Venue : London Metropolitan University
Date : Thursday 23 April 2009
Date of writing this review : 8 September 2009
Given the length of time since the event, I should make it clear that I am writing this review from contemporaneous notes, and not from memory. I should also make it clear that I believe I was the least musically qualified person in the room – my ‘credentials’ are simply that of a fan, and I do not play any instruments, let alone to the extent of some of those in a quite exalted audience.
This was Cloud-Surfing, part of a series of performance as research events, investigating performance and its documentation. This one featured former King Crimson violinist, David Cross (my reason for attending) and composer/flautist, Andrew Keeling. They met in London in 2007 to discuss a musical collaboration, and the outgrowth from that was a series of improvisations which form the basis of their forthcoming album, English Sun. This improvisation performance took place before around 30 people, in a studio with a slightly raised stage, the audience seated. There was pastoral music playing as we waited.
Cloud-Surfing Part 1
They open with Cloud-Surfing Part 1, improvised at the time, David on violin and Andrew on flute. David opens with a rich sound, flowing, and Andrew follows the same pattern with the flute, but with flourishes, and now there are also some flourishes from the violin as well. The pace is picking up and has a stacatto feel, the sound climbing, some piercing flute as the violin continues the main theme and then has almost a jig feel, before easing into a sharp sound and it comes to an end.
The next part is based on a Peter Sinfield haiku, which David says he has “not studied in any great depth yet”. Andrew reads the haiku.
Early red tulips
Have followed the violets
This unruly Spring
There is silence. David picks notes from the violin, using effects, and there is a Japanese sound to it before he starts to strum. Andrew’s flute gently echoes in, before it becomes stronger, forming the melody. There is a sound like raindrops. The flute is floating with flourishes as the raindrops continue. David comes in using a bow now, a louder, more expansive sound, a sharpness to it. Eerie, haunting. The flute is circling, almost buzzing. The violin sound is growing, still sharp, and there are piercing noises from both of them. The tempo builds and the sound is extremely sharp now, racing along, quite a dark feel. There are flute flourishes rising high. I am reminded of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight Of The Bumblebee, with a sharp, menacing feel. The sound itself has really grown and is strident now, the flute cutting across the violin, the violin fighting back, and there is a big tussle between the two as they weave in and out of each other. Then there is a full rich sound to the violin notes at times, and they echo out, before the sound from both quietens but stays high, buzzing around. And with a sharp sound it eases to an end.
They continue with a piece based on page 61 from Search And Reflect by John Stevens. Andrew reads the instructions.
Each person in the group should stay silent, and listen for the sounds present. Once the group has come to terms with this (the relative silence) they must try to interact at a level that allows these external sounds to be audible. This will often mean playing on the brink of silence. As well as being an aid to achieving a sound balance, it is also a worthwhile discipline with which to begin a free group improvisation.
There is silence. David is playing around with his pedals. A soft flute sound bursts from Andrew, almost like a whistle. David is using his fingers to play very deep notes, before moving on to sorrowful bass sounds, but with a playful side. The flute buzzes in like interference. The bass notes are building and the flute joins them, copying the pattern. The violin is leading, and the flute cuts in and across it. David is plucking notes again as the flute picks up the pace, but retains a stacatto feel. The flute trills, and for me there is something of a Jethro Tull sound to the flute here. The violin is building up and shooting out notes while the bass sound continues, and as it eases the flute comes in. There is a bigger sound now with circling violin parts as the bass loops, soaring at times, with the flute following, and now all the sound is swirling around, lots of high sounds, which moves from chaos into a sharp silence.
