News Column

Review: Pop: New Music Biennial Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 16/40

July 11, 2014

Guy Dammann

"I've played a lot of gigs in my time," said Dave Okumu, of the Invisible, "but I've never stopped after two songs for a chat." Okumu, one of the two principal artists behind Stars Align, one of 20 new works at the inaugural New Music Biennial, was trying to respond to a question but lost his train of thought. His collaborator, the effervescent Shingai Shoniwa, looked equally non-plussed. But then she hollered to the sound guy, to play a clip of some Zimbabwean mbiri music - which had partly inspired her and Okumu's new Afrobeat anthem before they returned to centre stage to play the piece again.

The episode summed up the weekend: a good idea on paper. It was a great idea, for example, that each piece should be performed twice, with a short interview in between. But some artists can talk, others can't, and then there are those who just aren't in the mood.

Shoniwa and Okumu's ground-shaking but hardly groundbreaking piece did benefit from repetition. Samuel Bordoli's Grind, for skateboard-tapping choir and performed in the Hayward Gallery's car park, did not. Gwilym Simcock's On a Piece of Tapestry, featuring Michael Collins' floating clarinet, made for a beautiful oasis. Composer Matthew Herbert's 20 Pianos involved a little table, inlaid with a short piano keyboard, on which Sam Beste manipulated samples from pianos around the world, including the defunct instrument on which John Lennon composed Imagine and the beaten-up Joanna in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. The comparison of instruments and atmospheres was fascinating, but the mixing had an artificial flavour, highlighting the poverty of the musical ideas. Next time, the biennial might remember that there's more to new music than new.

Guy Dammann

Repeated at Glasgow Royal Concert Halls from 1-2 August.

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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