“What is a score?” This was the question posed last night in Kings Place, Hall Two, by the effervescent ensemble who style themselves as notes inégales. Under the directorship of Peter Wiegold, six instrumentalists brought together a programme of improvisational works that responded to computer-generated scores on a large screen. Michael Young’s tableaux vivants, [zygote]’s A Game of You with The Doll’s House, Wiegold’s Darkness Visible, and Christian Marclay’s Shuffle together formed a kaleidoscopic lens through which the role of the score could be seen to mutate.

Peter Wiegold © Marion Trestler
Peter Wiegold
© Marion Trestler

Young’s tableaux vivants made a provocative opening to the programme, inviting the audience both to look at a computer-based score displaying a sequence of amorphous musical notations, and to listen to the individualistic rendering of these by each performer. A dynamic trapeze act of improvisations was executed across the notes inégales team, and contributions made by the performers were then “heard” by the computer and grouped into a virtual arena. The work thus thrived on its own performance history, with the computer analysing initial improvisations and constructing new scores that were then re-distributed on screen. Perhaps the idealised “co-dependence” of musical events suggested in the programme note was not always in clear evidence, since some improvisations served to obscure musical relationships. Indeed, the question of whether the world of the 1890s tableaux vivants (“living pictures”) was effectively communicated as the guiding inspiration for this programme also remained unanswered. Tableaux vivants became popular during the late 19th century in a bid to marry the theatre with forms such as art and photography; these tableaux were often still-life enactments of historical, mythical or erotic scenes. For the notes inégales musicians, the concept prompted styles of performance that revelled in the minute details of live and electronically crystallised sound. However, the pictorial facets of this eccentric practice were generally left in limbo.

The elusively named [zygote] defies simple identification, much like their piece A Game of You with The Doll’s House. This work is in fact two interconnected pieces that are performed at the same time. In A Game of You the performers responded to an animated score with improvisations, while The Doll’s House provided a background of fixed stereo sounds to inform their decisions. Separated into three horizontal strands, the animation gradually pulled spectral waves, beams and note-heads apart on screen, allowing new and abstract combinations to be built from the splayed materials. That the transforming score was handwritten intensified the experience, as it enticed audience members to consider the possibilities of slippage within the process of writing music. It is difficult to discern whether the fantastical world of Neil Gaiman’s comic book literature (from which the titles are taken) is afforded any breathing space amidst this intellectual exercise. Sandwiched in between the programme’s two extracts from these comic texts was a further quotation from Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. The audience’s apprehension of the music might have been assisted had they been told that this book is a philosophical study in schizophrenic and nomadic thought.

Peter Wiegold’s Darkness Visible received its London première after the interval. The work is based on Jayne Wilton’s film of cosmic rays arriving in a jar of alcohol at Brunel University, made to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of their discovery by Victor Hess. As these diaphanous and gaseous subatomic particles curved across the screen the performers embarked on a musical response that attempted to conjure a sensation of deep structures and endless constellations of time. Melodic threads spun from harmonics by the violinist Max Baillie were especially effective, and Wiegold was able to produce some strikingly fragile electronic sounds from the keyboard alongside this. Text by Akram Khan accompanying the on-screen images contemplated the significance of these mysterious particles from space that are silently and secretly permeating the earth’s atmosphere. The cosmic inspiration for this work made for an eloquent conceptual link with the electronic aspects across the programme as a whole. With Christian Marclay’s Shuffle the screen was finally dispensed with and a member of the audience was asked to select five photographic cards from which the basis of a group improvisation would be formed. Signalling from the keyboard, Wiegold led a rhapsodic exploration that saw trumpeter Torbjörn Hultmark use live electronics to displace his vocal mutterings with the ghostly sounds of a muted trumpet.

This was a highly challenging and thought-provoking concert programme that at times succeeded in liberating musical forms from their conventional strictures. The tableaux vivants theme was perhaps too loosely threaded to function as an overarching concept. However, notes inégales are undoubtedly a gifted ensemble, and the underground club inégales will be a cutting-edge venue to watch out for.

***11