Sunday, 21 December 2014

Spitalfields music festival: Kwartludium with Scanner

Lost in thought, again - Robin Rimbaud (photo credit Robin Rimbaud)
Lost in thought, again - Robin Rimbaud
(photo credit Robin Rimbaud)
Kwartludium with Scanner; Spitalfields Music Winter Festival at RichMix
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Dec 12 2014
Star rating: 5.0

A mix of instruments and electronics explored the phenomenon of visual scores and improvisation

Kwartludium with Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) at Rich Mix was a complete change from all the Christmas classical. A mix of instruments and electronics explored the phenomenon of visual scores and improvisation as part of Spitalfields Winter Music Festival.

Kwartludium - photo Jaroslaw Babicz
Kwartludium - photo Jaroslaw Babicz
The Polish group Kwartludium consists of Dagna Sadkowska, on violin who studied at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw and is involved in music therapy for children, Michal Gorczynski on clarinet, who also studied in Warsaw, Paweł Nowicki on percussion who studied at the Gdańsk Music Academy in Bydgoszcz and the Music Conservatory in Strasbourg, and Piotr Nowicki who also studied in Gdańsk. They formed the ensemble in 2002 to perform new music from young composers in Poland and elsewhere. In 2007 they were awarded a 'Young Poland' scholarship from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and, since 2009, have taken part in ' Re:new ' a network involving composers and performers from eleven European countries.


British artist Scanner is interested in the intersection between sound, space, image and form, and in finding new meanings in the sounds that surround us. Earlier projects involved using found mobile phone conversations, stolen police scanner sound bites, or sounds that he calls 'hidden noise' taken from the city.

All the works performed used advanced techniques and games. In 'Gullfoss' by Jerzy Kornowicz (1959-) the clarinet began with only air noises and gurgles. The violin was tortured into metallic sounds, and the piano was deadened into thunks. After the addition of synthesised loops and drums the piano found an ever cycling tune - only for this to be destroyed, and another more jazzy tune surfacing, returning back to the niente where the piece started. The cells used for each instrument seemed to migrate at different rates, bleeding one idea into the next and providing a narrative.

'Strategies 3' by Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen (1951) had the same kind of pattern but with different instrumentation and techniques. Consequently this produced a completely different, and at times quite creepy, atmosphere which resolved at the end into a single held note.

Bergstrøm-Nielsen, C. (2011). Composition: Strategies 3 (2011)
Bergstrøm-Nielsen, C. (2011). Composition: Strategies 3 (2011)

 'Shapes and sizes' by Regin Petersen (1980) was more focussed on the electronics in a new age/space age soundscape. Here the instruments had interjections which seemed to then form part of the synthesised sound. The violin produced some interesting sounds by bowing the wrong way, or in circles. Scanner deftly altered sounds from his computer using a device, which seemed to be controlled by proximity sensors.

'ATCGATGATC' by Aleksandra Gryka contained the idea of sound without sound. After Scanner joined the rest of the musicians, Kwartludium began to mime – but this was not vaguely wafting – the really played as though they were still giving their all, and continuing with their rhythms, but without any sound coming out. A very effective idea which ended in a dead stop.

The final work was an extended improvisation which allowed them to explore sounds not previously proscribed by the composers.

While visual scores are often associated with minimalism, for this group I would say that overall the effect was progressive rather than minimalistic.

It is a shame that we did not get to see the scores. In some ways they are as integral to understanding the auditory experience as they are necessary for the performers. While people might argue that the audience does not (generally) follow the score at a traditional concert, I would argue that this kind of music is a special case. Sometimes the score is itself a piece of art, but not only that. When music is pushing boundaries and challenging the notion of how music is experienced - why not also involve the eyes and visual cognition.

Scanner will also be performing as part of Kings Place's Minimalism Unwrapped series in 2015.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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