07 February 2017


SoundOut 2017 is the eight incarnation of this most intriguing and challenging festival. Every year I contest my ideas over this abandon, this questioning of musical verities, this search for sound, noise, art from standard instruments (they mostly use standard instruments), this abandon on all manner of traditional musical verities (they seldom play standard techniques). It's an intimate festival and considerably international. I spoke to one performer who was touring, asking about her experiences with performing, to small clubs on tour, of the chance of performing around a more dense continent like Europe. But even there this remains a form for a small group of initiates or searchers. Despite the traditional instruments, it's not too often that traditional techniques are used, so you may form an opinion that these players can't play straight. It's true for some. I once asked a player about her performance on piano. In discussion, it turned out she didn't know how to play an Eb scale. Nonetheless, I'd been mightily impressed by her set. But that's not the case for all. I heard some warmups this time that were straight ahead jazz or classical styled and played with great skill. And Brazilian bassist Luiz who stayed with me for the weekend was advising me on how to play bossa. Bossa! That's as sweet as it comes.

First up was a string quintet of three (!) basses, violin and cello. Bass playing with feet, hands, taps, bow(s), staccato, notes, short snaps, whooshing of air over bows, bow woods on strings or timber, metal winding scraping strings. Cellist Freya pulled it together with some traditional techniques, slow clear notes forming atonal melody of long intervals, double stops, minor seconds with lovely bowed tone. Others found harmonies, then into experimental techniques again, drones, high harmonics, some vocalisation (whistles this time). Cello uses pencils between strings (a common technique) and non-trad techniques with bow. Squeaks of skin dragged over varnish, tappings, slaps, again a climax. Form and movement is evident here. I asked Luiz about starting strongly or tentatively. He consider that it's respectful to enter gently with players you don't know or haven't played with before, to listen better and not to hog the scene. But then the alternative of driving, determinative start can also work. Continuing, some excellent pizz from Norwegian bassist Christian although with strings pulled off the fingerboard for a deadened and edged sound. More form, start low-grow, reduce-deduce, rise-surprise. Loud again, intense, cello again spelling notes that define melody if little rhythm. This music is not a thing of groove: it sets and meditates and sits in time rather than states it. Presumably nothing is dissallowed, even trad techniques, but it's uncommon. People drop out, complete, applause and smiles. Starts and ends are often somewhat indecisive (reminds me of my penchant for getting in the final notes on bass).

Such was the first set, a string quintet comprising Christian M Svendsen, Luiz Gabriel Gubeissi and Ben Drury (basses), Irene Kepl (violin) and Freya Shack-Arnott (cello).

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