Saturday, 6 June 2015

Let The Music Move You

Both Akbar Ali Khan and Matthew Whiteside present their music to a seated, relaxed audience: Khan turns the Strathclyde Suite of Glasgow's Concert Halls into a subdued, meditative chamber while Whiteside's collaboration with Emma Lloyd makes the white, clean space of Edinburgh's Fruitmarket into a laboratory of experimental sound. Hector Bizerk, however, cram their experimental hip-hop into the sweaty upstairs of King Tut's, and get the crowd bouncing. But it's all music, innit?

On record, Hector Bizerk have sounded pedestrian - the clarity of the production often leaves Louie's raps exposed as doggerel. Live, they are a ragged, belligerent presence: twin drummers pounding beneath ferocious rapping, the bass grinding out funky flurries against wisps of melody. Perhaps because of the electronics that Whiteside uses in his compositions, the gap between live and studio performance is less marked: using his tour to introduce his first album, he selects Ed Bennett's Ghosts and Grisey's Prologue from Les Espaces Acoustiques to give a context for his scores for Emma Lloyd's viola and viola d'amore.

Bizerk's relentless energy sucks up reggae and hip-hop, with shades of new wave and funk, into a distinctive sound that escapes easy references, finding a tempestuous backing for Louie's raging words. The live instrumentation adds an immediacy and dynamism often lacking in hip-hop that relies on turntables - or backing tracks - and the rapport with the crowd is direct. 

While Whiteside exists in a more respectable musical genre, the same sense of urgency fills his Ulation and work for viola d'amore. The melancholic strings are forced towards a vigorous attack, Whiteside's own humming electronics twisting the acoustic sounds and conjuring a warm depth. The resonating drone of the viola d'amore echo medieval song, but Solo for viola d'amore and electronics is a restless, contemporary piece, never quite falling simply into minimalism - Whiteside has an interest in timbre rather than repetition - despite passages of minimal eloquence.

Akbar Ali Khan's qawwali relies on his voice, shaping sculptures into the air, although, like Hector Bizerk, he sits back at times to let the drummer have some. The approach of qawwali is based on repetition, but also vocal gymnastics, the story-telling of the songs evoked as much by the lyrical line and the lyrics. There's the same sense of virtuosity found in Emma Lloyd's viola playing, but while her reading of Grisey's Prologue is an erudite journey into the edges of musical possibility, Ali Khan finds a sensuous spirituality.  

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