Monthly Archives: August 2014

Lilting Void Aurora

The day after the Thurston Moore Band, my ears were ringing quite loudly. However, what with some complications next week, Friday night seemed to be the best time to see LIlting, about which I’d heard on Radio Four. The Pullman seats in screen 3 at Curzon Victoria are indeed rather decadent, with a little platform for your wine and a space beneath that served as an umbrella stand, though may prove to have a different intended purpose. Ben Whishaw was as good as I’d heard, while the actress playing his dead boyfriend’s mother was dignified even as she rapidly shifted between froideur and crossness. The figure of the unexpected translator, more of a UN observer unable to resist intervention, was a nice disturbing force, too.

The next day I saw the last day of Mirror at the Frith Street Gallery. The best thing in that show was the short reading by Samantha Morton of a description written about her by the artist who’d painted her nude, the first time she’d seen the text. After that, to Carroll/Fletcher for Pencil / Line / Eraser. They nearly always have something covering the wall on the right as you enter, and in this case it was a well-executed faux architectural piece by Justin Hibbs. The funniest contributions were by John Wood and Paul Harrison, including the paper trapeze between two fans and the battle between a pencil and an erasing pencil downstairs. While watching the latter, I could hear the operation of the machinery in the adjoining room, chattering away. When I went in there, the plotter, which was laying out patent applications, had stopped, for a rest. I also liked Evan Roth’s outline views of web advertising schematics, another of which was on show at the Project Space, about five minutes’ walk away.

It was a brief trip from there to the Barbican. For the second Saturday afternoon running, I was seeing a film in their “eye popping colour” season. Last week, it had been Written on the Wind, a startling piece of Douglas Sirk hysteria, with the unusual casting of Lauren Bacall. This time it was the uncut version of Enter The Void, which I hadn’t seen at the time of release. One of a couple in the armchairs just outside the screens returned from the bar just before with some wine.

Rather large wine glasses for a small cinema,

commented the recipient.

There were just a few of us for the Sirk, while the screen was nearly full, including what you’d have to call a younger demographic, for Gaspar Noé’s attack, which started abruptly after the Barbican logo with the barrage of titles. It’s hard to think of a more Freudian film, even though it claims to be a hazy realisation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and in some ways a much more sophisticated take on alienation in Tokyo than Lost in Translation. An unsettling combination of Nihilism and life affirmation. For all his frequent revelling in obnoxiousness, you have to admire Noé’s dedication to the disturbed systems he creates.

There was time once that had finished, to contemplate what to do next, while I read more Turgenev. Last year, on a whim one Sunday I’d gone to LSO St. Luke’s to see the Aurora Orchestra. Because I’d enjoyed it, I signed up to their mailing list, and as a result I’d received their message this week saying that if you only saw them once this year, it should be their appearance at the Proms late on Saturday. Given the proximity, I went to the Digital Revolution exhibition again, and was pleased to see that some of the exhibits that weren’t working the first time were doing now. Fearful of complications and queues, I set off nevertheless by bus. Upstairs on the 9, I witnessed a near-tragedy when the occupants of two of the front seats descended. A boy two rows in front of me stood up, hoping to take that prime tourist seat, but a much younger child and his mother were already heading towards that space. The parents of the older boy warned him off, and the young boy gave him a powerful look that combined outrage with dejection at the idea of his triumph having been imperilled. One of the flimsy arguments against attending this Late Night Prom was that it was extremely close to my place of work, but at least the route there was an unusual one. People rushed from the bus towards the Albert Hall, and I wondered whether there’d be a long queue and lots of angst. There was hardly any queue at all, and the man who sold me the £5 ticket was particularly cheery, given how poky was his kiosk. Unlike for my first ever Prom the previous week, the Arena and Gallery weren’t available, so Prom tickets were allocated in the Circle, an arrangement that suited old people like me. I overheard one of the staff explaining how to find their places to people twice as I approached, so I indicated to him that I knew what I was doing, to save him from the extra repetition.

You’ve got the gist, jolly good.

Three rows in front of me were being kept clear, an injunction which some people didn’t seem to recognise, leading to a few awkward ejections.

Aurora Orchestra

Unusually the stage didn’t have any chairs or music stands, which made sense when I remembered from the e-mail that the first piece of the night, by Mozart, was to be played from memory, which they did very impressively. It added something to see them moving about more expressively and naturally as they played, without the interference of the score.

