As the audience made their way out at the end of this absorbing event, a man dropped his water flask. It made a resounding metallic clang as it hit the floor — a noise entirely in keeping with this performance of percussion pieces by the Colin Currie Quartet, in which bass drums sounded like galloping herds of wildebeest, bongos clattered hypnotically and, like that flask, metal chimes rang out.
The concert launched this year’s Sound Unwrapped series at Kings Place in London, which aims to “explore spatial dimensions in live performance and the creativity of sound artists”. Thus, before the main event, there was the Moonbathing event: as the audience sat or lay on beanbags in a darkened hall, amplified music came from everywhere and nowhere, a shifting surround-sound experience that seamlessly stitched together pieces by artists such as Oliver Coates and Tim Exile while a giant illuminated moon glowed in subtle colours above us. It was engrossing, but I was disappointed that it ended with a rather soppy Coldplayish piece by Welsh psych-rocker Gruff Rhys.
The main programme opened with more surround-sound in the form of John Luther Adams’s Qilyuan. The quartet were stationed behind four upright bass drums positioned at each corner of the balcony and armed with mallets. The sound of rolling thunder launched a kind of conversation between them, each taking up where another had left off, occasionally coalescing into a roar of pure rhythm, punctuated by the occasional crack of lightning.
The centrepiece was Steve Reich’s Drumming Part 1. The quartet stood with sticks before a line of bongo drums mounted on stands. From a series of simple thwacks emerged overlapping patterns, with two “notes” underlying the increasingly complex and mesmerising polyrhythms, bearing the clear influence of west Africa.
For Connor Shafran’s Continental Divide, the quartet were up in the balcony again, setting the hall a-quiver with the ringing of metal chimes, struck with mallets or played with violin bows. After years of attending concerts where the music emanated from the stage, it was a novel and refreshing experience to be immersed in this shimmering haze of sound.
The concert concluded with Julia Wolfe’s Dark Full Ride; the four men sat at what Currie described as “basic rock’n’roll drum kits” and gave a masterclass in synchronicity. The opening was reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft”, with snippety hi-hats building tension, except here it went on for minutes, until finally they began making their way round their kits, rattling and clattering, one creature with 16 limbs. This was rhythm as pure excitement, and it concluded a concert that richly explored the nature of music and rhythm, a realm where what we were hearing was, like that metal flask hitting the wooden floor, simply the sound of sound.
‘Sound Unwrapped’ continues to December, kingsplace.co.uk
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