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March/April 2019 – upcoming British experimental gigs – Sarah Angliss’ eerie Air Loom on tour in Britain (26th March to 8th April, various) – also featuring Noize Choir, Kate Arnold, Thomas Stone, Embla Quickbeam, Good News From The Future, Ben Gwilliam and Cath & Phil Tyler

23 Mar

The Air Loom project is on tour across England (with appearances in Scotland and Wales) during the end of March and early April.

Headed up by electro-acoustic composer and inventor Sarah Angliss, the project also features soprano vocalist Sarah Gabriel and Ensemble Bash percussionist Stephen Hiscock; but the vision is entirely an Angliss one: one of “phantasmagoria” and “electrical mysticism” which can incorporate“robotic carillons, telephonic counterpoint and a new instrument made from the salvaged parts of a Welsh chapel organ.” A former folk-club performer, Sarah is steeped and classically trained in the music of the baroque and Renaissance eras, and spends much of her time constructing and delivering music for theatre and for live film soundtracks. She’s also part of a generation of composer-performers who re-examine the archaic and antique from both a present-day perspective and a feeling of questing connection.


 
This kind of thing doesn’t always work out (folktronica’s a fine idea but often gets reduced to the cliché of just playing folk music on synths), but Sarah’s approach is a fresh one – folding the process over with technological visions which themselves are deliberately selected for their own innate antiquity in order to explore “resonances between English folklore and early notions of sound and machines.” Possessing traditional Early Music instrumental skills (on recorder and ancestral keyboards), she mates them with contemporary jiggery-pokery: the latter covering the kind of twentieth-century technology now acquiring a museum patina (theremins, analogue telephones, radiophonic devices) and more virtual twenty-first century tech such as current custom MAX patches and apps.


 
Backed up by Stephen and by Sarah G, the Air Loom tour and album features Sarah performing on a mixture of recorders, electronics, theremin and the clavisimbalum (a “sonorous, fourteenth-century Latvian cousin of the harpsichord” – in this case one that’s been connected to custom synth processing). The other things to mention are the eerie, enchanting robotic instruments which she conceives, designs and then brings on tour to operate, building them out of bits of abandoned acoustic instruments and sundry homely/associative objects. Some are more anthropomorphic and animatronic – a drum-playing 1960s shop mannequin; a handbag playing triple duty as a heart and a drumbox; a theremin-playing doll called Clara; a disembodied ventriloquist’s-dummy head operating as a spycam; a robot crow. Others present more clearly as machines, such as the automated, radiation-sensitive, hyperspeed bell carillion built with technologist Dan Stowell which was the centrepiece of her previous ‘Ealing Feeder’ album and the “wheezing, robotic Shruti box” that’s the centrepiece of ‘Air Loom’.



 
The resulting music is enthralling and a little displaced. Rumbles, chimes and airs adding up to hauntology-in-the-machine stuff; all of it in line with Sarah’s desire to create work which captures the “disquieting and uncanny” and “the crackle of the galvanic on the telephone wire.” While there isn’t currently any grabbable Air Loom work online for me to show you, here’s something a little similar – Sarah in the grand baroque Hawksmoor space of St Anne’s Limehouse two years ago, performing her ‘Ealing Feeder’ piece A Wren In The Cathedral along with Stephen Hiscock, Colin Utley and her animatronics. Echoes of the unearthly, the mundane and the dignified run through the performance: summonings, weaving, the patience of listening, the trances of spaces.


 
As you’d expect, a tour like this draws in interesting supports.

In Brighton and in London, Kate Arnold from Fear Of The Forest will open the Air Loom shows with a solo hammer-dulcimer-and-voice set of the kind with which she’s been tremendously busy over the past year (see passim). Looping full-range contrabassoonist and sound-triggerer Thomas Stone supports at Bristol, providing his usual slow-evolve sonic immersion from reed tones, beat and hiss.



 
At the Yorkshire art-nexus of Todmorden, Air Loom are joined by a couple of field-recording and sound collage artists – Embla Quickbeam (who opts for a naturalistic approach, overlaying and engraining recordings of places with homemade sonics) and Ben Gwilliam, who prefers to affect and manipulate similar recordings via open tape reels, magnets and a mingling of technical performance art with a kind of deconstructive electrophonic storytelling which can vary from absolute obliqueness to narrative snagging. This time he’s working with “super 8 projectors, ice and homemade electronics in an attempt to amplify the space between microphone and medium.”

 
At Newcastle, support comes from local avant-garde vocal performance collective Noize Choir, who wield an extended human-voice approach “free of the traditional restraints of typical choral settings, language or musical notation” in which singing, breathing, coughing, wailing, humming or any other vocal excursion has equal merit. They also investigate and reflect on the venues which they perform at via “phenomenological explorations (or) imaginings of our geological past” while pegging themselves firmly to a very North-East England post-industrial perspective in which science, landscape and culture merge. On this particular evening everyone’s performing in an award-winning conversion of a former carpet warehouse, now housing an independent cinema company first based on the quayside and then in a squatted abandoned prop store, and with an eye on delivering a future community spirit in ominous times…. so they’ll have all that to unpack with a click and a whoop. Anyhow, here’s them vocalising Lindisfarne (the holy island and bird sanctuary, not the folk rockers).

 
At the Swansea date (for Welsh art-music initiative NAWR) there’s another double support. The first is Newcastle folk duo Cath & Phil Tyler, latter-day exponents of traditional folk narratives, American mountain banjo and full-voiced Sacred Harp singing, which they strip down to its most minimal and concentrated folk, able to bewitch anything from the most cramped little folk club to the vast arena of the Albert Hall. The second is Welsh music-and-movement project Good News From The Future, a collective of mature performers (in their fifties or older) co-ordinated by Mike Pearson (once of 1980s Cardiff avant-garde site-specific theatre company Brith Gof, now emeritus professor of performance studies at the University of Aberystywth). It’s unclear about exactly what they’re doing this time around: some sources say a spoken-word piece, others a movement piece. By all accounts they’re equally skilled at telling a story either way. Here’s something of what – and how – they performed a few years ago at Cardiff’s Chapter venue.


