Live Reviews: Cellotronicum

Andrzej Bauer (cello), Roger Doyle (keyboard), Keith O’Brien (guitar, laptop), Brian Ó hUiginn (uilleann pipes) / Liberty Hall, Dublin / 19 September 2008

This year’s burst of concerts from Music 21 was as diverse as ever, taking in the quite introverted guitar music of frequently extroverted French maverick Maurice Ohana (played by Stephan Schmidt), a Brazilian cocktail from Kenneth Edge and Izumi Kimura, an Augusti Fernandez/Barry Guy duo weighted more towards tender Hispanic-flavoured lyricism than towards the improvised fireworks that appear to frighten off most of the Dublin jazz world, Ian Pace playing Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, a fine programme of compositions by Kurtag, Benjamin Dwyer and Barry Guy (the latter featuring as player alongside Maya Homburger and David Adams as well as throwing in two improvisations), more Messiaen (and works by Greg Caffrey and Dwyer) from Bobby Chen and Elizabeth Cooney, and a concert of Irish and Polish electro-acoustic music.

The Irish/Polish collaboration was, more precisely, a Music 21/Art Polonia collaboration. In the few years of its existence, Art Polonia’s director Monica Sapielak has engaged in an impressively wide and imaginative range of activities across the arts. In Liberty Hall, Ireland was represented by Roger Doyle (with guitarist Keith O’Brien and piper Brian Ó hUiginn), Poland by the cellist Andrzej Bauer.

We began with some semi-improvised compositions for keyboards and electric guitar and laptop. In recent years, i-and-e concerts and festivals have given us the opportunity to see musicians like John Butcher, John Edwards, Jerome Noetinger, Andrea Naumann and Eric Carlsson work in small formations that can produce gripping drama based on intent listening and instant responsiveness. With no disrespect to the musicians involved and to their many accomplishments elsewhere, there was little sense of such active dialogue here, largely because the keyboard sounds were broad and blurred in outline, splashy and generalised. This was in stark contrast to Doyle’s other contribution, Under the Green Time, in which highly textured electronic or electronically treated sounds, and piping that seems to rip traditional idiom apart, battled for space.

The second half of the concert, wuth Andrzej Bauer, offered a sampling of a larger-scale project, Cellotronicum, organised for the Warsaw Autumn Festival of 2002, when the many possibilities open to composers working with cello and electronics were demonstrated in a series of specially composed works. There is an element of the lucky dip to this kind of thing – who knows whether individual composers may be stimulated by the idea, or merely cobble together something to fit the specifications? Was what we heard in Liberty Hall the best or a representative selection? There was quite a variety to the pieces we heard in any case.

Starting with clickings and tickings, Slawomir Kupczak’s Anafora V moved through a more submarine phase; then bowing and scraping to denser accompaniment led into richer, almost old-fashioned cello sounds that gave way to electonic distortions of the same. If you fastened your safety-belt and didn’t worry too much about map and destination, you could enjoy the way Michal Tulma-Sutt’s Cellotronicum rushed you up narrow lanes, down busy streets and across parks as the driver demonstrated as many cellotronic and percussive techniques as possible. There was something thrummingly gentle, with a hint of desolation, to Karen Tanaka’s The Song of Songs. Jacek Grudzian’s Ad Naan put an end to any reverie, but had little to offer beyond its emphatic rhythms and energy.

Throughout, there was plenty to relish in the utter concentration and dexterity of Andrzej Bauer’s playing.

Published on 1 November 2008

Barra Ó Séaghdha is a writer on cultural politics, literature and music.

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