The Festival’s Artist in Focus, Laurie Anderson, is an important multi-faceted artist, a very personable lady, easy to listen to and attractive to look at so it was not surprising that her interview at the Korzo was over-subscribed with people waiting outside for any spare places that may occur. I say interview, it was more of a monologue. It wasn’t a case of the interviewer not being able to get a word in, it was that she didn’t appear to have any words. Sadly, it was apparent that she was rather out of her depth. No problem, Ms Anderson was more than capable of holding the stage and taking command of the event by herself.
Ostensibly there to talk about her Sunday night concert All the Things I Lost In the Flood and her new book of the same name, the event turned out to be almost a résumé of her fifty-year career as one of the leading New York exponents of all forms of contemporary art, and fascinating stuff it was to.
Laurie Anderson purports to be, first and foremost, a story-teller, regardless of the medium she employs – she tells of a project she had with the celebrated Cronos Quartet who were at a loss to know how two violins, a viola and a cello could tell a story. But a story-teller she certainly is. She is amusing, engaging, witty and, most importantly, modest and matter-of-fact.
The talk, I have to call it that, was illustrated with various pictorial elements projected on a large screen. The best of which was her Public Service Announcement. The story (always a story), was that her record company were promoting her new record in 1990, but she didn’t want to do a conventional pop video, insisting instead on making an unrelated little film set in a restaurant kitchen with her talking to camera while a fat chef flipped hamburgers behind her. The film was about the American National Anthem The Star Spangled Banner and its absurd lyric, with Anderson suggesting that Yankee Doodle would be just as good – and absurd. It put me in mind of Billy Connolly’s campaign to replace the British national anthem with theme music from The Archers.
There was lots more, all of it entertaining, witty and elegant. However, because of the lack any structure and guidance from the interviewer, the event reached its natural conclusion a good fifteen minutes before it actually ended. MH
Ms Anderson appeared again a couple of hours later, in the same room, to introduce her 1977 composition Sol for string quartet. She explained at length (again) its background. Sol was not, as we might have assumed, about the sun, but a tribute to her mentor, American conceptual artist, Sol LeWitt. We were told that the piece was as much part of an installation as just a simple concert. We had already suspected as much. The raked seating in the main Zaal in the Korzo had been pushed back and cushions and a couple of bean bags, or rather bean sofas, had been arranged in a circle around the performance area which consisted of a small rostrum for the cellist and three close-together music stands. A large mirror ball revolved slowly above the space, projecting its light on all surfaces, giving the impression of constant movement. Because it was an installation, a large piece of art and not a formal, stuffy concert, we were encouraged to get up and wander around – easier said than done if you have just been swallowed by a Little Shop of Horrors six-foot bag of beans which seemed to have a life of its own. Rising elegantly from a bean bag is a life skill that I have yet to master.
The four ladies of the Dutch Ragazze Quartet came on looking very stylish in tight black tops and voluminous ankle-length black skirts. They carefully took up their positions in the swirling light, the cellist on her small raised platform, the two violinists and the viola player tightly grouped facing her. The music, on a solo violin, started slowly, as these things usually do, gradually changing and developing different themes as the other instruments joined in. But, apart from its presentation, there was not much to distinguish Sol from the work of, say, Max Richter or Philip Glass. That’s not a criticism, it’s that the work very much fitted into a specific genre and, luckily, a genre of which I am very fond. I find contemporary pieces for string quartets soothing and very satisfying. It’s like watching someone doing crochet, small repetitious almost imperceptible movements which, with time, reveal a really intricate and complex form. Really enjoyed it. MH
The evening was spent in Prinsengracht, starting at Paard to see the newly-formed self-proclaimed super-group UUUU. As soon I entered the small space that is Paard 2 and saw the stage set-up I knew that it was going to be super loud, so out came my earplugs, not that they dampened the sound that much when the English four-piece started to play – a thumping, a mechanical beat, the screaming sound, the occasional screech of a malfunctioning mic (surely part of the ‘composition?). All music, whether electronic or avant-garde, can and should trigger the imagination. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I could pretty much predict what was to come after the first number – judging by the hesitant applause no one could really tell if it had come to an end. The themes, as repetitive as the name of the group, were not very experimental. This could have been 1969 in an obscure, underground Camden Town venue, complete with oil-wheel projections.
