Lots of adventures in sound today, but this last concert took us on an even more amazing musical helter skelter journey. This year I have been amazed at what developments in electronics can achieve. I had already mentioned in a newsletter for NESMS how, when I was a boy of seven or eight, we had a wind-up gramophone upstairs. It was a huge piece of furniture with lion’s feet. You had to use steel needles on scratchy old records which at the time I thought sounded great. Now, however, I pick up my iPad, type in any music I want and I get a perfect performance (if I plug in my headphones) and not only that, I can see the performance on screen. Today, Richard Ingham was in London and Pete in Aberdeen but they were able to join together in a series of four splendid performances.
They began with a piece by Pete Stollery composed in 1994 entitled Squirt. Pete told us that he had been partly inspired by the paintings of Jackson Pollock. Richard used breath sounds, squirts, smears and slides, rattling of keys along with many other advanced techniques. To begin with, Pete’s electronics were like popping candy for the ears not the tongue. Gradually they developed into revolving sounds leading to a climax and slow fade, nicely designed by both performers.
I loved the next piece, Clermont Horns developed electronically from a street recording made in Clermont-Ferrand at a street corner as loads of cars went past hooting as part of the Gilet Jaune protests. This was Stollery at his best, when ideas of place underscore the music. I loved the comment by Gemma McGregor when she said, ‘Outer listening becomes inner listening’. Yes in this piece, the cars really became music. Perhaps in a way they always were!
Waves in Watercolour was basically composed by Richard Ingham in a style based on free improvisation. He asked Pete to use his electronic imagination to expand the sounds – and that he did. With the two of them working together I sensed an almost jazz-like co-operation between the two musicians.
Most amazing of all though was the bringing back to life of Denis Smalley’s Gradual, first released in 1974. This was an amazing kaleidoscopic cornucopia of sound. Clatter of keys in umpteen formats, electronic twitters, spoken whispers and finally Richard Ingham’s amazing musical Frankenstein, the trombaphone. This was a bright red trombone to which had been fitted a baritone sax mouthpiece. There were many comments from listeners wanting to know how it worked. I thought I was old enough not to be surprised any more, but with this piece I was more than just surprised. It was great!