Spatial MC at NCH

I’ve decided I’m not going to be upset with myself at my distinct lack of imagination in blog post titles. I put my hands up and confess that I do not possess this skill. Blog titles, witty limericks, knock-knock jokes – I simply don’t have the specific type of imagination required for their creation. So my blog titles will do exactly what they say on the tin.

To that end this post is about the Spatial MC performance, titled 8.4, in the concert hall last night (Wed 17 June). This is the first of the collective’s programmed performances I’ve managed to attend and I can say with confidence it won’t be the last.

The programme consisted of seven works of multi-channel electronic/electro-acoustic music by Irish and international composers. I find that my language in discussing new electronic and electro-acoustic music is as yet underdeveloped so those of you reading this with a knowledge of such things will have to excuse the lack of technical terms in this account. My personal experience of experimental electronics is relatively new, the past few years being a very steep learning curve in this area. I haven’t yet developed a knowledge of the techniques and conventions in the area so am still reacting to the music on a very emotional level. For this reason there were a couple of works in the programme that stood out for me.

scatter (for aengus martin) is a work by Irish composer Jonathan Nangle which evoked very specific images through the use of high pitched tones underwritten with thudding, crackling low pitch explosions. At first the muffled boom and crackling of the lower tones brought festival fireworks to mind but as the work went on they started to take on a more sinister representation that brought to mind falling bombs and occasionally took on a sound like machine-gun fire. In combination with the high-pitched tones it had the effect of sounding like a conflict zone. The transformation of the frivolous evocation of fireworks into a deadly disturbing sound of war brought to mind the video work created by Albanian artist Anri Sala in the current Medium Religion exhibition presented by The Model in Sligo. (In that work Sala stares into the camera executing a series of descending whistles, calling to mind the sound a bomb makes when it’s falling.)

I’ve no idea if Nangle had intended the evocation of these images through his work but it had a lasting effect on my experience of the evening and it was some time before I could focus on the next work in the programme, Spear Fragment by Ian McDonnell.

In contrast to what went before McDonnell’s work was closer to my initial experiences of electronics in music as experienced in the electro tents at festivals such as Electric Picnic. Spear Fragment constantly brought me to the edge of an electro-dance tune through a consistent improvised beat without ever crossing over, leaving me in an uncomfortable position between mainstream electro and new electronics.

Another work which struck me during the performance was a 2008 work by invited guest Eric Lyon. An American composer of “computer chamber music, spatial orchestration and articulated noise”, Lyon presented Clusters, a work of electroacoustic piano music. (I wonder if when programming Spatial MC weren’t thinking of some sort of conflict based theme with titles such as scatter, spear fragment, Clusters and clusterphobe (Linda Buckley)). Lyon made use of what occasionally felt like cheap parlour tricks but which made me wish I was seated in the dead centre of the room, even though in the programme notes Lyon mentions there is actually no one “sweet spot” in the room but a multiple prime locations to experience the sound. Ascending and descending clusters of piano samples which jumped in rapid succession from speaker to speaker in a spiral made my head spin and gradually got louder, occasionally reversing until I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.

A comic interval in the evening was the common experience when attending performances of contemporary music – not being entirely sure if a work is over! Sean Reed’s Imperishable Raptures was injected with silences, one of which lasted a whole 5 seconds towards the end of the work and was taken by most of the audience to be the end. Hands were just coming together to clap when it took off again, leaving a few audience members red-faced, giggling nervously at that horribly classical faux pas! My general rule of thumb is to watch the composer during the performance of their work (this obviously only works for contemporary music). Usually sitting tense and barely breathing during the performances their bodies visibly sag with relief at the end of the work. Clap!

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About aisling

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