The purpose-built cultural playground (and new Guardian HQ) at Kings Place opened its doors today, launching London's first new concert hall in a long while with five packed days of concerts. The venue's musical deflowering did not, however, take place in the main concert hall but in the well of the central atrium. Here, at 9am on every morning of the opening festival, the musical group Endymion are sparking off a performance of György Ligeti's Poème Symphonique.
Ligeti composed this experiment in 1962, shortly after his Atmosphères, the micropolyphonic wall of sound heard at the very beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Poème Symphonique is something of a low-budget, mechanised parody of the earlier orchestral work, inspired by Ligeti's brief dalliance with the Fluxus movement. The setup is simple— a hundred metronomes, set to different speeds and arranged around a performance space, are all set ticking at once. The score mostly concerns itself with procuring the necessary equipment, and is probably unique among musical scores in advising how to blag your instruments out of commercial firms or individuals. The piece premiered in the Netherlands, with television cameras present, but elicited only booing and shouting. The recording was never broadcast.
The Kings Place atrium is not a bad space for the performance, but the buzz of press, Guardian staff, and early concert-goers waiting for the first proper show (also Endymion, playing a more conventional selection) made the listening experience less than ideal. Instead of an all-enveloping soundscape the piece was fragmented, only presenting itself in parts as the listener walked a full circuit. The composition nevertheless revealed its intentions of creating chaos out of order, laced with half-heard patterns and fleeting moments of illusory synchrony. It was hard not to think of a hundred monkeys on their typewriters working at Shakespeare, or dare we say, a few good editorial pieces. Thirty minutes later, a lone French horn cut in with a Wagnerian hunting call — Martin Butler's Hunding, in fact — announcing a return to music of a more human temperament, and the atrium emptied into the concert hall. Outside, with an audience of five, the performance gradually wound down to the inevitable last metronome standing and a return to maximal entropy.
The 100 metronomes will be performing at 9:00 every morning until Sunday, 5 October, in the York Place atrium. Admission is free. See the website for details.