September/October 2016 – film time – Dutch Uncles’ Robin Richards performs live score for ‘Birdsong: Stories From Pripyat ‘ in Manchester, Stockport and Salford (30th September, 6th-7th October); Scalarama Glasgow screens Cardiacs’ ‘Maresnest’ concert movie with live solo show from Kavus Torabi (22nd September)

17 Sep
Still from 'Birdsong' (Pripyat Palace of Culture)

Still from ‘Birdsong’ (Pripyat Palace of Culture)

In a couple of weeks’ time, Robin Richards (bass guitarist and driving force in Stockport art-poppers Dutch Uncles, and cross-disciplinary composer on the not-so-quiet) unveils the latest in his growing series of film collaborations, via three screenings and live score performances in the Manchester area.

“An amusement park in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat was due to be opened on the 1st May 1986, but the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred just a few miles away on 26th April. The park’s owners opened the park for a couple of hours the following day for the people of Pripyat before the city was evacuated. Eerie images of the deserted Pripyat Amusement Park now permeate the visual representation of the city’s desolation.

“Robin Richards: “Since hearing about the trips young evacuees from Pripyat and neighbouring towns made to my hometown Stockport as part of charity programmes over the last twenty-five years, and reading personal accounts of those affected by the catastrophic nuclear disaster I have wanted to create an art piece depicting the stories, whilst also addressing environmental and scientific dimensions. I am fascinated by the gestural vocabulary of film and its relationship to the formal properties of musical composition. I want to push beyond the notion that music should always be in service to visual narrative, and explore the possibilities of music’s power to create and transform meaning.”

Still from 'Birdsong' (Pripyat ferris wheel)

Still from ‘Birdsong’ (Pripyat ferris wheel)

“The resulting piece, comprising a forty-minute original film and live score with chamber ensemble will be performed at related venues in North West England in late 2016, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the disaster. A screening of the film with recorded score is programmed as part of an exhibition in Kiev in late October 2016.

“Combining the immediacy and energy of live musical performance with the visual impact of film, ‘Birdsong: Stories from Pripyat‘ aims to revisit a dramatic and devastating historical event using personal and scientific narratives to draw out the tensions and truths at play in our collective, cultural memories of this unfathomable event. This cross-artform project brings together original contemporary classical composition with film to explore an historic event through storytelling, montage and archival footage.

Robin Richards’ forty-minute score incorporates first-hand testimonies of evacuees and liquidators from Ukraine and Belarus, while Clara Casian’s filmmaking process is underpinned by nuclear research, and incorporates found and archival footage with original material filmed on location in Ukraine. The pair made a four-day research trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in May 2016 to meet with local artists, filmmakers and historians, collect original footage and archival material. The narrative arc of the film follows the journey of people with first-hand experience of the disaster, as personal records and testimonies are interwoven with original material. Music enters into a continuous dialogue with film as part of a nuanced artistic process, designed to evoke the experiences of people from Pripyat and their recollections of the evacuation and the cleaning process following the 1986 disaster.”

The piece will premiere as the highlight of HOME’s Artist Film Weekender in Manchester, followed by a second performance in Stockport’s historic art deco cinema The Plaza and a third at the University of Salford. Dates below:

Each night also features another showing, performance or event.

The University of Salford performance will also feature a question and answer session with Robin and Clara (also billed as a music-and-film masterclass with Robin, who’s an alumnus of the University’s Music course, having graduated in 2011 with a first-class honours degree, the Elgar Howarth Composition Shield and the Award for Innovative Audience Engagement).

The Manchester performance will be preceded by the showing of another Robin Richards-scored film, ‘Wizard’. Directed by Nick Middleton, this is “a short film about magic and madness”, which premiered earlier in the month at The Smalls film festival in Shoreditch, London.

The Stockport performance will be accompanied by ‘Celluloid History Songs’, by Anglo-African Mancunian singer-songwriter Josephine Oniyama: a “spellbinding… live multimedia performance against a backdrop of historical footage drawn from the North West Film Archive held at Manchester Metropolitan University, and edited by filmmaker Kim May of Asta Films. The specially-commissioned songs were influenced by scenes of Northerners at leisure, taken from the archive’s many inspiring images of industrial working-class people, young and old, discovering ways to spend their new leisure time.” This work was previously performed at HOME’s 2015 launch event, in tandem with Robin’s own previous soundtrack engagement (a new score for Pal Fejos’s 1928 silent New York romance ‘Lonesome’).

