MUSIC: Rrrrrrr: a space oddity

Bowers-Broadbent ICA, London Bowers-Broadbent subjected his organ to the kind of slaps and kicks that Jerry Lee Lewis used to inflict on his piano
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The Independent Culture
With its multiple voices, the organ is equally at home in towering cathedrals or in Blackpool Tower. Embracing heavenly aspiration and more earthy desires, it makes inordinate demands on all four of the player's limbs: the act of performance is a show inits own right. In a short speech before the second half of his ICA recital on Sunday (the penultimate concert in the final New MusICA series), Christopher Bowers-Broadbent introduced his instrument - a gleaming Viscount electronic organ from Ita ly - and admitted he was more used to being in the organ loft than in full view of his audience.

As he grappled with keyboards, pedals, stops, switches and dials, it was hard not to think of a spaceship's flight-deck. We're used to players tuning up between pieces. Here, Bowers-Broadbent consulted a checklist of instructions. Between two sections ofMauricio Kagel's elaborate Rrrrrrr ... he forgot to alter one of the settings and had to start again. Frequently peering beneath the keyboard to check the arrangement of his feet, surrounded by flashing lights, he seemed to be serving his instrument, rather than it serving him - yet the effect, baffling and beguiling, was to draw the listener to the performance, and to the performer.

Some of the eight works on the programme benefited from the peripheral distractions - Dave Soldier's Hocket and Invention (one from a series of six) found the kind of groove exploited by jazz organists like Jimmy Smith, then suddenly it was gone. And while Pablo de Ortiz's Sudor de Tinta (Ink Sweat) built a tension between sustained drone and Hammer Horror stabs at the keyboard, it felt as if, lacking anywhere to go, it simply petered out.

Other pieces found their mark. Bowers-Broadbent declared Morton Feldman's Principal Sound one of his favourite pieces, if only because it proved that the organ didn't have to make lots of noise. A gentle rocking figure, supported by a long sustain, generated an eerie sense of disembodiment, as if the organ were reluctant to disturb the silence. Feldman's music often unfolds over huge time-spans - four hours and more - but Principal Sound was short and sweetly delicate. An extra hour or so wouldn't havegone amiss.

The titles of the 41 sections of Kagel's Rrrrrrr... all begin with the letter R. The eight for organ performed here included "Raga", "Ragtime-waltz", "Rosalie" (glossed in the programme as "Not a name but a pejorative term for repeated melodic patterns")

-their tone and mood covered a remarkable range, by turns rollicking, thunderously violent and outrageously vulgar (shades of Blackpool Tower). Played with great panache, they left the audience bewildered but delighted.

A good showman, Bowers-Broadbent kept the flashiest till last, but while Stephen Montague's Behold a Pale Horse made plenty of apocalyptic noise, it was a far from empty vessel. Repeated loud blasts led to a restful interlude - almost a tune - before, gradually pumping up the volume, Bowers-Broadbent subjected the instrument to the kind of abuse - slaps, kicks, exuberant keyboard runs - that Jerry Lee Lewis used to inflict on his piano. It brought an intriguing performance to a boisterous climax.