Gigs

Gig Review: Different Trains 1947

Different Trains 1947: Barbican
Sunday 1st October 2017



I was looking forward to this concert as it was advertised as being based on the principles of Steve Reich's 1988 classic piece, ' Different Trains'.


I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but something generally using vocal recordings interwoven with textural orchestrations, maybe electronic, maybe acoustic.

First up though was a piece by Darkstar accompanied by a film about a group of youth in the Liverpool district of Hart Hill. I say the piece was 'by' Darkstar, but throughout the duration of the film, it became clear that the music had come from a series of workshops with the kids who featured in the film. And had then been put together - very ably - by Darkstar, turning what could be a somewhat painful and amateurish noodling by non-experienced musicians into a somewhat uplifting triumph.

Musically, the several sections varied between drum loops, textures, synthy loops and vocal performances by the ‘youth’ - who seemed to range  between the ages of eleven and sixteen (eighteen?).

The theme they were exploring was 'home', and as 1st or 2nd generation immigrants - maybe even refugees? What came across was how these young people have different identities as friends with each other, as residents of Liverpool, and as people whose families are (possibly) only recently that of the UK. 

I found my own prejudices challenged as once one had got familiar with the characters in the film as they recorded the music (on a rather nice selection of modern electronic music equipment), danced, and joked with each other, we also saw them in their street environment. And there you realised they were also the kids who pull wheelies on their mountain bikes, wear hoodies and (gasp!) hang around in groups. And I thought, yeah, they're just kids, doing kid things, and next time I'm tempted to pre-judge them as up to no good, or simply annoying, I'll remember this film.
 

Different Trains

This began with a film featuring the composers enjoying their jolly to India. I’m not sure this did much to endear the artists to the audience if I’m perfectly honest, and when it finished, there was a kind of silence before a bit of clapping, suggestive of a kind of, ‘er, are we supposed to applaud that?’ 

 

Anyway, onto the piece. Each composer contributed a movement. 1) Actress, 2) Sandunes 3) Jack Bennet.

 

Of the three, Sandunes piece was the standout. It was the most easily relatable to the compositional concept of Steve Reich’s original. There were minimalistic riffs on synths and percussive type sounds, and vocal loops relating to trains. What lifted it even further was the extraordinary drumming by Jivraj Singh. He punctuated the melodic elements with panache, and kept up a constant groove which sometimes wasn’t even audible, but visual (he moved like a writhing snake!), and sometimes burst into dramatic staccato and sometimes hushed into a quiet intensity. It was basically great. 

 

Part three was the next most successful, though not wildly interesting. It started with time-stretched vocals and moved into a section when Jivraj (hi again!) drummed along to the sound of a steam train. I could see the intent - it’s quite fun to hear drumming done in time with a steam train. But it was sort of not that successful, because a the train started slow as if pulling out of a station, and then as it speeded up, Jivraj kept pace, but he ultimately couldn’t go as fast as a real steam train would, because it would have been about 300bpm. So the recording just slowed down again. So no sense of momentum was really built up. I think I would have let the train go full speed and halved or even quartered the drumming tempo. Overall though, it was kind of interesting.

 

Part one. Well, not sure what happened here, there were technical issues at the start, which meant I was never quite sure if the piece was sounding as it should have done. It did sound a bit unfinished. General electronic LFO noises were accompanied by the singing of Priya Purushothaman. A very good Indian singer. But I wasn’t really sure what the point was. Seemed to be, ‘here’s some generic electronic type noise, here’s a traditional Indian singer, let’s just put one on top of the other’. I couldn’t really determine much interaction or conversation going between the two elements. In the end I just shut my eyes and let the piece waft over me, which was pleasant enough. 

 

The other oddity was that the second two pieces had an accompanying film, but the first piece didn’t. That was weird - did they run out of time to make a third piece? To be honest, the films were just the usual looped bits of archival film in triptych (yes mirror images on the outer two panels), which gets pretty boring pretty quickly. Especially as they were really short and too grainy to make out the interesting detail that one would have liked.

 

As to the larger point of it all - trying to commemorate the partition of India in 1947, I don’t think that theme came across particularly well in any of the pieces. I certainly didn’t ‘learn’ anything about that event (of which I am mostly ignorant, I’m afraid to say). Perhaps the second part with it’s violent drumming and insistent loops were closest to approximating something like a response to those events. 

 

So, overall|: an interesting, partially successful evening (from a musical perspective). Main outcome: I definitely want to find out more about Sandunes’ music. 

Gig review: Sparks, Sep 2017

Sparks: O2 Empire Shepherds Bush, London
Thurs 21st September 2017

Sparks.JPG

Arrived a bit late for this one - partway through the set, but caught enough to have a good time.

