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.

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