Update, 22nd September 2016 – Robin has just shared a recording of one of the ‘Birdsong’ soundtrack pieces. As he describes it, it’s “inspired by the liquidators working on the Chernobyl nuclear plant after the disaster. The liquidators were civil and military personnel called upon by the Soviet Union in to clean, burn and bury contaminated areas and materials around the power plant. The first part of this section is based on archival footage of the liquidators cleaning and digging in 1986, with the rhythmic jostling of the strings representing the movement of the workers, and the deep synthesisers representing the overriding radiation. The second part is inspired by the testimonies of four liquidators we interviewed in Borispol during our trip to Ukraine in May this year; their memories of the clean up and the years that followed the disaster.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Scalarama screening of 'Maresnest' (poster stencil image by Abe Peachment)

Scalarama screening of ‘Maresnest’ (poster stencil image by Abe Peachment)

A little earlier in the month – as part of September’s ongoing Scalarama film festival – there’ll be a public showing of the Cardiacs’ concert film ‘Maresnest’ in Glasgow.

Organisers Luminous Monsters call ‘Maresnest’ “the greatest concert movie ever made! Recorded one glorious afternoon at the Salisbury Arts Centre in 1990, ‘Maresnest’ captures all of the manic intensity and joyous delirium of one of the UK’s, nay, the world’s finest bands. Theres nothing quite like Cardiacs at full force. ‘Maresnest’ takes Cardiacs kaleidoscope-prog and ultra-pop impossibility and gives it a fiery hoof up the colon. From the bruising, nigh-industrial intro through the perilous frenzy of To Go Off And Things to the sustained climax of unlikely minor hit Is This The Life?, this is delirious, potent stuff, the sound of wild ideas obsessively woven from flesh and wire and moments.”

While this isn’t exactly a once-in-a-lifetime showing – the film was disinterred from VHS purgatory to be reissued and released on DVD three years ago – there are three extra selling points. The first is that the event is another of those fundraisers for the much-needed medical rehabilitation of Cardiacs’s life-mauled Tim Smith (see plenty of past ‘Misfit City’ posts for more on this particular story). Another is that the event also features a solo set from the band’s onetime guitarist Kavus Torabi (these days better known for Knifeworld, for exuberant radio hosting and for an ongoing role as the post-Daevid Allen frontman for Gong), who’ll be performing “songs of extreme loveliness and brilliance.”

The last is that Luminous Monsters are quite right about the value of ‘Maresnest’. It’s one of the great rock concert films, comfortably up on the same level with the likes of ‘Stop Making Sense’, ‘Tourfilm’, ‘The Last Waltz’ and ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’. Capturing the band live in 1989 – then, as ever, inhabiting a murky cult status which could nonetheless draw thousand-strong crowds – it also caught them at a particularly turbulent time. The one-off seven-piece version of their close and familial lineup, as featured in the film, featured a guesting recent departee plus a new recruit and a pair of longstanding mainstays who’d both soon be gone from the band. Cardiacs shows were already volcanically energetic events, laced with disturbing performance-art overtones in which the band played at being frightened, stubborn children at odds with the perplexing and fascinating world around them. The fact that the aforementioned recent departee was Tim’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Sarah, and that the show was teetering on the edge of disaster due to equipment breakdowns and raw nerves, added an extra frisson of tension and imminent madness to this particular concert.

Fortunately, the band rose both to and above the occasion – pulling a powerful, massing set out of this chaotic fuel, and it was all caught on tape. Though ‘Maresnest’ is laced with and interrupted by additional faux-found footage from backstage (in which, in nightmarish glimpses, the band continue to act out disturbing dysfunctional and childlike personae; like ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ being wrenched out of shape by David Lynch) it’s ultimately about the music – which is ecstatic, churning, and strangely shamanic, tapping into a distorted British sub-mythology of old war films, children’s television and everyday ritual, and whipping it up into an ambiguous apotheosis for a delighted crowd.


 
Luminous Monsters present:
Scalarama 2016: ‘Cardiacs – All That Glitters is A Maresnest’ + Kavus Torabi (live set)
The Old Hairdressers, 23 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland
Thursday 22nd September 2016, 7:30pm
– information here, here and here

It’s been a good month for Cardiacs-related news: more of that coming along shortly. Meanwhile, for more info on Scalarama’s ongoing events around the UK (and at the festival’s outpost in Spain), click here.
 

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