I found out something interesting during Charles Hazlewood’s haphazard, ensemble production of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera: I can only stomach the word ‘rebooted’ when applied to music once a day. Hazlewood used it no less than five time to describe his troupe interpretations of Gay’s hits. He also repeatedly reminded the audience that this way ‘wet clay’ and the raucous re-imaginings we were being treated to had emerged from only four days rehearsal. Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to pay £20 for wet clay. I like my clay carefully moulded, baked for a good while, painted, glazed and mounted on a shelf.
We’re fans of breaking down old classics and presenting them anew. But adding ‘false relations‘ all over the place and turning up the volume at climatic moments does not exciting new music make.
The venue was phenomenal. I was offered bar service six times in the time it took me to pay and await my drink. Really top notch.
I was a student not that long ago. I did music and drama, and was exposed to the 3am conversations at a social when the sensible people had gone home and the conversations suddenly got more intense than the worse for wear minds could handle. It was usually at those moments that someone announced they were considering directing an update of the Crucible with the speeches made by George W. Bush played in between scenes, or a gay version of Animal Farm, featuring full frontal nudity and set to the wartime soundtrack of Vera Lynn. So when watching this ‘updating’ of the Beggar’s opera I couldn’t help but remember those evenings, and the results that came of them 2 months down the line.
My major issue was that it felt like the thought process of putting on this event started in the middle, and didn’t really explore the concept and the reason behind it, or focus much on what the execution would look like. Much like a well meaning student production, I found it so difficult to
Hendrix, country, and my unemployed neighbours at 1am most Thursday nights. In between these songs, Hazlewood would try and explain the story, the setting, the styles, the notes. It was a hard sell. He was bringing his many ideas to the audience and hoping someone would commission him. There were photos of people on a night out, unconscious, drunk, throwing up, and men in dresses. It was shouting ‘Hey, this is what the working class are like. They’re basically the “beggars” of today…”
We’ve been told that there are some exciting developments with this project. I hope it does develop. I hope it develops with someone who is able to reign the musicians in. Someone who is able to say ‘stick with this idea, but drop the twenty others you’ve thrown in’
I promised Alasdair that this review would actually be about the music. Not me. I intend to keep that promise, so here we go: It was a crisp Autumnal day when I rose from my slumbers. I stretched, scratched and showered with a blissful languor before heaping little black piles of coffee into the machine and watching as the first blobs hung then fell into the pot like inky raindrops. As I watched the brewer steam, splutters and spew I couldn’t help but think of my childhood, iced with snow and tainted with sadness… Then I drank the coffee, left the house and went to see a gig.
Actually it wasn’t a gig, it was a laser, haze and cello spectacular. But more on that later. The plucky Scot and I had been invited by GetJazzical favourite Peter Gregson to King’s Place in Norwth Landon to see him and friends play as part of a series called ‘Faster than sound‘. This was something of a landmark concert for us as:
The last time we recorded a show was when we played Gregson and I had wistfully mused that we may one day drink a G & T with him at The Hospital Club. Well, shortly after that we
did and, in the manner of Chris Evans, Orson Wells and Boyzone, we peaked and let ourselves slide into a mire of Japanese beer, tattooed waitresses and Jude Law. Have you seen Entourage? Well it’s been a lot like that but with classically trained musicians.
This was the first time we’d actually seen Peter Gregson play. I know. Top quality journalists, right? In our defense we’d totally heard his records and stuff it’s just we’d seen him holding a beer more often than a cello. Whatever, don’t judge us!
When we met Peter for an informal chat after an extended soundcheck, he told us there was enough technology in the hall to cure all disease, but instead they’d chosen to use it to power a ‘hyper bow’ which enabled a sensual string experience of previously unimaginable aural awesomeness. The interview was epic – he dropped gold like a fleeing robber trying to ditch the evidence, but you’ll have to listen the exclusive GetJazzical interview to hear it all!
But I can say we were promised lasers, lights and fake smoke from a man who’d rigged the stage for Jay Z, U2 and the X Factor. Alasdair was staring hungrily at Peter by this point with what I imagined to be desire, but what turned out was actually just hunger, so we left Peter to be alone with his tea and went to Nando’s.
When.. sorry *where* Peter was playing
Chickens later we returned to the undulating glass and stone pebble which is King’s Place and descended into Hall. One. Hall One. Feeling like a Chilean miner as I stared up at sea level I tried to recall what Peter had told me about the concert: It was part of Tod Machover‘s pioneering work at the MIT media lab into hyperinstruments and the application of technology onto music, sort of Spotify meets Stradivarius. With the aid of “a computer under my chair!” Gregson would control not only computer generated accompanying chords but also the the visual effects (with which body part I did not dare to guess).
The usual suspects made up the audience – geeks, old dears and hip young podcasters. The first half was… technically interesting. All the pieces followed roughly the same format: A chap who looked like he’d be more at home inventing Facebook clambered on stage with a doppelganger in tow (no chicks but loads of ponytails if you know what I mean). One would sit in front of a laptop and the other would pick up an instrument. Now I’ll preface what I’m about to write by admitting that I’m a boring traditionalist who likes melody, rhythm and consonance. With that in mind:
It was daring and undoubtably technically brilliant – I heard instruments like the midi drums,
piano and cello making sounds that I had never heard before; first a footstep, then a crash, then a bass throb all from playing with tempo and pitch. It was pretty remarkable but I’m not going to pop on headphone and drift away to it anytime soon.
Confused, wary and a little drunk we took seats (not sure if they were ours by this stage) for the second half and waited. The space was in darkness now and a cello lay in the middle of the stage surrounded by a dozen or so black poles making it look like the instrument was imprisoned. Peter was not lit as he took the stage and the audience did not applaud – it actually felt disorienting and tense: A trip into the unknown.
When Peter began I was struck by a number of things: Firstly he is a fine live musician, the performance felt immersive, visceral and immediate – even if it did look in the gloaming like it was Brains from Thunderbirds playing. Secondly the sound produced was incredible in its depth and intensity, there was an ongoing argument between my ears which could hear chords octaves apart, tremble and bass along with erie reverberating pizzicato over the top and my eyes which could see a dude and his cello. It was all very impressive, but that was before Gregson cued up the visuals. Da wow. LEDs lit up and danced up and down the poles in etherial sync – one minute they would glow orange lighting up the stage and then extinguish before floating around like lanterns caught in the wind. The effect was marvelous and augmented the piece with sublime understatement.
the concert was designed to be a showcase of what can be done and to highlight the possibilities inherent in Machover’s Hyperinstrument project. After all, this is the lab that invented the technology behind Guitar Hero. I can’t wait to see what they do next. If you missed the gig, don’t worry you can watch it below:
Someone once had a bad experience meeting their hero. I’m not sure of the details of the encounter, but it resulted in heroes everywhere getting a bad rep. Maybe he blogged about his experience, and when you googled “meet your heroes” his post entitled “NEVER” was at the top of the results page. However it happened, the phrase has always rung in my ears when planning on seeing a musical hero of mine live.
So it was with trepidation that I (Alasdair) headed to Cadogan Hall last night to see Ludovico Einaudi, the oblivious father of GetJazzical. You may have noticed that we mention Einaudi in pretty much every podcast. We also refer to him in every post, and compare every artist we play to him, his style and his influence. If you ask Olly, he would tell you that he was in fact the first person ever to see Ludovico Einaudi live. And back in my school days, I would woo the ladies (or more accurately win a music competition) in my hipster cello/piano ensemble The Sunset Boys playing Due Tramonti.