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Better Know A Weisslich: Cathy van Eck’s Music Stands

Music stands evoke, well, music. To evoke music is to evoke a wide and connotative range of social, cultural, political, and aesthetic associations. Music stands complicate, they: conceal, render actions opaque and subservient, trigger imagination (and make the mind’s eye anxious to glimpse beyond the veil), assert status, are practical, signify practice and rehearsal (and if your experience with practicing was anything like mine, music stands can also signify immense frustration!), suggest reenactment and repeatability even when challenged, focus the gaze of those who chose to stare at them, imply reading or review, separate, distance, and otherise, can (but do not necessarily) turn performers into musicians (or performers into actors playing musician), indicate something like duration (especially when placed in a row of ten!), induce ways of listening and codes of conduct, populate a scenography… the list could go on.

long-piece_andy-ingamells
[an exaggerated representation of Andy Ingamells’ Long Piece. Photo credit: 840 concert series]

From conception, the WEISSLICH series has worked to extend and blend experimental music practices into and alongside performance art practices. And while, on the one hand, music stands are a familiar object within experimental music contexts, on the other hand, in more purely performance-focused work, music stands are less common. Music stands have the ability to instate barriers between performer and audience, creating a division that runs contrary to what I regard as a commonly held (if not misguided and/or illusory) tenant of performance art, namely, its experiential immediacy. As curators, this tension leaves the music stand in an uncomfortable position; it is something that we often discuss when thinking about the work we programme, and thus far we have maintained an equally ambivalent (at best), and, quite candidly, uneasy relationship with music stands.

Regulars at our events will note that we have used music stands in the past, and because of the blurry space that our concerts occupy, we do not take a dogmatic position with regards to inclusion or dismissal of this object. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Cathy van Eck’s Music Stands”

Better Know A Weisslich: Solomiya Moroz

Recently I have started telling people that there is a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre about a virus which lives in the vocal chords of humans and is transmitted to others via the host speaking a specific language. This is not a Jean-Paul Sartre story, in fact, it is the plot to the video game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. All this is to say that you don’t need a dead French philosopher to present a good idea, and that, much like this piece of writing attempts to do, sometimes approaching big ideas from oblique angles can illuminate facets that would otherwise be unseen. In her bigger, collaborative music-theatre works, Solomiya Moroz frequently does this – tackling big concepts with surreality, absurdity and a studied childishness (like being told about linguistic parasites by a man named “Skull Face”). In Short Wave Apocalypse or the Box, a collaboration with Eva Aukes, Marko Ivic and Margherita Bergamo, concepts of digitization and militarization in the work of Paul Virilio are combined with the caped adventures of superheroes and phone sex. The result marries recurrent aspects of Solomiya’s work – gestural controllers, theatre and multimedia – in a parade of increasingly bizarre theatrical, choreographic and musical episodes that points to the material from a distance, through a mist of dada-ed abstraction.

Superheroes and the Apocalypse teaser from Solomiya Moroz on Vimeo.

As well as her work as a composer, Solomiya works as an improvisor, flautist and electronic musician, frequently performing her own work and that of others. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Solomiya Moroz”

Better Know A Weisslich: Neil Luck

A man stands on stage and struggles to get a word out of his mouth, impeded, it seems, by his own need to burp. Every time he does manage the odd garbled sentence, a series of clown-like vocal and instrumental bursts forcefully prevent him from delivering what we have been promised is a punchline. This goes on for five minutes, a frustrated, stuttering routine of stifled exertion, maintaining our full attention right up until that final punchline neither disappoints or satisfies us, but rather keeps us guessing as to what exactly it is we have just witnessed. It can only be Neil Luck, whose music could probably be described with equal success as absurd stand-up comedy, conceptual game show poetry, free jazz circus entertainment, or post-ironic commercial radio art.

His recent piece Via Gut was one of my absolute highlights of the London Contemporary Music Festival in December 2015.

According to the website, Via Gut is “a monologue-cum-variety act about the future. Based on a rigorously pataphysical premise, Via Gut poses a hypothesis about the future of human evolution and the nature of communication, told through an allegory of the human digestive system”. The sonification – and choreography – of bodily functions is a constant theme throughout, and the piece’s handling of it stoops as much to the utterly banal as it reaches up to the loftily existential, reminding us that we mortal humans all have to eat and shit, after all. The potential tactlessness one can imagine arising from such a piece is embraced so wholeheartedly that the audience is forced through and beyond it, having to accept its guttural playfulness as an aesthetic truth. It’s a piece about a gut as much as it is a piece happening in a gut.

