Festival Mixture 2015

Tots els capsThe 2015 version of Festival Mixtur started out by herding us all outside the venue, outside the complex where the venue resides, across the street, and into a large square outside Can Fabra, where, to some electronic music by Octavi Rumbau, two dancers (Magdalena Garzón and Dolors Acosta) meandered us back to the hall in Fabra i Coats where (most of) the rest of the concerts took place.

The first concert inside after our sinuous progress back to the hall featured Metàfores Sonoritzades. I found the Seed of Colour by Nuño Fernandez Ezquerra to be particularly interesting, and while the lighting was not altogether felicitous for filming, I think the clip gives a good sense of what that show was like.

I always enjoy being outside for music and the festival offered one other outdoor event, Fields, by David Bird, performed by Mark Knoop and Serge Vuille of Multitasking Ensemble.

This was not just a cool little piece all on its own, but the prelude to what turned out to be an extremely delightful afternoon of theatrical, Kagel-like pieces. Always good times.

First up on the inside that afternoon was a piece by Jame Saunders called “You say what to do.” Exactly. The clip here includes the instruction to “you” (two groups of four audience members each). This was not only fun to watch, but the music itself was quite fun to listen to as well. That third of the concert ended with a video of several different string quartets, with the faces distorted out of all recognition—practical and artistic—playing, well hear for yourselves.

The next third of this concert was the trombone/cello duo, Two New, which is Ellen Fallowfield, cello and Stephen Menotti, trombone. They started off with Study for String instruments #1, by a long-time favorite composer of mine, Simon Steen-Anderson.

The other piece they did which I found really entertaining was Teresa Carrasco’s Two Peas in a Pot. This has some very clever musical jokes, abetted by some comic acting. Everything was very tightly, very sharply played.

The festival included a couple of extraordinary video creations. This afternoon’s concert closed with one of those, A man walking in a walkman by Isandro Ojeda and David Zo Meroni. Colorful and arresting images and equally colorful and arresting sounds.

The last third of this concert was a terrific show by Núria Andorra and Dory Sánchez called FH23. This was just as thrilling visually as it was musically. The video really doesn’t do it justice. But still, the clip is OK. You get the idea.

The other stunning video creation, Adsem Varien, by Alejandro Casales Navarrete, was part of the electroacoustic concert on the first day of the festival. A genuinely exciting and imaginative video—very much in your face, which is exactly where you want it to be, unless you are faint-hearted. If you attended this festival, I am pretty sure you are not.

Not that everything was audacious or ostentatiously forceful of course. Jupiter, for instance, by Florent Colautti, was a calm, gently pulsing piece of mostly quite lovely sounds. No less powerful, of course. Just differently expressed.

La Soupe parfumée was full of whispering interrupted by loud, gritty sounds, or by louder voices. Laughing, electronic hiss, footsteps, and buzzers are all part of the mix, quite intelligently mixed I should add.

The next concert I was able to make it to was presented by the very talented Vertixe Sonora Ensemble. Not to distinguish them from the other groups by any means. In fact, this festival was remarkable for having a consistently high level of quality, both in the performers (and performances) and in the music itself.

They started off with a crackly, gritty piece for electric guitar and saxophone, Vertige des mots by Maxime Barthélemy. The saxophone supplied the calm, breathy sounds to contrast with the more abrasive (but really delightful) noises from the guitar.

After that was Del pie sobre el vidrio by Santiago Diez-Fischer, a piece of long lines and repetitive licks. A piece of sonorities rather than events. I found it to be a really lovely experience.

This concert included a fairly prominent new music composer, Augusti Charles. His piece, Transit, is a fairly traditional avant garde piece, with extended techniques and short bursts of sound et cetera, except for one thing, it’s a saxophone and an accordion. That elevates it, rather, into the realm of genuine quirkiness, and thus makes it fit into the mix rather nicely, actually.

It is not really an ordinary “avant garde” piece.

Nor is Fernando Garnero’s Interlude, for all that it represents a common occurrence in new music, an electric guitar on its back, played with various objects.

This is as good a time as any to mention that while Festival Mixtur was full of much of what could be considered standard fare for a new music festival, I kept thinking how new and fresh everything sounded. Yeah, there’s an electric guitar on its back, as usual, but Garnero’s piece was not really like any other. It was clearly itself. And that was true in this festival over and over again. It was delightful.

Day three started out with an odd thing, a conducted improvisation. I’ve seen other ones. They always strike me as peculiar. But that doesn’t mean anything bad, understand. And like the other ones, this one was a great deal of fun—the conductor, Josep Maria Balanyà, is so obviously having a great time, you would have to be a real churl to not enjoy this. I enjoyed it. Try listening to it with your eyes closed, though. See what happens? It’s still fun!

The Ensemble for New Music Tallinn gave a very mixed program themselves this day. That was something else characteristic, at least of this year’s festival—that the various ensembles invited to perform offered themselves concerts of exceptional variety, each one of them conceptually a microcosm of the whole festival. That was true for the Tallinn ensemble, which expertly performed difficult, fully controlled examples of European avant garde, but which also offered this little gem by Jeffrey A. Brown, Motion Harmony #6:

Similarly, on the last concert of the festival, Ensemble 2E2M presented a panoply of quiet, whispery, barely there music—something I have come to relish more and more myself—but they also offered up this very clever use of video with live performance, with an absolutely magical moment (about halfway through this particular clip) where the two lines become three.

Well, it was a splendid festival to be sure, which genuinely attempts—and succeeds—at being a mix of everything. Only one thing remaining to say: Phill Niblock.

Yes, Phill was there, live, and his concert was probably the most well-attended of the whole festival. I have seen Phill several times recently, always with one or the other of his stunning videos. Here in Barcelona it was only music, and truly mind-alteringly gorgeous music. Here’s a short clip from the beginning of his set, the end of which came too soon for all of us, I assure you.

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