In the world of concert music, it is a rare privilege to witness the first ever performance of an instrument in Britain, let alone a whole host that have been specifically created for a piece of music. A stage full of weird and wonderful creations took over the Colston Hall for one of the most surreal concerts I have ever attended.  Big boxes, giant strings and glass bells adorned the stage transforming a Sunday afternoon into a Dali-esque dream-like experience. The performers came on stage in varieties of blues, greens and purples and dispersed themselves amongst the wood and metal for the thirty-five minute transfixing act.

This was an afternoon that tested the boundaries of contemporary music with the UK premiere of And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma written over the course of a few years from 1963-66. The American composer Harry Partch actually built the instruments specifically for this piece of music and Ensemble musikFabrik commissioned the recreation of these instruments as part of a European premiere of Partch’s work a while ago, but have consequently become masters of the instruments. In fact, as a contemporary group their abilty to chop and change instruments was impressive

The soundscape was definitely unusual in the concert hall but not dissimilar to some of the ethereal sounds of the psychedelic sixties. The string instruments, although different in shape and method of playing, were not too far from the sounds of the Indian sitar and the likes of Ravi Shankar’s influence on The Beatles. The music itself came in short bursts. There were elements of musical ideas that never really revealed themselves, becoming frustrating as each fragment lasted a minute. I found myself yearning for a melody in an all too percussive and dissonant score. The dissonance didn’t feel as though it served enough of a functional purpose as there was no contrast, meaning that the pauses within the piece became welcome relief, whether or not the silence actually had a direct function in the music.

My favourite instrument on the stage was a giant bellow attached to wooden windpipes that made a sound resembling a train whistle. A member of Musikfabrik stood on the top of the giant bellow and slowly pressed it down with his full body weight. Despite being serious in his role in the performance, the effect of the wheezing whistle combined with his rigid stance descending in an elevator-like manner was fairly comical and received a laugh and mutters from the audience. This was not by any means the most physically demanding instrument of the piece. There were instruments that can only be described as giant string temples, resembling a cruder version of a harp that looked complex to play and stood a good two metres tall above the stage. These enormous structures were hand plucked and then the tones of the strings were altered using a lever to bend the sound to a surreal effect. Towards the end of the piece a guitar made an appearance. It seemed a shame that this was the first and only regular instrument on the stage for the entire piece.

Contrasting to the first half of the concert, an opposing mood presented itself with rainbow shirts and the genre-free music of Frank Zappa – with regular instruments. The music was a fusion of the experimental with a strong lean towards heavy jazz. As one of the most memorable musical events I have ever witnessed, the night culminated in a Zappa encore where two cymbal players starting on stage platforms, with a cheerful smile, crashed and waved of cymbals. In the music that forever climaxed with computer style noises from the rest of the musicians, the cymbalists climbed higher and higher for each crash at the end of every phrase – full of impact.