Wandering into the Traverse Bar on a weekday evening is always a surprise; sometimes quiet and chilled, at other times loud and lively, it seems there’s no way of predicting what the buzz will be. Every now and then you might just stumble across an impromptu performance from puppeteers, new writers or music. And tonight is one of those nights, as Red Note Ensemble gather for their 14th Noisy Nights, a free event to showcase new music from contemporary composers across the world.
The theme this evening is electric, and the trio consists of an electric guitar played by Malcolm MacFarlane, Tony Moffat (who built that gorgeous oak house on Grand Designs) on an appropriately electric blue violin and Su-A Lee with her beautifully carved chunky cello. Red Note’s Chief Executive John Harris both conducts and operates the sound board which, given the syncopated rhythms and unusual merging of classical and rock-influenced sounds is no mean feat. The ensemble are clearly incredibly talented musicians, and make the experimental randomness of the music seem easy, when they are anything but.
What’s warming about the evening is that most of the composers are in the audience, standing up before their piece to explain their influence and ideas. This is effectively their open mic night, where an intimate gathering of their peers have come to see what’s new without judging or criticising. The range of music seems both limited and at the same time expansive; contemporary music can sometimes feel that once you’ve heard one piece you’ve heard it all. But within that, the evening’s music ranges from techno-esque as if a computer is singing its way to working out the meaning of life Tetris-style, whilst others are more lyrical and relaxing with a funky medieval twist.
The 10 minute score competition is a great laugh, where all willing participants are given a chance to have their interval-written piece played by Red Note. Musical finesse is absolutely not required and the crazier the idea the better; this time the winner is a graphic score made of lines and dots entitled Cloud Exclamation Mark (Imagine A Square). Runner-up is a hilarious micro piece about being mugged, complete with blood-curdling screams. The irony about the competition is that the pieces seem equal to the others being played as part of the evening’s programme, and one has to wonder whether that’s a credit or criticism of the contemporary genre.
Contemporary music isn’t to everyone’s taste, but as an evening of quality performers playing pretty good pieces this is a really good way to see what the world of music is up to. With none of the compositions lasting more than ten minutes, the time seems to fly by and before you know it you’re reluctantly finishing the dregs of your drink and leaving the warm sanctuary of music, peace and experimentation.
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