Monday, August 03, 2009

Am I loud enough?


Is amplification the way forward for classical music? World music is embracing amplified sound. Philip Glass said that world music is the new classical, and the Guardian's Andrew Clements declared that mixing an oud with a symphony orchestra is the future. When I expressed surprise at seeing a PA system being used with an oud and sitar, one of the organisers of Les Orientales festival in France said, 'Indian musicians always want a lot of amplification'. Record companies heavily compress today's rock recordings because they know loud sells. Would loud also sell classical?

Just random reflections prompted by Saturday night's opening Snape Prom. During a typically open-minded Aldeburgh Music residency jazz pianist and composer Alex Wison and a multi-cultural team of musicians created Mali Latino. Madou Sidiki Diabaté kora, Ahmed Fofana percussion, and Doussouba Diabaté vocals, all from West Africa, form the core of a nine-piece band that uses a Latin backing section of string bass/guitar, trombones and percussion in a truly explosive collision of musical cultures.

There is no better sounding concert hall in the world than Snape Maltings, which is where Mali Latino played. But the ensemble was amplified, quite heavily amplified in fact. My initial reaction was 'this is too loud', and the sound quality of the amplified kora solo had the audiophile in me cringing. But, if age has taught me anything, it is the wisdom of John Cage's words:
'The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.'
Snape Maltings was sold out for Mali Latino's concert; unlike the following night's recital of Haydn, Liszt, Alkan, Fauré and Mozart by Marc-André Hamelin. Mali Latino attracted one of the most diverse audiences I have seen in a concert hall for a long time, and the music had them on their feet cheering and demanding more. Most importantly, no one was talking about the problem of the kora on the stage and the amplified sounds in Ben and Peter's hallowed hall. As Marcel Duchamp said:
'There is no solution because there is no problem'.

* Aldeburgh Music tell me that a free download of the Mali Latino concert will be available on their new website shortly. While at Snape I bought a CD by Ahmed Fofana, who played a central role in the residency. Mandingo Riffs (seen in the two images above) is a fascinating illustration of the difference between world and western art music. The calls that came in to the BBC Radio 5 Live programme about the BBC Proms that I took part in recently were a very sobering reminder of how looking backwards is still seen by many as the primary function of western art music. By contrast world music views its heritage simply as a spring-board into the future. Mandingo Riffs effortlessly mixes traditional Mali instruments with electronics and ambient sounds. This CD, which was recorded in Bamako, Mali, may have a 'garage' feel to it, with its laser printed graphics and hand-copied disc. But this, rather than the exhortation to "Stuff Indian music" expressed by a Proms fan on BBC Radio 5 Live, is the way forward.

Ahmed Fofana on MySpace here. He is appearing at the Africolor Festival in Paris in November, we should be taking in some of that festival . Mali Latino video below. Read about the album of Bach and Coltrane that describes itself as 'classical sound plus the mix of a pop album'. And am I loud enough here and here?



Our tickets for Mali Latino were bought at Snape Maltings, as was the Mandingo Riffs CD, I don't think the CD is generally available as it not bar-coded. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

1 comment:

Pliable said...

Alex Wison is looking for an enterprising record label to pick up Mali Latino as a recording project.

The fact that this project and the Dublin Guitar Quartet's Philip Glass transcriptions -

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2009/07/glass-on-guitar.html

- are both looking for commercial release shows the dire state of the record industry today.

Two massive opportunities for a label that dares to be different.