Thursday, May 16, 2013

the entropic piano in the woods

Littlehall Pinetum, Canterbury

Sunday 5th May, 2013

A beautiful day. After playing a little bit of music (and fascinatedly watching ants) with Leonie Evans, who'd stuck around after the Friday evening gig with Daevid Allen, I accompanied her down to the bus station, then wandered over to Wincheap for a quick game of Go, then back up to the Pinetum for the initial phase of a new Sondryfolk-sponsored project involving a decaying piano.

The piano in question had been donated to the collective just before the Autumnal Jamboree in autumn 2011, and had been sitting around (indoors) taking up space since, with no clear future. But Sophie, Elise and I came up with a plan over breakfast last time I was down in Bristol. What we were originally calling "The Entropic Piano" was to be a project involving Canterbury pianist Sam Bailey improvising on the instrument, having been placed outdoors, each month for a full year. The idea is that the piano becomes increasingly detuned and unplayable, challenging Sam to find innovative ways to explore its sonic possibilities. Over the last year or so I've been witnessing his performances during Free Range events, and his approach to the piano has moved noticeably towards unconventional playing (involving preparing the strings with blu-tack, knitting needles, playing them with EBows, etc.).

The aim is for all twelve performances to be photographed and recorded, and filmed when possible, all of this material eventually being collaged into some kind of final document. It's possible that the final performance in May 2014 (which coincides with the next SoundsNew festival) could involve an in situ audience, the complete destruction of the piano and/or video projections involving elements of the previous eleven events.

First we had to move the piano to the selected location. CCCU filmmaker Ben Rowley, who'd offered to come up and film the first performance, let it be known that he'd like to film the piano-moving too. He turned up with a clockwork Bolex film camera, plus two photographer friends (one digital, one analogue). Dave, Libby, Piers and I did our best to shift the piano as gracefully as possible using an old four-wheel trolley (it had been tuned a few days earlier, the piano tuner somewhat bemused by the whole concept, but assuring us on completion that the old thing was as in tune as it was ever likely to be). There was a slapstick element to this, shades of Laurel and Hardy, quite funny to think that this might end up as part of a 'serious' art film. But we successfully got the piano into place, and Sam, amidst a riot of early evening birdsong, played thus...

Then it was off down to the Jolly Sailor, a pub in Northgate, to catch a set from Syd Arthur. This was part of the City Sound Project, billed as "Canterbury's first inner-city music festival". It involved gigs in venues (mostly pubs) around town all weekend, but as it was a bank holiday Sunday, and the event was organised by (and seemingly aimed at) the city's large student population, alcohol seemed to be a bigger part of what was going on that music. When I got down there the boys were lingering in their van across the road — "absolute carnage in their!" they warned me, as drunk young people wandered up and down the street. Also, the entire festival was ticket with wristbands, so I decided it was most sensible to just make myself comfortable (having even brought a cushion) on the pavement at the end of St. Radigunds Street and listen from there. Liam's girlfriend Jen spotted me shortly before they started, produced a spare wristband in case I wanted to go in, and then offered to get me a blanket from the van, as it was a surprisingly chilly evening for May. So I found myself sitting on the pavement wrapped in a blanked, perfectly happy...but then realised that everyone assumed I was homeless and begging! A couple of people offered cigarettes and change, so I politely explained that I wasn't homeless, just happily sitting on the pavement wrapped in a blanket waiting to hear an excellent band that they should really check out! I ended up having a really memorable, spontaneous chat with a kind-hearted student (and then his girlfriend, who he introduced me to) about homelessness, interesting to be on the other side of that for once.

I also realised I was sitting midpoint between the Jolly Sailor and 5 St. Radigunds Street, famously occupied in the late 60's by UKC students Spirogyra and Steve Hillage (as well as Sondryfolk Laurie's mum Angie a few years later).

Time was limited, so they kicked off their set with "Ode to the Summer" and "Edge of the Earth" (the two songs from their recent double A-side single promoting the On An On album), then a couple of new ones, including "Thousand Miles", the first few bars of which just send my heart soaring, such a beautiful melody, and a kind of crystalisation of everything they've done to date. They finished with "Pulse", an old favourite, and as I had a wristband I couldn't resist... bundled up my blanket, dived headlong into the drunken mayhem, threaded my way to the front and bathed in the sound. The jam section in that song allows them to really express their heavy-psych tendencies (but overlaid on a fleet-footed dance groove) — possibly the best example of that I've heard yet from them, I'm glad I made the effort to get in there.


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