Review: O YAMA O at Aller Park Studios, Dartington

O Yama O is a genre-less music project created by Keiko Yamamoto, artist and cofounder of Cafe Oto in London, and Rie Nakajima, a Japanese installation and performance artist, who had her first major solo exhibition at IKON Gallery in Birmingham last year. I went along to experience it last night at Aller Park Studios, a new arts project on the Dartington estate…


On the floor as the crowd gathered in the studio lay about 50 everyday objects, pebbles bits of wood, a small pan, spoons, cooking utensils, batteries, sea shells. Everyone stood or sat around the edge of the room, evening light streaming in through the grid of the floor-to-ceiling window, and waited for the performance to start. Rie and Keko came in slowly clutching jars of varying sizes each covered with a turquoise square of silicon, and wrapped around the top by an elastic band to create a sort of drum. They started by plucking and twanging the silicon at short intervals.

There was a sort of rhythm, which grew out of the call and response between the two artists. Keiko would beat a stressed beat and Rie would respond in kind, either with the silicon stretch over the jar, or with an improvised wood block, as Keiko switched to a strong beat with a rubber tube, and the sound began to build. Keiko started to sing simple but haunting melodies repeatedly and as her voice broke from note to note Rie turned on an apparently ad hoc basis to each of the objects on the floor, slowly yet with precision, eliciting sounds from each, finding ways to make that sound sustain, spinning marbles in ceramic bowls, dropping metal spoons to gyrate like noisy spinning tops, building up layer upon layer of sound below Keiko.

One of the highlights of this process was watching Rie set off little objects that had been modified with small battery powered motors which, when turned on, made their objects spin on the floor at different speeds and consequently different pitches. Further inanimate objects were then balanced against the motorised ones to bring out sounds through resistance, creating a light soundscape of gently absorbing, tinkling sounds.

What brought the whole piece together was the balance of the situation – on the one hand Keiko prowling and stealing around the perimeter of the circle, singing and playing recorder, becoming ever more absorbed in the performance, seeming almost possessed at times by the sonority of her voice, which drew in part from Japanese folk music and part from her own sort of automatic mode of expression, everyday words, onomatopoeic words, taking her into a kind of trance – on the other hand Rie in the centre with quick efficient movements standing then stooping to tend to her various instrument-objects on the floor, more like a gardener, or a scientist, bringing out these beautiful percussive sounds, metal on metal, shell on metal, wood against something else. It made me think of a deconstructed solar system, where the sun has crumbled into multiple glowing pieces, and where there is only one planet, in haphazard, a-linear orbit. The two found a very special balance, which made absolute sense to us, even in its ad hocness and its spontaneous improvised simplicity.

The piece ended as it began, with the sound of the silicon pulled tight cross glass jars and plucked. To say the concept and delivery of the whole thing was “down to earth” wouldn’t be quite accurate; but it was close to this. The performance had a truth to it that everyone in the room could recognise, the pleasure that comes from finding beautiful sounds where you’d least expect them, and the desire to make them, again and again and again.



Review: Secluded Bronte live at Dartington’s Space studios

Anticipation built as the trio – Richard Thomas, Jonathan Bohman, Adam Bohman – sat talking each other through the programme on the steps outside the Space studios at Dartington. ‘Just remind me of the sound world of that one,’ said Richard, as if trying to recall the aroma and taste of a fine, rare wine. A little later, one of the brothers grabbed two small rocks from beneath a nearby bush, banged them against each other to try them for sound, looked approvingly at his bandmates, and took them in with him to the studio.


When we were eventually allowed in for the start of the performance the first thing I noticed was the way the tables were laden with a menagerie of inanimate objects, oddly shaped wine glasses, metal wires, plastic tubes and an assortment of other items from household, workplace and nature. It didn’t seem possible that all of these could be used in the usual time frame one would expect of a gig set and despite the curiosity which this sight lent me, I did begin to wonder how we were ever going to get through this – audience and performers alike.


