London Contemporary Music Festivalyouival (LCMF) Concert “Hysterical and Happy”
(Woolwich Works, June 19, 2022; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)
The 2022 LCMF final date included three outstanding solo performances – from pat thomas (piano), Elaine Mitchener (voice) and Joelle Leandre (double bass) – and a fitting finale of Tom Fousham which used the nearby Thames as a backdrop.
In the continuity of the experimental choir Musarcthe immersive performance of with singers scattered around the room, pat thomas launches his explosive set based on two compositions by Thomas Wiggins (aka Blind Tom) from the 1860s. Wiggins was a blind black slave, an exceptionally gifted prodigy who became an international sensation, with a life peppered with issues of exploitation.
‘Rainstorm’, composed when he was 5 years old, goes from a soft melody to a thunderous climax and back again. “The Battle of Mannassas” offers similar contrasts that pat thomas embraced with characteristic passion and energy. Hands and forearms were crushed on the keyboard, giving way to delicate and fluid passages. Register roles reversed left and right. Powerful and distressing rhythms alternated with snatches of patriotic songs. Thomas allowed no letup as he tangentially communicated something of the contradictions, anger and isolation that Thomas Wiggins experienced. John Davis’ documentary, by the way, gives insight into the life of Blind Tom (link).
Elaine Mitchener gave a captivating rendition of “No! by Christian Marclay. (2020), its score comprising 15 cut-out comic strip sheets, mixing images and onomatopoeia (comic book words), which “should be performed vocally and physically” in whatever order the performer decides over a duration of “approximately 15 minutes”. This follows Marclay’s famous “Manga Scroll” (2010) seen at Cafe Oto with Phil Minton (review) and subsequently with Mitchener herself.
Mitchener’s twisted facial contortions, the spring-loaded screams and leaps, the flailing limbs, the explosive screams, the intimate declarations and sly looks, the chokes, the gags, the strangled dinghies, the calls of animals, the menacing threats, the clasped and twisted hands, a whistle out of nowhere and finally a stretching and fading ‘No’, all combined to define a captivating performance.
Joelle Leandre invested himself body and soul in his two improvised pieces for double bass, to reveal the vibrant soul and heart of the instrument itself. Insistent bass rhythms, stabs on the woodwork, long bowing passages to capture its resonance, and a shift from abstraction to hints of jazz, culminate in a vocal blues appeal obliquely acknowledging its checkered history.
There was a reference to climate catastrophe in Claudia Molina’s ‘Polymer Hauntings’ where single-use plastic items were loosely integrated into the piano being played by Catherine Tinker and Yshani Perinpanayagambut Ewa JustkaThe hard doof/rave music of felt out of place at a festival that championed innovation, coming across as indulgent nostalgia stuck in a techno time warp.
The final act of the festival took the public to Woolwich Pier to watch Tom Fousham‘Arrangement in B flat for 3 musicians and 1300 meters’ played on three small boats for 20 minutes, with loving echoes from Bow Gamelan Ensemble. Each boat carried a musician – two trumpeters and a trombonist – each of whose instruments was connected to a brilliant light of circular construction which flashed in unison as they played a single note at repeated intervals as the boats moved in a predetermined circular pattern across the Thames. A haunting ending.
LINK: LCMF website