"Yesterday I listened... today I loved!"
Posted on: 10th May 2012
An icy-blue glow and plethora of audio-visual equipment turned Augustine Hall into a shrine to electronica last night, a dimly-lit hall and an expectant hush for the start of the Powerplant concert. The waiting audience were greeted with a screen on which the heads of sightless dummies rotated in endless circles, back and forth, a metaphor perhaps for the often de-humanising isolation of modern life which was about to be exploded in vigorous fashion.
Striding purposefully onto the stage, percussionist Joby Burgess launched into Piece for Percussion by Nancarrow, a work bristling with the familiar complex poly-rhythms that characterise the Hermit of Mexico’s later pieces for player-piano. Projected onto the screen behind were a parade of still-photographs of horses, famous from zoetrope, each of which was triggered by Burgess into stages of movement; this almost detracted from the technical mastery Burgess displayed as he moved around the various pieces of percussion.
Matthew Fairclough’s The Boom and the Bap, a homage to a sixties drum-break for solo drum-kit and electronics, builds from small fragments in a series of samples and loops into full-on grooving with subtle warping bass-lines – a kind of drum’n bass-meets-Radiohead collage, with Fairclough himself at the mixing-desk. This was followed by Fitkin’s Chain of Command, written for Burgess’ trademark instrument, the xylosynth, an electronic xylophone which triggers all manner of samples and effects; the piece builds a dense tapestry of sounds from speech samples à la Steve Reich, with snatches of speech from George Bush Jnr and Donald Rumsfeld; behind Burgess, uncomfortable images of barbed-wire and obscene graffiti blossomed piece by piece on the screen like drops of blood pooling on a surface, reflecting the menacing political overtones of the sampled speech about Guantanamo Bay, created by artist Kathy Hinde.
24 Lies Per Second by Max de Wardener brought the first half to a close, a trio of pieces ranging from shimmering and swooping electronics ( occasionally reminiscent of Mark Snow’s incidental music to ‘The X-Files’) to tinkling glockenspiel, a menacing child’s lullaby, into a breakdown of Schubert’s Im Dorfe, a Kagel-esque collage of percussive effects, piano samples and film, in which rapid jump-cuts between a pianist’s hands and a metronone reflected the changing textures. This last movement was almost Nancarrow-esque in its dizzying whirlwind of rapid piano figures and flashing syncopated stabbed chords, perhaps a nod to the piece with which the concert had begun.
By far the most interesting piece began the second half, Temazcal by Mexican composer, Javier Alvarez. This was a tour de force for maracas and electronics, in which Burgess turned playing the shakers into a real performance art. A rich sonic tapestry clothed his frantic playing, in which instrumental effects were morphed electronically into warping gestures and drum-beat samples drifted in and out of focus, accompanied by a haunting and lonely repeated figure. The piece slowly assembles into a Venezuelan folk-song, from which all the material previously heard is generated, a sudden, bizarre transition into a sunny folk-song greeted with amused laughter by the audience; the contrast is extreme, and the piece finishes in far sunnier climes than expected, the change into a guileless calypso-style a little head-scratching.
Gabriel Prokofiev’s Import/export; suite for global junk brought the evening to a close, a piece which is basically a ‘concerto for sound effects’ built from an oil-drum, plastic bags, bottles and a de-constructed packing-crate, all held together by self-sampling and looping. What the piece lacks in concision, it makes up for in the diverse range of sounds distilled from unorthodox materials, all consummately played, as the whole performance had been, by Burgess with real flair.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Images: Peter Cook
Posted on: 8th May 2012
Fresh from touring with Peter Gabriel, percussionist Joby Burgess comes to Canterbury tomorrow night with Powerplant, promising an audio-visual feast including music by Graham Fitkin and Gabriel Prokofiev.
Find out how Joby answered the 'Three Questions' about contemporary music and coming to Sounds New in an earlier post here, where you can also hear him performing some of the music appearing in the concert.
Details of the concert online here.
Where multi-media meets minimalism: don't miss it...
Posted by Daniel Harding
Posted on: 27th Apr 2012
Cornwall-born Graham Fitkin’s Chain of Command comes to Sounds New on Wednesday 9 May. Commissioned by Powerplant and toured by them in 2008, the percussionist uses a MIDI-marimba to trigger speech samples;
a technique Fitkin used with menacing political overtones in No Doubt, his concerto for MIDI-harp from 2010;
It’s a path well-trodden by Steve Reich, certainly, in pieces such as Different Trains and City Life, although for Fitkin, the speech samples are used less for their ability to generate particular pitch-sets than for their quasi-percussive texture; repetition heightens the sound of the sampled speech, treating it as an instrumental texture in its own right, although one not devoid of political syntax (both Chain of Command and No Doubt sample phrases from former American President George Bush).
