Df #4 was the latest installment in a series of concerts from Manchester based new music ensemble Distractfold, the diversity of nationalities of whose players is reflected in the composers whose pieces are performed: countries represented in Df #4 included Argentina, Italy, the UK, France, Russia, Germany, the US, Spain and Costa Rica. As well as attempting global musical representation, each concert typically presents purely instrumental, electroacoustic and purely electronic music, reflecting the interests of composer Sam Salem, who is one of Distractfold’s founders.
The evening’s programme consisted of works written in the last decade alongside older pieces from more established composers in Salvatore Sciarrino and Sofia Gubaidulina. The first piece in the programme, No Input for clarinet and tape by Santiago Diez-Fischer preceeded Sciarrino’s Tre notturni brillanti for solo viola, with the first piece sharing Sciarrino’s preoccupations with boundaries between sound and silence and static, repetitious, cellular textures punctuated by outbursts, but aside from this, there was no obvious continuity to the programme.
It was two of the purely electronic pieces that most impressed me. End transmission by Joseph Hyde was with a video projection displaying distorted, pixelated images not stylistically dissimilar to the colour field paintings of Clyfford Still. These images remained mainly abstract until near the end where concrete symbols, to me evocative of those for gender, emerged, panning across the scene. It seemed to me as if the video was a visual interpretation of the music, rather than the other way round or a balanced dialogue and indeed for me the images had no clear structure in time, save for the rate of projection of images following the beat speed of the music. I could not make a narrative sense of the images either and wondered whether the projections were really necessary. However, musically the piece was a success; a heavy rhythmic bass with a constant rhythmic pulse is initially counterpointed with higher pitched noises with variation provided by distorting unit lengths, then by varying the rhythmic base(!) used. Eventually, rhythm is disintegrated giving way to more indefinite textures before a ternary form is completed with the reintroduction of rhythm, this time with constant unit lengths. A coda recapitulates the opening sonorities explicitly.
The piece which I felt most exploited the textural density and variety possible when composing electronic music was Hans Tutschku‘s Rojo. Voices and prayer bowls are electronically manipulated and layered to generate rich textural blocks of material, separated by rising and volatile screams which mark the start of each section. These demarcations occur with increasing frequency and lead the music into a climatic passage consisting of an extended manipulation of the screams, which dies away to reveal the return of the opening texture.
As with my experience attending gaussian 1, I found the concert very refreshing and I found its ambition to perform music (mostly) from abroad which would not otherwise be given a platform in this country and the dedication of the players extremely comforting. I regret not having been able to attend the previous concerts in the series and Distractfold have certainly acquired a new fan in me.