Plus Minus: Kings Place, London

Kings Place has a wonderfully electric programme of events and the concert, in its smaller hall, of a programme entitled Repeat Music by the ensemble Plus Minus offered an insight into music of the second half of the twentieth century that was minimal in its design but not in its effect. The opening work Madrigale (1979) by Aldo Clementi encapsulated the density inherent in his music and the deceleration of the repeated material was paced with real skill by the pianists Mark Knoop and Roderick Chadwick who shared the piano. Through repetition of the same material one shifts aural focus from the various fragments of the material and eventually onto individual notes. Simon Steen-Anderson’s Study for string instrument #1 (2007) – performed by Marcus Barcham-Stevens – focused on a gesture and through repetition the player could focus on different components of the gesture, accentuating the timbral components of a glissando on a single string. Marcus controlled the tone with aplomb, demonstrating precise tonal control which made the work fascinating to hear. The first half ended with Morton Feldman’s work Bass Clarinet and Percussion which Vicky Wright on bass clarinet performed with brilliantly graded dynamic and tonal control – despite reed blips – with percussionists Serge Vuille and Toby Kearney accompanying on tuned and untuned percussion with delicacy and with rhythmic clarity.

Plus-minus © Benedict Johnson

Music in Contrary Motion (1969) by Phillip Glass demonstrated the skill of the composer at creating intrigue through carefully paced repetition and subtle transformation – in this case through varying the timbral focus by shifting attention between the instrumentation which sounded something akin to The Exorcist theme (Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield – Ed.) with the use of small electronic organs. The final piece performed placed the room as the performer – Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room (1970) performed by Mark Knoop, who also devised the performance in the concert with Newton Armstrong at the helm of the electronics (aka the laptop). This work used pre-recorded speech by Joanna Bailie that was transcribed for piano by Mark and the two recorded materials underwent a process – through repetition that become interestingly not as uncomfortable as I expected it would – that the voice and piano timbres were progressively diminished leaving only the resultant harmonics created from the interaction of the recorded material and the room. Perhaps not the most interesting of acoustics yet the work made a mostly engaging close to a well devised programme. The audience responded well to a very focused programme, however the listeners looked more like a postgraduate composition class than perhaps the regular concert goer. The performers did a great deal to sell this music and without their obvious passion it would not have been as persuasive.

Steven Berryman is a composer and teacher working and living in London. He is currently completing his PhD in Composition at Cardiff University (2011). Follow him on Twitter: @Steven_Berryman