Category Archives: Music

What you get when you mix design, with maps, with great music

A friend sent me this link ages ago and I only experienced it today.  A fantastic combination of great music, design techniques, technology *and* interacting with the built environment.  It’s an interactive video made by Chris Milk using Google Chrome technology set to Arcade Fire’s “We Used To Wait”.  The experience is called “The Wilderness Downtown”.  Experience your neighbourhoods like you’ve never experienced before.  Experience it for yourself and share.

Music from the Penguin Café Orchestra

Another example of strange timing…  I had been listening to a lot of Penguin Café Orchestra lately.  I had purchased an album in 2008 through Rough Trade’s Album Club and also had a copy of another PCO track that appeared on a compilation – Perpetuum Mobile, which to me conjures images of running in the autumn, past trees and their leaves of gold and red.  The opening piano solo is like the runner putting on her shoes, lacing them up, getting ready to go.  The run is steady and determined, but not without noticing the beauty of nature that the runner passes by.  As the strings enter, the pace urges the runner up a hill and returns to steadier terrain.  Such is the beauty of music from the Penguin Café Orchestra.  I had wondered if the orchestra was still together and if it performed live.  Last Tuesday I did a quick internet search and found that Arthur Jeffes had reformed the orchestra and was touring this year.  Their last concert of 2009 would be on 29 November at Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London.  Just in time!

The concert last night, in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, was amazing.  Nine musicians gathered on the small stage at the end of the glorious music hall – full string quartet, two musicians on ukelele, percussionist, harmonium player, and Arthur on piano.  The orchestra’s friends and family were in the audience and it felt like we had been invited to a very special and intimate gig.  The audience was warm and receiving, although the hum of people chatting at the back of the hall could be heard.  A very loud “shhh” could be heard (how ironic!) to try to quiet them down, but in my opinion it didn’t detract from the jovial, musical atmosphere.  PCO played with enthusiasm in the faces and bodies – they looked like they really enjoyed themselves, it mattered less about the ambient noise in the room.  The spirited rounds of applause after Penguin Café Single, Music for a Found Harmonium, and Perpetuum Mobile seemed to simply be a bonus.  The softer Finland featuring Arthur on piano and Rebecca Waterworth on cello was respectfully acknowledged by a quieted crowd.  New pieces, composed by Arthur, such as Ghost in the Pond were cheered, signalling an acceptance by the audience of a new generation of PCO.  The evening closed with Harry Piers, a piano solo written for his dad and PCO founder Simon Jeffes, who passed away in 1997.

Bush Hall is an amazing little venue in West London, if you haven’t been already.  It was built as a dance hall in 1905 and had been re-incarnated as a bingo hall in the 1940s then a snooker hall in the 1980s and 90s.  In 2001, the hall was purchased by Emma Hutchinson and Charlie Raworth, who refurbished it into the beautiful music hall and events venue it is today.  Bush Hall has hosted an amazing array of new talent as well as established artists.  Check out their website, especially their photos.

The evening, whilst filled with exciting, emotional music, was quite moving on many levels.  It demonstrates to me that good things live on.  They must evolve with changing times, but when there is something core and good, it doesn’t disappear forever, as long as there is someone to notice and nuture it back to life.  There’s a good article on the Arts Desk about the second incarnation of the Penguin Café Orchestra – have a read here for more information.

Ready, Able: Grizzly Bear with the London Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall

I was there! 31 October 2009.There was a lot of excitement and anticipation growing across Twitter yesterday, including Edward Droste himself (“Tonight is finally the night with the London Symphony Orchestra!! Halloween in London. BOO! (excited)”).  At 9.30 am yesterday, I tweeted “Looking forward to seeing Grizzly Bear perform with the London Symphony Orchestra tonight at the Barbican Hall in London.”  To which I received a nice reply from londonsymphony (“@jemyperds enjoy! See you there.”)  Such is the wonder of social media today.  I had goose-bumps just thinking about the concert beforehand.  The intensity of the evening dawned on me when Colm and I were sat in our seats in the third row of the circle, with a great view of the whole stage, set up for the band at the front, the beautiful mason jar lights arranged at differing heights, and behind them the seats and stands arranged for the orchestra.  This would an incredible combination of three things I am most passionate about – one of my favourite bands on the indie/ alternative circuit together with a renowned orchestra, in an amazing space that is the Barbican Hall.

