Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wave Movements

Billboard poster advertising Mountains and Waves, Highbury, April 2015

We were at the Barbican on Sunday for the last concert in a weekend of new music entitled 'Mountains and Waves'.  The first half was a premiere of Wave Movements by Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire and Bryce Dessner of The National (see the clip embedded below).  This was 'composed directly to the actual rhythms of waves' and began with rising and falling sounds reminiscent of breakers arriving and departing.  It was pleasant enough but after a while I started hoping for more of the drama and beauty you hear in the great sea compositions (Debussy, Sibelius, Britten), or to hear something more surprising than swelling violins and the rumble of kettle drums.  The ending was rather surprising - Maddy Pryor, once of Steeleye Span, came on and sang what sounded like a sea-themed folk song (her voice was half drowned by the surging strings).  Having read that the performance would feature Hiroshi Sugimoto's Seascapes I had expected something quieter and more minimal.  Hung in a gallery setting, his images radiate silence and mystery, their skies empty, their grey seas stilled by the camera.  Perhaps we try too hard to project music on natural processes.  It was almost easier to sense 'wave movements' in the second part of the concert, listening to So Percussion perform Steve Reich's Drumming (1971)I could imagine something sounding like this inspired by the uneven phasing of waves striking a rocky coastline.  Drumming was composed under the influence of West African polyrhythms and Reich later recalled the impact of studying percussion in Accra with the Ghana Dance Ensemble: 'I was overwhelmed by their music, like being in front of a tidal wave.'

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