Afternoon delight

It clearly wasn’t sensible to entitle this post “Morning delight” as, at my age, the delights of the morning can be divided into two broad camps.  Firstly, there is the delight of having awoken in this world once more, rather than the next (or not at all).  Secondly, comes the thrill of discovering that nothing new has dropped off, started hurting or stopped working since entering the land of Nod.  It is also in this introductory salvo that I should make explicit that I shall be interpreting the word “afternoon” rather broadly as the half of each day that lies after noon, incorporating periods that (less maverick) others might prefer to call the evening or even the start of the night.

David Attenborough and his team have been delighting residents of these isles with a series of films prying into the private lives of the wild denizens of our oceans.  I don’t like getting water up my nose and lack the patience or budget to tackle a subject of this nature and scope, so the post-lunch delights explored in this post will be much closer to home and more personal.  As usual, we will mostly be prying into the private life of a single denizen of the land, who but rarely dips so much as a toe into the ocean.  I don’t necessarily expect it to become fodder for nationwide water-cooler conversation but I like to think that in the same way that Mr A has become synonymous with documenting the natural world, so have I become the greatest documentarian of my own life.  While I am happy leaving posterity to decide who has made the greater contribution to human culture, let’s just say that I’m not getting my hopes up…

If I’m honest, this post largely exists to discuss the extraordinary delights offered by the Out-take Ensemble‘s gig on Monday evening.  However, while this will provide the majority of the thematic material for the piece, other secondary themes may intrude and there will be a coda covering events which took place a few hours later in the self-same space.

The Out-take Ensemble specialise in staging (a word I use deliberately) experimental music.  This tends to be very recently composed, fits into no obvious established genre and often has strong visual and text-based elements.  As with A Thousand Words with which this has some parallels, I fear this is going to push my descriptive powers well beyond their limits.

The evening’s first piece was composed in response to the first ever Out-take Ensemble gig – which took place only a few months ago – and incorporated live sounds recorded from the bar after that gig.  It’s name suggests it forms the first part of a trilogy, so I look forward to even deeper recursion in future parts.  In addition to recorded sounds, the piece used accordion, drum-kit, treble recorder, violin and electric guitar.  In common with all the pieces, it was fascinating both musically and intellectually and was full of the unexpected and sharp, swift moments of delight.  Again, in common with the other pieces, it induced in this listener enormous joy.  Indeed, I think for the whole evening my facial expressions transitioned between concentration, bafflement and joy: which is the sign that the brain lurking behind the face is having a very good time.

I think the second piece was the most intellectually complex as it involved the use of the display of coloured flash cards, a form of one-armed semaphore and some fragmentary phrases as well as electric guitar, treble recorder, violin, melodica and Ableton Push (producing a range of curious sounds of its own).  I think it was somewhat based around chord theory and at least some of the colours and semaphore related to notes or whole chords that were also played.  I would need to see/hear the piece several more times to understand its underpinings properly (or at all) – but it was so much fun engaging on many levels with the piece and I, coincidentally, learned several new guitar chords.

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More than one way to make a chord!

Other pieces moved even further into performance, treading on the toes of theatre at times.  There was a glorious piece by Matthew Shlomowitz involving the Ableton Push, a tuba, a pair of headphones and a ball of scrunched up paper.  I am pleased to say that I correctly guessed that the ball of paper would end up in the tuba before the piece was over, but it also contained a lot of gestural elements – verging on physical theatre – and a list of northern cities.  This is described as an open score piece – so I believe the performers may have had significant freedom on the instrumentation and how it was performed.  Silent Doom Disco by Ben Jameson (also star of last week’s Playlist gig) demonstrated that experimental music does not have to include music (at least as far as the audience is concerned), or any sound at all, for a surprisingly long time – a degree of dead-air that would make even Shaun Keaveny blanche.  I believe the three headphone-wearing performers could hear music, or at least instructions, which controlled(?) their (at times frenetic) dance moves.  Eventually, some – gradually growing – music is heard by the audience which may (or may not) have related to that heard by the dancers.

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An unusual take on Chekhov’s gun…

For the first time, at least in my experience, the audience were solely responsible for performing a piece: For Cage99 by Nomi Epstein.  This involved both quiet reading and singing and proved surprisingly musical – a member of the ensemble merely signalled when we should start and when the piece was over.

I shall spare you further ineffective description, but suffice it so say that future gigs by the Out-take Ensemble are on my must-do list – and I’ve started looking for other experimental music gigs to attend.  I rather fear they are few and far between as the audience for such exotica is limited, probably mostly to practitioners (and me).  However, I reckon lots of people would enjoy it – as long as they bring with them any last embers of childlike wonder they have managed to keep glowing into adulthood (or are still children).  Actually, I reckon children would love it and I’m quite tempted to try and stage an experimental music gig for such an audience: it would be a very different way into music for young people and, perhaps, more fun than more traditional approaches.

Through careful husbandry (ironic given how unlikely I am to ever become a husband), I have managed to keep a sizeable blaze of childhood wonder going, despite my proximity to the grave.  This burst forth as delight again at the piano the following day.  Discovering something new at the keyboard, however badly I am able to execute it, brings so much delight into my life.  This delight often, especially when socially acceptable, causes me to break out into laughter.  In fact, this is not just true at the piano and, as I have learned, is a reaction I share with my piano teacher.  When it happened on Tuesday, I came within a hair’s breadth of bashing my head into the piano lid for the second week running: joy has not normally been kept confined without good reason, she is a health and safety nightmare!  As well as more gloriously knotty pieces of jazz chordage and syncopated phrasing courtesy of Cruella de Vil (I’m starting to forgive her some of her canine foibles which, let’s face it, were a long time ago) this delight was also linked to the piano’s pedals.  I discovered that you can quite legally use more than one pedal! At the same time!  I had previously been treating them like flippers in pinball: for which a wise man (probably not called Tommy) once taught me the principle that ‘two flippers = no flippers’.

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Charley the Cat says… always practice safe piano.

Amusingly, in Book 2 of their Piano Lessons, Waterman and Harewood are very strict about the pedal and tell their young pupils (and their not so young) that ‘the foot should never the pedal‘.  I must admit I have not followed this commandment, as being somewhat impractical. For a start, I am far from convinced that FlyBe will allow my piano onto the Dash-8 tomorrow, even if I show them these clearly worded instructions.  In fact, even writing this post I have allowed my foot to stray from the pedal…  This same book also contains a Handel Sarabande which returned to my repertoire after it managed to charm my piano teacher.  Delightfully, as I made a complete hash of playing this I found – partway through my recital (and rarely has a term been used more loosely) – that I was using the pedal.  This piece has no markings to use the pedal and I had never used the pedal when playing it the past, it somehow happened on its own.

I think I may be becoming musical by osmosis – and I like it!  My first experimental concerto must now be a very real possibility…

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