But we did. And it became clear that we would as soon as Secluded Bronte took to the stage with their distinct blend of bizarre assurance and eclecticism. After a short opening salvo of what could only be described as sounds of the hunt (hounds barking and horns) they settled into the performance. We were thrown into a kind of sitcom routine but in a made up language. They went on for some time then suddenly switched to English, talking about how they had got down to Dartington from London, adapting radically different personas, one had come by train, one had walked, the other complained about his chauffeur. It was funny and their excellent comic timing would set the tone. They were fearless, willing to push the limit what was acceptable under the banner of ‘performance’ further than anyone I’ve seen, and in doing so creating a live space that was intensely funny but also had a raw power and energy.


I couldn’t help imagining it was like we were in Cabaret Voltaire, and that the mad, ad hoc, unpredictable Dadaist spirit had been translated and updated for a new century. A highlight was cyclops at end of ‘Side 1’ which had a quite distinct musical and dramatic energy, in which a strange spluttering backing track of half music, half noise was improvised over by the trio with a raft of unique noises. Visually too this composition was striking; the two widemen could be seen standing, wrestling balloons into black plastic tubes and manipulating their microphones, while the other sat between them, beavering away with a magpie-like quest for new and intriguing sound after new and intriguing sound – not necessarily pleasant, but executed with panache and commitment on his little stringed instrument, which took a battering from the numerous objects he threw at it.


On side 2 after a short break, the three men seemed to move up a notch, gelling together even more than before. All was carried off in their deadpan style, – ‘What?’ ‘Yes’ – in such a way that you couldn’t tell exactly what was a joke and what was serious, whether there were mistakes or pretend mistakes. Were they conning us? Did they feel sorry for us in the audience? Were they moving off into the blue beyond of sound production? At the same time they exuded such a strange, otherworldly confidence, and were so certain of themselves, unafraid to ‘start again, start again’ to get the greatest impact out of the hilarious uroboros song, that it was impossible to doubt them. Was it an accident? Did they know exactly what they were doing? In the end I realised that these questions didn’t matter. Whether or not they meant it, they were creating one of the most unusual and original soundscapes I’d heard for a long time, and a certain wildness, emerged from out of the confusion of sound objects, juxtaposed words, and electronic sampling, which made me sit up, feel fear, excitement, exhilaration and even a childlike joy.

This event was organised by Soundart Radio and took place in Studio 3 of Space, Dartington, on the evening of Friday, 13th July 2018.


Review: Steve Buckley Trio in University of Plymouth Music Week 2018

This gig might have fallen into a few traps in the faintly sterile space of the lecture room-cum-performance space of the University of Plymouth’s Sherwell Centre, but for a free gig in straightened times one keeps an open mind. And I’m glad I did because great performances on saxophone, bass and drums took us on an eclectic, time-travel adventure through jazz. Steve Buckley opened the gig by confessing or rather asserting that the three had never played together before. This, he said, is exactly what jazz is about, putting forward a definition that it’s not the music, but the spirit in which that music is approached that makes something jazz, the spirit of playing around with what already exists and finding common ground amid differences.


You might say it is better not to try to define what jazz is before you start playing, and let the playing speak for itself… but actually Steve led his trio, who began by feeling their way somewhat, into a very pleasant hour of music. They covered an ambitious programme of tunes from Coltraine to Ellington to Monk, which did match up to what he said. From the off Steve made his alto sax pick up a rich, lyrical tone, with beautiful embellishments to Crescent, his melody lines running around, up and over the expected in a continuously inventive way, switching back and forth between major and minor with effortlessness.

But it was not, I felt, until they got to about their third number that the trio really started to gel – understandably, and this process was fascinating in itself to watch – as they wallopped into a rendition of Jitterbug Waltz by Fatz Waller with energetic freshness. This song brought out some well worked improvisations from the drummer Ric Byer, whose bare left foot you could see working his high-hat pedal incessantly. He seemed to set up the down beat and then go for miles away from that beat only for it to return, bang on where the brain said it should be. I liked that he was not afraid to throw in the odd unexpected snare hit to roughen up the sound. He made the most of the possibilities of timbre in his kit too which was made of wood.

