As much as I hate to say it in such a public forum, but the part of the old library complex I miss the most is Paradise Circus. I used to spend a lot of time in the Wetherspoons in there, not to mention regularly making myself ill from daily eat4less lunches.
It seems this group of Conservatoire and ex-Conservatoire composers feel the same way; they named their new concert series after it (though perhaps it’s because Post-Adrian Boult Hall doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily).
The first half was totally comprised of one piece – ‘end’ by Zach Dawson. An extended (~40mins) work for synth organ (Will Weir), saxophone (Sam Taylor) and sampler (Zach Dawson); I can’t say this piece did much for me.
A little more time spent soundchecking this could have proved useful, as certain organ notes went straight through my head. A piece of music generally shouldn’t cause physical discomfort, and I don’t think I was the only one shielding their ears from these segments.
Constructed from a series of repeating section, generally in the same order, and with little variation within them, I found myself more interested in counting the beats rest in one section that appeared to be a series of fake out endings than in the material itself.
On the other hand, the final section was actually pretty exciting as climaxes go, with a higher level of complexity than the rest of the piece. It’s just a pity that the audience were so distrustful of the ending they didn’t clap for a good while. The piece that cried wolf.
Act 2 was ‘Neck Riddles’, a piece by Paul Zaba scored for viola (Daniel Galbreath), trumpet (Zach Dawson), accordion (Paul Zaba) and cello (Ursula Miethe). Full of colour and wit, it’s nice to hear counterpoint and motif led music still being practised with this degree of skill.
The ensemble, led by Galbreath, were on point, blending and contrasting with one another nicely.
The last piece of the night was a little different than the other two, in that there were no musical instruments involved. ‘Vox Pop’ by London-based Louis d’Heurdieres had four performers (Andy Ingamells, James Oldham, Sam Taylor and Maya Verlaak) sat on a sofa, each with EarPods in. The piece began with the each of the performers describing in turn what they were listening to.
“Low strings, now brass – so much brass”
“Rising pattern in the strings becoming its own motif”
It was really quite an effective way of evoking the sort of emotional response you might get from a stirring orchestral performance, without actually hearing one.
As the piece progressed, the performers reacted to a series of prompts in their headphones (perhaps in the form of interview questions, given the title?) each had their own individual style and flair, but all had an equal and supreme level of commitment. By the end, Ingamells was slumped in his chair, Taylor had his head bowed, Oldham was barely opening his mouth and Verlaak was bouncing in her seat manically.
Engaging, and towards the end, funny; this was an enjoyable performance.
The long rectangular shape of Centrala lent itself happily to a traditional concert set up, with performers sat at one end in front of rows of seats. Unhappily, as a result of this (as well as of the under-lighting illuminating the music stands rather than the performers faces), it was quite difficult to see from my vantage point at the back.
I suspect they’ve already thought in detail about this, but it would be nice to see the organisers try something more adventurous with the room layout next time – perhaps having audience and performers standing, or performing across the room rather than along it. There’s no point leaving the concert hall if you’re just going to bring it with you.
Overall though, Post-Paradise was a success; run smoothly, with a well put-together programme and a welcoming atmosphere. The plan (so I’m told) is to make this a regular monthly evening, so keep your eyes peeled for the next installment.
Most of my friends and colleagues know I’ll be at least ten minutes behind, having studied the Ed King Ticking Clock Theory of Linear Time. But tonight I’m meeting Sam James – a local composer who is helping me cover Birmingham’s contemporary music scene – and Sam won’t know running late is kind of ‘my thing’. I hope he doesn’t perceive me as rude, the next stop after arrogance and two before pretension; I would understand if he did.
The three musicians stand/sit in a line at the far end of the room, in front of a packed theatre style audience – mostly made up of Conservatoire attendees or alumni, and healthy in numbers. We tip toe into position along the back wall, as other later latecomers find space on the floor; each chair is already taken.
Dawson’s ensemble face the crowd directly, static and showing little emotion; it feels a touch awkward. By the time we arrive ‘end’ has already begun, so there may be pieces of the puzzle missed – but fairly quickly I feel the repetition and tide-like layers become rather tired and cyclical. Timed pauses separate each section; heavy, deep and elongated single organ notes acting as segue in the absence of silence.
Maybe the context was made more clear at the start, and my lack of time keeping has spanked us accordingly, but I can’t help but feel I’m watching an unnecessary jigsaw being put back together. And if you have to wait for your audience to awkwardly realise you’ve finished, perhaps that’s a swing and a miss too.
