Alterations Live

Intuitive / IRCD001

Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack, Terry Day, David Toop / various instruments






Danish Intuitive Music

Intuitive / IRCD003

Compositions by / Jorgen Lekfeld, Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen, Ivan Eugen Vincze, Jorgen Plaetner

Intuitive is a new label documenting the fertile Danish scene which unites compositions for improvisors with a notion of “intuitive” performance derived from Stockhausen’s ’60s flirtation with Zen. The metaphysics may be dodgy, but the associated annual festival has resulted in two very impressive CDs already (see DIMC and DIMC2), and these issues are equaly intriguing (a third release by Rohstoff is reviewed separately).

“Danish Intuitive Music” itself is a compilation of ten pieces by the four composers. The recordings are, perhaps bizarrly, garnered from the mid-’70s and the mid-’90s, and quite possibly represent the highlights of a long-standing private collection. The “compositions” all consist of either graphic scores — the kind which have wiggly lines strewn across some score paper, for the musicians to interpret how they will — or vague verbal instructions. The result is that, as you might expect, compositional logic is hard to find, and two performances of the same piece will sound wildly different.

This is made abundantly clear by the two realisations of Lekfeldt’s “Madison Music”, a score of the squiggly line variety.. The first is by far the more satisfactory, with Anders Keiding’s bassoon joining the composer at the piano and Bergstrom-Nielsen on French Horn for an intensely linear workout. When the Edges contemporary music group tried it two decades later, however, they seem to have left out the squiggles entirely and the music is much less characterful. “Mirror Labyrinth”, again featuring the composer and Bergstrom-Nielsen but this time with Ivan Vincze and singer Lene Duus, is a longer, more varied piece which is full of pleasant surprises.

Bergstrom-Nielsen will be the most familiar of these names to regular readers. His “A Meditation on Inner Global Life” is as laid-back and, well, meditative as the title suggests, but it’s not lazy and the results are genuinely lovely while packing in plenty of interest. Edges return for a performance of “Game of Contrasts”, which has an unpromisingly simplistic score. All the more surprising, then, that they attack it with such vigour; the group deserve at least half of the credit for the success of this track, and while it sounds a bit post-serialism-by-numbers it’s an enjoyable ride. His final piece, the bizarrely-entitled “Cut it! Sark”, is for accordion orchestra, and is both indescribably beautiful and full of excitement.

Ivan Vincze’s pair of compositions are very odd. The “score” for “Taking a Walk” instructs the players to imagine a favourite walk and “give musical expression to it”. The results of such things, of course, have very little to do with the composer, although in this case Vincze plays viola in the same group which performed Lekfeldt’s “Mirror Labyrinth”. The music here is a lot more sparse, and some listeners will find it rather more effective for that. The second composition is based on the literal melodic realisation of some extremely simple graphic shapes. The score looks very pleasing; the music itself seems a bit gimmicky at first, but it’s strangely hypnotic and, like “Taking a Walk”, it has a naivete (even a nostalgia) which is refreshing and very likeable.

Jorgen Plaetner’s music is probably the most conventionally “classical” of the work represented here. “Winter Music” is full of drama, and well played by Edges, although again one wonders, looking at the score with its apparent absence of specific instructions, how much credit the composer can really be accorded for this, or even whether it counts as a composition at all. Either way, the music, which falls into a sequence of brief, unconnected segments, is well done. His “October 6th”, it has to be said, sounds quite similar, except that the performers are more interested in melodic development, making the music, to this writer’s ears, more inventive and rather less risk-averse. Again, the credit goes to the Lin Ensemble, who could almost certainly have performed with piece without having ever heard of Jorgen Plaetner, but regardless of that it’s fearsomely intelligent music played with great commitment.

The issue of how much the composer is involved in the creation of music like this is, really, rather a red herring. The point seems to be simply that the music gets played, and whether the composer prescribes pitches and durations or just suggests frames of mind is neither here nor there. If the notion of “intuitive music” is one which requires a certain amount of aesthetic unpacking, however, the music here is generally direct, dynamic and full of invention.

Anyone familiar with the music of Alterations’s constituents wil be expecting plenty of invention there, too. It’s easy to be scathing about this kind of thing — self-indulgent toy box music of the sort which involves household junk and a certain level of nihilism. Well, there’s something in this, in fact — “Alterations mimic the throwaway society”, Day points out — but don’t expect the music to be entirely how you expect.

Indeed, it really is hard to know whether there are sophisticated levels of irony in this music, or they’re just playing things they like. At times, this buffoonish collision of jazz, classicism, circus, trash and happening is reminiscent of a sort of bastardised Ganelin Trio, but these two long pieces from about the time that the trio was becoming a sensation in the West are far more posturing and far less poised.

That’s no bad thing, of course, and over the course of these two half-hour jams (there’s also a very brief piece from a year earlier) we are subjected to some funny, ridiculous and often very clever improvisations. There’s something of the frightening clown about it, inevitably, as the music seems to be driven by a core of angry-at-nothing-particular ranting. But this never simply flounders around or resorts to gestures, and the improvisation is quick, inventive and responsive.

One is reminded of a comment made by Evan Parker to Beresford, to the effect that the pianist was perfectly capable of playing properly, but chose to sound like a child or a complete novice. There are two edges to this, and both are firmly in evidence here. Yes, there are the whistles and toy ray guns, the ham-fisted piano banging and twanging guitars. But there’s a great deal of thought lying behind these strategies, which are deliberately chosen and contrasted with straighter playing (Beresford gets through plenty of tunes in these seventy minutes). Often forbiddingly bristly, but worth the effort. Richard Cochrane