The Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath is a great venue: I sound surprised because it has been a while since I ventured this far from my Audnam cottage and the last time I walked by, it looked rather shabby. It had a good history of supporting local talent (I should know, I played there myself in 1990), but all to often lost out to the Jug Of Ale up the road in Moseley, with national tours (a sad loss now it has gone). But what a turnaround the Hare and Hounds has had; it now boasts music and comedy almost every night of the week in one or both of their upstairs rooms. Tonight is no exception and both rooms are full to bursting, when many other venues are struggling. What is their secret? Well I guess it would have to be the quality of the artists performing (and also a bit of luck that the Midlands Arts Centre is undergoing refurbishment, because I am certain that had The mac been open, Murcof would have played there tonight). It is so refreshing to see a venue steering away from tribute bands and putting on some real diverse entertainment. It is also a tribute to southern Birmingham that the venue is well attended, because I know for a fact the same cannot be said of the Stourbridge area.
The support slot tonight is Oren Marshall, a man who is doing for the tuba what Hendrix did for Fender Strats. He has even altered the shape of his tuba renaming it the ‘Orenaphone’ and when you hear what he does with a tuba, you will understand why he retains the right to rename the instrument. It is a simple enough set up: one man, one Orenaphone and about 5 Boss effect pedals. Oren’s set moves from seemingly classical tuba pieces to soundscapes, in which he will play through his table full of delays, samplers, flangers, distortions, pitchshifters and then edit the sound live (and its subsequent layers of feedback) to produce a sound of beauty… all this while still playing. His use of circular breathing is something to behold as he plays note after note without stopping, while I am desperately coming up for air. Oren’s use of dynamics is something only learnt by a thorough knowledge of his craft and although minimalist in its approach, his pieces are never tiresome. If tubas ever become the next rock n roll must have, I am sure Mr Marshall will be hailed as much as Robert Johnson is to any guitarist worth there salt.
Continuing with the theme of minimalism and integrating conventional acoustic instruments with technology, Murcof (the ‘stage’ name for composer Fernando Corona), enters the stage. He is joined by BCN 216, three instrumentalists, viola, cello and trombone and FLICKER (which written on the poster and seen from a distance looks like something quite different), who is responsible for the projections on the giant white circle behind the stage.
Murcof is performing live the work he will release next year entitled Oceano, and whilst I have my reservations about the impact the music will have on a CD, it still is not to be missed.
There is something beautiful about minimalist music. It is seemingly uncomplicated, it is tonally exquisite, with its developing textures and repeating phrases, and it takes time to grow, allowing the listener space to really listen, unlike the ringtone music on the radio. Murcof has surpassed his earlier work in my opinion by giving much of the phrases and melody lines to the acoustic instruments, allowing the electronic parts, such as rhythms and sound effects to be played by the laptop, over which he is arched for the entire performance. It is a stunning sound he makes when he mixes boneshaking bass drum sounds with a floating live viola line that hangs over the pulsing rhythms below it. Added to this the breathy quality of the trombone and deep cello tones and the music really takes you away.
I guess my only problem was with the static quality of the performance. All the musicians are sitting throughout, with no real communication with the audience and little in the way of facial expression. A lot of the time Fernando was watching the everchanging backdrop as BCN 216 played. I suppose there is not much he could do about the stillness of the show and maybe this is the reason he employs Rod Maclachlan to provide the stunning projected images, because there is little to watch… but this is not a rock concert I suppose and I am not used to seeing an oil painting perform.
Quite how Murcof will translate these musical performances on to a CD next year remains to be seen, however, I think it will be difficult because a part of the attraction of this music is being a part of it. This is not music to listen to in the car, it has to be experienced.. it has to surround you, it has to be dynamic and the volume should punch you in the chest when the bass drum kicks in (not just move your earwax when your iPod is on maximum), it has to appeal to all your senses and this only live performances can do. So I suggest you keep your eyes and ears open for the next time Murcof is in town. Hopefully, he will reward the Hare and Hounds with a return visit, and we will reward their bravery with our attendance.
Review – Alan Neilson
Photos – Katja Ogrin