The first concert formally attached to this project took place on Saturday 23 May 2015 at the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds. Grey Area – an Edinburgh-based ensemble specialising in semi-improvised and experimental musics – performed a programme of music by Hugh Davies, as well as a range of other pieces related to Davies’s practice as a performer and instrument-builder. Videos of the performance can be viewed by following the links at the bottom of this post.
- Stockhausen – Verbindung (Connection) from Aus den sieben Tagen
- Hugh Davies – Music for a Single Spring
- Christian Wolff – Edges
- Hugh Davies – Quintet
- Owen Green – Neither the Time nor the Energy
- Stockhausen – Intensität (Intensity) from Aus den sieben Tagen
The evening began with a pre-concert talk in which the pieces on the programme were introduced and explained, and – in the second part of the talk – discussed with two of the ensemble’s members. Set against the background of Davies’s work as Stockhausen’s assistant in the mid-1960s, Davies’s self-built instruments, and the interpretation of graphic and text-based scores, were central themes of the discussion.
A video recording of the pre-concert talk can be viewed by following the link at the bottom of this page.
Davies’s own Quintet is a piece in which the majority of sounds heard are produced via microphone feedback. Four performers hold microphones close to loudspeakers, one in each corner of the room. This causes acoustic feedback, which is controlled by a fifth performer, at the centre of the room, who also has a solo in the middle of the piece.
Davies’s Music for a Single Spring is a semi-improvised piece in which, as suggested by the title, all of the sounds are produced by a single metal spring, heavily amplified using magnetic pickups not unlike those found in an electric guitar. In this performance a stereo recording of the piece, originally performed by Davies himself, was diffused via six loudspeakers surrounding the audience.
Three of the pieces on the programme were pieces regularly performed by Davies’s own ensemble, Gentle Fire, in the 1960s and 70s. Stockhausen’s Verbindung and Intensität – both from a set of fifteen pieces entitled Aus den sieben Tagen – have text scores, rather like poems, which the players interpret. Wolff’s Edges, on the other hand, has a graphic score comprising a series of symbols, each with a particular musical meaning. Unlike a conventional musical score, however, the symbols in Wolff’s score are not to be interpreted as direct prescriptions of what should be played. Instead, they are supposed to represent the outer extremes of the musical material; in a sense, then, they give an indication of that which should not played, rather than what should. In the Stockhausen pieces, and in Wolff’s Edges, all of the players work simultaneously from the same score.
Owen Green’s piece Neither the Time nor the Energy was the only new piece on the programme. Played on an amplified cardboard box bowed with a double-bass bow, the piece puts one in mind of Hugh Davies’s many idiosyncratic self-built instruments, which also tended to be constructed from every-day objects and household nicknacks, amplified to reveal their latent musical possibilities.
Along with Green’s cardboard box (Green is a member of the ensemble) the other instruments used in the performance were violin (Emma Lloyd), laptop (Dave Murray-Rust), double bass (Armin Sturm) and modular synthesizer (Sean Williams). Music for a Single Spring was diffused by James Mooney.
Further information about the pieces, and how they relate to Hugh Davies’s work, can be found in the programme and in the pre-concert talk (links below).
The concert was well-received, with positive comments from both in-person and online viewers. (The concert and talk were streamed live online.) A post-concert survey revealed that many audience members had been fascinated by the relationship between improvised and scored music. One audience member commented: “I had never seen people playing to a score in the context of improvisation.” Green’s use of a cardboard box as a musical instrument also appears to have been a highlight. Another audience member remarked: “I’d never seen a cardboard box being used in a concert like that before. I especially liked it in the Stockhausen.” Almost 40% of audience members responding to the survey commented that this was not the kind of music that they would typically listen to. Gratifyingly, however, all of those audience members also said that they would consider attending a similar concert in the future. This suggests that the Hugh Davies Project might have a role to play in bringing experimental musics to a wider audience.
The next planned event is a weekend of concerts to be held on 17 and 18 October 2015 at University of Leeds. Updates will be forthcoming via this website.
- Concert programme (PDF): click here.
- Pre-concert talk (video): click here.
- Concert, part 1 (video): click here.
- Concert, part 2 (video): click here.
- Storify with some Tweets and pictures from the concert: click here.
- Previous post advertising the concert: click here.
Note: If you watch the concert/talk online (or indeed if you attended the event itself) you are invited to complete the brief audience survey, designed to assess the value of this research project to a wider public. Your response will be warmly appreciated. The survey can be accessed by clicking here.
Image credits: Mark Summers, Colin Bradburne, Tenley Martin