Vibrations 2012:photo by Lasse Marhaug
Part of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF), this was the UK Premier of Crepuscular Hour, a piece by Norwegian composer and musician Maja S K Ratkje that seeks to incorporate harsh noise within the more formal setting of a written piece of music. A fascinating idea in itself, but more generally proof that with each year the HCMF is expanding the concept of what ‘contemporary classical music’ can encompass.
Crepuscular Hour uses three separate choirs, two of which occupy space at opposite sides of the circle, with the third at the back of the hall. Four of the six noise musicians are on stage with the other two also in the circle. The conductor is on a podium in the centre of the hall and there are no seats, the audience encouraged to wander around as they please. Given the usual formalities of concerts in this kind of setting, these arrangements may well have had a novel, even destabilising effect, certainly on audience members not used to the more chaotic conventions of, say, a rock concert.
The piece itself is simple in concept, a kind of power struggle between the sonorous human voice and the atonal machine noise, but has a subtly complex arrangement as each element vies for domination. As with many noise performances, the piece builds over several sections to an intense, deafening climax. In the end the rivals merge into a kind of harmonious exultation of unity, with the voices seeming to provide just as much distortion as the noise. In comparison to a regular noise gig, this was pretty tame (certainly one of the noise musicians involved, fellow Norwegian Lasse Marhaug, has been responsible for some pretty uncompromising noise recordings both solo and as part of Jazkamer), but in this context this was a ground-breaking concert. But were the free earplugs given out before the concert necessary? Probably not.