Sparks are a fascinating band - they've been around for nearly 50 years having formed in 1968. An extraordinary feat in itself. And yet they've never really fit neatly into a pigeon-hole. Yes, they're part-glam, part-rock opera, part-Kurt Well, part-college rock humour, but then they've also worked with Giorgo Moroder and many others. A unique band in many ways.

Good melodies and wryly amusing lyrics are their staples, along with Ron's deadpan Hitler-mistachioed presence. (The highlight was Ron suddenly breaking character and doing a mad loping shuffle dance during the breakdown of 'Number One in Heaven'. Genius)

Songs on their new album fit into their general oeuvre with great titles like, 'Apart from that, how did you like the play Mrs Lincoln?' and 'Scandinavian Design'.

These new tracks were interspersed amongst the classics like, 'Number one in heaven', 'This town ain't big enough for the both of us', and my current favourite, 'My baby's driving me home'.

So - great back catalogue, great stage presence and an enthusiastic crowd of fans made for a genuinely enjoyable, unpretentious and feel good evening.

Posters

Very nice electronic music poster: Electric Love Blueprint

Follow the link below to see a very nice poster charting the history of electronic music. The twist is that it's presented as an electronic circuit board, making it super attractive to look at. 

I'm not sure if the electronic components in any way relate to the bands who have been assigned resistors, capacitors, etc, but I think it would be even better if it did. Kraftwerk should naturally be shown as a power-cell, for example...

Anyway, click the image below to see the full poster on the www.wearedorothy.com website, where you can purchase a copy. 

Videos

More Vangelis - this time a long documentary type thing

On a bit of a Vangelis research tip at the moment. I've been listening to his music all my life, but never knew very much about him. Always seemed very mysterious and from another planet, seemingly never giving interviews and so forth. 

On the other hand, that's probably because the internet didn't exist then, and as it turns out, he's been in the public eye giving lots of interviews over the years. 

Lots of interesting stuff in this and plenty of epic synths and Mr V playing 'em! 

Videos

The Devil's Work (aka Vangelis' synthesizer)

What in all that’s holy is this machine Vangelis is using in this video? At 4 secs in – the rotating one-arm bandit thing with heretical symbols on it. What on earth is it?

I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s quite bizarre!

Update: a knowledgeable keyboard playing friend of mine has pointed me in the direction of the answer to this...unsurprisingly, it's a weird custom thing: 

"The user with the nickname "Red Baron" who uploaded this video in Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/80936319), wrote the following interesting comments:

1) All these white boxes are a custom MIDI system made by YES Audio under the orders of Vangelis and especially for his playing needs. The big terminal white boxes write on the back side "YES AUDIO, CUSTOM DESIGN FOR VANGELIS". This custom setup is connected to various synths, mainly racks. Also he uses 17 foot pedals, 16 volume and one sustain pedal as you see in the video. All this system help him to play live without the need of overdubs and sequencers. In fact, Vangelis compose/arrange/play and record at the same time! Its a unique technique and he is using it at least the last 25 years, this MIDI system is already in use since early/middle 90s.

2) Its obvious that this guy is genius. :-) I can't think any other keyboardist in any genre that he can play like Vangelis. What Vangelis can arrange, play and record in 5 minutes, the rest of keyboardists need few hours or more to do the same thing with all these DAWs and record methods they use. What Vangelis plays the most of the times, the result is a ready to release music work without the need of overdubs or post production. The whole system is connected to few RADAR hard recording systems, whatever he plays is always recorded. He uses Mackie consoles to connect his synths from his main setup and in his studio the main final console is a Euphonix System 5-B. You can see it in the video infront him."

See also:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/926577-vangelis-his-weird-synthesizer.html

https://www.facebook.com/CopperLan/posts/548899521860518

 

Which is all very well, but he funny thing is that for all that system’s complexity and sophistication, I find the noodly orchestral stuff he actually plays with it very uninteresting. 

I much prefer it when people (and Vangelis) use synths as synths rather than as orchestral emulation machines. Even if the emulation is very close to the sound of the ‘real thing’. But that’s the point: why try and sound ‘really similar’ to an orchestra when you could sound ‘completely original’ by exploring sound itself? 

Perhaps he does that as well…damn. 

Synth film - 'Bright Sparks'

Highly, highly recommend this documentary all about 10 of the most classic synths ever made:

http://brightsparks.movie/

Great interviews with the inventors and users of these instruments.

Not only that, but a great album was created with each track showcasing each synth featured in the film. It's the complete package!

 

SpecDrums - audio unit

I was desperate to own SpecDrums as a child of the 80s, but never did. 

Now I can! http://www.samplescience.ca/2016/01/specdrums.html

 

Check out the fun retro demo song - you couldn't really write any other of sort of track to go with those sounds really.