Archive for the 'sound' Category

review: how to be useful, so very wonderfully useful…

Review of: Concerto for Piano and Toy Concerto by Adam Simmons
Performed by: Michael Kieran Harvey with Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble
Where/when: fortyfivedownstairs, Saturday 4 March 2017
Part of: The Usefulness of Art 2017 concert series

Michael Kieran Harvey plays the balloons, oops the piano!

Michael Kieran Harvey plays the balloons, oops the piano!

What an absolutely fucking spectacular concert that was! Worth swearing about! A concert like this reminds you of what is so truly fantastic about art, and indeed how useful it is. You couldn’t come out of this concert without a smile on your face, all the way through it a smile on your face.

It was intense, it was vigorous, visceral, you felt the sound go right through your body. It was surprising, unexpected, playful. It really was a delight from beginning to end, no exaggeration. Adam Simmons embodies an infectious enthusiasm which, as the piece progresses, sets up the audience to go on this crazy journey with him and the ensemble. And, man, is it one crazy journey.

Adam’s music puts the lie to the distinction between ‘real’ or ‘proper’ instruments and the alternative – use of all sorts of musical or sound generating toys. It was priceless. A magnificent landscape developed, enmeshed through the brass instruments and piano, but you didn’t once think “Oh that’s just a piece of plastic”. All the sounds had sonic integrity, together the music had internal logic and nothing felt out of place or trite. Plus, not only just when there was a cacophony. In some quiet, gentle moments the toys added unique threads of atmospheric otherness.

Another aspect I really enjoyed was the playing of saxophonist Cara Taber during a solo section. The other performers roamed around the venue, each with some sort of wind up toy which wasn’t too loud, murmuring away evocatively in the background. Cara was fascinating. Although the focus of the section, she’s one of those players who is not demonstrative. You know there’s sound coming out of her instrument, but she’s barely moving with the music if at all, nor showing any facial expression, maybe just tapping her foot here and there. Later in the work she became a little bit more animated but on the whole when she plays she’s playing and that’s that. No visual expression.

In Cara’s quiet solo section the depth of expression in her playing was phenomenal to hear and to watch. So often we hear of the concept of the musician as vocational, because you breathe music, you feel it, it’s part of your soul, part of who you are – and hence it feels natural to see physical engagement when a musician performs. So to watch a player draw forth so much haunting emotion with her instrument while not giving away any of that expression through her body was extraordinary. From time to time I wondered whether someone else was also playing, because you couldn’t see how she was doing what she was doing. It was pretty damn special. And this is not a criticism at all. Her playing was so absolutely haunting, a still beautiful moment within the maelstroms of the performance that reminded us music can simply be music.

So, wow, we had streamers, we had balloons, colours galore, we had everything. It was a party! And it was a party I’d like to go to again and again and again, and not just because of all the “extras”. This is what contemporary art music needs now, in this world we have that’s become all so exhausting. When is the next great horror, not far around the corner. When’s the next megalomaniac going to get in charge of some thing he really shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near, soon. And then we have nights like tonight and all you can do is shout “Yes! Yes! Get back to this!” This is what music needs. This is who we really are. Where we go for it, we go for it hard both as audiences and performers, and we have an absolute, unabashed blast in the process (with or without the toys).

Spectacular performances, spectacular music. A night we won’t forget.

There’s one final performance of Concerto for Piano and Toy Concerto on Sunday 5 March 2017 at 3pm. Go to it!


Disclaimer: Arcko Symphonic Ensemble, with which I am affiliated, performs in the The Usefulness of Art concert Travelling Tales in December. I’m not biased at all though, it was a bloody good concert!


art art art, and music

What I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post was that I entered a draw to win tickets to another event as part of Beck’s Fusion – the Chemical Brothers concert. Late Saturday night I received the call – hooray!

So I began at the ICA about 4pm to pick up the tickets and saw an exhibit of artwork by prisoners that went into a awards programme. Some good, made for interesting brain food. Pondered in the bar and wondered at all the clever types there and was surprised it was so busy.

After an early meal I took a walk towards the parks. The Mall provided an excellent photography project with its long promenade up to Buckingham Palace. Click here to have a look at the results, and here’s my favourite plus the kookiest topiary I’ve seen to date (at St James’s Park).


The gig was good. 9,000 crammed into Trafalgar Square. The Chemical Brothers played the same hits they had years and years ago, I wonder are they losing their touch? Where’s the new material? I was surprised to recognise the closers (can you tell I only have one album?). The crowd (and I) were into it, no doubt, but no real effort for an encore – everyone cleared out. Very impressed with their massive deck system and the sound quality.


Made a couple of videos too…! Visit them at YouTube – short and longer

siren @ the shunt lounge…

To begin – after six months of southwest London middle class ‘hip’, this is absolutely the coolest place I’ve been in all of London so far. Old train shunting tunnels under London Bridge station. Dark. Not dim, but dark so you see silhouettes growing larger until you meet in the middle and touch by accident while you’re momentarily lost when the black bodies seem to merge.

Photo of previous performance of Siren

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