The crowd was welcoming and quite stoic as the LSO entered the stage to the applause.  They sat down and tuned and already the uniqueness of this performance could be felt in the stillness of the audience.  Edward Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor, and Christopher Bear took the stage along with Nico Muhly, who arranged the orchestral score, and Jim Holmes, the conductor, and the volume of the applause went up a notch.  The orchestra opened Grizzly Bear’s performance of Easier, from the 2006 release Yellow House.  The concert was a feast for the senses – songs from the bands most recent album Veckatimest were familiar and excellently showcased the band’s instrumentals and layered vocals – all four band members sing and their voices and singing styles are unique, complementing each other.  The variety of sounds – from the guitar and drums hurtling Southern Point along like a locomotive, expertly accompanied by the LSO to the playful and popular keyboard opening to Two Weeks to the echoing sounds of Foreground – demonstrated the breadth and depth of Grizzly Bear’s creativity.  The setlist was peppered with tracks from earlier recordings including the ghostly bassline-supported He Hit Me (a cover of the Crystals song), Knife (which to me is reminiscent of 1960s rock pop, more evident on Born Ruffians’ cover of the song), Central and Remote, and the evening’s encore and last song, Colorado.  The lighting was at times ethereal with only the music stand lights for the orchestra, mason jar lights lighting the stage, and subtle spotlights lighting the band and other times dramatic – co-ordinated with the music, cracking the dark hall like lightning or bright and rising to shine on sections of the audience.  I listened intently to pick out the elements of the orchestra – sometimes the sections were distinct with strong basslines coming from the cellos, muted tones from the woodwind section, bright sparks from the trumpets and trombones, and assertive lines from the violins.  But often the orchestra seemed drowned out by the amplified instruments of the band and the delicate sounds were gathered up and lost amongst the variety in the vocal arrangements.  Still, I found the performance moving and the audience appreciated it – it was absolutely silent and concentrated in the Barbican, interrupted infrequently by the occasional flash from a camera.

St. Vincent opened – Annie Clark on vocals and guitar with Daniel Hart on violin, in keeping with a folk-alternative theme for the evening.  They looked somewhat dwarfed on the stage, surrounded by an immense amount of equipment and props, but held their own.  They implemented sampling devices (popular on stage these days) to layer Clark’s live vocals and added pre-recorded instrumentation to enrich their sound and fill the large auditorium.

The Barbican Hall is home to the London Symphony Orchestra.  With a capacity of 1,949 seats, the hall is part of the Barbican Centre, a large performing arts centre owned, funded, and managed by the Corporation of London.  Completed in 1982, the Barbican Centre is situated on the Barbican Estate, a residential community built between 1965 and 1976 on a site badly bombed during World War II, that sat unused and undeveloped post-war.  The Barbican Estate is worthy of a future visit by Look Up, Look Around as it represents one of the most acclaimed mixed-use regeneration projects, that was also met with great criticism.  I will definitely be back – to experience the community and make greater use of the arts, music, and culture that the Barbican has to offer.

Setlist (from bookarooble on Songkick):

  1. Easier
  2. Cheerleader
  3. Southern Point
  4. Central and Remote
  5. All We Ask
  6. Knife
  7. Fine For Now
  8. Two Weeks
  9. Dory
  10. Ready Able
  11. While You Wait For the Others
  12. He Hit Me
  13. I Live With You
  14. Foreground
  15. Colorado (Encore)

Vampire Weekend at KCLSU

Situated in a plum location on the banks of the River Thames, with glorious views of Southbank, the London Eye, and the Oxo Tower, is a fourth floor bar that is no secret. It’s not a members’ club. It’s not a posh, velvet-roped lounge bar. It is the King’s College London Student Union nightclub called Tutu’s.

