Harping on

There is a Halloween and Food Festival, the Huntly Hairst, going on at the moment in the town. Everything from rabbit skinning demonstrations to avant garde harp recitals. Hairst means 'harvest' so it's a kind of harvest festival thing.

Yesterday I had a great time in the town centre. Met lots of people and made some interesting contacts. So today as a little birthday treat I thought I'd take myself along to the 'Strange Rainbow' concert. More of a recital than a concert, if truth be told, but nevertheless...

Well, one of the words in the title was accurate. It was certainly strange. It's not as if we weren't warned. The flyer specifically referred to 'experimental' music but, as this was Catriona McKay, one of Scotland's foremost harpists (or 'harpers' as the blurb calls them) and a wonderful performer of traditional Scottish harp music, you can forgive the audience for thinking they might be treated to a 'musical' event.


I'm not a stuckist. I like some avant garde music. I like industrial music and I've downloaded lots of weird stuff recorded in disused gasometers, WWll pill boxes and the like but this recital seemed little more than an exercise in musical perversity. It wasn't even particularly 'avant garde'. The BBC sound archives are stuffed with recordings from the fifties and sixties of this type of noise made using old piano frames, oscilloscopes and theremins. It was bad then but at least it had the benefit of being 'new'.

Why do extremely talented musicians take their skills and their  wonderful, hand-crafted instruments - designed to produce the most sublime sounds- and then proceed to see just how unmusical they can manage to be? Anyone can make noise. Music, however, is a special kind of noise and even the most aurally challenged can usually tell the difference.

As the recital started I could feel the audience collectively tightening their buttocks. This was going to take some getting through and we all had to manouver into that fixed position which would not give a hint to either the performers or our neighbours that we were finding the whole thing excrutiating.  The guy on my right had no such qualms. I could tell from his breathing (more like sighing really) and his body language that he was, within minutes, regretting the decision he made to spend his Sunday afternoon at this particular venue, as indeed I was myself.  

I made a couple of notes at the end to remind myself of what it all felt like. I needn't have bothered. It will be stuck in my conciousness for a while yet. I wrote: Guantanamo; egg slicer; old tennis racket; tinnitus; earbleed; noise. That just about sums it up. Had the CIA been trying to discover where I'd placed the bomb I think another 30 minutes of this stuff would have had me blabbing away like billy-o.

When the perfomers finally finished and went off I was hoping that the applause wouldn't be too enthusiastic. The last thing I wanted was a bloody encore! That got me thinking. If we had been listening to, say, a Bach piano recital or even the bloody McDonald Brothers and we had been offered another hour's performance free of charge my guess is most of us would have happily stayed. I think the threat of another sixty minutes of Catriona and her laptop-wielding accompanist would have seen a dangerous rush for the exit.

I'm reading a book at the moment about how we experience time, how it seems to go by more quickly as we get older and what we can do to slow it down. I think I've found the answer! Never, even in my most blissful recollections of hot, lingering childhood summers, did an hour take so long to go by as the hour I spent this afternoon in that church.

Fortunately I had a Planxty CD in the car for the journey home. Ah, bless you Christy Moore!