Thursday, 4 April 2013

Martin Hodge Review Manu Delago's 'Hang' recital - "Homemade" Exeter Phoenix Wed 3rd April 2013

Hang Player: Manu Delago

Manu Delago Handmade at Exeter Phoenix. 3rd April, 2003. Support: Sculpture Music.

The hang is a beautiful and intriguing instrument from Switzerland. It looks like a battered giant wok with a lid or, some say, a miniature flying saucer.

In the hands of a master, the hang can produce some wonderful melodic and captivating sounds.

On the stage at Exeter Phoenix there were three hangs plus an array of other instruments too.

As soon as Manu Delago sat down behind his hangs and began to play, we knew that this was a creative master at work.

Seemingly magical sounds resonated round the auditorium as Manu used delicate hand action, and later more impelling and forceful action, to make wonderful music.

The mood could change gradually or even in an instant as Manu’s hands revelled in playing these instruments, touching and hitting every part of the hangs, even turning one on its side and upside down to get different sounds.

Central as the hangs were to many of the pieces that were played, other instruments and other musicians proved very quickly that they were an essential part of the mix that wasManu Delago Handmade in concert.

To quote another reviewer, the performance encompassed ”a vast array of sounds, ranging from sweet and delicate vocal lines with colourful Hang accompaniment, all the way through to chunky, electronic beats”.

All the ensemble played very much in harmony with each other and each instrument was given importance.

In the first piece, Coincidence, we first heard Manu Delago’s hang playing, with Manu treating his instruments with such reverance. Subtle programming brought in a certain eeriness and then Phillip Moll’s beautiful double bass playing came in, adding so fittingly to the atmosphere being created.

Isa Kurtz sang, with a voice that sent shivers down my spine: ”Just when I look into the sky, no fallen star flies by” and I was transformed to a tranquil yet slightly unnerving place.

Chris Norz’s drums added some urgency and Manu moved from one hang to another with the varying pitches making the atmosphere change again. Isa moved to delicate but decisive keyboard playing and her wistful voice sang on.

We ended the item as we began with the solo hang. Then all was silent. Inspirational.

This concert was going to be something special and so it proved to be.

Manu Delago trained as a drummer and drums and other percussion were shown to be an essential ingredient in his compositions and deliverance of them.

This was evident in several pieces, including Metronome Disease, in which a metronome seemed to be fighting its way into the drum and hang playing world with altering intensity of percussion, bass and keyboards, creating ever changing moods. With the metronome concluding, we had been made aware of a battle which perhaps this useful yet insidious device won.

Variety was shown to be paramount in Manu’s music. Different blends of instruments conveyed various emotions in different pieces. Sometimes the hang was central, sometimes it wasn’t even played.

Very often guest singers are added to the variety. With just a four piece group this evening, Isa Kurtz played many parts and did so superbly.

Medina displayed an amazing range of instruments and moods as tranquil monastic sounds changed to frenetic heavy dream and bass and back to tranquility again. Bells were the one common element throughout.

With what Manu described as “part of our Gallery set”, we heard one of Manu’s early compositions for the band, Sartori, paired down to hang, bass and violin. Manu told us that this is one piece they do not rehearse as it is different each time they play it. The band clearly thrived on improvisation.

For Manu, the hang was first a solo instrument and it was good that we had one solo piece,Two Hands Full of Sound, an apt description of what was played as Manu explored every part of the hangs, even turning one vertically to play it at one stage.

He played the hang lovingly and with a great sense of adventure. Here was a new instrument with little history and he was determined to make it his own.

This was very much a visual as well as an auditory experience. Many in the audience seemed entranced watching one musician after another in action.

Out of Darkness, a composition for lights, poignantly showcased each musician and each instrument with different coloured spotlights. When they all played together, they were as one with the lights.

Wonderfully atmospheric and showing keen observation of life going on around him, Ice Cream Van featured all three hangs and programmed sound effects and displayed menacing as well as light moods in this piece inspired by living in London. The drums, bass and keyboards blended beautifully in the mix.

Humour and a commitment to educating the world about the Tyrol mountains in Austria where Manu and the band come from, brought forth the song used as an encore and a bonus track on their album, Tongue Twister K. With Philipp leading the vocals, this was a hilarious insight into the pecularities of and joy in using their local dialect of German.

Manu Delago Handmade are four very talented young musicians who evidently get a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction in playing well together. They gave us one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

Manu Delago (hangs, drums, percussion, electronics) was joined by Isa Kurz (vocals, violin, keyboards), Philipp Moll (bass, electronics) and Chris Norz (drums, percussion, electronics).

Their concert to a highly receptive audience was at Exeter Phoenix on 3rd April 2013. Much of the music the ensemble played appears on Manu Delago’s latest album Bigger than Home. I for one will be playing track after track from the album on Phonic FM.

The support act was Sculpture Music with two skilful local musicians, hang player Matthew Calder and bassist John Shaw. They performed some interesting and thoughtful songs. I had reservations at times about the accompanying electronic beats and particularly liked the one song they did with just hang and bass.

They too have a well recommended album out called Minor Songs in Major Keys.

Martin Hodge

Click here to read about last year's concert by Manu Delago and 'Living Room in London'

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