They went from strength to strength actually and hit a high point a little later with a warm, rich rendition of Monk’s – was it Monk’s? – on-stage uncertainty – wasn’t it a collaboration? – ’Round Midnight. [Monk did compose this piece himself in the early 40s, possibly earlier, but Cootie Williams is often credited for the embellishments he added on trumpet, while lyrics, when needed, are attributed to Bernie Hanighen.] In this piece all three players found a kindred spirit, that shared connection Steve had referred to earlier. Not just in the music, which they were all clearly familiar with, but the spirit in which they personally were going to play it. They had by now got the measure of each other and evolved into a single unit out of the three. They finished and immediately there was a collective desire for more Monk, instantly satisfied.

The trio ended on an unusual piece by the underrated, ever-distinctive Arthur Blythe. I sensed the group’s ambition in trying to pull this off at the first go and they certainly made a good stab at it. David George, always dependable on his so called ‘single’ bass – a sort of electrified and much more transport friendly version of the double bass, played upright – managed a nonchalant march through the bassline (and only slightly encumbered by the ipad) that interacted with the drums in a crunching, marked rhythm. These two built up dramatic rostrum from which the sax could shoot off when they cut out. It was a delight to hear this piece, which you wouldn’t be likely to at your average regional jazz club. It added a new dimension to round off the gig, in which the adventure, so call it, went to new places and musical experiences as well as reawakening some old.

The gig was organised by Peninsula Arts, who have put on a whole week of events, exploring new music from faculty and students of the Department of Music at Plymouth University. It was great to get the chance to see such high quality music for free(!) in the city.


Review: Seb Rochford in Dartington Live (05/05/2018)

Seb Rochford has built up a name for himself as a genre-defying drummer, playing in a range of successful bands (with Mercury-award nominations and other awards to their credit), all defying definition and breaking boundaries. But last weekend’s performance in Dartington Live showed that it is in his own compositions where he really flexes his creative muscles. It was a great gig, the atmosphere was chilled, with people sitting or standing on the floor with the band forming a centrepiece, performing in the round, with the four musicians facing each other.

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There was a ritual-esque start in which the second drummer, Mark Sanders, dragged a large gong in a circle around the other performers, drawing them together physically within a temporary wall of sound. The gong made a mildly grating sound which woke us up to what was to come. Even trombonist, Sarah Gail Brand, seemed slightly uncomfortable at the noise, but she went on to show not long after how adept she was at making unusual, striking sounds of her own, using the trombone mute to bring out timbres in a cacophony of sound – short bursts sweeping across the register of the instrument in a distinctly raw way. The other trombonist, Harry Brown, was perhaps more contained, with a very true and at times more legato sound, which made for a great contrast, even though the overall effect was of tumultuous noise.


The trombones both together played long single notes repetitively – like a call to attention in a public place – announcing something, announcing rhythm itself perhaps, rising above the wildly improvised drum patterns. The trombones were also used to good effect in the space; vaguely choreographed moves from the players meant that the full sound of the trombone would sometimes fire away from you, other times hit you right in the face, as the two players wheeled their instruments around at all angles.


There seemed some delay before Seb Rochford himself actually put stick to drum. Once the anticipation had built, he was instantly able to pull us in with his assurance and ability to embrace simplicity and purity of tone on the drum. There was a hypnotic quality to his drumming – he built up poly-rhythms with such ease and assurance that it was like listening to multiple consciousnesses applying themselves to a problem at the same time, the problem of the experience of sound through the dimension of time, maybe. At one point he used a clever phasing technique with his two sticks working at different speeds, recognisable as a sort of clapping music, like Steve Reich’s, which showed his virtuosity on the micro, as much as it was already clear on the macro level.


