Sophie Appleton, Claudia Molitor, George Holloway, Ignacio Afrimbao (accordion, bodies, horn, thumb piano, violins, voices)
Harriet Poole (visuals)
Chris Wheeler, Ash Sargant (DJs)
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 25 July, 2006
Venue: Cargo, 83 Rivington Street, London
By the time Scratch Music was published in 1972, the Scratch Orchestra that created it had disbanded in a stew of ideological acrimony. The Orchestra, which arose out of Cornelius Cardew’s experimental music class at Morley College in London, had drawn together a diverse group of trained and untrained musicians under an egalitarian, collectivist ethos, the music influenced by Cage and the American avant-garde, and any member could contribute compositions, which often took the form of gnomic instructions like ‘Tune a brook by moving the stones in it’; concerts were charged and unpredictable affairs. The Orchestra was a complex and delicate combination of experimental art and counter-culture philosophy, whose brief flowering reflected a unique socio-cultural moment in British life.
The Orchestra may be gone, but Scratch Music lives on as an inspiration to the experimentally inclined. One wonders what Cardew would have made of the current vogue for taking new and experimental music into hip new settings. He might well have been uncomfortable about the commercial bent of such projects as SPNM’s Sound Source series at Cargo, a club in achingly trendy Shoreditch; but the world has changed in the intervening years, and avant-garde music no longer necessarily carries a political charge, for better or worse. These days, it is enough that the music is being brought to a wider audience, without expecting it to change the world.
Klangsieben drew on Scratch Music ideas for this concert, which took the form of three sets of semi-improvised music, in which the performers on stage used their instruments and voices in unconventional ways. In the first two, they were accompanied by a ‘sonic score’ of recorded and manipulated household sounds. There is nothing wrong in theory with using objets trouvée as inspiration for improvisation, but in this case the recorded sounds became a kind of safety net, removing any sense of danger or spontaneity from the performance. This sort of highly theatrical improvisation is harder than it looks, and unfortunately the members of Klangsieben were too tentative to make the performance come to life.
There were interesting moments; four violins scraped in classic 1970s’ avant-garde style merged nicely with the kitchen-sink drama of the first set, and George Holloway played some nifty multiphonics through his French horn. The combination of Ignacio Afrimbao’s thumb piano with distorted organ sounds worked well in the whispery second set. However, the ‘silent music’ mime that closed the event was Edinburgh-fringe amateurish, a curious contrast with the slickness of the venue but ultimately dull.
Still, it is in the nature of experimental events that not all will be successful, and SPNM is to be congratulated for its attempts to take new music out of its ghetto.