In which M C Escher is on the level, the Mechanisms get a frog in their throats and Max Richter saves humanity.
Monday 24 August
The first thing I wanted to see today was The Amazing World of M C Escher at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which was just round the corner from my room, but whose existence I had never suspected. The exhibition took up four large rooms and was so large that they could devote a whole room to the dull stuff he did before he became M C Escher. Every famous image he created was represented in some form or another, as well as plenty of detail on the technical processes themselves. His attention to detail was such that he once re-did an entire picture when he realised that the printing process meant that he’d shown the stars of The Plough back to front (although I think this would have suited it, and in fact perhaps he should have had two Ploughs pointing at each other). My only criticism of the exhibition was that each room wasn’t up a flight of stairs, which finished on the same level you started from. It’s not as if they didn’t have the blueprints.
After this, as my unique geographical awareness had me wandering around the building looking for an exhibition that was in another gallery completely, I found a film showing about Escher. I couldn’t really be bothered with it, but I was astonished to notice that the wall was decorated with original works by Dali, Magritte and Picasso. Where I come from that’s a major exhibition, and I realised that despite loving his art for decades, I’ve never actually come face to face with a real Dali before. Being able to see the brush strokes was almost like shaking his hand or tweaking his moustache (which I’m sure he would have allowed if I’d paid him enough). And this was only the prologue to a permanent surrealist exhibition with works by some major artists. Frankly I can’t even remember what was there; I realised after a while that I’d just become over-arted, and I had to go home for a coffee, preferably made from a kettle that didn’t double as a lobster.
As the show I wanted to see this afternoon proved to be taking place elsewhere and elsewhen completely (time and space are relative at the festivals, and the sort of relative who communicates only through Christmas cards), I had a break until early evening, when I went for my usual pilgrimage to The Mechanisms. Not having a new show, they were repeating their old ones and were now onto “High Noon Over Camelot”. I saw this twice last year, so fortunately they performed a remix, including Raffaela’s coughing solo (off-mike and between lines, to be fair) and a persistent low buzzing which I assumed was an early Moog synthesiser, but which was actually a technical fault so bad that they finally had to stop the show, and which means I may to re-assess some of Tangerine Dream’s first albums. While they frantically unplugged and replugged every cable they could find, the Toy Soldier entertained us with frog facts. We learnt, for example, that frogs vomit by turning their stomachs inside out. It killed the story stone dead, mind, but there wasn’t much they could do about it and they eventually finished without microphones. Just bad luck, and it won’t stop me coming back next year, provided they arsing well write a new show by then.
Then I popped over the road for my only brush with the main festival itself. Now: I have no real problem with my name. It’s workable, easy to pronounce and does the job it’s asked to. But if there are people in this world called Max Richter, it’s hardly worth the rest of us having names. Seriously, if there was a deadly radiation leak that needed fixing, who would you choose, Neil Hudson or Max Richter? At the very least he should be the hero of a Gerry Anderson supermarionation show. I imagine that somewhere there’s an alien mineral called Richternite that takes away his powers, but it wasn’t in evidence tonight, where he was playing his own music with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (at the front of the stage with his back to the conductor, as there are some people you just can’t tell what to do). The first piece was “Recomposed”, a live orchestral “remix” of Vivaldi’s Four Seaons, which might seem a bit presumptuous in most composers, but when you’re called Max Richter you can recompose whatever you like. In particular he got rid of that annoying unmemorable theme from the first movement. Most of the musicians were standing as an aid to bounciness, and I believe that Chambers are going to change the definition of “prance” to “the thing that Daniel Hope did on stage while playing the main violin part” (all from memory, I believe, to enhance pranceability). All good stuff though, and the audience seemed to enjoy it as much as the performers. There was a short interval, during which Max stopped the Mysterons from invading the earth, and then they played Memoryhouse, which was lovely but apparently completely ignored on its first release, not getting a single review. This was quite an achievement, given that it was released on a BBC spin-off label and the BBC has a music magazine, but this probably says less about their impartiality than their internal communications. I was surprised by how profoundly sad the music was, in fact this may have been the most consistently sad concert I’ve ever heard. Heaven knows what was on his mind when he wrote it; our Max can save the world, but I guess he can’t mend his broken heart.
Although now I think of it, he may just be a porn star.