Thursday, 1 July 2010

Some Thoughts Re. Cambridge Duo

I enjoyed the performance, overall – I think. Maybe enjoy is not the right word. I tend to find it quite hard to collect my thoughts after doing a live performance, as opposed to a private session – and doing a ‘post-mortem’ of something that only existed when it existed, that is now ‘not there’, in a sense, might be a tad unhelpful. That said, part of the rationale behind the whole ‘sine language’ project is to provide some sort of framework for examining certain things I’m interested in with regards to performance, improvisation, the context in which music is presented – so I’d consider the ‘post-mortem’, the pre- and post-performance writing, to be part of the project as well, rather than simply as an ‘added extra’. (Which is why I liked JH’s idea of reading read something out before we performed – or, I suppose I should say, reading something out as a preparatory part of the performance.)

There were a few moments when I felt that my own contribution possibly put JH out on a limb in a way that was a little unfair. Someone said afterwards that there seemed to be an element of playing God to it, in the deployment of sudden loud sounds and samples; or the throwing of objects onto the ‘stage’. I guess this was dialogue though, feeding back on itself. My throwing of the objects (which, initially, I wasn’t sure that I was even going to use, or thought that I might occasionally use as percussion instruments) perhaps arose from a sense of the theatricality of the occasion; a desire to move across from being ‘just a musician’, doing ‘musician things’, to some involvement, however peripheral, with the ‘acting’ side of things. Did the throwing possess a certain violence to it at all? (That’s probably imparting too much ‘narrative’ to things, too much connotative force that, while it can’t be said *not* to be there, isn’t really very important or conscious for either of us). So maybe the throwing could be conceived more in spatial terms – objects thrown in a diagonal line – like a kind of live sculpture.

If the whole performance was in some senses a ‘dialogue’, it was also an occasional *parody* of dialogue: my bashing out a rhythm, on the floor, with a drumstick, followed by a pause, followed by JH’s ‘delayed reaction’ response – shouting “Achtung!” – followed by “Heil!”. This wasn’t, though, parody in a programmatic, illustrative, facile way – not “this is us showing that dialogue is impossible” – just a different mode of dialogue. Perhaps dialogue is not the right word to use, anyway, as it implies speech - it could be replaced by ‘language’ (as per the project’s title) – but even that doesn’t feel quite right – it could be replaced by ‘communication’ (or its failure). ‘Commune’ does suggest a certain togetherness, and also a bringing into contact with something else – ‘communing with the spirits’ – which is what sampling a recording (like the shamanic birdsong imitation I used) *is*, I suppose – a technologically-enabled version of what the shaman does in the first place: channelling something they don’t claim to ‘originate’, or ‘create’ as such. That’s not to say that one is simply tapping into pre-existent forces, because *reaction* is an element here; as you pointed out, *liveness* is crucial.

In itself, that’s actually a bit odd, given that this was the first time I’ve performed the ‘sine music’ in a live situation (my previous use of electronics at gigs has tended to be more ‘reactive’; what Derek Bailey would call an “instrumental” approach to the music). It was also only the second time that I’ve played it in a duo situation, the first being just a few days before, and, just like on that occasion, unexpected things happened – which is what I was hoping for. Perhaps the fact that we weren’t able to use the initial plan provided the element of risk I mentioned in the ‘programme note’. (This plan, which we’d developed in brief conversation before the performance, was for JH to fall, very slowly, until his head was submerged in a tank of water, while dropping things out of his pockets – stretching an action which would normally take, say, 2 minutes, to 15 or more. As things turned out, no water tank was available, and the fall had actually been completed about half-way through, and so the ‘second half’ of the performance found JH on the floor (almost a ‘second action’, I guess, though not separable from the first, that of falling)). In any case, I’m glad to have made the first forays with this project, both private (Bristol) and public (Cambridge). As for what’s to come, who knows?

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