Members of the artist collective squib-box and experimental group of musicians ARCO (in this case, Tom Jackson on clarinet, Benedict Taylor on viola, Federico Reuben on electronics, and Adam de la Cour as tap dancer, sock puppeteer, balloon modeller, jazz guitarist and scat vocalist), who are long-term collaborators with Neil, often provide the squealing messy textures that accompany his protagonist, narrator, or game show host. The close relationships such a collaboration fosters is evident in the way the group performs together – everyone is on board for throwing themselves in head first into whatever the piece requires, no matter how extreme (I heard of a piece in which one of the members’ colonoscopies was projected onto a screen whilst another made themselves physically sick through overeating, all of this, wonderfully, taking place in a restaurant). The kinds of things asked of the performers – such as de la Cour’s balloon modelling, squirming, and general ridiculousness (writing for the Quietus, Leo Chadburn described him as a ‘tap dancing arsehole’, admittedly making reference to the fact that he represented a literal part of the human digestive system) – are only possible with the kind of trust that builds up over time. As a result, the group has a coherence to them, a ‘tightness’, which gives their performances a crucially unapologetic quality, no matter how deranged or silly the material.

Looking at squib-box’s roster of affiliated artists you’ll find everything from Michael Finnissy to Kindenfarten, “an ensemble concerned with exploring the liminal space between new complexity, noise music, and children’s entertainment”, via acclaimed singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan and Benny C, a “traditionally made up whiteface (grotesque) clown”. This kind of breadth (of influence and output) is evident in Neil’s individual work too, perhaps the most valuable characteristics of which is his eternal willingness to take risks (aesthetically, or just with his own body). You never know what will happen at one of Neil’s (or squib-box’s or ARCO’s) gigs, and indeed we have no idea what to expect for WEISSLICH on 23rd. Based on what we’ve seen though, we can’t wait to find out.

Better Know A Weisslich: Carolyn Chen’s Adagio

…perhaps I am looking at living maps that outline a way of emotionally and
facially navigating any listening experience…

On the face of it, Carolyn Chen’s Adagio is a deceptively simple piece. A performance of the piece presents three or four performers wearing headphones and making slow-motion facial expressions over the course of seven minutes. Seemingly absurd, Chen’s piece is perplexing and has challenged me to think anew the dynamic relationships between facial expressions, slow-motion movement, copying, and private/public activities of listening.

To be more specific about what is going on during a performance of Adagio:

  • A group of performers listen
  • They listen while wearing headphones
  • They listen to sounds being sent through headphones
  • For each performance those sounds take the reliable and reproducible form of an excerpted recording of Sergiu Celibidache’s remarkably slow expansion of Anton Bruckner’s adagio from his 7th Symphony
  • While listening, the performers slowly move their faces (each an assemblage and territory of emotional expressions) in tandem with the recording
  • Their facial movements translate, project, and give body to a simultaneously private and communal experience, amongst the performers anyways, of listing to Celibidache’s recording wherein “phrase [is stretched] into environment”
  • Their facial expressions wander through a Romantic environment

Because the headphones conceal the sound of the recording and Carolyn’s facial guide is memorized/embodied, during the performance an audience is confronted with an ‘incomplete’ picture of the work. The diagram above [click to expand] is designed to illustrate not only the intricacies of the work that underlie the construction and performance of Adagio, but also serves to represent terminology I have adopted in constructing a response to what I think is a fascinating question that this piece poses: What might it mean to an audience to be presented with powerfully evocative expressive and emotive facial expressions that are unexplained, where headphones privatize listening experiences and paradoxically tether facial expressions to the implication of sound (an idea of listening) and the external reality of silence?

In my search for an answer to this question, I started thinking through an idea I had that a presentation of this piece is an invitation to participate in voyeuristic listening, a following of someone’s private and intimately emotional and facial relationship with some assumed sonic referent. Relatedly, I contemplated the idea that the piece excavates bodily listening practices and reflects them back onto the audience. However, my readings of Chen’s piece subordinated the foregrounded facial expressions to an assumed and precise sonic referent, ignoring the fact that an ontologically discernible aural reality has been deliberately obfuscated by the use of headphones. Instead of assuming that the headphones signify some specific sonic referent, I became interested in the idea the headphones could more generally signify a type of personal listening experience detached from any particular sounds. To me, this shift in emphasis from facial expressions being beholden to some particular listening experience restores primacy to the facial expressions and imbues their movements with a sense of agency.

