Saturday, February 20, 2010

Beat There, Dung That

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Reading: Just finished Sarah Waters' 'The Little Stranger', a slow-brewing ghostly postwar novel, not her best, but pretty good
Hair Day: Pleasing

2010 has been a whirlwind of musical activity so far, and May's downtime currently seems a long way off. It's all my own doing of course, heartily saying 'YES!' to three educational projects in one term and a couple of choral commissions, applying for exciting courses and jobs, juice-ing in York, Manchester, London and Crewe whilst also trying to get a large-scale commissioning project off the ground, DOLLYman-ing with the gorgeous artfolksters Firefly, and seeing the arrival of my ONE THOUSAND (well, it was cheaper) You Are Wolf EPs. Coming up is much, much more, but I still find time to have a creative breather and catch someone else's work occasionally...

Concerto for Beatboxer
Anyone who was any(late twenty/thirty-something arty so and so)one was at the QEH last night for the classical/hip hop mash-up that was Anna Meredith's 'Concerto for Beatboxer and Orchestra'. The first half presented all the disparate elements of Anna's piece: Shlomo doing his usual Tigger-in-a-sweetshop solo routine; 'cellist Olly Coates playing a new piece with electronics that fizzed over with too many ideas; the Vocal Orchestra doing a cute, crowd-pleasing set; and Anna herself presenting a very hilarious mix of pipe-and-drum-inspired messy electronica complete with live bagpipe player, including a 'Flower of Scotland' bagpipe break - a sort of musical 'Fuck you, I'm SCOTTISH!'. That had given us plenty to chew on, and we didn't really need the chamber orchestra's slightly polite version of Terry Riley's 'In C' to take us into the break.

Anna's piece itself, created very much in collaboration Shlomo and the performers via plenty of workshops (I'd seen the kernels of the collaboration at Cafe Oto in September), was generally a great success. Set up a little like a Berio piece, with the Vocal Orchestra amongst the players, it was packed with lovely ideas, from the interplay between two drum kits and the beatboxers to the instrumentalists doing a spot of sweetly earnest acoustic beatboxing, and from the dramatic punctuating gestures at the beginning to the tasty 'Stimmung'-like chords. Possibly due to the sound engineering, it didn't seem much like a concerto; instead, to me, it seemed a marvellously deft integration of beatboxing and chamber orchestra, and was the most interesting form of beatboxing I'd ever heard: Shlo was challenged into exploring the textural potential of his sounds, rather than boxing himself into bombastic 4/4 beats as usual. It was rather short and sweet, and everyone was surprised to find themselves suddenly in a Q&A with a slightly flustered Tom Service so soon, which felt a bit pre-emptively self-congratulatory. Still, it was great to see a spot of the notation, whilst it was hardly revolutionary to the experimental-vocal-expert eyes of the juicettes. In a bizarre bit of programming, the sell-out crowd, all wound down after the Q&A, were then utterly baffled to find themselves listening to the piece ALL OVER AGAIN. I'm reliably informed by my estimable composer buddy Rob that this was de rigeur in the early 20th century, and it was worthwhile picking out more detail second time around, but I have never been so flummoxed. My pals and I mulled it over in the fabulous Skylon bar drinking pricey apple and vanilla bellinis and feeling right cultural and stylish, innit.

Chris Ofili
Also enjoyed punchy Brit Art at it finest at Tate Britain's super-middleweight exhibition. Raising issues and eyebrows (I most enjoyed the little old lady who doddered slowly up to a large painting of the Virgin Mary, her nose practically to the countless collaged images of ladies' proffered anuses - it just took her a minute for everything to jostle into focus before she was off quicker than her little legs could carry her), the large paintings, squatting on hardened balls of Ofili's tradmark elephant dung, smacked of race, women, religion, earth, and seemed staunchly British. My favourites were the less typical Ofilis - the pencil drawings using tiny multiple Afro heads to look like beads, the nude watercolours which represented REAL women, and the recent witching-hour-dark blue paintings, where the images brooded amongst bruised colours of blue, black and purple. Marvellous stuff.