Category Archives: Concerts

Vladislav Delay featuring Lucio Capece at Union Chapel

Before I delve in, I have to say how delighted I was to return to such a beautiful and lovely sounding venue – particularly when the stage was flanked with two proper stacks of Funktion 1 sound. We’re lucky to have a chance-taking venue of this calibre in London, particularly when it has to share its time with religious duties. But to get to the point without further delay (geddit?), here’s my report on Vladislav Delay‘s visit to Union Chapel.

Sasu Ripatti and Lucio Capece performed about an hour’s worth of material from Tummaa. It was very live. Most of the music originated from an alto saxophone without a neck, with various mouthpieces attached to it and a bizarre assortment of bespoke mutes on the other end – to the extent that there was hardly ever any recognisable saxophone in the mix. When the mouthpiece wasn’t being used for blowing, Lucio Capece made odd clicks and other percussive noises with it. He also abused the mutes for all manner of unexpected output.

These were strange mutes. One looked like a hollowed-out telephoto lense attached to a paper towell roll. They were variously tapped with mallets, bowed and things were shoved in them. In one of the oddest perversions of instrumentation I’ve ever seen, he covered one of the mutes on a bass clarinet with a circular piece of paper, balanced a tiny ball in the middle and kept it levitated with constant exhalation. The ball rattled around atop the floating sheet next to a microphone, but it’s hard to know exactly what this sounded like relative to the final output. I imagine he must have been breathing circularly to pull this off. Indeed, a lot of the time he seemed to be producing constant sound, so that he was achieving something more like a bagpipe or a didgeridoo than a saxophone/clarinet.

Not that you could really hear what it sounded like, since all of this was sampled, effected and often completely removed from the mix in its unadulterated form. It was basically the source of almost every sound that came out of the Ripatti’s laptop, save some bizarre percussive pops/clicks that looked like they were coming from the naked skeleton of an autoharp and some other pad thing he was tapping on from time to time.

What was amazing about this was how much it resembled the sounds of the album, since nearly all of it seemed to be generated, modified, sampled, sequenced, arranged and dubbed in real time. It seemed like Ripatti had some kind of Kaos pad type of thing that he would tremolo things up with as they were recorded and he would actually play a lot of the percussive bits himself. In short, it’s hard to know who made what at which point. I’ve seen similar performances where a lot is left to chance and improvisation, which can be excellent, but I was unprepared to hear something so similar to Tummaa, achieved in such an imaginative, unusual and genuinely live way. It was captivating.

There did seem to be a couple of pre-recorded bits, but from what I could tell they were just the bits that would have come from a keyboard, and there was no keyboardist. This was about .1% of the total music played, and no slight on what they did. Oh, and on the last or next-to-last track Lucio Capece had some bizarre arcane wooden box with some vaguely accordian-esque properties, routed through his own tiny mixer. This was really cool too. I’d love to know what the front of the box looks like and what the hell it was.

I’m also just remembering that during the first track there were a lot of people walking back in to the chapel from the bar and some of their footsteps and a cough from the audience were captured by on-stage microphones and wound up in the mix. This was really intriguing to hear, as they were just building up the sounds that would form the beginning of the set and it felt like the acoustics of the building were becoming a part of the music itself.

My only complaint is that I couldn’t recognise Toive in what they played. It’s my favourite song from the album (one of my favourites of the year full-stop) and I was really looking forward to hearing that kick come in, as it has a huge impact in contrast to an album’s worth of ambience. It’s possible that it was played, but I didn’t spot it, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, this is a very minor complaint and we left very happy. It was a great performance that will sit nicely beside my other great memories of the Union Chapel.

Vladislav Delay stuff

I’ve been meaning to write up this album for a while now, as it’s not leaving my mp3 player any time soon, but I’ve just caught up on some reading and noticed that it’s already received an excellent treatment from Toby @ Bleep 43.

In case you missed my tweet the other day, there’s also a fantastic video for Toive up on Vimeo that is totally worth checking.

I’ll surely have more to report on Vladislav Delay later this month, following their gig @ Union Chapel on 12 November (tickets still seem to be available).

Steve Reich, Bang on a Can + London Sinfonietta @ RFH

Earlier this evening I returned to the Royal Festival Hall for the first time since its major refurbishment a couple of years ago. Steve Reich was performing in person, as he did when I last saw Music for 18 Musicians at the Barbican three years ago. At 73, I’m stunned that he can still manage to play such demanding stuff, but he seemed to have no problem on the piano and also performed Clapping Music to open things up.

