MUSIC / Pop go the classics: Stephen Johnson welcomes the latest voices in new writing

Time was when popular music in any form and new 'serious' composition were mutually exclusive universes. Cornelius Cardew might invoke the odd Chinese workers' revolutionary song, but that was about it. It was widely agreed that, after centuries of cross- fertilisation, high art and the vernacular had finally made the great divorce, and that the breach was irrepairable.

So what would a pundit of the Sixties or Seventies have made of the recent SPNM / ICA Oneday extravaganza? Dave Smith's note to his Disco Soleil Brilliant might have struck a familiar chord, with its talk of 'favoured licks of dated popular styles fed along an art- muzak conveyor belt'. John White's gentle toying with cliches ancient and modern, in three of his 130-plus piano sonatas, might too - though it can take a while to 'get' White's deadpan riddles.

But many of the new works in the SPNM showcase managed to lean popwards without obvious irony. The surprise in John Thomas's Let's Get Moving was not the use of modern-jazzy syncopations or the new-agey washes of tape sound, but their fusion, or rather non-fusion with a kind of perky Hindemithian counterpoint. Highlights of the evening concert, given by the 'theatre orchestra' George W Welch, were a piece of pure jazz composition, Carla Bley's Murder (skilfully arranged by the group's director Ian Gardiner), and Gardiner's own 45RPM. Like Smith, Gardiner has also been licking around 'dated popular styles', but while Smith's piece makes its point by sheer insistence, Gardiner prefers to entice the ear with wit, cunning, subtle surprise and elegant craftsmanship; in other words, it's the composition that counts. If that sounds rather Brian Sewell-ish, then maybe the man has a point after all.

It was the earlier improvisation session that produced sounds more akin to the popular bogey-image of 'modern music'. John Butcher's two short saxophone improvisations were inventive enough to pass for written compositions. Whether one found the Hession-Wilkinson-Fell session transcendent in its 'visceral power' or aggressive, undifferentiated rant was more a matter of taste. But when they complained at the end of the allotted hour that they hadn't been allowed enough time to get going, and that they felt artistically impelled to continue, quite a few people left the room.

The interval video (by Jonathan Borofsky) at London New Music's One Day Tradition concert at the Lilian Baylis Theatre last Wednesday was an idea, though putting it in a noisy, crowded bar meant that very few of us got the benefit of it. Otherwise, the three pieces by Wolfgang von Schweinitz revealed a composer with a strong personal voice, but with perhaps too much fondness for cluster-dissonance chords, while Gerald Barry's music trod a narrow aesthetic tightrope between moronically insistent banality and cunning faux navete. ' ' for ensemble fell resoundingly into Category 1, but Triorchic Blues for solo violin was one of the most compelling examples of folk reappraised I've heard in a while - splendid performance by Charles Mutter.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m