The second performance on the programme, Newton Armstrong’s ‘Nature Pieces’, was in complete contrast. Suffused with a whispering delicate Arvo Pärt wheeze, it also recalled Richard Skelton’s squealing windswept bleakness. Space and silence resounded with a beautiful subtle sparseness. The plucking, shivers, and bowed sighs from the violin and cello were wrapped around clusters of ringing piano notes. Meditative and calm, this first section conjured an unhurried sleep-state. The second section contained longer sustained tones and more strident piano interventions; electronics were also added: a feedback-like hum, a voice counting a number sequence with obscure intent. ‘Nature Pieces’ evoked a soft mist, a horizon swallowed in a glowing grey haze, the sea meeting the sky.
Another UK premiere was on next: Bernhard Lang’s ‘DW23… Loops for Dr. X’. The arrangement revolved around jarring incongruous loops, gleefully chaotic and busy. Cinematic keyboard melodies emitted snatches of 80’s horror tropes combined with guitar chatter that occasionally flipped into almost funk-rock licks; manipulated violin hiss rumbled away with a percolating burble; film samples; punk racket-scrabble; and an atmosphere of Glenn Branca’s boiling menace, meant there was a constant procession of noise and activity. Disney xylophone tumbles and squalling free-jazz freak-outs created a confused drama. The intrusion of thundering metal riffery added a note of irony. ‘DW23… Loops for Dr. X’ was very arch – a combination of intellectual rigour and splattered prank-fest. The musicians looped and incrementally stacked, shuffled around like indecisive sampling, a ragged Steve Reich phasing evident throughout, edges frayed, torn, and burnt.
Leafcutter John closed the evening with 3 shorter electronic pieces. ‘Peck’ was based on a dream where Leafcutter John was a giant bird nesting a clutch of tiny eggs, one making a sound when pecked, this was an attempt at replicating that moment. The second had a tempo determined by the price of gold during the period 1957-2013. The third, had a working title on the laptop screen, left unsaid because of some personal embarrassment, the audience were invited to look for themselves what it was. The sound throughout was of rustling digital leaves; fierce metallic clatter; clicking trills like a rainfall of coins, strafed by laser-fire; ragged ‘ardkore thump; popping, ticking Monolake beats; all manipulated live. One particular innovation was the light sensitive pad that LJ swooped over with white and red torches; this created a thermin-like operation but with a more varied range of tone. At times the music resembled a melted version of Colleen’s first album ‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’: woody and moist but subject to plunging alien diversions. A fascinating and fruitful set of sound experiments.