Posted on Nov 25th 2008 12:23 am
Pacing the room like a dragon scanning a dark cave for intruders, breathing heavily, following the sent of unfamiliar bodies, Oren Marshall’s opening piece of this performance at the Purcell Room, on the South Bank in London was made solely of breathing sounds propelled through the gigantic mouth of his tuba. Music was not the concern here; instead, it seemed as if Marshall’s purpose was to get up close and personal with his audience. Getting off the stage to walk slowly past the whole front row, then venturing up a few steps on each on the aisles, it felt as if Marshall and the audience were evaluating each other. Once back on stage, the sounds extracted from the tuba were processed through various delays to build the outlines of cyclical pieces and occasional rhythmic patterns. Twisted and bent out of shape, the sounds coming out of the instruments seemed to gain otherworldly features, sounding for a moment like a broken acid squelch or a little girl’s scream, until, at one point, the layers of noise had very little to do with the reality of the instrument. It is with his last piece thought that Marshall demonstrated the highest level of dexterity. Leaving once again the relative safety of the stage, he found himself playing a recurring theme with no pause or breathing point of sort, the only apparent sign of any human scale being the heavy nasal air intake punctuating the music. This time, Marshall went up the whole set of steps on one side of the auditorium, fought his way through a row of seats and came back down on the other side, again coming so close to a handful of audience members that they almost ended up swallowed by the beast. His last outburst took place as he disappeared behind the curtain at the back of the stage, bringing this surprising performance to a close with a truly humoristic twist.
A few minutes later, Murcof took to the stage, accompanied by Spanish ensemble BCN216, which consists, for this tour, of a viola, a cello and a trombone, and visual artist Flicker. Coinciding with the release of Murcof’s The Versailles Sessions, focusing on his compositions for last year’s edition of Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes at the chateau de Versailles, near Paris, this UK tour is actually an opportunity for Fernando Corona to road-test some of the music that is set to become part of his next album, Océano, pencilled for next year, in one form or another. This evening’s performance was articulated around four new and very diverse compositions. Following the towering sonic assemblage of Cosmos and, to a lesser extent, Versailles, Corona returned to a much more human scale here. The micro beats, built out of statics and clicks, made a notable return to the fore, especially on the first and fourth piece, but are much more interwoven with the instrumental textures, both treated and purely acoustic. In fact, the beat came in quite late on the first composition, and was subjected to a couple of false start, building momentum to drop out again, before finally rising for a substantial moment.
The second piece presented denoted a much more abstract and destructured context, as the three classical musicians played seemingly disconnected notes while Corona added even more disconcerting layers underneath. The only manifestation of Corona’s epic orchestral drones was to be found on the third piece, which seemed to gain in definition by the melodies played by BCN216, and while it never quite reached the dizzy heights of Cosmos I or II, it still benefited greatly of Coronas’s command of extremely dense and layered soundscapes. The last piece of the night, Louis XIV’s Demons, taken from the Versailles album, was given a different relief to the recorded version, with BCN216 taking on the string parts and smoothening them greatly while Corona was processing the harpsichord sections, accentuating the intense hue of the original by saturating the sound source, as to compensate for the action of the ensemble on the string section.
Meanwhile, Flicker jumped from one setting to the next, creating rather tasteful sceneries in the backdrop by playing on lights, in turn synchronising the music with what could have been flour seeping from a thieve, but projected on a circular screen, looked like snow storms caught by an early twentieth century moving image camera. At another point, he created beautiful light and shade pattern on screen by filming a plant set on a revolving tray, or, introducing some coloured elements, by interacting with a gas flame.
For this first major London performance with a orchestral formation, Fernando Corona certainly stepped up to the challenge by creating a set that was at once in keeping with his previous work and throwing pointers ahead to investigate the possibility of his ever expanding format. Whether any of the pieces performed that night will end in any recognisable shape or form on the next Murcof album is to be seen, but it is undoubtedly a platform for Corona to work from. He is, on this tour, probably more harvesting sounds than dispensing them.
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