June 04, 2007

Favourite Intermissions

Intermission.jpgFor the past seven year, Christopher DeLaurenti has been turning up to classical concerts in a leather vest with concealed microphones attached to a minidisc recorder. The goal of this clandestine bootlegging setup has not been to record any music that was on the programme, but rather to capture what happened during intermission. While other concert-goers were off sipping bubbly and relieving their bladders, he was there in the front row documenting the sound of milling patrons and orchestra members rehearsing their parts. In the process, he discovered an entirely "new", and previously undocumented, form of “improvised” music.

Musicians left on stage during intermission would generally use the time to practice difficult passages from the pieces to come. For the most part, they would twiddle away obliviously but occasionally they would latch on to what was being played in another section of the orchestra. This might continue for a few bars then fall apart and be replaced by cacophony followed by another spontaneous coming together around a new passage – kind of like a random sheet-music based version of one of John Zorn’s improvisational music games.

DeLaurenti’s obsessive documentation of these moments of interstitial orchestral "improvisation" has resulted in 50 hours worth of recordings which he has condensed into a single CD of “greatest hits” entitled Favourite Intermissions. The CD can be purchased from his website. Here’s a track from it called SF Variations (I think that’s short for Stravinsky’s Firebird… But I could be wrong about that. Any ideas?)

Posted by Warren at 05:15 PM

June 09, 2005

Every Beethoven Symphony, Yours To Download - God Bless The Beeb!

Beethoven.jpgIn a landmark moment in the dissemination of high culture, BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting every Beethoven symphony over the next month – starting with 1 to 5 this week, then completing the set with 6,7,8 and 9 in three weeks time – and, as soon as they are aired, they will be posting mp3s of them on their website so anyone the world over can download them. It’s a wonderful gesture, but don’t delay if you want to take advantage of it – each symphony will only be up for a week from their time of airing. This means you have less than a week to snaffle up the first five, which were aired on Monday & Tuesday. (via Boing Boing)

Posted by Warren at 12:32 AM

July 09, 2004

Alessandro Moreschi: The Last Castrato

Back in the 17th century, when women were barred from appearing on stage or singing in churchs, the roles of sopranos in operas and choirs were routinely filled by castrati; men who had been castrated during childhood so the pure high tones of their unbroken boyhood voices could be maintained indefinitely. This barbaric practice began to decline in the early 19th century and was eventually banned altogether in 1870... Too late, however, for Alessandro Moreschi who was born twelve years before it was outlawed (castration generally happened at the age of 10), and was the last castrato still performing at the turn of the 20th century.

At that time, he was singing in the Vatican and was chanced upon by a pair of field recorders who had come to cut a gramophone cylinder of the Pope's voice. The recordings they made - the only ones of a castrato singing - were released on CD back in the early 1990's. The liner notes of that release speak glowingly about the "power and brilliance" of Moreschi's voice, but the fact that this prepubescent voice came from the throat of a corpulent middle aged man, makes the whole experience fundamentally disturbing... I only hope it remains in print for long time. Just to remind people that the the search for "purity" and "beauty" in art is not immune from the sort of anti-human perversions that pervade the sordid "real" world...

The CD of Moreschi's recordings can be purchased through Amazon, which also hosts real audio samples of a number of tracks.

Posted by Warren at 01:07 AM

July 08, 2004

Portsmouth Sinfonia : The World's Worst Orchestra

May 28th this year marked the 30th anniversary of the first performance by the legendarily shambolic DIY orchestra, The Portsmouth Sinfonia.
Originally conceived in the early 70's by English avant-garde composer, Gavin Bryars, the Portsmouth Sinfonia was an orchestra that anyone could join - regardless of whether or not they could actually play an instrument... All that mattered was that they turned up for rehearsals, and took the whole thing seriously.

The resulting cacophony naturally raised the ire of the "tuxedo-nazis", but it also gathered a cult following and even inspired "real" musicians to get involved. Brian Eno was an early participant who became the Sinfonia's clarinetist, even though he had never played the instrument before. (He later went on to produce one of their albums.) Michael Nyman (the composer of the film scores for The Piano) was supposedly so gobsmacked by the first half of a Sinfonia performance that he asked if they had a spare instrument and ended up playing cello in the second half.

The Portsmouth Sinfonia's all-too-brief career ended in the early 80's and left behind three albums - The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays The Popular Classics, Hallelujah! - Portsmouth Sinfonia Live At The Albert Hall and 20 Classic Rock Classics. Unfortunately, these are now long out-of-print and almost impossible to find (unless you're prepared to fork out top dollar on eBay.) Thankfully though, real audio samples of their dischordant majesty are available from the Miserable Melodies website. (I've converted two of my favourites - Also Sprach Zarathusra and The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy - to mp3s that you can download.)

Posted by Warren at 11:23 PM