It seems appropriate to focus on the facial aspect of Adagio given the fact that a performance of the piece is essentially a retracing of Chen’s facial wandering through her listening of Bruckner’s music. In conversation with Chen, she describes her attraction to Celibidache’s interpretation of Bruckner for the way that phrases are stretched into environments. In making Adagio I imagine Chen facially wandering through the Romantic landscape of Bruckner, retrospectively making notes from her journeys, and mapping those journeys onto Bruckner’s score to form a guided dérive for other people. By withholding the exact musical terrain trekked during a performance of Adagio and presenting only the performers’ facial movements, I have the sense that the piece presents an audience with of a living map for grafting, through emotional and facial steps, leaps, pauses, distractions and fascinations, the terrain of Celibidache’s environment onto the general experience of listening. The performers of Adagio become scores for future listening experiences. This is a model of listening where faces hear and modulate their environment.

To illustrate the full ramifications of this idea, I offer an anecdote recounted by Guy Debord about “a friend [who] had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London.” To be clear, what I am suggesting is that a performance of Adagio could be détourned, read, and utilized as a psychogeographic map for listening to any other musical or sonic landscape in resonance with another human’s facial wandering through one of Bruckner’s sonic cathedrals. For me at least, this reading makes sense of the seemingly absurd situation of a ‘loud silence’ in Adagio. It expands what the piece means to me; it expands my appreciation of the facial facets of performance in general; and, perhaps most importantly, makes me excited to present this work for an audience of other thinkers, movers, and feelers who will undoubtedly respond to the piece in their own unique way.

Come and pour over Chen’s map at performances on 23rd April in London and 30th April in Manchester and let me know what you think afterwards. In the meantime, you can watch Chen alongside Clint McCallum and Ian Power as they perform Adagio in the video embedded above. And if you’re interested in giving my proposition of the piece a test, you may find it interesting to mute the video (to remove background hiss) and listen to some other music or sounds of your choosing while copying one (or all) of the performers’ facial expressions…

Or perhaps you’d like to try my proposition with this equally intriguing video made by Ensemble DieOrdnungDerDinge in preparation for performances of Chen’s Adagio in which they wander through an excerpt of Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra:

-Michael Baldwin

Better Know A Weisslich: Ben Jameson

The first time I saw Ben Jameson perform was at the new music series Kammer Klang, at Dalston’s Cafe Oto, in 2014. He performed Jacob TV’s Grab It, a piece in which a soloist (originally written for tenor sax, this version was for electric guitar) battles with an almost violently loud soundtrack made of emotionally charged vocal samples from life-sentenced prisoners. The text is blurted out thick and fast, making a forceful and frenetic duet that thrusts itself into the ears and onto the eyes.

Until recently, little did I know how significant Ben’s identity as a guitarist was to his compositional practice. He frequently draws upon the pop, rock, metal and folk traditions in which that instrument has come to play such an important role; some of the titles of his pieces include “Power Chord Study (after Black Sabbath)”, “Two Captain Beefheart Arrangements” and “Song for Pete Seeger”.

The intersection of genres, with all of their attendant social and cultural layers, is also a subject of Ben’s academic writing. In a recent article he wrote for the journal Tempo, he tackles issues surrounding the electric guitar’s social and cultural status in Tristan Murail’s Vampyr (1984), which, he suggests, has more in common with contemporary virtuosic rock of 80’s than the composer is perhaps aware. Whether we like it or not, playing something on an electric guitar which resembles a rock or metal riff has cultural weight, and engages with issues germane to rock and metal, whether they be radical freedom, masculinity, or power. Rather than shy away from these issues, Ben tackles them head on. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Ben Jameson”

Better Know A Weisslich: Alice Purton

As I write this I have just come back from a rehearsal for my latest piece, Laughter Studies 2, with Alice Purton. During the rehearsal of the piece, in which we both listen to manipulated sounds on headphones and react to them in real time, she asks “How do you want me to act? Do I stay sad or go back to neutral for those 2 seconds?” It’s a small but important detail in the piece, one which, admittedly, I hadn’t thought about, and it instantly reminds me of one of the reasons I love making music with really good performers – to have those types of interactions which provide a totally fresh perspective on your work, making you see things that you didn’t see before.