The show properly got going with Mark Stewart‘s performance of Electric Counterpoint – one of my favourite Reich compositions. It’s a piece that Reich wrote for Pat Metheny in 1987. It’s performed by recording up to ten guitars and two electric bass parts, with the 11th part added live. The song is most notably sampled in The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” and it’s quite ear-opening to hear the work in its entirety if you’ve only heard the sample of it before. What really surprised me about seeing it live was the remarkable amounts of bass in the delayed swoops of guitar that return throughout. This also revealed how good the acoustic refurbishment has been. It sounded great.

Next up, Bang on a Can All Stars played Sextet, which I’ve not knowingly heard before. I’m very surprised it’s not on the 5-disc Phases box set, but I suppose that’s already pretty full of good stuff. I’m rectifying this presently by picking up the mp3 release (can’t go wrong for $6).

Sextet is quite melodically complex and he does some unconventional things like bowing vibraphone to produce slow attacks and longer sustains from percussive instruments (see 2:15 in the video below). Who’d have thunk of bowing a percussive instrument? It must take a great deal of skill. It’s crazy to watch and sounds great, particularly when one bowist starts a beat or two behind the other, adding depth and duration. They also bang mallets together, use two enormous bass drums and generally do stuff to make a six-person performance produce a much wider range of sounds than you’d typically get from six instruments. I can’t wait to hear this again and feel lucky to have heard it in such an excellent acoustic space.

It’s all been said before about Music for 18 Musicians. A “joy machine” is exactly right. It’s nearly overwhelming hearing and seeing it performed live. Unfortunately this time I got a bit distracted towards the end so it lost some of its impact, but the first half of it was an intense, immersive, moving experience like few others. It’s without question one of the best pieces of music ever written.

Rosas dancing to Steve Reich

Went to see Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas run and jump around to Steve Reich, performed by Ictus at Sadler’s Wells tonight.

Here’s the blurb:

Rosas presents an evening of dance devoted to Steve Reich’s music, featuring two existing pieces of dance and two new works. The first of two new works is Four Organs, set to Steve Reich’s controversial composition created in 1970 for four Hammond organs. The second, Eight Lines, is danced to Steve Reich’s piece of the same name for two pianos plus wood and strings.

Completing the programme is the classic Piano Phase, which sees Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s choreography stripped down to its bare bones, as the dancers’ deft movements mirror the tight phrases of Steve Reich’s music.

Drumming – Part 1 is another celebrated work in which Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s powerful, energetic choreography is once again partnered perfectly with Steve Reich’s definitive style as 13 dancers move to the beat of four live percussionists.

Steve Reich’s score will be brought bursting to life on stage by the acclaimed music group Ictus.

It started with Pendulum Music, which does what it says on the tin. Two swinging microphones fly across stage, feeding back as they pass over two speakers. They fall out of sync and you get Reich business. Set the tone nicely.

The highlight of the night was the first full piece, Marimba Phase, performed by two drummers, with two dancers behind them with their shadows projected on a large screen. There was also another set of lights at opposite angles that projected their shadows on the same location on the screen, and this joint image would pulsate strangely to their dancing to the phases as they fell out of sync. This was really beautiful, and the only part of the evening I’d struggle to criticize. There was none of that twee dancey, running and jumping around bollocks, just good fluid dancing to the music.

This was followed by Piano Phase, which is a brilliant piece of music, but the dancing was much more interpretive rubbish modern dance crap.

Eight Lines was probably the most disappointing part of the evening, as it is one of my favourite Reich compositions (it’s like a digest version of Music for 18 Musicians, for those who don’t know it), but it was just played from a recording, and it sounded like it. In fact, it sounded like there was an unusual recording of it or as though the sound engineer was purposefully accentuating the volume of the most newly introduced part, which felt like training wheels for Reich’s music. The dancing was well up its own ass as well.

Four Organs was performed live after this, but the all-male dancing to it was completely inappropriate for the piece. In fact, I’d struggle to understand how anyone could dance to it. This was pretty irritating.

After that we found out what the 100 funny looking triangular objects were at the front of the stage. It was György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes. One guess what happened.

They concluded with Drumming Pt. 1, which was the grandest of the dances, and probably the best other than what they did to Marimba Phase. I actually quite enjoyed it despite the odd karate kick thrown in, etc. I was a bit disappointed they only played Pt. 1 though.

After a roaring ovation (I reckon these dance people don’t get out much, or that they’ve never heard Reich before) the musicians came back on and did a short piece for five woodblocks. Most enjoyable, despite the dancers fucking about all around them during it.

