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)