There's something in there...

Posted by Ken Edwards on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 Under: music
To Oxford last week (the proof copy of Philip Terry’s tapestry arrived just as we were leaving) to hear a rare performance of "There's something in there" - a piece composed a few years ago by John Tilbury using my words. 

Maybe a dozen or so red kites wheeling and hovering over the M40 around Beaconsfield, their forked tails slanting like rudders, as the sun started to emerge. I've never seen one before, and didn't realise they had got quite so common in this part of the world.

The concert was at the Holywell Music Rooms, Holywell Street, part of the Audiograft festival of new music. About 40-50 in the audience. Chapel-like space, with an organ at the head, surrounded by white marble-effect pilasters and balustrades. I didn't see John until he came on stage. He was headlining, but first off were the Set Ensemble, a strange lineup of double bass, cello, melodica, piano, zither and electric guitar, playing long-note minimalism exclusively. The three "Swell Pieces" by James Tenney from late 60s/early 70s were the most successful in this vein. The second session featured a dadaist performance by Austin Sherlaw-Johnson, and Tim Parkinson performing Phil Niblock’s "Pan Fried", consisting of a sustained but varying rich and harsh continuous sound produced by a rosined nylon string being pulled back & forth against two strings of the piano. Until I read the programme notes I thought the performer was trying to pull an enormous tangle of wire out from between the strings of the baby grand.

When that was over, John Tilbury came on and played Samuel Beckett’s "Cascando". This wonderful piece, originally a radio play, features two contrasting voices, "Opener" and "Voice", the one controlling and apparently authoritative, the other, in John's programme notes, "fraught and anguished", often interrupted by the first. John's recorded voice plays both parts, the third "voice" being the piano part, improvised live.

"There’s something in there" followed immediately. John had commissioned my text with the suggestion that it relate in some way to the piano as an instrument. In fact, I veer away from this theme quite a bit, although there are references to the interior of the piano and the "wood" and "steel" of which the instrument is made; and the His Master's Voice logo is a strong presence towards the end. It can be found in my Songbook. Again, the piano part is played live, but John's voice is recorded, and the sound processing (of ambient sound partly recorded in the Steinway factory in Hamburg) was by Sebastian Lexer.

("Cascando" can be found together with another Beckett play, "Rough for Radio", on a Matchless Recordings CD. The original intention had been to include "There's something in there" as well, but apparently this was vetoed by the Beckett estate, so it's not available as a recording. I may post my own rough recording of last week's performance here.)

I was pleased to be invited to take a bow at the end with John, who has been a good friend for many years, and to talk to him and Janice in the green room afterwards.

In : music 

Tags: "john tilbury" "samuel beckett" "ken edwards" 
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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at