Keith Fullerton Whitman, Some Truths at Cafe Oto February 2nd 2012


Some Truth's set up

Some Truth’s set up

A sold out night again at Cafe Oto. The centre of attention was Some Truths’ set up; a modular synth, spaghetti wires dripping all over it. If you’ve listened to Bass Clef you’ll be familiar with Ralph Cumber’s sound. This is a similar sound but explores further into improv and not settling in a static rhythm. Bass drone and modular noise tics reverberated around the room. I could’ve done with more reverberation, it seemed a little quiet, I wanted more volume. Anytime you thought you might be getting used to a riff it would veir off or simply stop dead to be replaced by a new synth voice appearing to be chosen at random. Much as I’ve enjoyed the Bass Clef stuff, this was music I could spend time with.

The whole Some Truths set can be heard here

The second act on were a three piece, Mohammed, but I drifted on off, and not in a good way.

Third up, and proDSCF2611bably most anticipated was Keith Fullerton Whitman. He was placed in the centre of the room between a quadraphonic speaker system. If you were not concentrating you might’ve missed the start. Modular synth sounds crept around the room as a precursor to the blasts of sounds we would get. The sound built as KFW moved wires and twisted dials, appearing to have complete control over a chaos of wires. It was a fantastic sound, bleeps and squwalls of synth sound bounced around the room, thanks to the speaker set up. The sound became more complex but it was the simple beats and noise that rose above. As it finished KFW raised a hand to the cheers and whoops. He offered to do another set but suggested it would take another three hours to set up. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought it sounded like a reasonable offer.DSCF2606DSCF2601


Dissonance and not dissonance, a thing of beauty – London Sinfonietta at Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Southbank Centre, Webern & the 2nd Viennese School, 29 January 2013

A couple of years ago I read Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise. Now the Southbank Centre have a year long festival based on the book. Everything 20th century and given some historical context. In nearly forty years of listening to music this would only be the second concert of classical music I’d attended but like a lot of live music I listen to now, I knew almost nothing about what I was to hear.
The first section was three songs by Webern, there would be three more rhymes later in the evening. They were written twenty years apart and the technically minded might hear differences in composition. What I heard was Sarah Gabriel’s beautiful and stunning voice. Where previously I have heard an abrasive language and little rhyme, here I just wanted her to keep singing. I’ve realised the words maybe important but I don’t want to be distracted reading, with singing like this I only need to listen.
There followed a series of pieces starting with Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra. My little knowledge of this style suggested it would be atonal and jarring. Maybe in 1909 it was but despite the supposed dissonance in many of the pieces what I hear are dissonant notes complementing each other. The music flows and drives beautifully. The idea of dissonance is a red herring, every note connects, it felt like connecting was a theme of the evening.
The shorter Six Pieces for Orchestra of Webern’s I found contemplative. Although more percussive, these instruments were used more to create mood and expression rather than rhythm. The last pieces before the break created a dilemma for me. Despite my desire to hear things I not heard before I found myself wanting to hear Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra every day.
After the interval was Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21; this was stunning. Each note felt individual, not a typical musical flow yet every sound interconnected. Berg was represented by his Four Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op. 5. This was the highlight of the evening. A flurry of clarinet notes creating space. Each piece urging onto musical sounds that felt like daylight.
Three Small Pieces for cello and piano were exactly as described. The last is labelled Extremely Quiet. If you were there and saw the bloke in a black shirt clapping only gently it was due to fear of disturbing the incredible atmosphere of the music.
The final piece, Webern’s Concerto for nine instruments felt like a culmination and summation of all that had gone before. This is music that continues to surprise and enchant with its art and beauty. The philosophy and techniques of the 2nd Viennese School was not simply a new way of composing, it created stunning art and gripping music.

