Sorry for the long break in posting - rather spectacularly breaking my self-imposed rule of at least one post a month. I had intended to write a long post about the weekend of the 7th to the 9th of September, which was in some ways probably the best weekend of my life! On the Friday night I heard some fascinating improvised music at the Red Rose in London from Richard Barrett, John Butcher, Adam Linson and Roger Turner. Then on Saturday my good friend David Stent had somehow managed to get tickets to the one day final at Lords between England and Sri Lanka (which we won - though Kevin Peterson deserved a severe karmic backlash for running out Ian Bell who was playing absolutely beautifully). In the evening after a great meal at another friend's place David and I went for a couple of hours to DMZ and caught storming sets from Digital Mystikz and Kode 9 - my first taste of live dubstep, which very satisfyingly rearranged my internal organs. And then on Sunday I went off to hear Prince at the O2 arena (a soulless venue if ever there was one, but things there at least work efficiently, I'll say that for it). The arena show was cool, but the real meat came in the aftershow gig - Prince and his band from 12:30am to 3! The man's rhythm guitar is absolutely awesome - his time is incredible.
All in all, probably best I didn't write a long post on all that - it would more than likely just been a tedious gush. Various things have been occupying my time since then, particularly string-related things. I am, this evening, going to play the last gig on what has been an ear-opening tour with Philipp Wachsmann on violin and Bruno Guastalla on cello and bandoneon. I have really enjoyed the developing musical relationship between ourselves, particularly as it centres on the issue of string sound. Things I knew intellectually have become very practically clear to me. One of those things is that cello, bass and violin are in some ways very similar instruments and in other ways hugely different. The colours and responsiveness are highly individual; though we can blend together we can also echo each others' gestures and come out sounding totally different. The subtlety of timbral differentiation that strings can produce (the slightest change of bow speed or weight having dramatic musical effects) and how this bleeds into issues of musical interaction, harmonic content and linear delineation has been a revelation. Philipp has produced some utterly inspiring playing (his solo in Liverpool on Sunday was a perfect combination of timbral detail and melody, and was very moving), as has Bruno (his directness and exploratory poise is always remarkable, and his very physical relationship to the instrument - he also makes and repairs violins and cellos - adds another level of embodied musicianship). I have tended, while obviously learning a lot from other bass players, to try and get my improvisational inspirations from other instruments so as not to get stuck too close to home - from saxophonists or guitar players, for example. But I will come away from this tour with a renewed sense of the bass as a bowed string, and whole new areas to explore.
Fitting right in with the string theme, I heard on Wednesday Irvine Arditti perform Luigi Nono's late work for violin and tape, La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura in the Queen Elisabeth Hall, with André Richard on sound projection. I must admit to not knowing a great deal about Nono's music but this often hushed, haunting late work had me hooked. The stillness and fragility of the musical fragments was engrossing, but the piece never becomes mood music - it is impossible to predict at any moment what is going to happen next. The musicians timed their performance to perfection, with some beautiful overlappings between live and taped violins. The movement of the live player around the hall (six music desks being spread out around the performance venue) worked without any sense of gimmickry. There was a beautifully understated piece of theatre early on: when Arditti first moved, he had a look at the music on the second set of music stands nearest him, but then carried on to a third desk further away; a Beckettian sense of being lost was conjured, but with the lightest of touches. Then, when he played from a desk at the very back of the hall, behind the audience, it became fascinating to try and distinguish the live from the taped violins. What gave it away very often were the very slight inconsistencies in tone from the live player - for example at the beginnings of notes, which often had to be played very quietly and hence with a very slow bow. Arditti played magnificently but always humanly - frailty was not "exposed" by this music, but rather revealed and allowed to be what it was, evidence of the real presence of a human being manipulating an instrument.