Photography: Lucy McLachlan / @lucy_alexandra

Manchester Collective: Voice of the Whale

Future Yard 1/10/21

The brooding smoke machines and lighting smother an anticipating audience; leaving us hopelessly naive to the fierce performances of four distinct pieces to come. We’re here to see MANCHESTER COLLECTIVE bring their stirring classical experiments to Birkenhead.

The pieces are as romantic and dreamy as they are jarring and confrontational, and this is where the true progression and concept of MOLLY JOYCE’S High and Low sets in. The high velocity stabs of polytonal chords certainly raise the senses and hairs of the listener, an attention forcing attribute that guides us through the entirety of the piano piece. These chords develop into varying motifs, some strike the mind like the dissonant chimes of church bells, and some wither away into thin air. Whilst High and Low is sporadic in its dynamic emotional engagement, ALEX GROVES’ Curved Form (St Endellion) is a steadily climactic and growing musical landscape. From the first few scratches of NATHANIEL BOYD’S cello, we eventually end up with a fully formed musical portrait of the Cornish St Endellion coast, reminding the audience of their own memory staring into the horizon, reflecting a nostalgic yearning for peace and retreat.


After the beguiling conjuration of coastal images comes the divisive In Beautiful May by ANDREW HAMILTON, a piece that tests even the most hardened musical tastes. A collage of pre-existing musical recordings endowed with awkward pauses, violin strokes and vocal contributions by DONALD GRANT. These pre-existing recordings do mesh into a structure approaching coherence, just before the piece erupts into what can only be described as an 80s violin guitar solo. GRANT’S wide vibrato, guitar faces, and the formation of the entire piece certainly adds an ironic blanket of humour over the entire proceedings. Through emotionally confrontational music we are reminded to laugh and constantly experiment with the boundaries of classical music. By taking the piece too seriously, we have already failed with its contribution to the evening, but all this would change for the climactic closing piece.


When one thinks of climaxes they may normally think of loud crashes and bombastic finishers, whereas GEORGE CRUMB’s Voice of the Whale marks its climactic character entirely through atmosphere and an alienating hypnosis. Whilst most impressionistic pieces focus on the physical characteristics of water, Crumb’s piece focuses on the isolation of the ocean, communicated through the sounds of a lone whale. The piece flows through flute solos, spectral cello strokes and Debussyan descending piano runs, all while embodying an alienating presence; summed up by the glass rod piano motif played on the lower keys. The glass rod placed on the strings stiffen up the timbre, like a ticking clock that never stops, the motif regularly returns to descend a morose sensation that spreads throughout the entire venue.

Whilst specific objects and experiences conceptually determine each of the pieces, the true appeal of such impressionistic music is revealed as the listener is free to project their own memories and existence onto it. After the emotional weight of the performances echoes their most tender and personal experiences, the audience leaves the intimate venue feeling more human than ever.

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