Murmuration at Cafe Oto 13 October 2012

Murmuration  was an evening of compositions played by musicians spread around Cafe Oto. There was about forty-five musicians in a venue that holds only about 250 people. That said there is not a massive audience for this music, and on a Saturday night in London there might just be other options. This might be innovative music but its not new music, the John Cage piece was written in 1992, the year of his death. The other pieces were newer but its the presence of Cage that hangs over this event.
The first piece was for four musicians by Sam Sfirri and gives a lot of room for improvisation. I’d been really looking forward to this concert but moments before it started I wondered if I’d built it up too much. A needless concern, this was beautiful music fully realised by the musicians. Quiet, simple music that demanded attention.
The second piece involved the whole ensemble but first there was a request for the fridges in the bar to be turned off. This would be quiet music. The air-con was already off, would the lovely beer they keep in this place survive. With the musicians amongst the audience, the incredible quiet sounds made, the music was at risk of any other sounds made. As it happens there was nothing to fear. I’m not sure how you listen hard but I was. The piece was Micheal Pisaro’s Fields Have Ears. This a piece based on set timings with the sound chosen by the musician. Where I stood I could see musicians counting, and the sounds I heard would be different to any one else in the room. It intrigued me that everyone here would hear something different, but this made the music special and personal.
For the third piece four musicians set up in a different corner of the venue. This was the John Cage piece Four6. It contained radio sounds, animal noises, percussion and little of traditional musical sounds. This was the first time I’d heard Cage live and excitement may have got to me but this was fantastic and gripping music. Sometimes it was difficult to know if the sounds were the musicians or leaking in from outside, but it didn’t matter, that randomness added to the piece.
Things got extra quiet again for Manfred Werder’s 9 ausfuhrende. This is piece of several hundred pages, one page to be played tonight and never again. Shame because the intensity of the silence and inserts of sound would be worth hearing again.
Finally we reached the piece the evening was named for. James Saunders Things whole and not whole is based on the movement of flocking strarlings, murmuration. Here the musicians chose a colleague to focus on and only react with playing when their focus acts. This resulted in a piece that was fun as well as tense while I found myself waiting for the next flurry of sound.
This is music I want to return to, and where there maybe things I tap my foot to, dance to or sing to, here was something that demanded nothing but really listening.

For a review of the evening by someone with far more knowledge of this music then me try

“the space between the beats of your heart” Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith & John Tilbury

This was my first time in the Bishopsgate Institute and the first impression was this place is far brighter and cleaner than most venues. Not letting this put me off I then found the only beer was bottles of Peroni, oh well, I wasn’t thirsty.

Whatever the surroundings Wadada Ishmael would’ve looked at home. His first piece was improvised around a theme that occasionally reminded me of Sketches of Spain, but that could be my Miles obsession. It had moments of serenity, the clarity of the notes like a beautiful sentence. Unafraid of silence, there were pauses that raised a tension until the next flurry of notes. Using the mute on a later piece, Wadada changed mood. A small reed instrument gave a more abstract element to the improv, but he returned to trumpet and that stunning clarity.

John Tilbury began his solo piece by describing how it came about. Watching a Sherlock Holmes film he was intrigued by a theme obsessed on by a character. He wanted his piece to create the same foreboding the character had. This was fully achieved using all the sounds he could get from prepared piano. It could’ve been a soundtrack to a tense movie where the music heightens every tense moment.

Both musicians combined for the last piece. Despite some beautiful sections, this was the only slight disappointment of the evening. Its unlikely either musician would claim to be the lead but Wadada was the standout. But by now I wanted some more aggression. At times it felt like the piece would break out and be more explosive, but this didn’t happen. Lovely but I wanted something else. Ending here would give the wrong impression. My need for a different tone in the last piece should not distract from an evening that left me smiling. Wadada said one piece was about the space between heartbeats, this is music that explored and pressed at places words can’t describe.

Acid Mothers Temple at Cafe Oto: Jazz freakout and rock’n’roll history

At work they asked how had I heard of this band, or any of the other weird things I listen to. I  don’t recall how I heard of the Acid Mothers Temple but on Tuesday I finished work early to head into London to see them.

The opening act was Satoshi Yamada (aka / HI / ZO / U / BU / TU ) . Dressed all in black with long black hair wrapped round his face, it could’ve been Cousin It from the Addams Family. He had all the lights turned off but invited photos and the flashes created an interesting effect. Mumbling, often in Japanese, he eventually took an amplified drill to a cello. The noise was fantastic. High pitched drones faded in and out of a grind that drew whoops and hollers.

First off, the Acid Mothers look great. They look like the coolest rock band, not necessarily what you expect at Cafe Oto, but hey. The start was all out noise following an introduction suggesting tonight they would be a jazz band. As it turned out it felt more like a history of rock’n’roll via Miles Davis. At times they played a space jazz reminiscent of Bitches Brew. Bass player and vocalist Tsuyama Atsushi, ended an extended piece with an outrageous blues man impression, at other times he stood on one leg playing clarinet out the side of his mouth. I wondered how many of the younger Cafe Oto audience got the Jethro Tull reference.


A fantastic improvised guitar led piece grew from Tsuyama reading a flyer for another show handed out to the queue pre-show. As the guitars slowed, he continued to read about the gig, that includes John Paul Jones in a new band. Often he apologized “sorry we cannot play jazz, we are just a psychadelic rock’n’roll band”. This was greeted with laughter and cheers. Tonight Cafe Oto rocked out. After asking “are we an experimental band”, the answer came back “No”. Tonight, that was accurate, but this was a band having fun and inviting us into how they hear music. They combined space jazz, blues, noise, tomfoolery and a little bit of Tubular Bells, yes really, and it made me smile.