Pop & Jazz: Stretch Your Ears

John L Walters on New Music
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The Independent Culture
THERE'S A history of sorts of marginalised musicians using galleries and museums as a venue for creative music. In the Sixties and Seventies the Philip Glass Ensemble played art spaces long before their music was embraced by concert programmers, movie directors and opera houses. Yet a white box is not a natural auditorium: quieter, more introspective work tends to fare better than loud, booming music.

On Saturday, 24 July, the Royal Academy of Arts plays host to a "secret" Michael Nyman event in the galleries of the Summer Exhibition. This features Nyman on piano and singer Hilary Summers. And tickets, which cover drinks and a private view of the exhibition, will set you back pounds 30, a far cry from the Hayward or the South London Gallery.

It's "secret" because Nyman's band is playing his "only London concert" at the Festival Hall on 12 July, offering music from films such as Ravenous, on which Nyman collaborated with Blur frontperson Damon Albarn.

The updated, "remixed" version of Nyman's Experimental Music, Cage and Beyond, first produced by Studio Vista in 1974, is finally slated for publication this month (Cambridge University Press) with an introduction by Brian Eno. The author, then known better as a critic than the composer of The Piano, helped define "experimental music", a term that embraced the work of Ives, Satie, John White and Cornelius Cardew. The book (originally published by Studio Vista) has had a slow-burning influence on music of all kinds, though many of its heroes are still invisible.

The upstairs club room at the Spitz, in East London, has evolved painlessly into one of the capital's best venues for creative and experimental music. Good sound, imaginative programming and a happy placement of stage, seating and bar areas, make it the ideal place to hear music as varied as the Shout (Richard Chew and Orlando Gough's mighty choir), the Electronicage club and the recent cross-media event by Sarah Sarhandi and friends. Sarhandi played viola and occasionally sang with a support team that included compositions by Mark Springer, programs by Talvin Singh and words by Hanif Kureishi.

The live crew consisted of shadowy boffins and spotlit performers, the most impressive of whom was drummer Marque Gilmore, a last-minute replacement whose grooves and sounds responded sensitively to the textures and structures created by Sarhandi and her team.

There are many more interesting Spitz gigs to come - Ambitroniques early in August; June Tabor, 7 July, and David Thomas, 15 July, as part of the City of London Festival; Hub featuring Squarepusher, 22 July; and Graham Massey's Toolshed, 27 July.

I wandered into the Spitz on Wednesday knowing nothing about the saxophone quartet, Quadrophonic, but was pleasantly surprised by a quirky hybrid of experimental music and jazz, held down by a forceful baritone sax. The audience, full of supporters for their new lottery-funded CD, cheered them to the rafters.

The South Bank masterplanners would do well to figure out what makes the Spitz so different, so appealing. A bigger version of the club would fit neatly in the hole left by the Purcell Room.

One of the most refreshing CD releases for a while is Metamorphoses (ReR), a collaboration between Flamenco guitarist Alfredo Lagos and sound manipulators, Giovanni Venosta and Massimo Mariani. Venosta and Mariani put the acoustic guitar through all manner of electronic treatments, making a sonic landscape that can be alien but still full of the traces of Lagos's musicianship.

Surf, by Philip Jeck is a new CD from the Touch label, elegantly packaged in grey. Photos and fragments of prose set the mood: "At a place that is yours or mine; it is morning, evening, anytime..." It could be Matthew Collings talking about modern art. But it sets the scene for one of the most extraordinary creative musicians around, quietly producing ambitious electronic collages from a pile of old records, turntables and a discontinued sampler. He's a giant among diminutive DJs.

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