Bascule Chamber Concerts

I am going to admit that I had done very little research into the Bascule Chamber Concerts. All I knew was that I needed to be on Tower Bridge at 7.45pm, that there would be 120 steps to reach the concert ‘chamber’,  Handel’s Messiah was to somehow be involved and there would be no loos.

So having made my loo stop and found the meeting place on Tower Bridge, and with a little time to spare, I had a little read of the programme.

It turns out the bascules are the two 1,000 ton leaves on Tower Bridge that open to let boats under.  And the ‘chamber’ we were about to descend into is located under the Thames, YES under the Thames, and when it’s not hanging out being a stone underground void built by the Victorians, it is filled with one of the counterweights needed to balance the opening the bascules.

I have to say I am a little tired of interactive experiences in unusual places (I’m just not sure I need to eat dinner in a tube carriage, whilst someone performs Hamlet around me) and what’s wrong with a concert in a concert hall? But this did sound rather exciting, and I liked the idea of listening to music performed in this grand Victorian space.

So off we went down, down, down into this hidden chamber (the staircase down looked a little like how I imagine the bowels of the Titanic to look, this did nothing for my nerves), accompanied as went by some Thames themed ‘music’.

Now Iain Chambers and the Langham Research Centre are a composing / performing ensemble and create sounds  or ”period’ performances of electronic work by 20th century composers, alongside their own new material composed for an instrumentarium of obsolete Cold War era technology’. 

So for an hour we sat in this slightly chilly chamber, listening to their performance.  Two men at a table pushed things around, mixing ‘river related’ pre-recorded sounds (it really did look like might be decoding Cold War radio messages), whilst Kate Romano played her clarinet in accompaniment, to the music they were creating. And Kayo Chingonyi read his poetry in between the musical performances.

It was an absolutely extraordinary experience, I suspect if you are one of those people who likes taking things apart and putting them back together, has an appreciation of good music, and are very open to new ideas and concepts about music, this would be right up your street.

I did spend rather a lot of the time wondering if they had got their timings wrong and we were all about to the smooshed by the giant weight above our heads, as Tower Bridge opened it’s gates. And you could here boats zooming past overhead, which I wasn’t sure I liked (an over-active imagination – what if all the water just started to pour in..) and there was a constant drip, drip (I have no idea if this was part of the concert, or just a Victorian drip – thank goodness I had gone to the loo before). And was mildly irritated by the girl next to me who kept referring to her programme using the torch light of her MASSIVE iphone.

I really enjoyed Kayo Chingonyi’s poetry reading, but I suspect my music appreciation hasn’t yet reached the right level to really understand what the Langham Research Centre is up to with all their Cold War technology sounds.  The Messiah did feature very intermittently and part of me just felt ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we were listening to an orchestra play Handel’s Messiah in this quite amazing space’.

The chamber itself really is spectacular, quite something to have seen. If you are interested in going to see this concert (they are only on this weekend) I would urge you to listen to some of the Langham Research Centre’s previous work, just to acclimatise a little.. and do remember to go to the loo before hand.

Alice xxx

Bascule Chamber Concerts are part of the Totally Thames Festival

22nd – 24th September 2017

Down we go

The chamber

The Langham Research Centre

Kate Romano

Kayo Chingonyi
Photos by Garbor Gergely Photography.