guitar, then back to the guitarist and so on.

Music from Slip Discs release TMK

It was a similar arrangement for Daniel Harle’s Prayer, except that the laptop person had a controller keyboard and his interventions were more grandiose:

Daniel Harle: Prayer

The final piece was Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together.

Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together

I thought it stood up well with the minimalist contemporaries (it’s from 1973) and I particularly enjoyed the varied vocal loops created by the vocalist, instead of with a tape machine. Sad to say, I had to leave just after the start of the second movement, to make it to the BFI for a couple of films in their essay season. The dynamics of what I did hear were wonderful, with varying emotional states conveyed by the vocalist in harmony with the other musicians. It had a throbbing, bubbling quality and I was cross that I couldn’t stay until the end. Crosser still that I hadn’t heard about the festival in time to see other events during the week. Every piece seemed to fit the rather extraordinary space of the car park, in different ways.

I hope they’ll do something similar next year.