Sinspiration / Happychap / Spiralysis / Food for the Bearded
Due Canzoni Lidie
Improvisations by Gyan Riley and Lawrence Ball
Gyan Riley (guitar) and Lawrence Ball (piano)
2 November 2001, Conway Hall, London
Music for hypnogogic states
Robert Rich (piano, synthesiser and flute)
3 November 2001, October Gallery, London
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 3 November, 2001
In the niche of contemporary music which might be described as experimental without being iconoclastic, the Planet Tree Music Festival has become a prominent fixture. Now in its fifth year, the festival comprises two weekends of music and visuals, together with pre-concert happenings, in a lively and informal atmosphere.
The first event saw the non-appearance both of Terry Riley, busy promoting peace in the United States, and Tania Chen (who will be performing the Hovhaness/Harrison recital as advertised). That left Gyan Riley to perform a thoughtfully contrasted programme, using three different guitar tunings opening with a meditative improvisation and continuing with Terry Rileys Piedad (Mercy), a harmonically ambivalent and fluidly contrapuntal homage to Piazzolla. Lawrence Ball joined him on piano for an attractive, blues-tinged improvisation, and the first half closed with four of Gyans own pieces. The evocative, intense evocation of sunrise in Sinspiration was followed by the polyrhythmic playfulness of Happychap, while the engaging arabesques of Spiralysis were in contrast to the demonstrative motion of Food for the Bearded the antics of a bearded dragon lizard inspiring music of increasing metrical and harmonic complexity.
The second half opened with the musical highlight of the evening. Nuccio DAngelos Due Canzoni Lidie (Two Lydian Songs) from 1984 are sultry, passionate music. The first song draws on pentatonic and modal harmonies in its progress from easeful rhapsody to dramatic pungency. The second song is given visceral immediacy through its arpeggio writing, the ruminative central section thrown into relief by the emotionally heightened return of the opening music. Ball returned for a further improvisation, a playful modal fantasy, and the recital ended with Rileys Sonata Quasifantokastica its three movements taking in cascading rhythmic energy, the courtly idiom of early Renaissance lute music, and syncopated tremolo writing that ended the work decisively. As an encore, Riley previewed an evocative work-in-progress depicting the constellation Orion, its restrained virtuosity a hallmark of his music and performing style.
The following nights event moved from the redoubtable Conway Hall to the October Gallery the clear, neutral acoustic of whose recital room is ideally suited to the ambient improvisation of Robert Rich. He opened his 88-minute session with a study in translucent piano textures, the often dense figuration suffused in an enveloping resonance. Bach and Debussy were evoked, even the modal piano writing of John Foulds. The switch to synthesiser brought to mind the early exercises in ambience of Brian Eno and, in the imaginative use of time delay, the more delicate soundscapes of Robert Fripp. The lengthy section for wooden flute perhaps ventured a little too far in the direction of ambience as a coloration of atmosphere (interesting that at least two members of the audience left the semi-conscious state entirely at this point), and though Rich moved between flute and synthesiser frequently and unobtrusively thereafter, the improvisation never regained its earlier deep listening intensity. Richs encore, a soft-focus study in toccata-like figuration, suggested that the piano component might effectively have been reintroduced earlier.
Both recitals benefited from the Harmonic Mathematics computer graphics of Dave Snowdon, whose constantly diversifying and regrouping images of spirals, planes and fractals were experienced to advantage in the low-level lighting employed at the venues. Make no mistake, Planet Tree embodies a diverse range of musical approaches, encouraging a focused state of listening too often absent in the passive context of regular concertgoing.
Further concerts in the series: