Tuesday, 8 February 2011

pianocircus play Skin & Wire

Last night, we saw a one-off show by piano sextet pianocircus (David Appleton, Paul Cassidy, Kate Halsall, Dawn Hardwick, Semra KurutaƧ and James T Young) at King's Place, the relatively new arts venue behind King's Cross station. The first half of the show was pieces by Colin Riley, including two taken from Skin & Wire: pianocircus featuring Bill Bruford play the music of Colin Riley. Bruford was in attendance, three seats to my right in fact, but not performing. I'd estimate the total audience at a bit over 100.

The evening opened with "Squiggle Zipper", a jarring, discordant piece from Skin & Wire and, I felt, the weakest performance of the evening. The timbral variation provided by the drums and more on the album version work better for me than the piano/synth-only version here. Visuals throughout the first half were supplied by William Simpson and Simon McCorry, with "Squiggle Zipper" being accompanied by an effective abstract grid flashing blue and white with the music. "Ebb Cast", the second Skin & Wire piece, followed and was much more successful. An evocative mood piece, it went beautifully with Simpson/McCorry's soothing yet bizarre 'tentacled' cows video. This showed cows slowly grazing in the early morning, or perhaps late evening, yet the video was heavily processed. In particular, there were multiple echoes of every movement, so as a cow lifted its head, a succession of superimposed cow heads went through the same action. As the cows ambled past, this gave the impression of a mass of tentacles flowing below.

Ending the first half was the world premiere of Riley's "Double Trio". For this piece, two pianocircus members played grand pianos, each with another member standing and reaching into the piano's innards. The remaining two were mostly on synths. The first movement saw the standing performers drumming away on the piano's bass strings, this percussive element working well against the keyboard play for a dynamic opening. In the second movement, the standing performers instead banged on the struts of the piano soundboards, which gave a change in sound compared to the first movement, but they struggled to achieve sufficient volume. The last movement was slower, with a range of manipulations of the piano strings, holding them to shorten the vibrating length when played, or plucking them directly. The visuals were lightly processed views, generally looking straight down into the piano. An interesting piece overall, visually exciting, but I felt we'd had a weaker second movement.

Part two of the evening saw the ensemble in its more familiar arrangement, six synths-as-pianos in a circle, facing inwards. The programme was drawn from Graham Fitkin's post-minimalist works of 1989-90. These fast, dynamic, interlocking piano pieces are what pianocircus are perhaps best known for. Well-performed, exciting and sometimes almost trance-like; a much enjoyed second set.

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