Classical review: Plug 4, Glasgow

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“WE’D start, but we’re missing our mezzo soprano”. Red Note Ensemble’s conductor Jessica Cottis would probably have preferred to open last night’s Plug concert less apologetically.

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

****

And then when the singer was found, word went out for a missing microphone. Red faces from Red Note.

The glitches rectified, what followed was a thoroughly refreshing programme combining electronics, visual projection, and live performance. It featured two particularly interesting voices – music by Thomas Butler, a PhD student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; and two works by the Canadian Nicole Lizée, the one featured guest composer in a festival otherwise dedicated to RCS student composers.

First up was Butler’s Replaceable Parts for the Irreplaceable You, a sequence of vocal and instrumental movements, with texts largely centring on the dry mechanics of bionic surgery, and a musical score that has a distant spectre of jazz at its core. Elements of parody – the unhinged waltz on the electric guitar – and the beautiful Brittenesque final song define Butler’s comfortable and imaginative fingerprint.

If you like things quirky, catchy and off the wall, Lizée is clearly someone who likes to draw us to the limits of reality, as in Music for Body-Without-Organs, a piece that hovers in suspended animation, mutating like a formless organism to the point of absurdity – visibly so, as pianist Simon Smith poured bouncing balls into the workings of the piano.

But if anything sums up Lizée’s penchant for the absurd, it is Karappo Okesutura Vol 1 – a wonderfully grotesque distortion of the karaoke world, featuring three vocalists singing 1980s hits by the Bangles, Platinum Blonde and the Eurythmics, set against a cacophonous instrumental meltdown of the backing tracks. Bang on for a Friday night.

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