Slowly chewing it over
Monday 18 May 1998
Royal Festival Hall, London
The two new works in Wednesday's programme by the Michael Nyman Band consist of short movements, themselves - for the most part - severely sectioned into brief, sometimes alternating, fragments which accumulate material more than they speculate upon it.
Overwhemingly, of course, they repeat it, so an awful lot depends a) on the durability of the basic material itself, and b) on the degree of imagination with which it is varied harmonically, instrumentally and so on. Though all this can be credited to the limitations of writing for films, other music on the programme suggested that Nyman's infamous shortwindedness is indeed endemic, rather than imposed.
Kenji Eno's "Enemy Zero" is a Japanese interactive video game on CD-ROM, its main character a Sharon Stone-lookalike called Laura. Plundering his own 1981 piece "Birdwork", the composer has produced a six-movement suite fleshing out the lean, mean Nyman of old with bloated and cynical layers of Romantic cannie: a piano solo of pastiched awfulness here, a smoochy indulgence of chromatic sidesteps there.
Things weren't helped by the playing of the composer's band, which lacked the raw energy and rhythmic bite previously typical of it: the amplication was sometimes tinny, the tone of the string section oddly thin; the first movement of "Enemy Zero" speeded up as it went along. The performance of "3 Quartets" - which now strikes me as one of the composer's better recent efforts, enhanced by the quirkiness of a frequent five beats to the bar - was rhythmically insecure, its ensemble strangely uncertain in a piece the band must have now played many times. The first violinist - scarcely a match for the characterful leadership provided by his predecessor, Alex Balanescu - lethargically chewed his way through the concert. I didn't know you could chew and play the fiddle at the same time. Mastication without modulation.
At least the Smith Quartet's performances of selected movements from the Fourth String Quartet, which opened each half of the programme, had more vigour and subtlely but even this group isn't as punchy in its present line-up. Though the Quartet's collection of twelve short movements, emphasising the composer's various interests in folk music, continues the shortwinded tendency without the film-music excuse, it does at least find more room for modulations, or at least for a more effective range of the chromatic shifts and alterations with which Nyman is now apparently attempting to transcend the limitations of his style.
If the music from the recently-released film Gattaca (about a society of genetically engineered people, directed by the New-Zealander Andrew Niccol) is anything to go by, such manoeuvres can do little to bring new life to a composer who now seems as much on autopilot as was his band on Wednesday night. Here, in the form of another six-movement suite, it fails the two-point acid test detailed above by subjecting some of the most thematically vapid, harmonically insensitive - and largely mind-numbingly slow - material I've ever heard Nyman produce to the thick treacle of a treatment by an engorged version of his band.
Life & Style blogs
How psychopaths hide in plain sight – a psychological analysis of serial killer Dennis Rader
Majority of UK women don't bathe or take a shower daily
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
How I rescued my brain: Psychologist David Roland rewired his thoughts following a stroke
Brit Awards 2015: Red carpet round up, from Paloma Faith to Ed Sheeran
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
Ukraine crisis: 'One miscalculation, and Britain faces an existential threat to our whole being...'
- 1 Liam Gallagher brands Kanye West 'utter s**t' during BRIT Awards performance
- 2 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 3 People who sleep more than eight hours are more likely to have a stroke, research shows
- 4 Kanye West climbs on table at Nando's to crowd chants of 'Yeezus' before Brit Awards 2015 performance of 'All Day'
- 5 Muslim women's rights campaigner writes heartfelt letter to girls thinking of joining Isis
£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...
£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...