Live Reviews: Roger Doyle & Friends

Roger Doyle & FriendsMermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Co. Wicklow25th January 2003with Trevor Knight (piano/keyboards) and Tim Redfern (interactive video)Salome; Budawanny 2002; The Nightshow from Babel; The Idea and its Shadow; 3 Pieces; Passade; Improvisation;...

Roger Doyle & Friends
Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Co. Wicklow
25th January 2003
with Trevor Knight (piano/keyboards) and Tim Redfern (interactive video)
Salome; Budawanny 2002; The Nightshow from Babel; The Idea and its Shadow; 3 Pieces; Passade; Improvisation; 10 Themes

Roger Doyle’s concert opened with three pieces from theatre music for Salome. All three were clever and somewhat timeless pastiches, but the first was particularly striking and well wrought. The second piece was atmospheric and beautiful but the third lacked variation in harmony and figuration and could have been shorter.

This was a problem that dogged the evening’s program in general. The next piece was an improvisation around his music for the silent film Budawanny, and although it started well, the repetitive harmony soon bogged it down and, as with many improvisations, an excellent ending (that would have rescued the whole piece) was just a stepping stone to an unnecessary coda.

The set of three pieces from Babel’s imaginary late-nite radio show would have been better served without addition of live piano. The playing was faultless but obscured the original instrumentation and – in the case of the final piece – was pungently out of tune with the string part. It would have been nice to hear Roger’s pop music in a simple piano arrangement.

The second half promised more interesting items and opened with the tape piece The Idea and it’s Shadow which presented the voice of Kevin O’Connell slowly replaced by a keyboard part that imitated the voice’s contours and gestures. The first section is a simple linear crossfade between voice and instrument while the second is less straightforward and brings in new elements that accompany the voice and keyboard, now on a more even footing. The interactive video respected the structure of the piece and was especially engaging in the second section, but the level of interaction was limited to simple graphics that followed only the surface rhythm.

Trevor Knight’s three pieces were a return to the aesthetic of the first half of the concert. The first was for solo piano and resembled Chopin as rewritten by Satie and while being pretty, it too could have been shorter. La thiere… lacked development and the block-form construction meant that initially interesting material soon became predictable. Doyle joined Knight as percussionist on midi tabla for the jazz inflected third piece and his playing took centre stage as the keyboard part again lacked variation.

Passade was a revelation and probably the most successful piece of the evening. White noise shaped into chords, jet engines doing plainchant – however it is described this piece was entrancing. The visuals consisted of long echoing tracers of white lines that glide slowly through the shifting perspective and the only shame is that again the interaction was only superficial and failed to reflect the structure of the piece. It’s unfortunate that although we experience the piece holistically, it seems as though the audio and visual were written in isolation.

Doyle and Knight came together again for an improvisation and explored a musical language that seemed almost out of place given the pastiche that made up most of the programme. Doyle’s piano was a mix of pointillistic washes and wide spread chords while Knight used mostly synthesis and samples manipulated from the keyboard in a piece that was both engaging and coherent. People could be forgiven for thinking that these were not the same composers who presented some of the earlier works and perhaps there is no dichotomy here, just eclectic programming, but the difference in soundworlds seems so vast that I doubt many people could have enjoyed the entire concert. Doyle states that he has no single style and sees a clear difference between his serious music and the more ‘recreational’ (which I have called pastiche), but this term implies a level of irony that he does not intend. All his music has equal value to him, and this lack of stylistic snobbishness is to be applauded, but in a mixed concert like this there is the risk that a listener unfamiliar with his stance will evaluate purely on the level of style and this would be unfortunate.

The final piece was also a piano and keyboard duet and suffered the same fate as some of the preceding pieces; although it had some interesting moments especially in the harmony, the overall impression was that there was insufficient differentiation to give it momentum. The possibilities for variation being frustrated all the more by having the keyboard merely double the piano.

Published on 1 March 2003

Scott McLaughlin is an Irish composer.

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