From Recent Archives: OCM Events

Posted on June 3, 2010

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The music-based venture known as Oxford Contemporary Music (OCM) provides musical insight, inspiration and promotes innovation. As a respected charity, which has evoked support from local councils as well as both Universities within Oxford in recent years, the organisation strives to create opportunities for those with musical aspirations and also seeks to broaden musical horizons. More information on OCM will follow shortly, but for now here are two reviews written by Dan Treacy from some of the organisation’s most recent events.

Efterklang 22nd April 2010, O2 Academy

Ekterklang

Treading carefully, across a landfill site of instruments, approaches Heather Woods Broderick.  The place hasn’t quite filled up yet and you get the impression no one knows what’s going to happen with all the clutter on stage.  Yet as she begins you get sucked into a soft melee of mainly folk inspired capo’d guitar with mixtures of drum machines, pre-recorded instruments and otherworldly synthesised sounds, including backing vocals that blend with the artist’s own voice to create a sound akin to Enya.  In fact the overall sound is a bit like a folksy Enya shagging the Postal Service whilst chilling at a Native American peace pipe party; very pretty.  However after the third song it starts to become monotonous; ‘Thanks for all being so quiet’ she says before playing her last song (a switch to keyboards).  There’s never any boredom from her or on the audiences part as she sets the scene perfectly for the headliners.

Efterklang are a tough one to box in.  Their vocal harmonies (up to five at a time) are so tightly and beautifully layered they could easily put the Fleet Foxes to shame.  At the same time, the mixture of brass (trombone and trumpet), flute, keyboards, percussion, guitar, bass and laptops creates so much for the ears it’s like listening to a chirpy Radiohead especially with the altering time signatures. Charismatic front man Casper Clausen uses various forms of percussion including pipes on the wall and when he jokes between songs it’s impossible not to like the band more.  In fact, past the third or fourth number they just get better and better and better.

The laptops create sounds similar to prepared the piano from Aphex Twin’s ‘Drukqs’ and the percussion sounds similar to a collaboration of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Maps’ alongside a marching band; it’s all so epic and momentous.  The layers of sound themselves are so vastly spaced that the listener gets used to each individual wave before the next is brought in. The songs are all mainly sung in English despite the band coming from Denmark and the switching between male and female vocals (aided by support act Heather Woods Broderick) creates an effect that almost pans across the entire room.  Really though, it’s the experience of watching seven multi talented musicians on stage creating an insane mix of music that prevents you from looking away.

On a personal level, as the final number ‘Cutting Ice to Snow’ dies away, something is tugging at the back of my mind; having a spare ticket. It begins to make me angry that I couldn’t persuade another soul to come to the gig at the last minute; You know what it’s like when you see a truly great live act and you can’t blooming well do the event any justice by talking to people about it.

Graham Fitkin 29th April 2010, St Johns College

Considering that he’s been performing since the 80’s, with an exceptional level of talent, it comes as quite a shock that Graham Fitkin hasn’t quite yet achieved “that” recognition of becoming a household name.  His back catalogue is so vast it would be rude to name one or two pieces as examples of his finest work though commenting on his 2009 British Composer Award last year may put things into perspective.  Originally a pianist, his current live guise is a far cry from the beginnings of ‘four hands, two pianos’ or composing for four clarinets.  Its nine person ensemble includes two harps, brass section, guitar, double bass, percussion (including a marimba and vibraphone) and Fitkin on piano.

From the off, ‘Totti’ gives the impression of repetitive scripted jazz that settles with clear accents on the first and third beats of each bar, holding it together. Throughout its seven minutes like many other pieces shown tonight it begins to display Reich as the biggest influence; instruments going in and out of phase.  It is a trend often repeated but never exhausted.  Fitkin’s ability to tease his audience with a small amount of percussion, sometimes just for a few bars, before taking it away again and replacing it with another instrument keeps the music captivating.  Likewise, the brass on ‘Compress’ provides brief, descending, staccato-like flourishes giving an alert, grim sensation.

Throughout the performance Fitkin introduces individual pieces with a history of the instruments on display or the origins of song titles (‘Totti’ being named after the Italian footballer).  His greatest advantage in this environment is the quantity of his work, the order it is arranged and its influences.  ‘The Cone Gatherers’ for solo piano is one of his earlier pieces and unlike most of the music here has three movements.  ‘Compress’ was originally written for two harpsichords but transfers seamlessly to a big band format.  ‘Danse Real’ is his Bray harp and percussion dominated take on a 13th century French Waltz and its static medieval time signature makes it stand out over other pieces though sometimes the realistically heavy percussion drowns out some other instruments, notably Fitkin’s piano.  ‘Touching Seen’ is the only piece played from electronic album FitkinWall and the transition from computers to live instruments cements the level of professionalism within the group.

It is hard to box his music into a specific genre. In his own words ‘…If I said it was just contemporary music then that would give the wrong feeling.  If I said it was Jazz that would be entirely misleading. It is high energy music; it is complex, very rhythmic…’ Since the 80’s in fact he has changed his attitude with every album and this unashamedly brilliant live performance represents those altered states.  He doesn’t just demonstrate a single face but an incredible, rhythmic, versatile amalgamation of styles that is constantly evolving.

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