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festival of electronics in performance
Artistic Director Dominic Murcott, Head of Composition Trinity College of Music

TCM Contemporary Music Group/Gregory Rose

Azguime Derrière Son Double
SinclairThe Fly
Musgrave Narcissus
Aphex Twin

Elysian Quartet and TCM String Ensemble/Nick Pendelbury

Montague String Quartet No. 1
Reich Triple String Quartet
Murcott Installation for String Quartet

Trinity College of Music, Greenwich 23 January 2007

To launch their enterprising electroacoustic festival, Trinity College of Music held its first ever concert of this type. It attracted a large, predominantly young audience and sounded magnificent in the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, with the winter sun streaming in to enhance the visual interest.

Thea Musgrave's (Adam Cadman, clarinet) had tape delay echo effects to represent Narcissus's reflection. Miguel Azguime has an appropriately sophisticated website. Derrière Son Double was a rich, complex and compelling work for instrumental ensemble and electronics, with acoustic instruments serving as models for the electronic parts and vice versa, both situations alternating. Cameron Sinclair's The Fly depicts 'transformation of man into fly' with sandpaper, key clicks and digital delay, and virtuoso performance by Yuva Ceder (oboe) and Nadir Sidali (percussion); this the most immediately winning of the works, followed by an endearing acoustic transcription of an Aphex Twin piece 'pushing the ensemble in directions that would not have been taken otherwise'. All nicely varied, and it left a very mixed audience intrigued and satisfied.

By the evening, there was talk of WiredUp becoming an annual event. The sold out strings showcase had us moving between the lovely Peacock Room at Trinity and an interactive set-up in the Theatre Studio close by. The Elysian Quartet had marked their high credentials for me in Janacek, since when they have nailed their colours to the mast of technology in a big way, believing in 'the capacity of technology to expand the world of acoustic sound to be as limitless as the human brain'.

Stephen Montague
's quartet (1993) was musically dense, developing material by former colleagues who had died prematurely, with the interest shifting between the instrumental playing and its imaginative electronic treatments; release of a Signum recording is keenly anticipated. Steve Reich's Triple Quartet with twelve accomplished students (11 girls and a boy!) in the full to bursting Peacock Room was infinitely more exciting than on the over-dubbed Kronos CD.

Festival director Dominic Murcott's music for Installation for String Quartet was combined with a double-screen video of Andrew Morley's manic conducting, which later became duplicated and fragmented, achieving a hilarious and exciting multimedia creation. The whole evening, with free wine for everyone, added up to a heady entertainment.

TCM Symphony Orchestra/Simon Wright
Blackheath Halls 25 January
Marshall Fog Tropes
Gregson Metamorphoses
Holliger Pneuma

Stockhausen Trans for Orchestra & Electronics

The Wired Up festival culminated with this major event, like unto which Trinity College of Music and Blackheath Great Hall had never known anything comparable*. Again the concert hall, and indeed the whole building, was packed to bursting, with a palpable buzz of enthusiasm amongst a predominantly younger audience.

Ingram Marshall's tape piece with brass sextet overlay was, I was assured, truly evocative of being 'lost in the fog' at San Francisco, with lighting and a blue foggy atmosphere contributing effectively [pictured].

Edward Gregson's short showpiece in three sections was accessible and brilliant, with computer delay treatment of solo flute and clarinet.

Heinz Holliger's Pneuma pushed a large wind orchestra into the strangest of extended effects and vocalisations from "the hiss of breath to a full scream". The whole combined 'rhythmic accuracy and improvisational confidence' from the young players negotiating alternate traditional and graphic scoring, with a huge balloon anticipating the inevitable final bang.

After the interval, during which we were packed like sardines into the foyer, insufficiently spacious for such a crowd, we returned to confront a "wall of strings" in front of a murky scene on stage with violet-red lighting as specified by Stockhausen, making it hard to see the wind instruments up there.

This was the scene for what might have been the largest scale performance ever of Trans, a work controversial now as in 1971. The TCM Symphony Orchestra fielded more than double the 20 strings prescribed. Seated too near one loudspeaker, the crash of a recorded weaving loom which punctuated the music became oppressive and failed to "shoot through the sounding space from one side to the other" as intended. The composer's peculiar detailed instructions were minutely followed, with the conductor Nick Pendelbury behind a screen and a solo piccolo trumpeter 'emerging like a spirit above the string players, on an invisible platform to which an invisible ladder leads'.

No expense or trouble was spared in the recreation of this disturbing work which Stockhausen had originally conceived in a dream. Definitely an "event"; no booing as preserved on the CD of the premiere (Stockhausen Edition 19), but a thought-provoking work to conclude a concert which no-one present will ever forget.

Following the success of Lachenmann at RCM, and hard on the heels of the Gubaidulina disaster at the Barbican, TCM in Greenwich had unquestionably been the place to be this mid-week!

Congratulations all round, not least to the highly efficient stage management team and the designer of the admirable (free) programme book, its text as easy to read as the pages were a pleasure to see.

For full details of the festival programmes (nine presentations in seven venues) see http://www.tcm.ac.uk/wiredup

Peter Grahame Woolf

Alexa Woolf adds: "Trans" could be regarded as an important musical contribution to the burgeoning philosphical debates of the 1970s. Analysis of the intimate connections between culture and socio-economic life produced increasing awareness of the validatory function of art, including music.
Stockhausen made an explicit link between industrial production (symbolised through the power-loom) and musical production through large orchestras. Both depend on a skilled, disciplined workforce led from the front, from above.
All those strings players sawing away like automata (everyone out of step repeatedly pushed back in line !) created a visual and musical replication of industrial production.
Stockhausen shatters our comfortable illusions that music is somehow located in other worldly spheres and not implicated in the 'social', a notion which could be seen as debilitating and leading to much irrelevant musical production. With Trans he challenged us to see and hear musical performance as a socially significant event, empowering changes in direction relevant to present day seeing and doing.

TCMSO/Simon Wright photos: Colin Still/Optic Nerve

* But see also Stockhausen's Gruppen at Blackheath