Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Robert Stillman at Free Range

26/01/2012, The Veg Box Cafe, Canterbury

I missed the second in the Free Range series, but made it to the third, which featured (along with Sam Bailey playing his usual free improv piano set) Robert Stillman accompanying a series of specially made short abstract films in "one-man band" style, playing Fender Rhodes plus pedal-triggered snare, bass drum and hi-hat.

Robert's an American music lecturer at Christchurch (one of Adam B's tutors — that's Adam from Lapis Lazuli, Delta Sleep and Wheels, and who I've been jamming with lately...he was also present for this). Seems a lovely bloke, very creative and good-humoured. The most memorable piece was something he called "Looking Glass Music", based on an early example of a "hack" from the golden age of the player piano, when someone discovered that feeding the rolls in upside down and backwards leads to a very interesting musical output! He'd attempted to compose and then learn to play a piece in this style. "I'm determined to play this correctly once before I die!" he announced before launching into one of the oddest bits of keyboard playing I've ever heard (this then brought to mind Conlon Nancarrow's insane player piano compositions which John Dieterich brought to my check them out on Youtube if you get a chance, you won't believe your ears!)

At the end, Sam thanked not just Robert and the film-makers, but also the audience for our "quality of listening". It was only then that I realised that throughout the evening, EVERYONE had been listening to the music — I couldn't even remember any whispered conversation. This makes a wonderful change from my usual experience of going out to hear live music and then grumbling on this blog about how no one knows how to listen anymore!

I won't attempt to describe the music, as you can listen to it here:


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