There is then a break, before we move on to a discussion of ‘improvisation’. I tried to make a note of major points coming out of the discussion : they do not have anything pre-planned; it is much harder when working on your own because you tend to use the same beginnings and endings, whereas when working with someone else there is someone to feed off; often, because he has all the ‘gear’ and effects, David will be the starting point, and especially because he has the looper; they like the balance of the natural quality of the flute with the more electric side of the violin; repetition is a big part of what they get into anyway; their performance style is more like classical music than jazz, not looking at each other so it is all done by what they hear; if it comes as a thought then it usually goes wrong, therefore they try not to plan as they go along; this is the first time they have played together in front of an audience, but Andrew did not get much of a different feeling; almost everything they recorded is going on the cd, apart from one part when the recorder cut out – that can go on a remix; if they make mistakes then according to Andrew, “do the jazz thing, play it twice”; is there such a thing as a no-go area ?; their common area is King Crimson mark 3, plus classical; nothing is ruled out – it is a question of your own courage in areas you are not so good in; some of the stuff is noise, there is an avant garde element to it; there can be arguments within the music, and that has happened tonight, and they were resolved; improvisation has had a dramatic effect on Andrew’s writing – he wrote fast anyway, but writes faster now, and is thinking about leaving in the ‘mistakes’; improvisation suspends the inner critic.
Cloud-Surfing Part 2
There is a further break and then David says, “thank you for coming back. We have reached the part in the programme called Paper and I do not know what is happening, but Andrew does.” Andrew instructs us to tear some text from a newspaper and then pass it on, before getting everyone on one side of the audience to whisper their text collectively, making them move louder and then softer. He gets the other side of the audience to simply ‘talk’ – read out their text. I have the text “Exit the ‘best solution’ for Tevez”. We will be the percussion in the next piece. Jane, from the audience, becomes the conductor. They will call the piece Dawn, or The Awakening Of Spring, and decide on The Awakening Of Spring. “This is the premiere”. Andrew opens with wooden percussion. David is picking out notes, producing a tinny sound. Andrew uses a shaker. The whisperers come in, then silence, then start again. The shaker continues with the violin. A sharp in and out from the talkers. There is a mixing of the voices while the violin is still picking out notes, and more percussion from the wooden sticks. Then violin plus piccolo and whisperers. The violin is now on a loop, the piccolo trills, then becomes sharper, pierces, the violin sound swirling. Then a massive noise is created with both vocal sets, overpowering the musical melodies, before just the violin coming through quietly with the wooden sticks, the violin echoing. Then silence.
They are using a pre-recorded loop of a piano piece which has been played by Andrew. It is a grand sound with floating bass notes, some treble slowly working its way over that. The flute comes in airy and drifting. David plays long bow strokes on the violin, a mournful feel, but an electric sound to it which is almost like a harmonica. The flute joins in and it flows on. The violin is picking up the tempo now, with a sci-fi, spacey feel. The track drifts along, contemplative, but too on edge to be considered mellow, and the flute eases us to a close.
We call for an encore and they do the decent thing and continue with one more piece. The flute opening, rising higher with a sharp sound. The violin comes in with a full sound, piercing. They weave together, the flute dominant this time as they are swirling about, the violin providing an underlying melody. It is stacatto flute now while the violin circles, the tension is building, then a flurry on the violin and the flute peaks. The violin sound is rich now, almost arabic in nature, but just a touch slow for that, not sufficient flow, sounding something like a guitar solo. The flute comes back in and they are bouncing off each other. The violin rises, then pauses as though it is caught, a scratched sound. The flute trills, fast-paced, the violin following that pattern. The sound is very stacatto, high pitched, piercing noises, racing along, buzzing around. David is using looping, while Andrew is repeating parts. There is more of the guitar solo sound from David, screeching through, and then the loop goes, the violin soars, still screeching, and the flute goes with it. They are almost fighting against each other as the loop comes back in briefly, and then a sharp, sudden stop.
And we close proceedings by singing happy birthday to David.
This was a fascinating and highly enjoyable evening for me, something completely new and somewhat unexpected – I went into this purely because of the King Crimson connection and really did not know what the evening would involve. I was very glad that I decided to attend. There is a Plenary session on Thursday 24 September to discuss Documentation, and I am planning on attending that as well.