In sum… I tried out modern dance. I reckon it’s shit. Steve Reich is wicked though, and it was great to see so much of his music performed live in one night. That Marimba Phase dance was pretty wicked too though, so maybe there’s some hope for this art form.

Oh, and the other thing that struck me is that Reich is a very strange choice for this. While his music is undoubtedly rhythmically compelling and challenging, watching the live performance of it has always seemed balletic enough for me.

Blatantly the best drummer alive today

John McEntire

No question. Just saw him tonight as part of The Sea & Cake (one of my favourite bands) on the Funktion 1 at Cargo. In no other traditional rock band have I heard a drummer play such a pivotal role in the way that he does, and often it’s with the utmost subtlety, that you’ll only pick out if you’re watching him perform it live (as often his drumming is a bit too low in the mix on recordings to really pick out all the detail without an intentional effort). Sometimes it’s just raw intensity when he’s given the focus. On other occasions the ways he fulfills his backing rhythm section role puts everyone else to shame, to the extent that I think 99% of drummers I hear are utterly rubbish, doing less than half what they should on any given track.

He has an individuated sense of timing that infects his bands unlike anyone else. His ability to eek out the tightest and closed-est hats at stupid speed hasn’t been approached by anyone that I’ve heard, and seems to be getting better as he ages. For instance they played The Argument tonight at what must’ve been about 180-200bpm. The original had an almost drum n’ bass feel to it, and was likely no more than 150bpm. He’d somehow removed almost all of the swing, but retained that slightest amount which imparted that funk of rigidity, a la Kraftwerk, but at a speed that no man should be able to introduce such subtle variation.

Something about operating within the confines of traditional rock n’ roll (as opposed to his work with Tortoise, as a producer, etc) has produced some of the most compelling rhythms I’ve heard since jazz was good. I wrote a small dissertation about this when I last saw them which maybe sums it up better.

I also love what he’s doing in Tortoise – even, and maybe especially the most recent album, but I don’t think it’s as surprising or important as what he doing within ‘normal’ rock n’ roll. I still have yet to hear The Man Who Never See’s a Pretty Girl That He Doesn’t Love Her a Little live, which would be the moment when McEntire’s head roles off and he continues to drum unabated, but I’ll look forward to that when they return this Autumn.

I know somebody’s gonna say what’s-his-fuck from Rush is better, or some speed metal fool, or some long-dead brilliant jazz dude (who won’t count because he’s dead) but you’re all super wrong in advance. John McEntire is single-handedly better than everything else on earth combined.

Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” and more at The Barbican

Made another trip back to the Barbican yesterday for the continuing celebration of Steve Reich’s 70th birthday. But first, here’s The Guardian’s brief, ** review of The Cave and another slightly more in depth one, both confirming my critique.

But Sunday was another day. We were total idiots and missed Konono 1 (again) when they were playing free that afternoon but we got there in time for the Bang on a Can All Stars, and they were good! The first song was some Michael Nyman thing that was OK. Nothing special, and perhaps a bit grating. The second was something that had been written specifically for them and it was wicked. Really mental frenetic cello and upright bass bowing. The third was a four-section song that covered loads of territory and really worked well for them. The last track was by Louis Andriesen, which was relentless psychotic cartoon music, vaguely reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s theme to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Gutted I missed Konono 1 earlier, but Split with Sims/Surgeon doing Frequency 7 the night before pre-empted.

The later Reich performance was totally brilliant. It opened with Cello Counterpoint, which had been written specifically for the performer. She had pre-recorded (and filmed) seven of eight parts that were broadcast on a large screen behind here, while she played the eighth part live. It’s fairly short but gripping.

The second part was the world premiere of Daniel Variations (quoted from the press thingy):

Reich puts a text from the Book of Daniel alongside words by the violinist and mandolin player Daniel Pearl, the journalist taken hostage and murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002.

There were twenty performers for this, with most of the same instruments as Music for Eighteen Musicians, except there were two more strings IIRC. And it was a very string-heavy piece, and heavier on the orchestration, lighter on the repetition. The singing in this was a bit too loud in the mix for my liking, and really I thought it could been nixed altogether. Hannah really liked the singing though, and I reckon this just would be divisive. Still quite good on the main. Would love to hear an instrumental version, but I’m doubtful that would happen.

Finally we got to Music for Eighteen Musicians, which was every bit as brilliant as you’d expect, except twice as good for being able to appreciate the visual element of it. It was particularly cool that Reich played with them (with his distinctive baseball cap and all), although I could have sworn I heard him hit a couple of wrong notes. Still… it was absolutely gorgeous. The liveness of it is stunning. They called it a ‘joy machine’, which sums it up perfectly. The concentration it must take to play that is pretty unfathomable to me. Totally humbling and enjoyable. Made up for The Cave about 5 times over.