It has been quite some time since I’ve stepped foot in a student union and my expectations were admittedly mixed. I had tickets to see Vampire Weekend perform staples for the young 20-something crowd from their self-titled album that debuted in 2008 and new songs from their forthcoming album Contra. It had been almost four months since they were last in London, as one of a handful of acts supporting Blur in Hyde Park, and a year minus 10 days since I last saw them playing three sold out gigs at the Forum in Kentish Town. The gig at Tutu’s would be small and far more intimate. Just last week, VW were playing the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in my hometown of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Horseshoe is tiny at a capacity of 350 people. KCLSU, at just less than double that size, was packed tighter than a London Underground carriage at rush hour. 600 sweaty, bouncy kids jumped wildly to the songs they recognised and were a bit more restrained and appreciative to the new and unfamiliar ones. The concert was short, lasting an hour and finishing at 10pm (enough time to squeeze in study group? No, I don’t think so.)

They opened with White Sky, a song from the new album that was a regular feature in their setlist from last year’s concert tour. Oxford Comma, Campus, Blake’s Got a New Face, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, I Stand Corrected, Mansford Roof, and A-Punk were all well-received with their upbeat rhythms and sing-along sections. The set was peppered with a couple of new songs, ska and tribal-beat influenced tunes characterising VW’s style and appeal. They closed with Horchata, their recently released single, and the rousing vampire-escaping Walcott.

Jeremy Warmsley’s Acres, Acres (minus 1 band member!) supported Vampire Weekend and opened the show.  Their sound seemed to be a collaboration of many different and familiar styles – chord progressions reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand’s Dark of the Matinée, tempo changes and ho-down guitar paying homage to folk alternative favourites.  What could have been the worst part of their set, but instead was the best display of musicianship and professionalism, was the piano keyboard failure during their last song.  The sound cut as the Jeremy’s piano chord sequence crescendoed.  They tried again, consulting on stage as to which section to pick it up from, only for the sound to cut in exactly the same place.  The bassist and drum continued to a roar from the crowd.  Jeremy raised his hands in defeat, picked up his guitar and finished the song with emotion and drive, possibly fueld by the frustration of technology.  With this, the band demonstrated maturity and pragmatism – the show must go on – and they ended to a massive cheer and hollar from the audience.

But I digress. This is a blog about buildings, spaces, and environments not music, although I will sneak in the random gig review whilst writing about music venues of note. To find a music venue at upper floors is a rarity. And to have one with a spectacular view of the south bank of the Thames in Central London is even more unusual. Tutu’s, named after Desmond Tutu, is located in the Macadam Building on Surrey Street. It is an interesting, welcoming space and whilst I had many memorable evenings at the student pubs and clubs when I was at university, none was as appealing as this. While there is something somewhat grown-up about sitting on a seat by the window, the colourful light displays of Royal Festival Hall and the Southbank Centre and the bright pink hues around the London Eye behind us, I feel it contributes greatly to the experience of student life and to the community of the university. It is a pleasant, communal place to meet and socialise. It was much nicer than some of the unkempt dives in London that suffer from neglect, poor management, and lack of maintenance. I would love to be a student at King’s College London and for Tutu’s to be my local pub.

Update:  I had some problems with the Gallery previously.  I’ve figured out the error and have now posted some photos of the band members.

In The Public Realm

Last weekend was the annual Open House in London.  Over 700 buildings and spaces were made available to the general public, with free access to some that are normally limited to their owners or occupants and guided tours by architects, historians, or people closely involved with the spaces.  One such space I visited was the Hothouse in London Fields, Hackney.  Hothouse will be highlighted in another post because it is its tenant and one of its products that feature today.

