Thursday, 17 November 2016

Listen Pony

This week the OED decided that their word of the year was going to be 'post-truth'. It's quite a 'post-' year all round in fact. The familiar is history and novelty has settled down in its place.

This is clearly the case in music. We are post-Crossover, with its careful packaging of artist, venue and all-round experience for the widest possible audience (at the expense of the music). We are post-re-appropriation, with the experiments of Yellow Lounge, Night Shift and the like taking genre classical into opposition genre venues (clubs, pubs) to highlight the common ground of the musical venn diagram; or new work in incongruent venues (a bascule bridge counterweight housinga concrete factory) to offset the increasingly curious dissonance of contemporary music in formal design concert halls. The experiment of space-annexation in operatic production has also run its course.

Though Listen Pony bears the hallmarks of the Noughties novelty drive - sticking apparently incongruent words together to stake a claim in the new world of digitised promotional platforms - that's as far as any fad goes. Tuesday's concert brought together musicians who wanted to play music they liked without any further agenda. There's no angle for selling a concert of old and brand new music featuring a saxophone quartet, a viola da gamba player, and a chanteuse covering Schumann with a saw. Why else would you name your collective after one farmyard animal and then pop another (a cock) on the publicity? This concert, presented in four 20 min sets rather than hour-long halves is not necessarily new in format. However, the ease of the audience and the performers who talked with us freely and fluently demanded that we consider the post-modernity of the circumstances and the path we have all tried and trudged to get here.

And so to the music - which, in the absence of things being sold or fashions being showcased, was all it came down to. The dry-but-not-dead acoustic of Clerkenwell's Crypt on the Green is a good venue, neutral and clear for the wide range of colour and dynamic in the acoustic line-up. We heard diaphanous sinuousness in Freya Waley-Cohen's Unbridling and a Marin Marais work that sounded like a folk song. Alastair Putt's restricted-palette Tombeau found extra, more occluded colours when Liam Byrne was asked to play closer to the bridge of his viola da gamba. The Laefer Quartet were equal to the extreme demands of their own programming, fleet of fingerwork in fast passages ( which showed how expressively percussive the onset of sound in a saxophone can be) with great beauty of blend and voice leading. I especially liked the meticulous tuning of Emre Sihan Kaleli's Funeral Music, leading to a genuine Cageian experience in which beats from quarter-tone tuning dovetailed with the gentle purr of the air conditioning. I also liked the Desenclos quartet movement, which sounded like English light music seasoned in a French kitchen and served with the same √©lan.

The final set was dedicated to sing Mara Carlyle and an extraordinary lucky dip of songs from Dichterliebe to Lauryn Hill, the stand out final ensemble number. The appreciative audience - largely young, musically educated middle class - may be the only constant at the current perigee of metropolitan classical music event but the point is that the music is all that anyone was there for.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

William Kentridge, Thick Time, Whitechapel

I visited this exhibition today with the express purpose of homework ahead of ENO's Lulu, starting next week. The production is Kentridge's brought over from the Met. Indeed it is a year of Berg for this expressionist, multimedia artist, who is doing Wozzeck in Germany later in 2017.

Expressionist, DADA, surreal, the pieces have that rough-edged aesthetic of the readymades, the majority being Heath Robinson-style machines that provide narrative. The point of 'Thick Time' though is that the narrative isn't always in a straight line but can go backwards too and so often finds itself in a circle.

This is part of he machination then. Bicycle wheels sit alongside the ubiquitous loudhailer. A contraption like a chamber organ driven by a relentless series of camshafts is in the centre of The Refusal of Time in the first room, though its connection to the projection is not always clear. On the first floor a meticulously prepared screen and projection arrangement invokes a Punch & Judy Cabaret Voltaire with all its rough edges as a tribute to Wedekind's Pandora's Box with Right Into Her Arms.

All the pieces have an element of slogan, of pitching ideas to a public without much fuss over whether they connect or not. The OED is not a text for reading but in Kentridge's re-working, the basis for moving images, (well-rendered) drawings of characters walking, dancing or speaking. In many situations it's Kentridge himself in action; the figure isn't the subject but the agent.

It will be interesting to see whether this very much postmodern aesthetic helps deliver or subvert the rigorously expressionist Lulu. The one thing that definitely impresses in the exhibition which I hope to see next week is the careful implementation of the technology, with moving sets and images well-integrated into the pieces at the Whitechapel.