Aurora Orchestra

Next was a short, rather fragile piece for violin and hurdy-gurdy. The two performers were crammed in by the keyboard of the Hall’s organ.

Aurora Orchestra

During the latter piece I had noticed players filing in one by one on the Gallery level above and opposite me. The main part of the evening was to be a premiere of Meld by Benedict Mason. Many claims had been made for this, and by the end of the evening I thought they’d been more than justified. It began with two lines of musicians walking out, one from each side of the space behind the upper organ pipes, above the stage, joined by a small bunch of string players who had already arranged themselves in the Gallery, above and behind me. This set the standard of pleasing unsettlement that was maintained throughout the evening – you were always moving your attention around to hear and see what was going on where. It seemed like conjurer’s tricks of misdirection were being cleverly used. More musicians started playing in one of the lower circle levels, having suddenly appeared while I’d been looking elsewhere, with others singing and clicking their fingers from the open hallways of the level above them.

Aurora Orchestra

Eventually a full line of players took up one of those levels, and notes would visibly flow from one end of the horseshoe to the other, from one person to the next. This was a very clever and rather delightful spectacle. I could see people around me smiling in wonder at it all.

Aurora Orchestra

Men with rattling bandoliers around their necks walked along the row in front of me, transmitting their signal in sequence, as the full line had done, doing the same with their tubular bells. Later some flautists and woodwind players did the same, and I noticed that they had earpieces, which explained in part how they were all coordinating so well, without an ostensible conductor. Some of them had Go Pro cameras on their heads or on their instruments, which I hope means there will be a video of this performance, in time.

They made good use of the Arena, showing athletic abilities I don’t think are normally asked of an orchestra – running around hitting bells against the wall, forming rotating people rings, gymnasticising and chanting, making a big circle then concentric circles.

Aurora Orchestra

There were little teams of musicians in some outposts, who kept playing while the others ranged around the venue, plus a couple of trumpeters on either side above the stage. In fact, there were very few areas throughout the venue where someone didn’t appear at some point and play, including the steps emerging from beneath the Arena.

Aurora Orchestra

At the end, most of the players emerged in the Gallery again and the two phalanxes stepped slowly back whence they’d originally appeared, quietly completing the music. In fact, it seems invidious to comment on one aspect of the performance, because it all (the music itself, the performance, the choreography, the visual impact of it all), did seem to resonate together extremely well. I hope the performers had as good as time as I think they did, and as I did.

I loved it, I absolutely loved it,

was one couple’s verdict as they were leaving afterwards.

Aurora Orchestra


Thurston Moore Band

Sister was always my favourite Sonic Youth album, probably because it was the first I heard. Nevertheless, you can make a good case for Daydream Nation and I saw them, supported by Mudhoney, while touring that album on March 20, 1989 at what was then called ‘Manchester University’. Nowadays, I have to be reading my e-mail at just the right time to see an announcement from Café Oto that the Thurston Moore band that night and to connect to the site just in time to buy the second to last ticket.

Lack of imagination meant I had to arrive 40 minutes before the doors opened, and I took to one of only two dry chairs beneath the awning, to carry on reading my Turgenev, behind the gaggle already queuing excitedly. The band finished their soundcheck meanwhile, and I tried to combine listening curiously with not listening, lest the artificial situation spoiled the music somehow. A fervent pair of men behind were eagerly sharing their musical ardour:

I ended up with three copies of Live at Battery Park.
My boss was explaining some complicated data query he wanted me to run, while I was in the middle of bidding for something.

They extolled the minutiae of the Death Valley ’69 single.

Putting away Fathers and Sons, to adopt proper English Queueing, I’m (as always) entertained by those people who keep walking up to the front, thinking that they have special knowledge and access and can just breeze in. I realised that I’m beginning to recognise some of the recurring characters of the London circuit, including a lady I’ve seen several times distributing flyers outside the Union Chapel.

The band quietly trooped off into Dalston at 8pm and we were greeted by one of the bar staff, who thanked us for waiting and let us know that there would only be limited seats. The proximity had overcome diffidence and people had started chatting.

The group that had been queueing ahead of me naturally took seats right in the middle, at the front. They reserved a seat and I sat down next to that one. When he did arrive, he didn’t (in my opinion) reach full social integration with the other two, often the fate of the late arrival.

