thu 23/03/2023

Max Cooper and Tom Hodge, Abbey Road Studios | reviews, news & interviews

Max Cooper and Tom Hodge, Abbey Road Studios

Max Cooper and Tom Hodge, Abbey Road Studios

A mesmerising show that was afforded the space to breathe

A still from the video for set closer, "Fragments of Self"

I’m in a car and I’m uncomfortably hot. The reason I’m in a car is I’m on my way to a gig on the first day in 14 years that industrial action has brought London Underground to a standstill. No skeleton service, no contingency, just closed doors and solidarity. This means it’s bumper-to-bumper and I’m running late. Very late. I’m on my way to Abbey Road Studios where Studio Two has been opened up for a special performance by pianist and composer Tom Hodge and electronic producer Max Cooper.

A team-up with the soon-to-be launched Sonos Studio in Shoreditch, it’s an evening with the focus squarely on sound and location. At the moment, however, the only sound is anxious, irritable muttering and the location is the back of a cab. Still.

I arrive just in time to catch a talk from a panel including Tom Hodge and theartsdesk’s own Joe Muggs about the importance of studio spaces for musicians, which touches on the idea of these buildings being totemic places of worship that have a special importance. I consider these notions, particularly that of architecture and history affording a kind of self-certificating spirituality, but there’s something nagging at the back of my mind… I realise I don’t have a beer and rectify the situation immediately.

At times, the ambience is overtaken by a fine sense of post-classical prog – complex, but compellingly so

There are, of course, practical elements to consider when it comes to performance spaces. And, as Tom Hodge begins to play, a hush falls and allows the room’s acoustics to come in to play like a third musician. Notes hang suspended, refusing to fall as the gentle, concrète tones seep out stage left and the effect is spellbinding. Hodge leans an arm into his piano’s cavity to gently pluck sounds from it in a move that I will, from this moment on, refer to as the piano reacharound. There’s a delicacy to the sound that you rarely experience fully at a gig, which is, in part, due to the audience who are either spellbound or very polite. Either way, I’m a big fan of the mass decision to shush – music this fragile can be destroyed by chatter.

New track, “Teotihuacan (Part 2)”, begins with the dragged drones of a cello, wolf notes in the half-light that prove heart-wrenchingly effective at drawing out emotion, yet without cynicism. The piano drift gently underscores and occasionally intertwines. Still, no one utters a word. After it fades into silence, the glitchy electronic beats come to the fore and the full scope of the performance gradually unveils itself. The pair have collaborated before, on the Fragmented Self and Artefact EPs, but this is only the second time they’ve performed with this set-up, mixing piano and Rhodes with live electronics. Making the most of the configuration, Cooper live samples the piano, playing it back, freeing Hodge to take to the Rhodes. That Cooper manages to do this while layering beats over an otherworldly sound that approximates a TARDIS landing several fathoms down, does raise some serious questions about the role of him out of Sleaford Mods.

At certain points, the pair sound a like more refined version of Piano Overlord, the one-time nom de plume of Prefuse 73, at others the ambience is overtaken by a fine sense of post-classical prog – complex, but compellingly so. They finish, all too soon, with “Fragments of Self”, and the ragged juxtaposition embodies everything that is successful about this collaboration. Two halves, vastly different, given the right space to breathe and play, ending up in delightful union.

Wolf notes in the half-light prove heart-wrenchingly effective at drawing out emotion, yet without cynicism


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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