Have you ever wandered into a crowded room and been unable to distinguish meaningful sound from the general buzz of conversation? This effect is known as the “cocktail party” problem and forms the stimulus for my concert of the week: The Clerks – Tales from Babel: Musical Adventures in the Science of Hearing (Fri Nov 8th, 8pm, Holywell Music Room). All the pieces in the programme present different texts simultaneously in different vocal lines, challenging the listener to decipher the information they are taking in. Central to the project is the idea that the audience are not just passive spectators but are asked to engage in some specially designed auditory tests. For The Clerks‘ founder and director, Edward Wickham, this provides “a new kind of stimulus to listening”, so that “people come away better listeners from the whole experience”. The audience will be able to turn these enhanced listening skills to music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, alongside music specially composed for the project by Christopher Fox, all sung by a respected group of early music specialists who originally formed at Oxford University.
Another event placing old music in fresh contexts this week is Wisdom and Insight: Music from Tibetan Monks and Sulis (Sat Nov 9th,7:30pm, St John the Evangelist). Eight Tibetan monks will be performing music from a tradition that is over two thousand years old. This will be paired with new music drawing on the contemplative, meditative atmosphere of the Tibetan tradition by composer Celia Harper.
As well as these more experimental events – Music meets Science, and East meets West respectively – there is still plenty on offer this week if you are looking for a more typical recital format. Of these, my pick is: Poeticall Musicke – In darknesse let mee dwell: A concert of lute songs and solos to celebrate John Dowland’s 450th birthday (Thur Nov 7th, 7:30pm, St Mary Magdalen). With the centenary celebrations for Benjamin Britten’s birth approaching (more on this in the next two weeks), it easy to forget this anniversary of a composer of whom Britten was highly appreciative. Indeed, Dowland can be thought of as something of a founding figure in the tradition of English art song that Britten inherited centuries later. As the title suggests, the programme focuses on the dark, melancholic side of Dowland’s output, which boasts some of the best songs and solo lute works of the period. Up-and-coming early music band Poeticall Musicke have the endorsement of some of the most established and esteemed performers of this repertoire, such as their patron Dame Emma Kirkby. As Dame Emma’s performances show, Dowland’s miniature masterpieces also have the ability to speak to us across the centuries.