We had a while to wait before it began, and it was too dark to resume reading my book, so I looked at the three sets of guitar pedals on the floor. I thought I saw a strange illumination on one of the related cables, until I realised it was an insect quickly crawling along. It’s hard to tell whether the insect survived the night.

James' guitar pedals

My keen neighbours pumped the sound man for information, while he re-arranged microphones and leads. A lady in improbable heels walked around distributing tapes to a few people in the crowd. Important People, maybe.

The band appeared, first James, then Deb and finally Thurston, all re-plugging their pedals. They waited around for Steve Shelley, who did not hurry, and who, I’m glad to say, has the same insouciant bowl haircut I remember from the late eighties. Moore had a lectern for the fresh lyrics (“we’re a new band”). The first song, Forever Love (I could just about read Deb Googe’s set list), was driven by Thurston’s rhythmic drone, created by a sort of arrogantly casual picking style that ranged across the length of the guitar. Another was called Detonation, in honour we were told of the Stoke Newington Angry Brigade, and Anna Mendelssohn, a poet who was “inspirational during the writing of the album”. She used the name Grace Lake, and that was printed on James’ strap, while The Best Day (another song title) was printed on Deb’s. The swift retunings between each song were perhaps justified by the unusual eagerness of guitar abuse. I couldn’t help smiling at the gleeful gurning of Steve Shelley, who seemed to regard his kit as manic co-conspirators, and I liked the vigorous flourish with which Thurston stomped on his pedals.

They finished and suggested we take a break outside in the rain, with a drink. Before they returned, one of the staff told us that they’d essentially be playing the same songs again, because this was a warm-up for their European tour, so people should feel free to go outside. A few people did actually leave, and of course their seats were quickly taken. The nearest I’d had to this was a tale from a friend of seeing The Shamen in Edinburgh in 1991 or so, when they played their set and, when asked for more from the audience, said they could only play the same songs again because that’s all they had loaded in their sequencer…

I wasn’t sure what to think about this, but then I was delighted when they started again. It was a bit like when you rehearse afterwards in your mind the songs you’ve enjoyed, except they were doing it for you. Thurston mentioned October 21st as the release date of the album, and asked if that was anyone’s birthday. There was someone who could make that claim, and the song The Best Day was dedicated to him.

“Nice hanging out with you. Be Good,”

were his finishing words. I was cross to have missed out on the two day residency the previous week, but this was a tremendous recompense.

Thurston Moore

The car park linked to the sky

On a school trip to That London, a little under thirty years ago, I remember sitting with companions on a bench in what must have been Kensington Gardens, and identifying the Albert Hall for them. It’s not clear to me why I knew it and they didn’t, nor why I was so certain. Now, of course, my Albert Hall nonchalance is perhaps the same as anyone’s who works close by. When I’m being lazy in winter and taking the 52/452 to Notting Hill Gate on the way home, I see the queues and temporary hoardings for various events, sometimes with TV lighting. What I hadn’t done until this week was attend a Prom, even though I remember recording them from Radio 3, coincident with various musical interest upsurges e.g. Wagner in the eighties, after I first saw Apocalypse Now (predictable), Philip Glass in the mid-nineties etc. A couple of years ago the first reaction when I told someone where I was going to work, was how handy it would be for Last Night of the Proms tickets, which struck me as an intriguing set of priorities.

This Wednesday I hadn’t planned anything for the evening, and attached myself to colleagues’ outing to Prom 27. With proximity, we had a small advantage for the on the day queueing, and bought our tickets for the Gallery, noting as we did that the signage for the two queues (the other one for the Arena downstairs) was ill-considered. Most of the viewing spots in between the columns had been taken and people with their cushions and rugs were sitting down against the back wall. I assumed they would surge forwards once the performance began, but many of them stayed there. Given how much I think seeing classical musicians perform adds to the experience of listening, compared with the laptop-based performances I see much more often, this seemed complacent. But what do I know. I wondered about the lozenges hanging from the roof, and specifically whether they were aesthetic or acoustic. The man next to us, who’d come down from Northumberland for his various Proms attendances, said they were acoustic, and that without them the sound would be “awful”. I suppose, unlike the Barbican, they can’t remodel it, to fix that kind of problem.

