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New Music: Blood on the keys

MOVING LAST year from Conway Hall to the South Bank, one of the things that the London Musicians' Collective's Annual festival of Experimental Music has consistently done best, under the direction of Ed Baxter, is to bring to Britain some of the foreign musicians who have considerable reputations as pioneers in their field, but who have seldom, if ever, played here.

Last year, the American improvising pianist Charlemagne Palestine offered an extraordinary, visionary solo performance - ending with blood on the keys and a damaged piano - that was the highlight of my concert-going in 1998.

The first of this year's four nights alone promised the 72-year-old Frenchman Pierre Henry - one of the originators of Musique Concrete and now the "grandfather of electronica" - and the 66-year-old American minimalist Philip Corner.

The trouble is that the more avant-garde performances must attempt to make themselves heard amid distractions which are only in part due to impatient listeners who have come for something else on these, in principle, laudably catholic programmes.

Philip Corner's three gamelan pieces (which were performed by the South Bank Gamelan Players) were wrecked by people trooping in and out of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, even during the silences of its opening and closing stages.

On Sunday I had to flee from the dangerous, high-pitched things that the Japanese duo Filament was inflicting on the audience. This evening concluded with its audience encircled by the 20 female saxophonists of Mass Producers, who need to get some real composers (female ones, naturally) to provide them with stronger material.

The best thing I experienced all weekend was the singing, one-string fiddle-playing and dancing of the Kenyan William Ingosi Mwoshi, around whom Wynne's Upcountry had been assembled: 15 minutes of sheer joy with just five notes.

Keith Potter