Whether bristling with brash textures, bold rhythmic gestures, or with warm, lulling and hypnotic ostinati, Fitkin’s music refuses to fit into a neat pigeon-hole. There’s the exuberant vibrancy of Vent, for saxophone quartet, with its uplifting opening gesture; the piano-shop-gone-mad acrobatics of Sciosophy; the filigree harp textures of Skirting; Warm Area creates gentle pulsations, with melodic figures picked out in a delicate harp tapestry, in a piece occasionally reminiscent of the milder creations of Aphex Twin:
Here’s Fitkin at his punchy, rhythmic best in the soundtrack to a Uniqlo jeans advert:
Fitkin’s Cello Concerto, written for Yo-Yo Ma and premièred at the BBC Proms last year, has recently been nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society Award, ‘for a large-scale work (scored for 16 or more players) receiving its first UK performance in 2011.’
Alongside Chain of Command in the Powerplant concert are works by the Hermit of Mexico, Conlon Nancarrow and a landmark collaboration with Gabriel Prokofiev, Import/Export: Suite for global junk.
Rich in textural contrasts, bursting with rhythmic verve and bright harmonies – the music of Graham Fitkin comes to Sounds New. Don’t miss it.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 17th Apr 2012
Coming to Sounds New on 9 May, Powerplant, led by percussionist Joby Burgess, represents a kaleidoscope of percussion, electronics and multi-media.
I first came across Powerplant in the form of the novel twist Burgess provided on Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. Originally written for jazz-guitarist Pat Metheny, with Metheny playing against pre-recorded multi-tracks of guitar and bass guitar lines to create Reich’s trademark tapestry of interlocking sounds, I approached a percussive incarnation of the piece with some trepidation; but played on Burgess’ trademark ‘xylosynth,’ it remains true to the spirit of Reich’s vision whilst providing an interesting sonic and visual alternative take on Reich’s pulsating work:
Burgess recently gave the premiere of Gabriel Profiev’s Concerto for Bass Drum:
I caught up with Joby ahead of his imminent tour with Peter Gabriel (a busy performing calendar means Joby is fitting the concert for Sounds New in between gigs in Germany and Poland!), and put a few questions to him.
Tell us about Powerplant
I formed Powerplant in 2005 to perform and develop music using live electronics and live looping, although a percussionist I have always been a bit of a studio rat, needing to find the latest toy, box or noise. The group generally tours as a trio with myself playing a mixture of drums, percussion, found objects and a xylosynth, alongside Matthew Fairclough handling the sound design and Kathy Hinde creating film and live visuals, to create a truly multimedia experience. Powerplant has recorded two studio albums Electric Counterpoint - the music of Steve Reich and Kraftwerk (2008) and Import/Export - Gabriel Prokofiev's suite for global junk (2010), Powerplant has performed extensively throughout the UK and given performances in Europe and the USA.
What excites you about contemporary music ?
I am lucky to spend nearly all of my time working with composers, song-writers and improvisers in creating and bringing to the world at large new music and performances. I am not interested in the label it might be given, as long as the music is good and has honest intentions. Over the past two years, I have spent much time working with a range of artists including Peter Gabriel, Gabriel Prokofiev, Graham Fitkin, Adrian Utley and Will Gregory.
Tell us about your concert for Sounds New next month
For Sounds New Powerplant will present recently developed music for the group including Conlon Nancarrow's Piece for Tape - an early pre-pianola experiment arranged for drums and blocks by composer Dominic Murcott, Matthew Fairclough's The Boom and The Bap - a piece for drum set and and live electronics exploring the world of break beats and Max de Wardener's 2011 commission 24 Lies Per Second - a suite of pieces inspired by the films and words of Austrian director Michael Haneke, including a particularly special mash-up of Schubert's Im Dorfe from the Piano Teacher. Alongside these Powerplant plays its two major commissions from late 2008, Graham Fitkin's Chain of Command and Gabriel Prokofiev's suite for global junk Import/Export.
Find out more about the concert for Sounds New online here.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 11th Apr 2012
A bass-player, composer, and graduate of the University of York and the Guildhall, de Wardener has written for film and television, and builds his own percussion instruments. Commissions have included works for the Elysian String Quartet and the London Symphony Orchestra, and he was one of four composers to be commissioned to write a new work in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery.
Featuring cellist Oliver Coates in compositions using modified instruments, de Wardener can be heard in a session recorded exclusively for Late Junction. He has previously appeared on Radio 3 on the former series Mixing It, back in 2005.
De Wardener and Powerplant will be at Sounds New on 9 May: find out more here.
Posted by Daniel Harding