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Unknown Public UP15

(Full track details at http://www.unknownpublic.com/index_ie.htm)

For South-East Londoners (Musical Pointers is based in Blackheath) the arrival of this new-look edition of Unknown Public is especially timely and serendipitous.

There have been great happenings in the arts in this locality. Trinity College of Music arrived recently from the West End and have established themselves in the former Royal Naval College in Greenwich, incorporating now Blackheath Halls, so that they have an enviable variety of venues for their intensive concerts programmes.

LABAN in Deptford, one of Europe's leading institutions for contemporary dance, has just won the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture, and now this week there is announced a merger between LABAN and Trinity College of Music, creating a unique new force in UK performing arts. Following several artistic collaborations between Trinity and LABAN last year, more are underway this year.

Dancing/Listening gives us a window into trends in music for dance, with insightful articles by dance directors and collaborating composers. The emphasis is on musics of many kinds, but with 'classical' and live music for dance very much in the background.

For listening without dancing, I enjoyed comparatively few of the tracks, though admiring throughout the technical skills and recording quality of musical genres which sound good on hi-fi equipment. I liked how Ilan Green works up traditional Israeli song; Martin Simpson, doing everything himself, singing to his development of a traditional American banjo tune; Robin Rimbaud's evocative abstract multi-media soundscape which 'aims to capture the image of dance in sound', whatever that means - intriguing for five minutes. Steve McNicholas and Luke Creswell capture sounds underwater and on a New York rooftop - you begin to get the idea?

Too many of the pieces rely excessively upon repetition and with a bias to minimalism - Bryars unsufferably sweet and bland, Nyman relentless, Penguin Cafe Orchestra's music based on 'the major triad, with changes resulting from simple numerical juxtapositions' - boring to my ears even in UP's short single tracks!

Some of the composers emphasise rhythmic pulse; many choreographers prefer to have the sound completely independent of the free dance they devise. For regular readers of Musical Pointers it may be easier to connect with Jocelyn Pook's more complex, multi-layered Katak rhythms for Shobana Jeyasingh, and equally enjoyable was Sidestepper's combination of 'Latin and London underground rhythms, elaborating basic 3:2 & 2:3 beats'. Robert Wyatt's song "you say I over-simplify" did nothing for me - but N.B. it was danced by De Mey's company, in tandem with music by Jonathan Harvey, no less, in a show which underwhelmed us in Antwerp).

One problem in evaluating modern dance and its music is that there is little to find about it on the Web, so we are still feeling our way into a fascinating new world. Many of the modern dance/ballet companies ae stretched for money and so can't afford to maintain live orchestras; Rambert maintains an ensemble and gives live music for at least one item in its programmes, and has in the past provided great opportunities for composers to work with them. It was disappointing that when Lyon Opera Ballet brought Marin's delicious Cinderella (Arthaus DVD 100 234) to Sadlers Wells the music, excellent on DVD, was canned and not very well projected.

There is a real risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater because of the dominance of technology. On those occasions when music and dance counterpoint each other as equal partners, with choreography closely connected to detail of the musical score, the experience can be unsurpassably satisfying.

I do hope that aspect will flourish in the Laban/Trinity collaboration. The Henri Oguike Company at Laban showed the way by touring with different string quartets (as available) for their front Line, to Shostakovich's 9th String Quartet. The UK premiere in Blackheath of Prokofiev's Trapeze, a hitherto unknown ballet score from the '20s, completed recently at Goldsmiths in Deptford, offers an ideal opportunity for a Dancing/Listening scoop by Trinity musicians at Laban's Bonnie Bird Theatre?

UP's new style presentation (anticipated in their splendid CD/book Changing Platforms collaboration with Contemporary Music Network) is alluring, with interesting essays and stunning action photos, the images arranged as a 'flick-book', intended to be a conterpoint to the 'inevitably static nature of a CD/book'. We used to have those when children early in the previous century, as a sort of hand-held cinema - perhaps Unknown Public will go on to invent the DVD next? Whatever, their innovatory outlook is invariably refreshing and whilst I used to look forward to the arrival of their plain cardboard boxes, which would contain you know not what, the new style books will certainly claim equal pride of place on our shelves.

Unknown Public UP16

Early memories of music, with contributions from Omar Sosa, Sally Beamish, Eric Longsworth, Dominy Clements, Joanna MacGregor / Django and Lulu Bates, David Jackson and many more

Another attractive compilation about childhood and by children. The artwork is pleasingly unpretentious; small children given disposable cameras to take pictures - freely associated with music, or of things they liked and felt important to them.

The tracks, wide ranging as ever caught in Unknown Public's net, have a loose sequence "from birth to death, anticipation to memory" (John L Walters).

Many of them are delightful and thought provoking, with perceptive comments and reminiscences by the composers. My favourite is You live and learn by Django Bates, with his daughter Lulu telling of the tribulations of maths in 'big school', to the accompaniment of Joanna MacGregor on a Cageian-prepared piano.

Lots to enjoy and ponder; an ideal family Chrismas present?


© Peter Grahame Woolf