By John ffitch
Concert 8 was given twice on account of the room size. I attended the second performance, in which there were five tape pieces and a video.
The concert started with a bang that made me jump, as Horacio Vaggione’s Points Critiques began. Throughout the work, the prevailing sounds were of percussion, and that unified the piece. The other main sound was a swarm of clicks, probably from percussion as well. Structurally I described this to myself as a sequence of grand gestures ending with the swarm of clicks. These gestures were short and usually of a similar length. I was just getting a little bored with this small scale structure when there was a change to the grand gesture + a chord, twice and it ended. This is mainstream acousmatic work with continuous sounds; if that is what you like, it was good of this style.
The second piece was Peiman Khosravi’s Convergences. It started VERY quietly, a great contrast to the first start. A feature of the piece throughout was the amplitude range. In contrast to the first piece, the phrases were long and had considerable variation, with new material emerging organically from the previous parts. There was energy, reflection and—above all—control. As you can tell, I really liked this piece, but to be fair I had heard it before, and this was better. The other feature was the use of space; there was variation, but also intent.
Video is not my thing, so my comments on Sinus Aestrum by Bret Battey may be unduly biased. At least the images did not make me cover my eyes from flashing and strobing. Also unusual for a video piece, the images changed with the audio. The visual component was a large collection of spheres that moved, leaving a decaying trail. The effect was of strings of beads in many changing configurations. I was less happy with the sound, which was mainly chords with some swept parameter. I suspected some kind of FM but the paper on Monday says otherwise. I did not attend that presentation and it is possible that as a consequence I missed something. I did also wonder why, after all that synchronisation, the audio stopped before the video.
Following a short interval, the concert restarted with La cite de verre by Valérie Delaney, which started with what could be best described as footsteps on a metallic surface. I was enjoying this when abruptly it changed to a physical recording, people talking and a piano, as if in a piano bar. I was wondering why when it became more abstract. The piano made a short reprise but I felt happy when the footstep sound returned. That proved to be the ending except for one note afterwards, at an unrelated pitch, perhaps suggesting there is a continuation somewhere. The program note which I had managed to read in the interval did not give me much of a context.
The fifth piece, Sam Salem’s Dead Poets, was very long at over 20 minutes, and in 4 sections (at least according to the notes). Abstraction of recordings in an extreme musique concrète style were interspersed with voices and traffic. I was not sure I could call it a soundscape or not. For me the effect was of a lack of emotion, a cold observation of events without involvement. There was a rare section of humour with telephone tones and an operator announcing failure, mixed rhythmically with traffic horns. This piece was not for me; it was interesting but somehow lacked music.
The concert ended with Dan A. Tramte’s Nomos Delta, which started with a duet for spring sounds and scrapers, with a growing undercurrent of ringing gongs. I was enjoying this and the interactions when abruptly we were in glitches and fragments of noise and lots of silence. The piece evolved through other scenarios before providing arguably the best ending of the concert. I wanted to hear the piece again.
At ICMC concerts I often wish I had time between pieces to read program notes and prepare for the varying sound-worlds. I realize that this might increase the required time, but a little more light during the desk handover might be all I need.
So, in sum, it was a concert with variety and some very satisfying pieces.
John ffitch has just retired from the Chair of Software Engineering at the University of Bath.