Elsa Bradley from Abstruckt talks Open Ear

On Saturday 13 January at LSO St Luke's theatrical percussion collective Abstruckt presents music by Wally Gunn and Elliot Cole at BBC Radio 3's first Open Ear of 2018. Elsa Bradley told us about the programme:


I'd like to start by introducing Abstrucktour percussion collective, Abstruckt. We formed in 2014 with a goal to explore new repertoire, mainly focussing on theatrical performance and creating more immersive experiences for our audiences. We've explored those ideas in a myriad of situations. From a concert series at Café Oto, to coffee houses, bars, underground bunkers, art galleries and car parks as well as more traditional concert halls in and around London. We've had ample opportunities to programme concerts centred around using the full performance space in symbiosis with the music. That has meant that in some ways, choosing our programme for the BBC Radio 3 Open Ear concert on Saturday has been a bit of a challenge – a lot of the repertoire we perform is visually focussed with mime, drawing and even jumping. Instead, for Saturday's performance, we will be focusing on the theatricality of sound – LSO St. Luke’s has a beautiful acoustic after all. 


Abstruckt bold tendenciesOne of my absolute favourite Abstruckt performances was an intimate, mediative performance of the final movement from David Lang’s The So-Called Laws of Nature, performed in the cave-like darkness of Bold Tendencies’ multi-storey car park in Peckham. Over an undulating, driving rhythmic ostinato on flowerpots, delicate teacup and woodblock sounds ping out under the echo of soft ringing bells. Though the flowerpot rhythm is constant and rather busy, it has an entirely calming, ‘hum-like’ effect that, with dimmed lighting, really demands a focus on sound rather than sight.


We wanted to recreate this effect with our programming of a selection of movements from Elliot Cole’s quartet Postludes for vibraphone, a piece which brings new depths out of the instrument that I’ve never heard before; through a combination of playing techniques using both bows and mallets that result in a rich tapestry of sound. Bowed vibraphone is one of those clichés percussionists dread when playing contemporary music – but only for the fact that it is often poorly used as a gimmick rather than a thoughtful exploration of sound. Cole has succeeded in composing a piece that contrives calm, beautiful and delicate sounds alongside those that are both tortured and questioning. With four percussionists crowding around the one instrument, it will be hard for the audience to see where the sound is coming from – but I think that’s one of the piece’s greatest strengths: it invites the audience to force their way into an almost ceremonial experience for the performers onstage. Personally, I find Coles' use of harmony absolutely stunning and I can’t wait to hear how it sounds in LSO St. Luke’s.



Almost by complete contrast, we will also be performing Wally Gunn’s Vicious Children, a pretty dark and sinister piece that is at times almost tribal and ritualistic. Written for deep concert toms, snare drums and almglocken, Vicious Children certainly packs a punch. Throughout the piece we’ll be conveying the malevolent and threatening text in a variety of vocal techniques that are often interspersed with incessant stick clicks. I like to think of them as nervous twitches that carry us over the uncomfortable, irregular time signatures. The sounds Gunn has chosen for Vicious Children are very much reminiscent of those classic ‘scary film’ sound effects. Intruding knocks and taps echo around the room and at the climax of the piece, this quiet unease is shattered by a sudden outburst of drumming. One of the largest challenges this work poses for us is the melancholic singing passage: set over a serene meditative drone of almglocken, we sing the text in a nursery rhyme style. Finding an appropriate key to suit the range of all four voices (with Joe's bass voice and the girls more comfortable alto and soprano ranges) has taken almost as much time as learning the piece!



We’re really looking forward to our performance for the Open Ear concert and we hope you love the repertoire in the space of St Lukes.


Click here to find out more and book tickets for BBC Radio 3 Open Ear (Saturday 13 January)