But really the highlight for me came as the piece picked up more distinctively the Indian-inspired (tabla) rhythms – drawing on what Seb referred to in his introduction as the chief influence of this piece and his personal connection with north Indian culture. He was drawing on the infectiousness of this type of rhythm, a rhythm which to the western ear sounds less regular than the traditional 4/4 or 3/4 time signatures, and which has found crossover perhaps most notably in relation to bhangra music. These are rhythms which you feel much more deeply I think, more instinctively, with the whole body, rather than just rationally.

There is a backstory to the piece which seems worth delving into here. As Seb explained before the performance began, his mother, who died when he was young, was from Lucknow, a cultural hub in North India, coming over to the UK as part of the Windrush generation. Following his mother’s death when he was young, Seb had always held a romantic idea of Lucknow, until he visited recently and realised how intense and overwhelming the noise of the traffic and the pollution was there. One thing that really struck him was a group of people playing wedding music on brass and percussion instruments, presumably a remnant from British army colonial occupation – these Indian performers had taken instruments and modified them and were now using them to play their own music. In Seb’s piece, which also used mainly two quite conventional western drum kits plus two trombones, he clearly wanted to reflect the music he heard there and as such was continuing this cross-cultural conversation in his own way.


As a consequence of this personal inspiration, the complex, energetic rhythm emerged with real integrity in the performance. You could feel as the rhythm built in texture, from a single drum (beat by Seb) it pulled in one by one each of the other musicians in the group like a kind of whirlpool, and from that the spiral spun out into the audience all around them. It felt amazing to be part of this drag, drawing the whole room into a collective rhythm, which played on the personal, particular connections of the compositions and a much wider general sense which was open and invited us into it. Seb mentioned that the piece was written on the day his grandmother died, and referred specifically to the ‘synchronicity’ of the piece, both in the idea, its execution and use of different techniques.


The Dartington Studio 1 worked well for this – with a single line of seats along one wall. Really the space became an open space, with everyone free to stand around, sit on the floor, and experience the music as they wished. It felt like having listened to something really invigorating, powerful and hypnotic – a really enjoyable evening.


Cage’s piano playing archived

Cage Williams’ piano playing is in the Archive of the Now. It is an archive which features an amazing array of contemporary poets who are invited to record readings of their work. Angus Sinclair, the poet, asked Cage to accompany his reading of the Sonnets for Billy Barrix. You can listen to the result on the website of the Archive of the Now, which also allows you to download its content for free. Angus has some other work up on that site called True Pyramids, which he recorded on his allotment in New Cross.

Direct link to Angus Sinclair’s page on the archive.

Angus recorded the Barrix sonnets with Cage in a pub called The Joiners Arms, which is in Camberwell, at the bottom of Denmark Hill, and can boast two decades of musical history. Its location has particular significance because Cage learned to play on a piano from Camberwell and spent many hours looking at the name Camberwell which is printed on the piano lid just above the keyboard.



It is difficult to trace the S. exactly but there used to be quite a few Dales making and selling pianos in the Camberwell area around 1900. The closest on record is Edward Dale, who was just around the corner at 262 Camberwell Road. They are listed in the D section of the list of Piano-forte makers of England, European website, which is a useful resource for researching this sort of thing.

The pub piano in the Joiners Arms has no connection with any Dales though. No doubt the majority of piano makers were priced out of having a workshop or warehouse in Camberwell decades ago.

The geographic location at which Angus recorded the poems is also significant because the Barrix character in the poems is speaking from a place not dissimilar to Camberwell.


Sing along to Doubt

Here is the score with singing parts for the first song on the new album fish out of water to give you and your friends or choir partners the chance to sing the three harmonised parts on this track for yourself. I’ve also included a simplified version of the piano accompaniment.

This publication will make abundantly clear to anyone who has not already noted that the bass line in the piano owes much to Intermezzo Opus 116 No. 6 in E Major by Brahms.

Doubt - score