The first piece was a short one, by Wagner, sounding very un-Wagnerian to me. For the second, the violinist Matthew Trusler, who’d made the choice, appeared to separate applause, contrasting with the egalitarian lack of such for the Wagner. I still find all these rituals fascinating e.g. the handshakes with the first violinist before they begin. I liked the at times vigorous discordance of the Mathias concerto and it afforded great opportunities for Trusler to show off his ability. The second part consisted of Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, which was (by definition, I suppose) much more traditional. What I did enjoy was the number of variations for the central motif. My wish to watch as well as listen is probably naive. Other people filled in wordsearches and wandered about during the concert, while a quartet of students managed to sneak into the seats in the circle below us during the interval, and others caught up on their calisthenics.

Two days later I returned to the Peckham Multi-Story Car Park for a Bold Tendencies event. An Overground power failure rather complicated my journey there, and a bad decision meant I took the bus from Clapham Junction, which meant I only just arrived in time. This did at least afford the spectacle of one of those accidental conversations ladies have sometimes in public. This time it wasn’t about an item of clothing or a handbag, but a perfume. Apparently,

If you sniff it, you won’t smell anything. It enhances your natural scent. I found it eight years ago.

It is a more imaginative lingua franca than football, though I wonder whether it represents competition, cooperation, or coopetition. In my haste I disavowed Citymapper for once and approached the car park from the non-preferred side. A car drove past and in my solipsism I assumed it contained music lovers, but of course they may just have been seeking somewhere to park. When I made it to level 8, nearly all the seats were taken, and pessimistically I assumed the free ones were chimeras, pledged to those about to return with drinks. A kindly couple answered my inept query whether a seat was free so I did manage to sit down, just before it started. The piece was De Staat by Louis Andriessen, which I didn’t know anything about, as usual, performed by the Multi-Story Orchestra. What I quickly read on the blurb was that the lyrics were taken from Plato, in particular his tirade against a musical mode for its pernicious effects, which sounded like my kind of gesture. The hit rate of similar events last year was very high, meaning I was confident it would be good. It reminded me a little of John Adams at times, which is good in my opinion, and went through a few cycles of nearing collapse, before clarity re-emerged. The voices and electric guitars fitted in very well with the more traditional instruments. Being much closer than normal I could see the facial signals of the conductor, as well as the whirling hands, as well as the movements of the players that I always find so mesmeric. The nearest oboeist to me stood on her tiptoes just before she started playing each time, a sort of eager tensioning that conveyed commitment. She also coped nonchalantly with the wind’s attack on her score, necessitating peg readjustment and (at one point) using the end of her oboe to keep the pages in place. The best compliment I can pay the performance is that I’ll now be seeking out Andriessen’s work, and I lament that there aren’t more similar performances at the same venue (though I did miss out on some earlier ones this year. Tsk.)

Afterwards, hoping that the rain would abate, I took some photos looking northwards, including Ryoji Ikeda’s spectra, the visibility of which kept changing as the wind drew clouds across it. Someone asked me what it was and I think my explanation was more prolix than was required. This did, though, remind me that I wanted to see it before it finished on the 11th. The next evening, I arrived there around 8.30pm and there were already plenty of people waiting in Victoria Tower Gardens, some with wine glasses and rugs, as prepared as those people in the Proms Gallery had been. The lights were already on, though not all that visible, because dusk hadn’t strictly happened yet, and they were cordoned off. When the cordon was removed and the soundtrack started, people started walking among the lights, many unable to resist the urge to place their hands above the beams. If you headed to the centre, there was a curious perspective looking upwards, with the nearest light’s prominence oddly unexpected from other perspectives. You could see all the dust motes and seeds and insects from afar, glittering briefly in the beams.

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

This made me wonder about how many tiny avians would die during this illumination. Looking closely at one of the lights, which close up you could see was flickering, probably on account of the gas in the bulb, a fly would arrive onto the top of the lens and then curl up and die within about ten seconds.

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

As the sky grew darker, the spectacle grew more powerful, and eventually a helicopter appeared. It flew around lazily, flirting with the lights, before flying through the beams, serenaded by cheers from the crowd. By then, the spaces between the lights were pretty full, so it would have been difficult to get back to the centre. After that, I went home and confirmed that I could see the tower of light from my flat, completing a triumvirate of views from the south-east, the installation itself and the north-east.

Flickr set of Spectra