Tonight’s performance by the Glasgow Improvisers’ Orchestra is mainly taken up by the half-hour composed improvisation of the title piece, commissioned from USA musical underground stalwart, one-time Sonic Youth member and all-round multi-tasking polymath, Jim O’Rourke (neither present tonight, nor having ever even met the Orchestra first-hand).
Each of the twenty musicians is provided with five playing cards, face down, which they may flip over at any time they wish throughout the performance and then follow O’Rourke’s instructions as written down on the alternate sides. It doesn’t seem a terribly original premise for a graphic score based around predetermined chance, riffing off decades-old ideas from the likes of John Cage and even Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, and seems like the kind of thing O’Rourke could have half-heartedly put together over an hour or so.
The GIO’s arsenal tonight is a terrific mass ensemble of percussion, string and brass instruments with a few spots for electronic and vocal musings and mutterings. The overwhelming feeling of a GIO performance is that of elated playfulness, with little of the rarefied austereness which predominates in improvised music. There are genuine bemused faces and befuddled looks on musicians’ faces as they turn the cards, sometimes having to stop playing altogether and instead change shoes with their immediate neighbour or call up a friend on their mobile.
A visual element is also present tonight, with the performance being shot and streamed live by Too Many VJs’, whose live video editing is projected behind the players to little added affect. It is neither their or O’Rourke’s work tonight which lingers, but the sheer exuberance of the Orchestra. This is exemplified further by the second unnamed piece they perform tonight during which, freed from the cards’ shackles and constraints, they let rip in an intuitively mesmerising blow-out of sound.