Alice is the dream performer to work with. Whether playing cello strings or other objects, singing, making declamatory statements on stage, or unrolling sellotape in a huge hall, she’s someone who cuts through all the bullshit and wants to get to the essence of the piece – what it’s doing, how it’s doing it, and why she should care. Which, in turn, makes you care when she performs. Working with her, there is always an element of collaboration, even if I’ve been a Composer with a capital C and written everything down (or, in this case, recorded everything in sound), there are ideas concerning what we’re supposed to be thinking about when we do this, whether we should look at each other here or not, and what that might mean; ideas that end up affecting the piece creatively and aesthetically. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Alice Purton”

Better Know A Weisslich: Samuel Stoll

Continuing the Better Know A Weisslich series inaugurated prior to Weisslich 4, we return to introduce Weisslich 5’s two featured artists: Samuel Stoll and Alice Purton.

First up is Samuel, a hornist and performer currently based in Berlin who will be performing Georgy Dorokhov’s counter-exposition-I, Stephen Crowe’s Tenvelopes, and a piece that him and I collaboratively developed titled Buzzed.

At every turn, Samuel is a surprising, versatile, and fascinating musician. Be it his eclectic repertoire, his unencumbered performance installations, or the extensive list of collaborators he has worked with, one gets the sense that Samuel is constantly renewing himself through his artistic practice. Searching the internet for ‘Samuel Stoll hornist’ can lead you down a rabbit hole of performances including, but not limited to: a man getting wet with his horns as he wades through a fountain, an archive of a man opening mysterious envelopes as prompted by a disembodied voice, a dazzling feat of gymnastics located between embrouchure and French horn mouthpiece, and this (which I still don’t really have words for).

Following something of a similar journey across Samuel’s wide-ranging output is precisely how I initially became aware of Samuel. One day, I had noticed that a new recording of Ray Evanoff’s Negotiating the Absolute Location of Buoyancy (that dazzling feat of gymnastics mentioned above) had surfaced. Captivated by the dexterity exhibited in Samuel’s performance of the piece, it wasn’t long before I was deep into a clickhole. On the other side, I was certain that I wanted to know more about this musician. The excitement that leapt across in his performances, the audacity and eschewal of modesty, a daring embrace of vulnerability in performance, all tempered by a palpable virtuosity combined to form an extremely attractive and rejuvenating personality.

So, I sent him an email, and off on another musical journey I went.

In a way that mirrors how I came to know Samuel – through the documentation of his performances – and also facilitates long-distance collaboration, we established a practice of exchanging media. This involves sending back and forth packages variably containing video and audio recordings of us musicking, text scores, suggestions for ways of listening to and looking at what we send to each other, and so on. These artefacts of performance/exchange in turn inform how we understand each other’s musical sensibilities, and in part constitute compositional material for finalised pieces emerging out of our collaboration.

Although I have since meet Samuel in person multiple times now, my feeling is that our relationship is somehow irrevocably conditioned by a type of digital logic. More fundamental though – our relationship is primarily performative. And so, as a way of giving potential audiences a taste for how Samuel and I work together and understand each other, as well as offering something like an insight into the piece that we have collaboratively developed, I present the following montage/teaser made up of some of the media that Samuel and I have exchanged with each other.

-Michael Baldwin

WEISSLICH 4 – Composer/Artist Interviews

Tomorrow at 8pm, WEISSLICH returns to Hundred Years Gallery to present the first concert of our 2015-16 season. Beforehand we asked each of the six featured participants to respond to a few prompts about their contributions. Read on for responses to the following:

[1] What’s one thing you would like the audience to know about your piece / thing?

[2] Tell us an anecdote that relates to your piece / thing.

[3] It’s Halloween and you’ve turned into a werewolf! Who would you have replace your slot at WEISSLICH?


Robert Blatt – All Together Now
[1] Sitting still is optional.

[2] Florida is a region known for sinkholes, which are mostly naturally occurring collapses of surface sediment into often large underground cavities formed by the dissolution of limestone. They can emerge suddenly, and some people have been swallowed alive by these geological events. I moved to Miami a little over a year ago, and not long after arriving, I started to feel tremors shaking my house. I became concerned. Was the earth about to eat me?

I soon found out that Miami is a region with a very low probability of sinkhole formation of any substantial size; however, living in the outskirts of the city, I happen to reside not far from a quarry. Periodically the miners find it necessary to blow up the bedrock. Their blast schedule is even posted online. It turns out the sinkhole I was worried about my house collapsing into was fiction. I was merely feeling the formation of a different type of hole in the limestone, but in this case caused by the use of dynamite.