(I’m not a musician. I have not studied music. I have ears, a heart, and the ability to write, but not technically. And whilst I become more and more embroiled with the contemporary composers I discover, from Nils Frahm to Poppy Ackroyd, I need knowledge by my side if I am to tackle this editorially. This is where Sam James comes in.)
Zach Dawson remains on stage for the second presentation – a live rendition of ‘Neck Riddles’ from accordionist and composer, Paul Zaba. The first track on his Soundcloud page, I skipped through ‘Neck Riddles’ during my research – finding little in it to hold my interest against Zaba’s more pertinent pieces. But live, this illustrative instrumental has much more to offer.
Dawson and Zaba lead the charge with staccato from their muted trumpet and accordion, respectively. It’s rich and punchy, underpinned by the sharp strings from the ensemble’s viola and cello. Glorious and immediate; I am surprised by the live dynamic that soon has me hooked.
The piece hot foots its way through a sustained and controlled build – nervous and resolute, like approaching big game – before the accordion steps up, with Dawson’s trumpet given a halo like sheen from its neighbouring viola. Simple in construction, without ostentatious flair or complexity, ‘Neck Riddles’ is beautifully pictorial; a high pitched game of cat and mouse, I am jumping form taxi cab to taxi cab, following Audrey Hepburn and a diamond around the autumn streets of New York. Wonderful stuff.
Following a short interval, a craft beer, and a mingle through the cigarette friendly crowd, we have tonight’s final act – a performance piece from Louis D’Heudieres, the only non Birmingham based (or Conservatoire bred) composer on the bill. D’Heudieres is so unashamedly eclectic I stopped trying to describe him in the Post-Paradise BPREVIEW, with theatre, interpretation and cross media presentations all playing large parts in his portfolio.
We have been promised a new piece at Post-Paradise tonight, and as four familiar faces sit next to each other on a sofa – facing towards and through the audience – it appears to be an evolution of D’Heudieres’ ‘Laughter Studies’.
In a nutshell, each performer is isolated from the audience – listening to an audio track through individual headphones – whilst the composer sends instructions to each member of the human ensemble on how to manifest what they are hearing. The audience doesn’t know what the audio track is, but can only decipher the material from the interpretations presented to them – conducted and arranged by D’Heudieres’ earphone relayed instructions. As a concept, it’s as adventurous as it is avant garde, and sounds more complicated than it looks when presented. And it works, with absurdly solid commitment from the four protagonists on the sofa; within minutes we are craning our necks and laughing.
SCREAM. Maya walks through simple descriptions, whilst James brings a more technical edge to the narrative floor. Sam takes a more colloquial approach as Andy’s voice drops from loud to soft. They talk in order, they talk simultaneously. They reverse the order as Andy slumps into his seat. Annunciation turn to mumbles; Maya and Sam turn to face each other in a sycophantic grin. Maya starts to ride a horse (or bounce for the sake of it) as Andy reels through fairy tale icons.
I have no idea what the music is, or if indeed they are all listening to music, but the presentation is superb. And with my hands comfortably tied I can acquiesce to the sheer joy of the performance.
(I am later challenged to guess, from one of the performers and a man with a much wider knowledge of classical material. Instinctively I think of Peer Gynt – the line ‘the oboe takes over’ alongside mountains and dwarves pushing Grieg’s incidental into the forefront of my mind – but was subsequently told Wagner. Not my wheelhouse.)
All in all tonight has been rousing and a success; Post-Paradise is a welcome celebration of contemporary compositions, and at five quid a pop it is a cheap as it is cheerful. Centrala, the Minerva Works based café & gallery, is an intimate, warm and welcoming venue with a good sound and lots of scope. A little back end of beyond, but only a 10 min walk from either The Custard factory or Millennium Point.
My only problem was with context, or the lack thereof. It’s great to be challenged, and the unexplained is just another reason to explore, but with more understanding of each piece tonight I could have been more engaged. The room was full of those that know and those that are learning, but if you’re going to invite the general public to watch your art in action, some helpful introductions would be just that.
And whilst my tardiness is ‘just me’ and my somewhat frantic approach to finding my shoes (that and the Bermuda Triangle that resides in my living room) I can appreciate the new faces I met tonight might have their own perception. Mercifully they still want to keep me company, and for the next Post-Paradise, which I look forward to immensely, I will be on time. It’s only polite after all, and who wants to dance alone these days anyway.
For more on Zach Dawson, visit www.soundcloud.com/zach-james-dawson
For more on Paul Zaba, visit www.soundcloud.com/paul-zaba
For more on Louis D’Heudieres, visit www.louisdheudieres.com
Follow Post Paradise @PostParadiseMus
For more from Centrala, visit www.centrala-space.org.uk