north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Lunch break concert,
Aberdeen University Music

Written by Alan Cooper

reproduced with permission


Lunch break concert. In association with sound and Aberdeen University Music

I wish I had thought of it first, but it was Dr Roger Williams who hit the nail squarely on the head when he suggested after Saturday's performance by the University of Aberdeen New Music Group featuring works by John Cage that this composer was to music something like what Marcel Duchamp was to art. After hearing Cage's Music for Transistor Radios what sprang instantly to mind was the thought, "Well, I could have done that!" The answer of course is, "Yes, but you didn't!".

The performance began with a piece written in 1980 for the Whistle Binkies. The four musicians in the Group were all involved here. In this kind of music, as in some modern art, the underlying idea is at least as important as the execution. Each of the four performers had to learn and rehearse one or more well known Scottish tunes. The trick was that they should do this without letting any of the other performers know what they were going to sing or play. In this way a dichotomy is set up between a base of existing hard-wired musical content and the element of chance. Ed Jones on cello, Ronnie Gibson on violin and Paul Tierney on guitar and bongos were joined by mezzo-soprano Heather Ireson. The extraordinary thing about this performance was not the extent to which the performers clashed with one another but rather how well everything seemed to fit so serendipitously together. Perhaps the fact that most Scottish music is in a limited range of related keys helped here. The acoustic ambience of the Gallery's Centre Court also helped and despite the sounds of talking, footsteps, clinking coffee cups and at one point, a police siren, this lent an ideal acoustic atmosphere to the next two pieces, Ear for Ear for three voices and Litany for the Whale. In the first Heather Ireson was visible to the audience while Paul Tierney and Ronnie Gibson were hidden in the upper Gallery. The piece had an almost medieval vocal flavour and would have sounded great in a cathedral. In the second piece, Heather Ireson and Paul Tierney called and responded in a series of vowel sounds that did indeed suggest the sounds of whale song.

The final piece for four transistor radios could be said to have used at least two period instruments. Here again there was obviously an element of control by the composer which came through in the instructions which the four radio operators were following and betrayed too by the signals that Paul Tierney was sending to the other performers, but of course, every performance will be different and open to an almost infinite range of chances depending on which programmes the operators happened to land on and what was being broadcast at the time. I am sure that this piece would be of interest to students of advanced physics too as it touches on the instants where infinity of possibilities becomes narrowed to the finite happenings of the actual signals picked up by the radios. This however is a subject for Professor Stephen Hawking and not for me.

Original article reproduced here with kind permission.

events mentioned
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8Sat 1.00 pmAberdeenMusic of John Cage, University of Aberdeen New Music Group