Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Other Other Hand - RSAMD, Glasgow, 2 May 2008

I know, I know, it's taken me a while to get round to reviewing this, the second performance (the first was the previous night) of a piece of music/theatre/multimedia/humour by J Simon van der Walt. Simon is one of my wife's colleagues in the Stevenson College music department, and TOOH is his Ph.D piece for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. (I reviewed an earlier premiere of his a couple of years ago.) When I were a lad, this kind of stuff was more common than it is today: we called them "happenings" back then. It's still a pretty good way to describe the undescribable. To quote Simon van der Walt:

What we have here is not so much the realisation of the vision of the composer, but rather, the outcome of an extended period of collaborative devising, experimentation, and revision. Look at it another way: the performers are not there to play the composer's music. The composer comes up with music for the performers to play with.

Six performers played with Simon's music on Friday, on piano, violin, cello, euphonium, saxophone and clarinet. they played, sang, moved about (on and off the stage), played into echo-delay units, sat under the piano, loaded piles of music treatises into and out of the same piano, and seemed to be having a good deal of fun, as were the audience. Audio-visual materials were projected behind the musicians.

Oh, sorry, what was it all about? Well, its inspiration seems it have been as a riposte to C Hubert H Parry (composer of Jerusalem among other things). In 1896 Parry published The Evolution of the Art of Music, which Simon describes as "an entertaining and well-informed romp throuigh the history of Western music up to the time of Wagner". However:

What is particularly worrying is that the central narrative which he proposes - of an 'evolution' from 'a kind of vague wail or howl' produced by 'savages' to the music of 'special races' who have 'arrived at an advanced state of intellectuality' - is still in essence what is believed and taught about classical music today.

So at least part of the nature of TOOH is a group of highly-trained classical musicians giving vent to a mix of complex musical structures and primitive wails and howls, often at the same time as if daring the audience to distinguish between them. And part of it, you see, isn't.

(J Simon van der Walt, 2008)

By general consent (from an admittedly highly musically-trained bunch of Stevenson College lecturers with whom I was sitting) the evening's highlight was one of the audio-visual segments, in which Simon demonstrated the rising cyclic chord structure of the piece. He did this using Sibelius, the industry standard music scoring software package (written by two brothers called Finn, hence the name)(you'll get there), and his demo not only included some amusing harmonic jokes such as his accidentally arriving at the Tristan chord by mistake, but many in-jokes for the Sibelius user, most of which probably passed me by. His examples did have an alarming propensity to shift the rests around in an arbitrary manner which is a 'feature' of Sibelius. They also had all kinds of mis-typings and corrections which came and went bewilderingly fast, so I speak for us all when I say: please put the Sibelius bit up on YouTube so we can all appreciate it better.

Anyway, here is a link to the blog which Simon has created for the piece.

And here is a splendid article by Michael Tumelty, music critic of the Glasgow Herald, about Simon's music. If that doesn't get you listening to the mp3 files on Simon's site, I don't know what will. (And it has the best picture of Simon that I've found online to date.)


At 20 May, 2008 07:31, Anonymous Phil said...

abc for "This bit..."? I started to transcribe it, but BarFly crashed (before I'd even got on to the naturals, so I don't think it was an artistic objection).

At 20 May, 2008 19:30, Blogger Rob said...

Sorry, Phil - what exactly are you after? The notes are (bars indicated by slashes):

C C Bflat/Aflat C/Bflat G/G/
Aflat Aflat G/F Aflst/G Aflat/Bflat/
C C Bflat/A D C/B A/G F/
Eflat Eflat Eflat Eflat/Eflat Eflat/D/D//

and the rhythm is
Rum tumty tumtum tum taaaa
Rum tumty tum tum tum tum taaaa
Rum tumty tum tumty tum tum tum tum
Tum tiddly tum tum taaaaaaaa

Does that help?

At 20 May, 2008 21:21, Anonymous Phil said...

abc notation - if you're not familiar with it, don't worry.

I make it:

w:This bit is working nicely
w:But on the other other hand
W:That's not to say it's the only way to
W:go, This isn't what we planned!

At 01 August, 2008 07:15, Blogger J. Simon van der Walt said...

Thanks for the review Rob, which, amazingly, I only just found! JS


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