Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Best Music Concert?

Well now I'm at another stage in my life where I have to try and decide on a few things, which often feels a lot harder than the actual doing of the things. (It's like when my dad and I would talk about what to have for diner, each of us feeling that the person who had to decide what we were to have had a far harder job than the person who would then go and simply cook it). In this instance (as always (i suppose)) I'm referring to music. Far from just trying to 'find my compositional voice', I don't even seem to be able to settle on a single media and genera. Now I don't want to sound like one of those people who thinks that if your music doesn't fit into a pre-existing genera then its doomed to failure; but for me to be able to develop within any given genera, I feel I'm going to need to devote a lot of time and effort into it so that I know exactly what I' m doing, and don't just end up knocking off poorly realised imitations of its paradigms.

This got me thinking about what music I've been exposed to during my time at uni that has really amazed me. And it was this thought that led me to write this entry, and to try and decide, of all the concerts I've seen in the last few years, which have been the best.

One of the first that sprang to mind was a recent free-improvisation gig in the Brighton
Soundwaves Festival. This was a cosy little event held in a café, and as I was volunteering in the festival, after I'd helped with moving furniture and setting up the PA, I could enjoy the concert for free. It consisted of three groups, each of which would approach the 'stage' and then just start improvising. How pre-prepared any of these performances were it's hard to say, but they all felt as if any structure they were supposed to have would have been immediately abandoned if the music led them somewhere else. (Here's a link to an organisation many of the performers were in). One of the more memorable aspects of the concert was a drummer who seemed a little bit insane. He played pretty conventional beats all the way through, but seemed to change instruments every few seconds - all the while keeping the rhythm going and making it feel completely natural. He'd start by simply clapping (although getting quite a range of different sounds out of just two hands), then he'd move onto the drum kit, then incorporate some more drums, then he'd pick up a tambourine and shake that in one hand whilst still playing the drums with his other, then carrying the tambourine he'd get up and start stamping his feet, then drop the tambourine and start tapping a microphone, before reaching out to a bottle on someone's table and blowing across it as an additional percussion instrument. He may have overshadowed his bandmates somewhat - but it was nevertheless a incredibly energetic performance.

Another concert that really sticks out is seeing
Jose Gonzales at the Brighton Dome. This was a year or two back now, and so I hadn't heard much of his stuff (also, as he was still just pushing past the periphery of the mainstream the ticket was a bargain at just £12.50). First of all he had two unusual warm-up acts that were highly original (the second of which consisted of 3 women in green tutus playing on computers and effects pedals). And then there was Jose himself. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have seen Nick Drake in some folk club, or a young Jeff Buckley working the lower east side; and it makes me thankful that I went to this concert. Having said that, a concert hall with a few thousand people - most of them drunken students - made for a less than intimate experience. But with wonderful music and well planed, sympathetic lighting, it maintained a wonderful atmosphere that made for a great evening.

And there have been many other interesting concerts: in the Brighton Festival, and more in the Soundwaves Festival, and outside Brighton in the Aberystwyth MusicFest - two of the real stand out pieces from the numerous concerts there were Fratres for String Quartet by Arvo Part, and Messiaen's Quartet for the end of time - both were completely amazing experiences. There've been great amateur concerts, concerts by the Uni Symphony Orchestra, and the uni's 21st Century Ensemble (a contemporary music group which was radically updated from its former title of 20th Century Ensemble, in 2006). I've seen West End Musicals, and one of my own tutors playing his Piano Concerto with the Brighton Philharmonic. I've found that compositions by amateurs are often more engaging than those by established composers, and that the price of the ticket doesn't necessarily correlate to the enjoyment you will receive (attending an opera at Glyndebourne was a really good experience, but had I not received a free ticket I doubt I would have been willing to pay the standard £150 myself).

Choosing one concert as the best would probably be impossible, (and even if I did I'd probably change my mind pretty quickly,) so the best I can do is to end on a performance that was nevertheless pretty amazing. In a medium sized performance area attached to a gallery I saw a four-piece band called
Huun-Huur-Tu. They were a group of Tuvan throat singers and the concert was just mesmerising. At the end of it I had no idea weather the concert had lasted 40 minutes, or 3 hours - you just didn't know - and it didn't really matter, the music was that good.

Well there you go. I've put a few links in here and there, but if I've learned anything about music it's that people have radically different tastes, and that it has nothing to do with quality or complexity - it's just a personal preference. So rather than end this post by telling to listen to all the people mentioned above, I'll just gently encourage you to go out there try and discover some new music that you can love – its for your own good!


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