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Pushing Back the Boundaries

London Sinfonietta's 'British Experiments',
reviewed by CHRIS GRAHAM


British Experiments was the title of a concert given by the London Sinfonietta at King's Place, London, UK, on 30 April 2010, midway through their ambitious three day festival of British and American experimental music. The title suggested a programme of contemporary leading-edge material, and indeed the concert included three twenty first century pieces (John Lely's All About the Piano, David Smith's Zytnia and Michael Nyman's Exit No Exit); some evidence, then, that experimental music of all kinds is alive and well and seeking out new directions.

However, experimentalism has itself become, ironically, a musical tradition, and this was the theme which emerged most strongly from the pre-concert discussion between John Tilbury, Michael Parsons and Howard Skempton, who were introducing (and contributing to) the 2010 Sinfonietta programme while looking back to their formative experiences in the 1960s alongside John Cage and Cornelius Cardew. In this narrow sense, British experimental music has become associated particularly with the work of Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra in the 60s; indeed the pre-concert speakers acknowledged that they felt themselves to be part of a 'family' in which composers often wrote and performed for each other. (For example, all the above named were involved in the Scratch Orchestra.)

During the discussion, some of the main tenets of the 60s experimental 'family' emerged: musical sounds were important in and for themselves, to be 'observed' or 'tracked'; also, performers were to be given a measure of freedom in deciding how pieces should be performed...

Copyright © 27 May 2010 Chris Graham,
London UK





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