Steve Reich’s “The Cave” at The Barbican

Saw The Cave last night. It’s basically a multimedia collaboration about the story of Abraham. Parts of the bible are typed out rhythmically and displayed multilingually on five monitors. The rhythmic typing gets joined by clapping and then orchestration, and occasional slightly-questionable operatic singing. Then the massive turd hit when it segued into sampled interviews of people editorialising on their perceptions of or relations to Abraham and his seed. This would have been fine, and even interesting if the interviews had been played unadulterated atop the often brilliant music, but the audio-video was cut up in the style of an 8 year old with his first two-second-memory Casio sampler ad naseum. It would seriously go on and on for ten minutes with the same sample bank of maybe 5 clips. FUCKING SPIT IT OUT! Utterly tedious worse than water torture nonsense. The only thing that was missing was the dog barks. To say that it’s dated poorly would be too generous.

The first part ended with five cameras roaming around a temple or mosque or something in circles for about ten minutes with very quiet ambience in the background. This amounted to the effect of watching 5 CCTV cameras with nothing going on to a lullaby. It put me to sleep (which was actually an improvement on the antecedent annoyance). We ran out at the first short break. Anya and Jason had the misfortune of staying through the next 40 minutes until the first interval, which they said got worse. They also said there was a fairly massive exodus then. Not surprised. What a fucking disappointment. Especially since the music and the idea was so good, except for the fucking sampler abuse. It very well may have been more acceptable in the early ’90s. I mean we listened to shit with all sorts of sampler abuse back then, but this was severely grating.

Still looking forward to Music for 18 Musicians and Konono 1 on Sunday though.

Accidental Power Cut

Here’s the original press release from the show I went to last night. Same place I saw Monade, The High Llamas and The Sea and Cake last year.


The hub and Accidental Records are proud to present:



Commencing at 8 O’clock

The night will feature the incomparable vocalist Ms Dani Siciliano and keyboard maestro Mr Phil Parnell playing the music of big band leader, producer and accordianist Mr Matthew Herbert, Mr Max de Wardener will play with his band on their incredible musical bowls and indescribable devices!!! Ms. Mara Carlyle, accompanied by her group of first-class musicians will perform songs and airs featured on her debut Long Player “The Lovely”, and Mr John Matthias singer songwriter extraordinaire.

To these esteemed artists we will add special guests who cannot be named on this piece of promotional material

Artists appearing will be playing without recourse to or assistance from electrical instruments, amplification or sound reinforcement to whit:


We believe that such a night as this, offering wholly acoustic interpretations of electronic music, is a debut presentation by any impresario or collection of performers anywhere in the world.

Tickets may be purchased using a computer connected to the World Wide Web for the sum of £10 sterling at

the hub and The Accidental Records Company assure you that this performance will be second to none!

Further information can be found at




Tickets £10 from


Aside from Dani Siciliano’s microphone problems, it all went great. Max de Wardener had these huge glass bell things that he and two other percussionists were playing, although he mostly played the bass. He also used the mamothing organ. The music really translated well from the album from what I can tell (although I’ve only heard it straight-through once). Really hipnotic, slightly Reich-y stuff.

Siciliano and Mara Carlyle both used mics – the only amplification all night. Originally it was supposed to be amplification-free, but when John Matthias sang without one you could see why they chose to birng them out (he was really hard to hear). Part of the problem with Siciliano’s mic was that it clearly wasn’t the sort you are meant to sing directly into (it was clipped to her shirt originally), and when she did sing directly into it you often got loud nose sounds and shit like that. Nothing horrendous, but a distraction. She gradually got more acustomed to it as her set went on though, and when she closed with some more upbeat tunes she was well on-form. What a voice! Sounded just like it does on the recordings. She played all Herbert songs that she originally sung on, except one from her album, if I count correctly.

John Matthias was good, but eventually started to sound like the soundtrack to I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!.

I mean, what was up with the dude who had the maracas in his pocket? Or was that not part of that show??? Poop. Can’t remember.

Mara Carlyle was fucking stunning. She opened up with her three ‘angels’ singing some hymnal shit while she played the saw. She followed that up with a good chunk of her album. Her voice is just amazing. It’s been so long since I’ve seen someone who sings across so much range that they actually use their body to get the notes out right. She kinda reminds me of Allison Moyet, but better. Totally enthralling. Really glad I went.