To watch 17-year-olds twiddling knobs to produce droning sounds in order to be ‘strange, dark and deep’ is always endearing – one knows that in a year or two that phase will pass and they will go on to play better or give up altogether – it’s not quite so endearing coming from middle-aged musicians who should know better. And yet, some beardies and head-bangers still managed to whoop and clap before one of them in his frenzy, pushed past me and spilled his beer over my shoulder bag. The whole concept of this evening was a bit teenage bedroom, including the pretentious poem about time which necessitated the donning of wrap-around shades at one point. Their mothers certainly wouldn’t have liked it and nor would the neighbours.
It was then over to Paard’s main space to see SUUNS, another four-piece, this time from Montreal with their mix of, as they put it, “krautrocking grooves and synth infused electronics”.
Finally it was across the road to the Koorenhuis to see London based Daniel O’Sullivan. His music is much more lyrically song based, very reminiscent of the early 80s pop bands like Nick Kershaw, Duran Duran Depeche Mode. Enjoyable. AB
MH – Michael Hasted AB – Astrid Burchardt
UUUU photo by and © Michael Hasted
After Saturday’s fast and furious gigs at the Paard it was nice to sit quietly and listen to the more measured and subtler tones of South Korean composer and multi-instrumentalist Park Jiha.
A diminutive, rather serene young lady, she settled behind her array of instruments surrounded by her three piece band before playing the first tune on a piri which looked like a reed penny whistle. The kazoo-type sound was beautifully complemented by the bass clarinet accompanied by double bass and vibraphone.
The weirdest instrument, and the nicest sounding, was the saenghwang which is basically a handheld, mouth-played organ consisting of a number of short pipes bound together and a brass mouthpiece. It looked like a bundle of twigs or the sort of instrument that might be found in the music room at Hogwarts but she played it beautifully and its haunting, meditative sound was entrancing. Most of us will be familiar with her other instrument, the yanggeum, a sort of zither played with sticks that look like chicken satay.
All of the five or six pieces were contemplative and some, because of the combination of vibes and tenor sax, were almost modern jazzy. Her too-short set finished with a song. While her voice may not have been the greatest she had a quiet confidence and serenity which enthralled the audience and had them on their feet begging for more as the stage lights dimmed.
For my final event, and the climax of the Rewire Festival, I was due to review the Laurie Anderson concert in the Grote Kerk. However, when I got there, more than half an hour before the event was supposed to start there was a queue already around the block and as there was no special arrangements for press and no reserved seating I decided there was no point in going into a concert, assuming I could get into the building, because I certainly would not be able to see anything and probably not hear very well either. So I went home.
This has been an incredible festival the like of which it would be hard to find, but the ticketing has been a major issue. Virtually every event we have been to has been over-subscribed with people unable to get in.
You cannot sell an unlimited number of tickets for a finite number of seats or places at an event. We were privileged in that we were given passes for the whole weekend but it was very annoying to be refused entry into an event because there were too many people, as I initially was for the Laurie Anderson lecture. I finally got in when people didn’t turn up. Now, if I had paid €77.50 for a ticket for the entire festival I would be very pissed off indeed if I was refused entry and not able to see my chosen concert.
This was, quite rightly, a hugely successful, important and popular event but you cannot sell tickets to gigs and not guarantee that there are places available. I know that people had come from all over Europe, if not the world, and even though they bought tickets there was the possibility they would not be able get in. Can you imagine making a special trip, even from Brussels or Paris, with a valid ticket in your pocket and then being refused entry?
Some serious thought must go into the ticketing process for future events otherwise there are going to be some very angry people. Michael Hasted
Park Jiha photo by and © Michael Hasted