Wednesday 15 August 2012

Extreme promming

I believe I've mentioned it before, but we have a calendar near the kettle in Contrary Towers that contains all the essential mustn't forget dates. It's a brilliant, almost infallible system that will probably win the Nobel Prize for time management. Or something.

It does though have one teensy little flaw...
Me: Ooh, you're at the proms tonight!
Clare: I am? Oh bugger...
Me: *shakes head in utter belief*
...yes, you are supposed to read the thing. Oh well. I'll cancel my Stockholm hotel, looks like I won't be going after all.

Anyway. She suggested I come too as there was some mad music expected in Prom 44. Now I quite like mad music. Things to make you think. Things to challenge the mind. Things that aren't predictable. Or expected. So I said I see how I felt later in the day as, actually, I was still feeling tired and did have an awful lot of calls to make which I hate.

Which is why I procrastinated later and ordered tickets. At least tried to. You see I've not used the Royal Albert Hall ticket system before and was at a bit of a ditzy loss. So missed out on the last ticket for Prom 43. Which meant I was going to have to get my lazy bottom over to queue for either the Gallery or Arena, which, at least, meant I would actually be promenading proper like. Fortunately I did get tickets for the mad music in Prom 44.

I believe I've mentioned this before, maybe not in our joint blog, but definitely in my personal one, if I have to be somewhere at a given time, in this case to queue, then TFL will conspire to make me at the very least late. I thought it only happened when heading East to Contrary Towers.

I was wrong.

Turns out it can muck up going West to. The sound of deep resignation from the driver was profound, a series of small issues had caused a huge backup on the District Line. True entertainment was had at Mansion House where it was announced the next train would be on the other platform. Lots of people got off. Not me, I was way too busy reading Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work. Then it was announced ours would be the next train. Everybody got on. Snorks and exchanged smiles from the wise (and lazy) ones.

So, instead of being there at 6pm to queue I was only leaving South Kensington at 6:24. I know this because my flatmate sent me a text asking if I was queuing. Because she was having a gin.

I can really go off people.

No time for that, I got to the massive queue with some trepidation and... Pre-ticket 479! I was in, yay! Does. A. Little. Dance. I just had to wait to get to the door to buy an actual ticket.

Prom 43 was nice. Well presented, well played. And lovely to listen to. But nothing challenging. I actually went to the bar during the interval, which I normally never do, as I needed a medicinal Stolichnaya and tonic. Fortunately, the Arena bar is usually quite empty as people aren't that keen on paying more for a drink than they did for a ticket. Who knew.

For the second half I positioned myself to the edge of the Arena so I could sit down. As I did so I got a profound memory of being very young in a room full of adults and seeing little but legs. It moved me, for the first time in ages, to write:
A child's view of the world
The scene blocked
The sound unfurled
A tripping note
The Rise and fall
As violins scream
In twists and squalls

People read music
Or eyes so tight
Enthralled, intense
Lost in no sight
The sound rolls on
The magic hall
The view's the sound
Behind people tall

At the end of the first prom, sometime after 9pm, we met up and compared notes. I'll not go in to details. Plus I was treated to a much needed Sprite. Full power version. At this point though the Contrary started to kick in. We had come in door 3 as door 4 was, at the time, for egress only. But then had to get to the circle. Which you can't from door 3. Or at least not directly. Great. We wandered aimlessly but, eventually, found a staircase we knew and headed upstairs. It was very quiet. At the entrance to the circle we were offered a free upgrade to the stalls. Oooh. As, I imagine, everyone else was, it wasn't the busiest of proms!

Trouble was we had to get back to door 9. Errr. We weren't the only ones. We teamed up with a lovely older lady and braved the stairs of the RAH in a bid to find the promised land. Or the stalls. Either would do.

It has to be said. They were good seats. When we arrived the Poème symphonique was already playing...

Okay. So the Poème symphonique, 100 metronomes, all started at the same time, all with slightly different settings. But you know what, it's amazing. As my flatmate said, initially it sounded like a field of cicadas, but, as the devices died, the sound changed, patterns emerged, it became something else, rain drops, or bursts of silence. As we approached the end and it fell to just two remaining metronomes the audience was in utter silence. You could hear dust fall. Eventually though there was but a single metronome left, singly rocking back and forth. Alone.

It was deeply moving. I am actually losing my marbles.

Next up was Sequenza V. Which was mad and looked like it featured @obotheclown. Yep, a superb musician (Byron Fulcher), in a clown suit. With a trombone. The trombone was less of a surprise, obvs. It was excellent to watch and listen to, with a great level of skill being needed to get the timing right. But as Byron is Professor of Trombone (there is a joke there somewhere) at the Royal College of Music, I'd expect him to be a bit good.

Moving on. Mortuos plango vivos voco. We couldn't have had better seats, or be in a better place to experience this. As sound washed around the wall, pulling your ear to different directions as the bell became a voice and back again. It was astounding. Unexpected even. I'd not heard of it. I'm so glad my first experience was here. Amazing.

Which means we have the contrary piece... Da snelheid, or Velocity, by Louis Andriessen. The composer was there. And he was asked by the idiot MC to explain what it was about. I say idiot because when he tried to do it himself the composer pretty much said "err, no". I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but, as the piece moved on, really enjoyed the juxtaposition of fast against slow. I'm not sure it's a piece I'd want to listen to when contemplating the meaning of sausage rolls, but I would like to hear it live again.

Almost finally... 4' 33" by John Cage. There is much controversy over this. But as a concept, I love it. When you're listening to music live there are inevitably coughs and phone calls, rattling of wrappers and extraneous noises that often detract from the piece. But when the piece is just the sounds of the hall punctuated by the turning of the score on the direction of the conductor then it takes on a surreal aspect. During the piece I was playing Grumbling Belly in G Minor.

Finally. We'd been told at the start there would be some audience participation needed for Matthew Herbert's Live Remix. The idea being, on cue, we would all send ourselves a text message with the alert switched on after having listened to ambient sounds mixed from earlier in the evening. Clare couldn't participate as unfortunately her battery had died some time earlier. It just didn't work for me, and, having just discussed it with my flatmate, it didn't work for her either. And we like weird stuff. What they were trying to do was pretty clear, but it so depended on the source material and initial audience that it was always going to be touch and go.

At the end we didn't hang about for the applause to finish, it was 11:45 and we needed to get to the underground. Pronto. For me the evening ended with some cold chicken from the party and a mildly flirty DM exchange with somebody, whilst poor Clare was dying on her feet.

The after effects of extreme promming are quite severe, I'm tired, achy and have a bit of a headache. But, oh my. The music.

When do I do it again?

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