[3] Guillaume de Machaut


Eleanor Cully – new work
[1] This is my first solo performance of my own music.

[2] ppppppp

[3] My friend and flautist Marta Buzow, whom I am staying with at the weekend. We used to play together every week in the brilliant New Noise ensemble at Brunel University and she taught me in my final year there.


Beavan Flanagan – No sweeter sound than my own name
[1] It’s about a person, it’s about an object, it’s about a person being an object.

[2] It was pointed out to me that the piece had certain scatological undertones. I personally think this was a reflection of the people who thought this more than of the piece itself :-)

[3] Gary Numan (on one condition: he wouldn’t be permitted to perform any of his music from the mid 90s onwards)


David Pocknee – Cipher For The Lighthouse Twins
[1] It was premiered last month in Miami by Inlets Ensemble.

[2] I swear the printer was laughing over the phone when they confirmed my order for this piece was ready.

[3] Trond Reinholdtsen or Parkinson Saunders. 


Leo Svirsky – singer-songlewieser medley
[1] I’ll be doing a “singer-songleweiser medley” with songs and miniatures from Michael Pisaro, Christian Wolff, and Antoine Beuger, with some liberties taken in the Wolff songs.

[2] When he came to the Hague, Christian Wolff told me that Cardew’s only political song that really made it into the working class repertory was the “Bethanienlied”, a protest song against a free clinic being turned into a center for contemporary art by the city of Berlin. Cardew organized a concert with Christian Wolff, and Frederic Rzewski which the working class audience was pretty bored with, except for one point where Cardew performed his variations on the Bethanienlied. The audience sang along with the theme, and booed when the first variation came (instead of the second verse).

[3] Jeromos Kamphuis, even though he’s a vampire.


Jennifer Walshe – THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS
[1] Skateboarding is a supremely beautiful art which makes cities more interesting, more liveable and tells us things about space we couldn’t know otherwise. Skaters are urban dowsers of texture, angle and energy flows; to be able to witness what they do is a privilege and we should support them. Long Live South Bank.

[2] Anton Lukoszevieze had a birthday coming up, and it was a number which ends in “0”. He joked he would like a piece as a gift, something “which will make me feel I’m not getting old, like about skateboarding.” I was reading a book about skateboarders and their use of urban space at the time, and had already been thinking of doing something about skating.

[3] Tony Hawk


We look forward to having you along tomorrow!

– WEISSLICH

Better Know A Weisslich: Jennifer Walshe’s THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

For those already initiated to contemporary music, Jennifer Walshe needs no introduction. She has performed in and written for the most prestigious and well-known international music festivals (Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Donaueschinger Musiktagen, to list a few), and has enjoyed a fruitful and varied international career as a composer and vocalist for well over a decade.

For the upcoming concert on Saturday 31st, I have been learning a piece by her called THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE. It’s one I’ve wanted to perform ever since my composition tutor made me aware of it a couple of years ago (love at first sight, you might say). This is because, first of all, I had never seen a score with pictures of people skateboarding on it before (come to think of it, I haven’t seen one since). Second of all, I had never seen a score that was printed on/as a T-shirt. This was a score that went beyond the realms of simple instruction-giving and made a case for being appreciated in itself as a piece of visual, material, and conceptual art.

Then, there’s what the score actually asks you to do. Something that much of Jennifer Walshe’s work explores is a “method-acting” style approach to composing, where the performer inhabits the piece day in day out, in character, as it were. (She recently wrote an opera where the protagonist is a female boxer, in which singer Laura Jayne Bowler actually learned to box with ex-professional Cathy “The Bitch” Brown). The piece reaches beyond the usual confines of the concert hall and practice room, and becomes a part of your life.

In THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS, the performer is first and foremost asked to “learn to skateboard, however primitively”. This is an activity that I had naively thought would be quite straightforward. It’s not. The first reason why is that, and I know this sounds obvious, the ground rolls underneath you. For a while, gone is that well-loved stability where you are master of your movement. You are a servant to the flow of your board. You’re rolling, bro. All the time. The first step, then, is to get used to moving in what feels like fast forward. (Actual skaters, those for whom the synergy between human and board has reached levels of natural effortlessness, will of course not see this type of movement as fast – if you skate for long enough I’d imagine you might see walking as unbearably slow. But this is a total beginner’s perspective, and I hope I’m not alone in feeling like the first time you try to skateboard, the speed and lack of control is a tiny bit scary. I guess overcoming it is part of the appeal.)

