Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Austria September 2008

just back from a few days spent in Vienna visiting my friend Frank, who's rather good at knowing where the best old coffee shops are - you know, the ones where they haven't been gutted & turned into faceless, bland spaces. The ones where the wallpaper has turned brown !

I took some recording equipment with me but actually hardly made any recordings. As i've mentioned elsewhere sometimes I just don't feel like turning on the recorder, even if I make the effort the results leave me cold. However I did make a few on the trip we took to a mountain trail some 1 & a half hours drive from Vienna. A small water mill offered up some nice sounds but the highlight (recording wise - the scenery was, of course, breathtaking) came when we reached the reservoir. The water level was such that the horn-like overspill channel was exposed & from it emerged a tonal, bell-like sound - a mixture of rushing water & the effects of the massive and focused reverb. Unfortunatly it wasn't possible to get really close to the opening but I still managed to get some nice recordings from a short distance away & am currently talking to the Austian water company responsible for this reservoir about returning & making more extensive recordings.

Whilst in Vienna itself me & Frank went to an opening for an exhibition featuring artists from the UK - it was, probably, the worst i'd been to in a long time. The work was badly concieved, badly chosen (2 works being almost identical) & displayed / installed with a heavy hand to say the least. Each to his own of course but....So, me & Frank sat in the car afterwards feeling somewhat at a loss when suddenly a girl who had been standing at a nearby bus stop calmly walked up to the side of our car, turned round, adopted a starting position & then ran as fast as she could back towards the bus stop & her waiting friends - all laughing of course. It took us a few seconds to realise that she had been testing herself against the street corner speed camera ! (she reached 7km). Now that was the best peice of art i'd seen in Vienna !!!! & it made that evening worthwhile after all.

Unfortunatly, music wise, I had a not so enjoyable experience when we attended a concert at Alte Schmiede:
Sigrid Trummer (piano) performed works by Katharina Klement (reell leer, 2004), Oskar Aichinger (Ouverture ouverte, 1995), Bernhard Lang (Differenz/Wiederholung 12 Cellular Automata, 2003 & Michael Amann (Indian summer, 1999).

The room acoustics made the piano sound rather dry for one thing. The pieces themselves were, perhaps, ok - some rather clumsy and full of the usual 'serious contemporary music' tricks of the trade. The works by Lang, Aichinger & Amann had some good moments but I have to say that the pianist was really not the best person for the job here. I understand that she is more associated with work from the 19th century but there was something in her approach to these pieces that raised serious concerns for me. For a start she played as if she had no real knowledge of these pieces (made more worrying knowing that she had performed some of these works in the past so must have 'known' them for sometime), her eyes rarely leaving the scores. I am of the opinion that music needs performers who have an instinctive connection to the work for it to be performed at its best, but in respectful hands should still offer up something of its intent. I felt that wasn't the case here at all. Sigrid wore shoes that made sound whenever she used the pedals for example. Her transition from playing the keyboard to the sections in Klement's piece that required her to play the inside of the piano was noisy and clumsy, breaking any journey that the piece was making. Her choice of pieces showed a real lack of ability to know how contemporary works can work best together - it felt as if she had given no thought to the overall shape of the evening. She left barely a second of silence after each work before gesturing for applause &, well, to put it bluntly, she made it impossible for these works to be appreciated. Oddly, three of the composers were at the performance & seemed pleased so perhaps I missed the point, though this only made me wonder how they would react if these works were performed by one of the few pianists able to approach such work with a more sensative focus. Perhaps Sigrid's rather cold, stiff style of playing appealed to them, but for this listener, as you can tell, it made me rather annoyed. The concert was free but I still felt like asking for my money back ! (nb: this paragraph is part of my grumpy old man therapy !)

So, on my way to the airport to fly back to the UK & with only perhaps 20 minutes of recordings made I had some time to spare before catching the U. I sat on the banks of the Danube, put my binaural mics inside an MP3 pouch & recorded for 28 minutes the sounds of the river itself, the nearby U bridge, passing swans & the wind blowing the nearby trees. As often the case, this random & quite casual pressing of the record button resulted in a really pleasingly simple recording (to me at least).

all in all my trip to Austria & the experiences mentioned above resulted in a reminder of the importance of sensativity & simplicity - and not getting caught up in the negative elements of ones creative urges - leaving the recorder in your bag is often just as valuable as taking it out !

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