Thursday, 21 March 2013

Clocks


Just for an hour, I hid out of the wind bite, lay down close to the waves, let the sun take a good look at my face. And I dozed off, listening to one of those tides that snatches a rope through shallows like a lasso trick flicking carefree speed across a mile of beach. A white rush headed West faster than the traffic caught in ice melt on the top road. No clock to watch, just for a while.

And those precious moments would have been the highlight of my week except for a concert on Saturday. 

We were still setting up when the audience starting coming through the door at 6.45. They snapped up the final tickets and the door was closed on the rain and packed the place out with a buzz I haven't encountered for a long time. Something I only realised then, that I've been missing for too long. 

And people sat in absolute quiet concentration and openness as the first piece burred and whistled into form. Radios that hadn't wanted to play together in the rehearsal started the show. And I was left wondering about how this piece sounds different in every part of the world and then felt sad at how one day, digital radio will make this piece impossible to play. It struck a chord with me, as someone who used to seek out foreign radio stations in the dark. 

One of the aspects of John Cage's scores that appeals to me is that although there are carefully set-out performance rules and strict time-frames, there are usually chance elements as well. So it was no surprise that the string quintet "5"came together differently to how we have ever played it before. It had been very different each time. What blew me away, is that in a piece where we all have to watch the second hand of a clock measure out the sections to exactly five minutes, I hadn't heard it as beautiful before. It had been an oddly dark mystery to me until that performance. And this time, each section of the piece had my ears nearly dropping off in curiosity.

My 4'33" poem seemed to hang in the air with echoes of street noise and rain and the high jinks of Saturday night in the middle of town. Exactly what I had wanted to convey. And the crumpled page that I cast onto the stage was swept aside by the arrival of the amplified broom. Set to the highest possible volume, it reminds me of a mix of nails scratched down a blackboard, metal grinding and screaming on a rusty fairground ride. I know - it sounds terrible and it just makes me laugh out loud!

The hypnotics of prepared piano took us to the other side of sound. And the chamber choir brought a sense of sacred space back before the final flourish of the exactly 40 minute long Atlas Eclipticalis. It can be played by any combination of instruments, conducted by the clock-like geometries of slowly circling arms. Tonight was for 2 violins, 2 cellos, double bass, flute, clarinet and trumpet and 2 percussionists. And again, I'm sure it was the attentiveness of the audience that helped transform this piece into something stunning. 

When I look back at my score, it maps out a very different territory for me.