 
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Air Loom dates:

  • The Marlborough Pub & Theatre, 4 Princes Street, Brighton, BN2 1RD, England – Tuesday 26th March 2019, 8.00pm (with Kate Arnold) – information here, here and here
  • Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England – Saturday 30th March 2019, 8.00pm (with Kate Arnold) – information here and here
  • The Glad Café C.I.C, 1006A Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow, G41 2HG, Scotland – Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Star & Shadow Cinema, Warwick Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE2 1BB, England – Thursday 4th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Noize Choir) – information here and here
  • The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Engine House, Chorlton Mill, 3 Cambridge Street, Manchester, M1 5BY, England – Friday 5th April 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ, England – Saturday 6th April 2019, 8.00pm (with Embla Quickbeam and Ben Gwilliam) – information here
  • The Cube, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 7th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Thomas Stone) – information here and here
  • NAWR#35 @ BBC Hall at Swansea Studios, 32 Alexandra Road, Swansea, SA1 5DT, Wales – Monday 8th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Good News from The Future and Cath & Phil Tyler) – information here, here, here and here

…and here’s Sarah’s robot carillon again, this time transmitting bird song (to the audible delight of a baby)…

 

February 2018 – different senses – in Birmingham, Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter’s Illuminated Loops (25th February); in London, Nest Collective’s Queer As Folk with Sam Gleaves and Landless (28th February)

14 Feb

A couple of quick dips into wider worlds, with minimal blather from me..

* * * * * * * *

This isn’t the first time I’ve featured the audio-visual collaborations of jeweller and live artist Poppy Porter and multilayering bass guitar maestro Steve Lawson, but if you haven’t heard of/seen either of them before, nor encountered their unusual duo approach, here’s an opportunity to go and immerse yourself at a new show in Steve’s current home town of Birmingham…

Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter - 'Illuminated Loop', 25th February 2018

Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter: Illuminated Loops
Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England
Sunday 25th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

“Steve Lawson and Poppy Porter bring their amazing music and live art show to Birmingham. Steve plays his textured bass guitar loops, Poppy draws what she sees. Poppy is synaesthetic – she “sees” sound, and as the images appear on the paper, Steve treats the emerging art as a graphic score, folding it back into the music in way that creates a glorious feedback loop of art influencing art. It’s an immersive experience, to watch the art take shape before your eyes, to hear the music morph and twist as it is improvised in response to the art.”

* * * * * * * *

Back in London, the Nest Collective (in collaboration with internationally-minded arts inspirers Dash Arts) have been broadening their commitment to presenting and celebrating the breadth and ongoing relevance of folk music by staging Queer As Folk, “an ongoing series of events celebrating the work of LGBTQ+ artists working in folk, world, and roots music”.

I don’t feel well-equipped to dig into this topic in depth yet. Most straight blokes such as myself who start digging – even with the best intentions – into LGBTQ+ history and culture tend to find it rapidly and explosively unfolding into our faces like a long-compressed jack-in-the-box… or, more accurately, as if someone’s abruptly whisked our blinkers away and we find ourselves in the heart of a bustling, previously invisible party (with its own long-running stories of love and loss, inspiration and pain, quarrels and solidarity, bullying and resistance). It’s quite jolting – although often inspiring – to be confronted with one’s own ignorance.

During my own lifetime, while lesbian women have had an long-established presence in the singer-songwriter field (the redoubtable Holly Near and Joan Armatrading in the ’70s, Melissa Etheridge and Judy Small in the ’80s, the Indigo Girls in the ’90s, to name just the obvious few), it’s been more difficult to identify other aspects of the queer spectrum within folk unless you were already deep in the scene or privileged with word-of-mouth knowledge. Still, all of that is there – as, indeed, it’s everywhere – and this gig, while first and foremost an occasion for good music, should help any fresh attendees to open up a new perspective (and perhaps offer some new interpretations of folk traditions with their shifting tales of love, lust, disguise and transformations).

Enough of me and my vagueness. Here’s Nest Collective’s matter-of-fact briefing for the evening: the rest can just be learned in time…

Queer As Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless, 28th February 2018

The Nest Collective & Dash Arts present:
Queer as Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 28th February 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

“Born and raised in southwest Virginia, Sam Gleaves performs innovative mountain music with a sense of history. Sam carries on the ballads, dance music and storytelling he learned from numerous mentors in the Appalachian tradition including multi-instrumentalist Jim Lloyd and ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams. He tours extensively in the U.S. and, in 2016, toured the UK supporting Peggy Seeger.

In 2015, Sam collaborated with producer Cathy Fink and released a debut record of original songs, titled Ain’t We Brothers. In 2017, he appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival and brought forth a new eponymous record with his singing partner Tyler Hughes, a fellow southwest Virginian steeped in the region’s musical traditions, which has received glowing reviews… Appalachian novelist Lee Smith has heralded Sam as “the best young songwriter around… courageous as hell and country to the bone.”


 
Landless are Ruth Clinton, Meabh Meir, Sinead Lynch and Lily Power. They sing unaccompanied traditional songs from Irish, Scottish, English and American traditions in close four-part harmony. Their repertoire features songs of love, death and lamentation, as well as work songs, shape-note hymns and more recently penned folk songs. They’ve performed in a variety of settings, both in Ireland and abroad, and are closely involved with traditional singing sessions in Dublin and Belfast.”


 

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