Hothouse, London Fields, HackneyThe Hothouse is home to Free Form, a non-for-profit organisation whose tagline is “making artwork for the environment”.  Operating as a registered charity, Free Form provides services including the provision and commission of public art, regeneration projects, solutions for creating safer communities and public spaces,  manufacture and use of recycled glass through its Green Bottle Unit, training and learning programmes, and workspace within Hothouse for artists and designers.  One of such example of Free Form’s art in the public realm is a seating and performance space in Bishops Square, Spitalfields, E1 in East London.  Bishops Square is Hammerson’s office building development on the site straddled on the west by the City and on the east by Spitalfields, East London.  The forecourt in front of the office buildings is a leafy, open public right of way with raised green grassy patches, a rectangular pond-like water feature (complete with beautiful lilies and lily pads), reinforced glass floors revealing the archaeological history beneath the site, and sheltering the seating and performance space – a triangular sail-like pavilion.  Two half circle benches for seating under the pavilion are illuminated by an inner and outer circle of 48 recycled glass inlaid roundels, which are lit by fibre optics and linked to a colour wheel.  The lights change from blue to green, illuminating the space.

Yesterday, I witnessed something pretty special and unique taking place in this performance area.  It was a fabulously sunny Sunday, probably one of the last sunny days of the English summer.  Bishops Square, as well as Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane, and the Truman Brewery, was filled with people.  They were gathered around a band, as the musicians set-up and tuned their instruments.  My boyfriend, Colm and I sat down to have a break from our market browsing, but leapt to our feet as the band opened with a rather sexy deep bassline.  I stood on the stone kerb on which we had been sitting to get a better look.  Five musicians were positioned under the pavilion – two drummers, an electric bassist, a double bassist, and a saxophonist.

Mustard PieI had not seen a band configuration like this before and they had my attention.  They sounded great, interesting, sexy, and slick.  We walked up closer and around the performance area looking for a banner, sign, CDs for sale, anything that would give a clue as to who this band was, but there was nothing.  I posed the following question to Colm – “why is it that we are sure to be told the names, addresses, and birthdays of the crappest bands, yet there is nothing to tell us who this great band is?”  His response was “because they don’t need to make money”.  Not exactly right.  Instead I found out that the true answer was that anyone who knew anything about the local jazz scene, knew who these guys were.  I went up to a guy in a white T-shirt perched on one of the boxes behind the sound engineer and tapped him on the shoulder.  “Excuse me, who are these guys?” I asked him.  Over the loud and resonating bass and drums (double dose of each no less!) he told me that one of the drummers was from a band called Polar Bear, there were also members of Led Bib, and he told me the name of the saxophonist – Jan, but I couldn’t quite catch the surname.  He informed me that the five musicians were improvising.  At the end of the piece, the drummer (not the one from Polar Bear) got on his microphone and thanked everyone for listening.  He introduced the band and mentioned that it was the first time they had played together as a unit.  I certainly hoped it wouldn’t be the last time.  Back at the flat, Colm looked up Polar Bear and found Seb Rochford’s name and image on the internet.  I looked up Led Bib and found out it was led by its drummer, Mark Holub.  With help from the wonder and power of the internet, I was led to Jan Kopinski’s myspace blog.

Led Bib and friendsThe quintet was comprised of drum and bass team from Polar Bear – Seb Rochford and Tom Herbert, the drummer and bassist from Led Bib – Mark Holub and Liran Donin, and Jan Kopinski on saxophone.  Together, announced Jan’s blog, they were Mustard Pie.  Both Polar Bear and Led Bib were Mercury Music Award nominees, in 2005 and 2009, respectively and deservedly so it would appear.  I was fortunate enough to experience something very unique – it was creative, dynamic, and incredibly cohesive for five artists collaborating for the first time.  The music and sounds, the interwoven chords, riffs, and musical patterns were talent and musicianship in its rawest form.  I was in awe and I was inspired.

To say that it felt like a magical place to be is no exaggeration.  It was a public space used to its greatest capacity.  Art and music together in the public realm, for everyone and anyone to enjoy free of charge.