The second reason is that the activity itself requires you to engage differently with the environment around you. An incline is no longer just an incline; it’s an opportunity. A strip of smooth tarmac has a certain feel; a cobbled alley isn’t going to be particularly pleasant; wood is fast, rubber is slow, grass is an injury-safe sanctuary for practising ollies. You go around spotting these different zones where different types of movement and behaviour are possible, earmarking that spot for speed, or that one for smoothness, or that one for attempting a trick. Without wanting to sound too grandiose, skateboarding changes your perception of life.

Examine and meditate on optimum skating environments […] Go for a walk and imagine being able to skate everything you see […] Contemplate the ability of skate-boarding to articulate space, find new paths through architecture, fresh uses for it. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

I had played the roller-skating video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on the PC, a game in which you go around skating everything around you, no matter how impossible it would really be (ridiculous jumps between ledges at great heights, no chance of dying or breaking bones, a skateboard that starts moving automatically like it has a 5L engine – it’s a game after all), and, well, this was like playing that, but in real life. Slower, and in your head rather than on a screen, but real nevertheless. It’s like playing your environment. The function of everything changes – houses are no longer spaces for people to live in, they are objects of certain roughness lying at a certain angle, connecting to other objects with different roughnesses which lie at different angles, which themselves are only a jump and a 1080 away from more objects lying at equally different angles… I spent several days wandering around my neighbourhood doing exactly what the score describes – interacting with every single ledge, fence, bench, or wall, making occasional videos, often to the amusement of bystanders (one of whom stopped and asked me whether there was anything wrong with the handrails on some public steps, presumably assuming that I was some sort of vigilante inspector for rails, ledges and fences). Encircled by high-rise flats, lining a busy road with moving traffic, a public playground, replete with ping-pong tables, see-saws, round metal gyrating chairs and bicycle parking racks, became a sea of potential.

Compose an imaginary path you would like to skate. This path should push and force you to limits, be rich, beautiful, complicated and stylish, and incorporate some tricks. This path is limited only by your imagination. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

Reading this sentence made me remember why I became a musician in the first place: to let my imagination run wild. I’m reminded here of an interview with the author Jonathan Franzen where he says “I think it is what the serious writer is needed for now: to assert the right to imagine.” I can think of few musicians who would disagree if we replaced ‘writer’ with ‘composer’ or ‘performer’. Maybe it’s just worth remembering that you also have the power to unlock that right for others – something all music should aspire to do.

–Louis d’Heudieres

Better Know A Weisslich: Leo Svirsky

Leo’s probably one of the smartest people I know. His work as a pianist betrays an omnivorous taste that borders on the encyclopaedic. As at home thundering through Stockhausen’s Kontakte as the most delicate Beuger or the most bombastic Beethoven. He is a relentless promoter of new pieces, both as a performer, and as the host of an intimate and uncompromisingly long and quiet concert series held in his front room, which attracts a calibre of performer that belies its humble setting.

His compositions lie within the wandelweiser tradition. Often a single page holds a set of carefully chosen pitches and a small set of instructions. Take for example, his exquisite Trauergondel (https://soundcloud.com/leo-svirsky/trauergondel), in which tiny fragments of Liszt gently float against each other inside the ghostly and transparent exoskeleton of the original piece, or For John McAlpine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKzC_kgiL0Q) for small ensemble.

Two of his largest works set texts by Paul Celan, Atemwende (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R852iUgalTA) and the more recent Tenebrae (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkWgGPppynQ), which was premiered in Dusseldorf this summer; an “opera” in which harmonies unfold with a meticulous slowness.

As an improviser on accordion or piano he is active in the Dutch free improvisation scene and has released records with the violinist Katt Hernandez (https://soundcloud.com/leo-svirsky/sets/leo-svirsky-katt-hernandez) and his more jazzy group Trialectics (https://soundcloud.com/trialectics).

His roles of pianist, composer and improviser reach a nexus with the album Songs In The Key Of Survival (http://ehserecords.com/ehse024/). Sparkling and morphing piano improvisations sandwich a set of what I am ill-advisedly calling “singer-songelweiser” voice-and-piano compositions which resolutely refuse to play ball. Simple patterns and lost-connection cellphone silences leave songs on pause before another relentlessly pessimistic lyric reminds us that “the glass is half piss” or “critique itself becomes impossible”.

Here’s a fantastically restrained recording of some of the tracks from Songs In The Key Of Survival dovetailed with free impov:

-David Pocknee