INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Telegraph SEPTEMBER 16, 2010 - by Ivan Hewett
ICEBREAKER: QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL
A startling experience that mixes aggressive streetwise sounds with prettily euphonious combinations.
There's a kind of modern music which takes a small rhythmic pattern, clothes it in aggressive streetwise sounds of electronic keyboards, guitars, saxes and drums, and hurls it repeatedly at our heads. There's another sort which sets long notes adrift to float in prettily euphonious combinations, which merge and dissolve like layers of cloud.
Hearing them side-by-side, as we did in this concert from chamber group Icebreaker, is a startling experience. In the first half we heard two pieces by doyens of New York's hard-driving minimalist scene, David Lang and Michael Gordon. Ranged in a semicircle were twelve musicians - panpipes and strings on the left, saxophones on the right, guitars, keyboards and percussion in the middle. When heavily amplified, as they were here, they make a tremendous hard-edged din, which sacrifices tone-quality for the sake of aural impact (I've never heard a cello made to sound quite so ugly).
Lang's Cheating, Lying, Stealing was an energising play of repeating pattern and sudden silence, Gordon's Trance (of which we heard two of its six parts) piled up ever more hectic rhythmical subdivisions of the beat, then abruptly began a new, innocently coloured pattern which built to a wall-shaking climax.
Listening to this kind of music is a strange experience, because the pounding din is so at odds with the impassive demeanour of the players and the music's aloof mechanisms. But the disengagement this engenders is as nothing compared with the glacial chill that emanates from Brian Eno's Apollo, which filled the concert's second half.
In its original, studio-produced form, Apollo accompanied Al Reinert's documentary on the Apollo moon landings. On this occasion the music - newly arranged for the ensemble by Jun Lee - was played alongside similar images projected on a screen.
These were stupendous, in two quite different ways. There were the images of the earth and moon, spinning in calm majesty, radiantly beautiful. And there was the human drama; the tense countdown, the anxious faces in mission control, the astronauts in their capsule. Finding a musical idiom that does justice to both is a challenge, but Eno ducks it by simply covering the entire film in slow motion, guitar-soaked euphony, a vast "cosmic" bass throbbing below. Eno describes his music as aural perfume, and so it is, but for me these relentlessly sugary sounds smelled more of an airport duty-free than any bower of bliss.